When Edward and his family finally arrived, the receptionist said Mrs. Nesbitt would receive them in an hour.
As always, the family waited at the McDonald’s across the highway. The nursing staff refused to prepare residents before their guests arrived, because getting the elderly patients cleaned up, dressed, coiffed, and settled involved strenuous maneuvering. And often their visitors failed to show up.
Inside the grimy franchise across the highway, Edward’s wife Amy conceded that McDonald’s coffee wasn’t bad.
Grant and Diana, who were approaching their teens, hooted. “Really, Mom? You think it’s safe to drink coffee here?”
She laughed. “I suppose I was prejudiced against it.”
Edward, however, imbibed nothing. He acted disinterested unless someone suggested his grandmother was slipping into dementia. Or if the thought occurred to him unbidden. “Grandma never misses a trick. Her mind is sharper than ever.”
Amy signaled her children—do not contradict him or you’ll be sorry.
After Edward phoned the facility and learned Victoria was ready, the family hurried through the hallways, averting their eyes from the communal rooms, where contorted bodies were strapped into padded furniture. Reaching Victoria’s dismal, sick-smelling room seemed like an oasis.
“So lovely to see you!” Amy kissed Victoria’s papery cheek and gestured that her children do likewise.
Despite trouble speaking or swallowing, Victoria wanted to give little Diana a quart of vodka, hidden behind a curtain. “Open it now, honey, because somewhere it’s cocktail hour.”
“Yes, but not for nine years in Diana’s case,” Edward yelled into his grandmother’s ear.
Grant elbowed his sister and whispered. “Sharp as a tack.”
Before long, Amy half-carried, half-dragged Victoria to the minuscule bathroom. Victoria wasn’t heavy, just stiff as stone, crying and moaning whenever Amy moved her. Adult diapers filled the bathroom shelves but Victoria insisted the nurses were joking. Nonetheless she cringed with apologies as Amy cleaned her. “Hush, this is nothing,” Amy said, “compared to when the kids were babies.”
Mission half-accomplished, Amy heaved Victoria, who moaned and groaned pitilessly all the way back to her recliner. Hands flailing, she snatched at the tissue Amy offered and spit into it.
From next door a woman screamed, “Save me! Someone! Get me out of here!”
A nurse appeared. “Sorry about the crazy woman next door. Just don’t listen to her.”
“Save me!” the woman yelled. “Get me out of here!”
“Victoria,” Amy said, “this is horrible. Please, come home with us.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Victoria said. “You can’t mean it.”
“Amy, have you lost your mind?” Edward demanded. “Victoria needs expert care.”
The crazy woman continued screaming.
“I’m ready to save you, Grandma. The lady next door does not sound crazy to me. If I woke up her body? In her bed here? I’d be screaming, too.”
“That day will dawn,” Edward said.
And Victoria added: “He’s right, my dear. You’re next.”