Prison

Prison

A Story by Katie Foutz Voss
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Story for workshop portfolio #3. For Virginia Foutz, November 28, 1924 - April 19, 2010.

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            Carolina watched pensively as the final boxes of her Christmas décor were hauled into the garage. So many memories were packed away in those cardboard prisons. Each ornament, every ceramic figurine, all the cookie cutters and every wreath gave testament to a lifetime of care. Now they were stuffed in the highest corner of the garage, next to the ceiling.

            The rest of her belongings were also in boxes, piled on the garage’s cement floor like a cardboard mountain range.

            “We’re going to carry this stuff upstairs now, mom,” said Tom, her oldest son.

            “Be careful, please!” she answered. Saying ‘thank you’ was beyond her capabilities for the time.

            She stood in the windy driveway, staring in at the garage filled with her life. Only five months ago her husband passed away and already she had to start a new life. She was moving in with her oldest son and his family. They had bought the house in February, after twenty years of leasing and renting. Carolina had been happy for Tom and Eliza when they first bought it, but she hadn’t expected to join in on that happiness so soon.

            The April wind gently swept across her back, as if to push her inside.

            “Grandma!” a girl’s voice called. “Grandma, I made lemonade!”

            Carolina sighed and stepped around to the front of the house. Tom’s twelve-year-old daughter Maggie was standing on the front porch.

            “Do you want some?” Maggie asked.

            “Of course, dear,” Carolina said. She smiled brightly at her granddaughter, then gave her a good squeeze and kissed the top of her head. “Aren’t you excited about me coming to live with you?”

            “Yeah, it should be lots of fun.” Maggie wasn’t nearly as reassuring as Carolina knew she had tried to be, but at least the girl had tried.

            Together they went inside to the kitchen, where they sat down to drink their lemonade out of plastic cups. The rest of the house was busy moving things from the garage into the spare room, or the “bonus room” as real estate agents liked to call it. There was the constant sound of thumping on the stairs and of grown men saying, “Agh!” and “Dang it, Rick!” as they turned the sharp corners with large pieces of furniture in their hands.

            “So, how’s school?” Carolina asked Maggie.

            “It’s okay. I can’t wait till summer, though.”

            “Do you like your new school here?”

            Maggie shook her head. “Nope. The kids here are mean. Daddy said I could start at Christian school next year if I want to.”

            “Oh, that’s wonderful!” Carolina said with a grin. “Your dad always says the best things about that school up in Covington. That’s the one, isn’t it?”

            “Yep. Mrs. Birch is the art teacher there.”

            Carolina searched her memory. She knew she’d heard the name before. She repeated it to herself several times in her head, but nothing came. “She’s a nice lady,” she finally said. “I hope you get to go there.”

            Eventually Carolina was called upstairs to tell her sons how to arrange the room. The bed had been put together and the drawers were all back inside the dresser. Most everything else was still boxed up.

            “I want the dresser in front of this window,” she said, pointing to her left. “The bed should be against that wall, facing north, and the desk should be right here by the door.”

            “Thanks for the directions, Mom,” Tom laughed.

            Rick and Kenny, two of her four sons, laughed as well and began pulling the desk towards the wall by the door. Tom easily moved the bed where she had directed, and when it was in place Carolina sat down on the edge of the bare mattress. She thought about how strange it would be to sleep in a place her dear Albert had never even seen.

            “You might want to move, Mom,” Tom said.

            “Am I in the way?” Carolina squeaked, startled out of her thoughts.

            “No, but Eliza’s coming to put sheets on your bed.” He touched her shoulder, and she stood up.

            Carolina knew how to make her bed, but she said nothing. She wanted to shout, “I’m only 77! I took care of you, I can take care of myself!”

But standing in the middle of the room, she said nothing. She watched the action around her, feeling completely and totally useless for the first time in her life.

 

            Everything still felt the same in the morning. Carolina had slept in the same bed for the last twenty years, and had slept next to the same man for almost 60 years. She was still getting used to it, but before she opened her eyes the cold space on the bed reminded her that Albert was gone. Her wrinkled hand reached out to touch the pillow where his bald head used to rest.

