“I need you to pull some weeds out of the garden. I can’t keep up anymore,” Helen lays the sentence out in the air as a simple statement but it floats in the air bouncing off all the baggage in the air floating between us. I cringe but say nothing. I am washing dishes after breakfast as she sits looking out into the backyard which just a year ago was filled with her beautiful gardens. Her Master Garden friends kept it in good shape for about six months, but now grass and flowers blend together in a big mess. I imagine a large fire engulfing it but say nothing.
I push back the resentment. I feel my body tense. She is asking for too much. How can she be asking me to pull weeds? We need groceries, the bills aren’t paid, there isn’t enough money to pay the bills, and I’m late on a report for work. But, I can’t tell her this, so I just stall “It will have to wait until this weekend. I’ve got work to do and I need to get a pizza on for supper.” By now she must know it is impossible for our life to go on as it was before. It is a funny game we play-act like all is normal when not a goddamn thing is normal. Nothing is normal and nothing is okay. The only thing that is worse than today is thinking about how it will be tomorrow and the day after that, and the day after that…anger at what life is doing to ME boils inside of my chest making my chest hurt.
“Can’t we have something else? There are hamburgers in the freezer,” Helen offers without emotion in her voice.
“I’ll thaw the meat in frig while we are gone. We don’t have any rolls and only three pieces of bread. There’s an old tomato on the counter that will have to do. Yea, we can have hamburgers of sorts. I’ll do some canned corn too.”
“We got an overdue notice on my Tykerb, didn’t you pay for it yet?” Helen asks as she turns away from the garden toward the tv; the volume blares when she hits the remote drowning out my answer.
I answered half to myself, “The insurance hasn’t reimbursed me for the script. We are always three thousand behind, except this month we are still waiting for last month’s payment, too, so we are six thousand behind.”
“There is something on the table about Lisa’s school loan not being approved. Says you make too much money,” Helen now pushes all the problems onto me.
“I took too much money out of the IRA account for your drugs; it raised our income level,” I say, understanding the red-tape mountain in front of me. A mountain I don’t have the energy to climb. Our daughter is not doing well in college, her grades have declined each quarter since her mom came down with cancer. She seems to be in free fall, but I have no energy to address anything else. I will call her tomorrow. She can wait until tomorrow. I’m sorry Lisa.
“I think you should call someone and tell them what is going on,” Helen says, raising her voice over the drone from the tv. I have started the corn not thinking about what I am doing so I turn it off and put the pan in the frig. I get the George Foreman grill out. It’s dirty from the last time it was used. I put it under the kitchen faucet and began scraping old fish from the worn-out surface. I want it clean and dry when I need it tonight.
Helen watching me from the couch advises me, “I don’t think you should put that grill in the water like that. It’s going to short out and cause a fire. I read in the paper that electrical shorts are one of the main causes of home fires. Which reminds me, we need to check the batteries in the smoke alarms, it’s been a couple of years.”
“Yea, I know. Do you want mayonnaise or ketchup on your hamburger tonight?”
“I want mustard. You know that. Maybe you could pick some up” It is a close as she comes to complaining. But, she doesn’t praise much either. She would make a good poker player.
“I doubt it. Mayonnaise or ketchup?”
“I’ll eat it plain; it will be okay.” The last word is said in a low pitch, perhaps she is punishing me for being behind on the shopping. Why did I bring up supper now, we will just repeat the entire conversation again tonight. Because you are losing it, that’s why.
“What time is your echocardiogram today?”
“Nine thirty, I think. The paper is on the coffee table.” She rises slowly, her feet shuffling toward the table. The steroids have made her face round, her hair has not begun to fall out from this round of treatments, but it is short and gray, nearly white.
“I want to go in a little early, okay?” I know she is going to ask why. My brain is busy looking for a white-lie.
“Why?” she asks matter of factly.
I hesitate my thoughts stuck on Melissa in the coffee shop. “I need to get some cash out at the bank and pick up your prescription at the drugstore. It gets busy at about ten, that’s all. Sit down, I’ll bring your orange juice to your tv-table,” bringing our conversation back to the present. I have a report that was due yesterday for work and my new boss is a jerk. He will be calling about 11 am and I have done nothing since yesterday. My bones seem tired as I drink my fifth cup of coffee for the day knowing from the pressure in my temples that my blood pressure is already elevated. I debate taking another half pill of my blood pressure medicine. I check my pulse and estimate my pulse is about fifty and decide it is not safe to take any more and leave my full cup of coffee on the counter.
“I’m going downstairs to work, I’ve got a report overdue. Here is your cell, call me if you need something,” I say as I head down the stairs. She is telling me something about not being able to see the screen on her phone and her glasses being upstairs, but I pretend not to hear and move toward the solitude of my small basement office.