“Play music for me, when I’m old,” Dottie said to Stan. “Like when I’m in a nursing home, in a vegetative state.”
Dottie was sipping coffee in a chaise lounge on the back porch, still in her nightgown. Stan sat at the patio table nearby, deeply engrossed in some project on his computer. Dottie only talked to him when Stan was deeply engrossed in something. He could sit for hours in the same room with her, doing nothing, and she wouldn’t speak a word. But as soon as he started to concentrate on something else, she felt the need to talk. It was usually about something highly speculative, like what would happen 30 years from now when she was in a nursing home.
“What kind of music?” Stan asked with half his brain. He tried to keep the other half on his project, so he didn’t lose his train of thought. But, somewhere deep inside, he knew that wouldn’t happen. Dottie would demand his full attention before long. She wouldn’t stand to be ignored, even by half his brain, especially at the expense of one of his many projects.
“You know the kinds I like. Anything but hip-hop, I guess.” Dottie sipped her coffee. “Or opera,” she added.
“Okay,” Stan said.
“I suppose music could be different by then, from what it is now. Maybe there will be some new genres I’d like. I’ll start a running playlist.”
“Okay,” Stan said. “You make it, I’ll play it.”
“And play me some audio books,” she added. “I’m listening to a good one now when I’m out on my walks. It’s about a couple who has a child they don’t know about.”
“How does that work,” Stan asked, putting his writing project aside. He was hoping Dottie might stop talking as soon as she saw she’d successfully diverted his attention from everything else and had his full attention. Sometimes that worked. “Seems like they would’ve noticed the big belly and the painful delivery and all. The woman anyway,” Stan noted. Dottie looked at Stan like he was an idiot.
“They thought their baby died, of course. But it hadn’t – there was a nurse who couldn’t have children of her own and…..oh never mind.” At first, Stan thought maybe Dottie’s talking had run its course. But no such luck. The word “baby” was too much for her.
“Speaking of babies, the Flores’ daughter is pregnant again,” Dottie said wistfully. Neither of their own daughters had seen fit to offer up a grandchild, and it was rapidly becoming unlikely. Emily and her husband, Ben, were in their late thirties with no plans for a family. Ben suffered from some condition or other unclear to Dottie, mumps or something as a teenager, that meant they couldn’t have children together. There were plenty of other options, but Emily and Ben didn’t seem to be interested in considering them.
Although younger than Emily, Jamie and her partner, Marina, weren’t interested in children either. Their relationship was so volatile Dottie thought it might be just as well, although she couldn’t help but be disappointed. Maybe if they split up and Jamie started again with someone else? Well, it really wasn’t fair or healthy to think about things like that.
It seemed sad to think both their immediate family lines, hers and Stan’s, would be ending. Dottie had been an only child. Neither of Stan’s sisters had any surviving children – one was a nun, and the other had experienced a series of heartbreaking miscarriages in her younger days. Eventually, the sister’s halfwit husband ended up leaving her for a teenaged prostitute he’d knocked up, or believed he had, anyway. Dottie wondered how you could ever be sure in that situation whether the baby was yours, short of DNA testing, which the halfwit husband refused to ask for.
Well, you had to play the hand you were dealt, Stan always said. Or he’d said it once or twice, anyway. Dottie would have only Emily and Jamie at her deathbed. And Stan, maybe. Both her parents had died years ago, and there were only a few cousins with whom she’d never been close. No one else.
Dottie worried. Would any of them remember to play music for her? Or audiobooks? Or to take her ashes to Alaska like she’d always asked? Or to keep her feet covered when the AC blew too cold? She loved them all, Emily and Jamie and Stan, but Dottie didn’t have much faith they’d be as attentive as she’d like. When she was in a vegetative state. In a nursing home.
Dottie looked over at Stan. His back was to her, but obviously she’d lost his attention again. Stan had an annoying habit of pulling out various projects to work on whenever he sensed Dottie was feeling conversant. And he was slouching again.
“Stanley, I said Ray and Tina’s daughter is pregnant again,” Dottie repeated. She expected him to understand the pique in her tone and turn around – Dottie only called him “Stanley” when she was annoyed. Stan still didn’t answer.
At the emergency room, they said it had been a massive stroke. The doctors did everything they could, but Stan hadn’t responded well. After a week, they moved him out of intensive care and into a long-term care facility. He’d stabilized, but appeared to have minimal cognitive function. The prospects for any meaningful recovery weren’t good.
Dottie sat alone with Stan in the nursing home most mornings and held his hand. Sometimes Emily, Jamie or one of Stan’s sisters visited, but mostly it was just Dottie. Today, she’d been listening to an audiobook to occupy her mind, and maybe Stan’s, while she sat. As Dottie gathered her things to leave, she turned on the music playlist she’d added to Stan’s phone, and arranged his blanket to make sure it didn’t slip off his feet after she’d left, so his feet wouldn’t be cold when the AC blew.
PC: Marie Sophie Tekian on Unsplash.com