            Sighing deeply, Carolina opened her eyes. She had no idea where she was. There were large colored squares on the walls around her. Some brownish objects piled at the foot of the bed. After fumbling around on the bedside table, the confused woman put her glasses on and took a better look around her.

            “Oh, dear,” she said aloud with frustration. “How silly of me.” The squares on the walls were sheets, covering up the windows that still lacked curtains. The pile by her bed was a stack of cardboard boxes. She immediately remembered the previous day’s events, and after a deep breath she got out of bed and got dressed.

            She was on her way downstairs when Tom’s voice called from behind her.

            “Good morning, Mom,” he said with a smile.

            Carolina spun back around to see a room at the head of the stairs. “Oh, good morning, Tom,” she said. “I didn’t know there was a room here.”

            “It’s my office,” he said, looking around almost in admiration. He had made the bookshelves himself, and they were full of all the books bought for both of his masters degrees. “You remember when you and Dad bought me this desk?” He knocked on the desk’s surface.

            “We bought that?” she asked, running her hand over its worn edge.

            “When I got out of the Navy.”

            “Oh, of course,” she said with a nod. “It was just so long ago.”

            “So did you sleep well in your new room, Mom?” Tom asked.

            “As well as can be expect for an old woman!” she laughed.

            Tom laughed and took a sip of his coffee. “Well, I have to get back to writing this next lesson, but there’s coffee and breakfast downstairs, if you’re hungry.”

            “I was just on my way there,” she said, and continued down the stairs.

            In the kitchen, Eliza was sitting at the table drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. Maggie was in the adjoining living room on the floor, eating a bowl of cereal and watching cartoons.

            “Shouldn’t you be in school?” Carolina asked as she poured herself a cup of coffee.

            Eliza looked up from the paper. “Oh, well today’s Saturday. That’s why I’m home too!” She gave the woman a cheerful smile.

            “That’s right, of course.”

            “I don’t go to school on Saturdays, Grandma,” Maggie said.

            “I know, honey. I just forgot. Is there any more cereal?”

            Maggie jumped up from her spot on the carpet. “I can show you!”

            “Thanks, Mags.”

            “You’re welcome,” Maggie said with a shrug.

            After showing her grandmother the pantry and pointing out the cupboard with bowls in it, the girl went back to her cartoons, and Carolina sat down at the table with Eliza to read the funny papers.

            She decided that morning, despite her initial confusion, that she was going to feel right at home there with her family so close. Her old life had been wonderful, and she would make the new one just as pleasant.

 

            The end of summer had come with some unpleasant surprises for Carolina. While she had spent those months laughing in the sunshine with her family, she had also spent some of it in a fog.

            Sometimes she woke up in the morning thinking that it was the middle of the afternoon. Carolina had stopped wearing a watch after she retired from nursing, and so time often eluded her, but this was different. She was so hazy that she skipped meals on accident, and then got sick from the hunger. Eliza or Maggie would come and ask her if she was hungry, and she would say, “No, I’ve already eaten, and I’m feeling  a bit nauseated.” But some minutes later she would realize that she was actually feeling hunger, not nausea.

            Carolina didn’t really notice how bad things were, until she saw how irritated her family seemed to be. She once made chicken for dinner, though she couldn’t remember why she had done it, and the act had made Eliza frown through the whole meal. She also had apparently caused her granddaughter to thinks he was a thief, because Maggie had begun to write her name in permanent marker on things�"shampoo, water bottles, and other things in the bathroom. It offended the poor old woman so much that she’d stood in the shower for an extra half an hour crying.

            Her summer of confusion had consequently led to several doctor’s appointments, and she was presently sitting in the waiting room while Eliza and Tom talked to a specialist behind a closed door.

            She could faintly hear the doctor saying, “So, tell me again what most concerns you.”

            “Well,” Eliza said. “I ask her to make dinner before we get home. But sometimes she makes it hours before we get home, or she leaves the stove on, or the food isn’t cooked all the way through. Once I asked her to make some pasta, and she made chicken instead. She didn’t remember me saying anything about the pasta.”

            “And you said that she’s always been a decent cook.”

