This story by Shane Fitzpatrick won the Readers’ Choice Award in our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Shane writes short story fiction. He particularly likes writing in the crime and thriller genres. He is currently working on several writing projects, including screenplays. He lives in Dublin, Ireland with his wife Michelle and son Harry. You can read more of his writing at The People I Meet Every Day and Creative Daily Scribe and follow him on Twitter (@sfitzyfly).
My body brought daily torture. Each day was a series of adult diapers that chafed, applying creams, lotions and potions to offset the itching, annoyance and never-ending pain. Swelling of the ankles, no tastebuds and the loss of self autonomy led to a life less enjoyable.
Dignity had long departed, along with my nurse of seventeen years, Esmeralda. She used the excuse that she was moving south to help her youngest bring up her latest grandchild. She had many others, so I didn’t understand why this one was so special. As she left, I reminded the Puerto Rican witch that she wasn’t getting any of my Meyer fortune.
My Vincent died many years ago. He was taken suddenly by night terrors, overdosing on medication I had never seen before. He locked the bathroom door and died a silent death in an empty bath with his pale silk boxers on. I had to endure mortification for years, as pointed fingers and whispered chats were conducted in tearooms at my expense.
Apart from agency nurses who rotated occasionally, only vultures and lawyers were familiar faces. They scuttled in with heads down, fearful of rebuke. Their demeanour, body language and titbits of conversation were brief. I had little patience for incompetence.
None of these “angels in scrubs” had anything to contribute in answer to my questions. So I didn’t bother asking anymore. Each reminded me of Esme in some way, whether it was a caring stroke as they wrapped my arms in the calamine-soaked gauze or a soft-eyed moment of pity. I quickly rejected their advances. I knew they were trying to get underneath my skin and into my back pocket. I had a grandnephew, Zach, too willing to do that every month.
Zach was an innocent boy with loose morals. A twenty-six-year-old man-child with a raging libido and a hankering for fast living and expensive clothes. My sister’s solitary grandchild visited every first Sunday of each month, spending most of the time on the couch recovering from the night before and then hours gorging in the fridge.
Then he’d leave and silence filled the corners of the penthouse apartment, aside from the beeping taxis on the street below.
My new doctor tried his best, but I wasn’t for turning. It was the Meyer in me, full of self-determination in the initial gut choice. Some called it stubbornness, others pigheadedness. I got one of the skivvies to get me a number for a travel agency. I wasn’t using the internet.
I made appointments with the requisite psychologists and psychotherapists. Stating the daily pain, constant discomfort, distress and nuisance I went through, they didn’t disagree. Loneliness hurt from my toes to my split-ends.
Boarding in a wheelchair on the flight to Dublin, Ireland, I was quickly reminded what burden I was to strangers. They fussed over how to lift me into the cabin seat as my girth was a bit of an issue. I partly enjoyed the idea of two men as tall as jockeys managing to lift me into the Business Class seat. I held up three hundred or so passengers, until I was in seat 1A.
Chad, my nurse, didn’t sit beside me. I made sure he sat in the first row of coach, so close to feeling the luxurious comfort of the Business Class seats, but so far away. I informed the staff onboard that he was my lackey and to fetch him if I needed to visit the toilet. I saw disgust in their eyes, but truly didn’t care.
I drank three glasses of champagne and needed to use the restroom. The crew assisted Chad as best they could, and I made no effort. I watched him grimace as he endured the smell of the communal toilet at low level, never once complaining.
In Dublin we had a two-hour wait before our flight to Amsterdam. It felt right returning to the birthplace of my original New Netherland ancestors. I had left instructions with my lawyer regarding Zach’s inheritance. He had to abide by my guidelines, otherwise a dog and cat home in Queens got everything.
The plush Business lounge afforded me time to flick through one of the only pieces of luggage I brought with me. It was a leather-bound volume of old photographs of family and friends. I sipped instant coffee, wincing each time I swallowed.