            “She was great,” Tom said. “But now she’s not safe in the kitchen. Sometimes the food isn’t safe, either.”

            The doctor sighed heavily enough for Carolina to hear, then he asked, “Did you say your daughter also had some concerns?”

            “Yes, she’s had some issues with Carolina,” Eliza said. “Carolina started using Maggie’s deoderant, and she forgets to flush the toilet in the bathroom they share. Maggie started writing her name on things, but that doesn’t seem to work either. Carolina just… doesn’t remember.”

            “Does Carolina often fabricate things as well? Many victims of this disease will replace real memories with fake ones.”

            “She’s done that a couple times,” Tom answered. “The other day she asked me where my older brother lived, because she hadn’t seen him in a while. My older brother died in Vietnam, though. I had to tell her everything all over again.”

            “Well, why don’t we bring her in and we can all talk about this,” the doctor said.

            The door swung open, and Carolina slowly stood up. “Can I come back in now?”

            Eliza smiled at her, but in a sad way that she couldn’t quite understand.

            “Come on in, Mom,” Tom said, his voice expressing the same tone in his wife’s voice.

            Carolina sat down on a plastic chair in the office, and they closed the door.

            “Do you remember me, Carolina?” the doctor asked. “I’m Dr. Connor.” He shook her hand.

            “I remember,” she said, which was only a half lie. His face was familiar, but she didn’t recognize his name.

            Carolina, you’ve been through a lot of tests the last few days. I’ve talked with the other specialists, and we’ve all gone over your tests. We know that you’d like to be feeling better, to get this all cleared up. Would you like to know the results?”

            She frowned and nodded. “Let’s just get it over with.”

            “You have Alzheimer’s disease, Carolina,” Dr. Connor said.

            With a heavy sigh, Carolina looked down at her lap. She had a tissue clenched in her left hand, where she still wore her wedding ring. She ached for her dear Albert then, to be held and comforted. She knew that Tom and his wife cared for her, but it wasn’t the same. With that thought, she realized it would never be the same again.

           

            Back at home, Carolina sat her bedroom, taking in her fate. Sorrow washed over her in patient waves, one after the other, each pulling her between chaotic hopelessness and peacful numbness. At moments she even struggled to recall why she was so upset. The tears had already come and gone. Her face was dry. She looked the picture of calmness. But internally, she was overthrown and overwhelmed by what the future held for her.

            Down the hall, everyone was in Tom’s office. Tom and Eliza were explaining to Maggie that her grandmother had Alzheimer’s, and that things were about to change. The girl seemed to be taking it reasonably well, with only a few sounds of complaint. Although, like Carolina, Maggie was a stubborn soul and didn’t like to show people how upset she was. It would take something like this--something catastrophic and shocking�"to get Maggie to cry in front of her parents.

            “You understand?” Tom asked his daughter. “You’re going to have to help us take care of grandma.”

            “I get it,” Maggie said, voice raspy from her soft crying.

            “She’s not going to be the same grandma anymore. We know you’re sad. We’re all sad. But we’re going to get through this together. We just have to watch out for her.”

            Carolina sighed to herself and went to the window. Already, she was being talked about like she wasn’t in the house. She heard the distant voice of her son, clarifying the to his daughter all the uncomfortable details of Alzheimer’s. They would start making Maggie watch her closely, since they would have time together at home. Maggie was to help out in the kitchen if Carolina ever wanted to cook. If Carolina put something away in the wrong place or made a mess, Maggie had to help clean up without offending her grandmother.

            Another sigh escaped from her lungs. Her own dear Maggie was being subjected to taking care of an old woman. At twelve years old the girl would have to babysit her grandmother. Their relationship was forever changed, intrinsically altered. Nobody wanted it, but it had happened: Carolina had become the dependent one.

            She put her hand up on the window pane. They were all trapped.

 

© 2010 Katie Foutz Voss


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Added on May 9, 2010
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Author

Katie Foutz Voss
Katie Foutz Voss

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About
1. My name is Katie, Kat, Kate, or Katherine. Never Kathy. 2. You will find me with flowers in my hair and paint on my hands. 3. I love: Jesus, my husband, art, coffee, pajamas, chapstick, the color.. more..

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