“That’s a good looking young man,” came a raspy voice over my shoulder.
“That fella in the crisp suit. Handsome divil.”
“Em, thank you, but these are private.”
“Oh, sorry, I don’t mean to pry. Love black and white photos.”
“I do too. Reminds me of simpler times.”
“I agree! I’ve got an old photo restored of my Ma and Da above our fireplace. My son Alan, who I’m going to visit, got it done two years ago for me as a Christmas present. It’s fabulous.”
“I’m sure it is. If you don’t mind, I have to eh, Chad? Where is that boy?”
Chad came scampering over and moved me away from the common woman in the purple tracksuit. Her yellowed teeth and unkempt hair, which was badly in need of a brush, reminded me of Esme. I sat in the corner for an hour, stroking my pearl necklace, alone with tears and moth-ball smell in the aged binder.
We again boarded first and I didn’t revel in holding others up this time. This was my last time on a plane, a simple thing in life.
Stick to the Meyer gene, Freda, came my inner voice.
Then she came onboard and I heard her before I saw her. She was assisted to the seat right beside me. Purple velour clothing near slid her out of the pleather seat. Her greeting was as welcome as her appearance.
“Ah jaysus! Tis yourself again!”
“Ah yes, hello. Again.”
I pulled my black fur coat off her seat before she plopped herself down. The seat made a less than luxurious sound and she made a funny face, just like a child.
“My name is Carmel Murphy, by the way. Never got an opportunity to introduce meself earlier.”
“Freda Meyer of Manhattan, New York City.”
“Carmel from north inner City Dublin. Originally of the Liberties now living in the Royal County of Meath. Proper royalty like!”
I offered my hand. Hers was well moisturized and soft, catching me off guard. Her nails were manicured impeccably in a pale shade of dusty rose.
“Nice to meet you Freda. What has you going to Amsterdam?”
I expected this to get her attention and illicit disgust.
“I think you’re confusing in the continent you’re in there Freda. We’re in Europe here. The only Asian youths here would be students or tourists.”
“Asian youths, Freda?”
“Do you understand what I just said? And did you just imply I have a problem with incontinence?”
“I did not!”
“I did not, Freda, but if it makes you feel any better, I have a nappy on too.”
“You are utterly disgusting and . . .”
“Unique? Yeah, I get that a lot. And I’m a sidekick too.”
“You’re a sidekick? Oh I get it! You’re a psychic! Of course you are!”
“I am indeed! Give us your palm.”
She yanked it from me without reply. Despite her roughness, she was gentle and pulled her glasses from her handbag. Looking intently, she read each wrinkle of my seventy-seven years.
“Why what? What do you mean, Ms. Murphy?”
She viewed me with pity.
“I’m flying over to see my first grandson for the first time. His name is Siem. I’ve only seen pictures on the computer and he’s twelve days old. He is utterly beautiful and the first son to my Alan and his wife Brigitte. She’s a native Amsterdammer and they’re living in De Pijp, in the suburbs.”
“I’m sorry, Ms. Murphy, I don’t follow.”
“It’s September and I’m in the autumn of my life. Like you, my husband was taken and I wandered aimlessly for years. Now, I have a reason to function—Siem. He’s a gorgeous, innocent young boy who needs love. I’m going to spoil him.”
I said nothing and gazed out the window for the remaining hour or so. She tried every subtle way to make me turn her way.
As the seatbelt sign was turned off, she pulled an old Nokia 3210 phone from her handbag.
“Ring your grandnephew. Tell him you need help. It’s called unconditional love.”
“You need family and friends, Freda. Life is for living, despite all the stuff it throws at us.”
“This is your phone! Won’t you need it?”
“You need it more than I. My number is on it. Ring me whenever.”
“Thank you, Carmel. That is so kind of you.”
“No bother, Freda—black widows need to stick together. I couldn’t stand the weekly bashing around the head anymore either.”
“You’re implying I had a hand in my husband’s death?”