Other People’s Problems – Decisions

           “Emily. It’s so good to see you. So, what are you having?”

“Gee. I don’t know, Dianne. There are so many choices.” Emily scanned the chalkboard menu. “What are you ordering?”

“I love the banana crepes.” Dianne rested her elbows on the table. She’d skipped breakfast so she could indulge.

“Mmmm. Not a big banana fan.”

“Then, how about a sandwich? The pulled pork is good.”

“Is it spicy? I can’t handle spicy food.” Emily put her hand on her belly. “My digestive system is cranky.”

“I don’t find it spicy, but if you want to be safe you could order a BLT on toast?” She caught herself thrumming her nails on the tabletop and quickly moved her hand to her lap. “Everything here is good. It’s my favourite spot to eat when I’m home.”

“Good morning,” the waitress greeted them without eye contact. She clutched a flip pad to her chest. “What can I get you?”

Dianne replied promptly. “I’ll have the banana crepes, please. And coffee, with cream and sugar.”

“You want toast with that?”

The question caught Dianne by surprise. “No… thank you.”

“And for you?”

“Hmmmm.” Emily’s hand began to tremble. “How many calories in the crepes?”

“I don’t know. They come with whipped cream and chocolate sauce.”

“Really? Are you sure that’s what you want, Dianne?”

“They’re really good.”

“Yes, but… I’ll have the garden salad please.”

“What kind of dressing?” asked the waitress.

“Dressing?” Emily frantically tried to remember the name of a salad dressing.

“What do you have?” asked Dianne.

“Oh, gosh. Italian… Ranch… French… Blue Cheese… and… House.”

“House please.” Emily breathed a sigh of relief.

“What would you like to drink?” The waitress seemed calm to the point of disengagement..

“Oh, geez… what do you have?” Emily scanned the room for a beverage list.

“We’ve got milk, white or chocolate, Sprite, Pepsi, Orange Crush, Dr. Pepper, and Nestea. There’s coffee, a bunch of teas, bottled beer, white wine, some hard cider… and water.”

“I’ll have water… please.” Emily

“K. So that’s a banana crepe with coffee and… a garden salad with house dressing and water.”

“Actually, make mine a salad too. Italian dressing, please.” The waitress corrected Dianne’s order, did a pirouette and headed toward the kitchen.

Emily unwrapped her cutlery and put the cloth napkin on her knee.

“So… how’ve you been?” Dianne hadn’t seen her friend for six months and wouldn’t be here now if a family gathering hadn’t brought her back.

“I’m good. I have some intestinal issues and an ingrown toenail, but I got a pedicure to have it cut back. “I need to make a dentist appointment. I’ve got a tooth that’s aching on my left side, at the top.” Emily dropped her jaw and pulled her top lip up. She spoke while pointing to the errant tooth. “She tat une? Ish gibbon he lost of rubble.”

“You should have that looked at.”

“I’ll probably have to have them all pulled out some day.” Emily gazed out the window. “You know… my mother has full dentures, up and down.”

“No. I was unaware of that.”

The server placed a glass of tap water, no ice, in front of Dianne and a mug of black coffee in front of Emily. “Your salads will be here in a sec.” The women exchanged their drinks.

Emily took a sip of water and continued gazing out the window. Dianne studied the coffee and wondered whether to ask for cream and sugar. She addressed her friend instead. “So, how’s work going?”

“Okay I guess.”

“Anything exciting happen with the old folks?”

Emily worked at the town’s retirement home, Parkland Manor. She treated the elderly clients as she would a group of toddlers. Her slow moving manner and soft-spoken approach was well suited to the fragile residents.

“Mrs. Harper died last week.”

“Oh, was she one of your clients.”

“She’d been at Parkland for three years. Her kids stopped coming to see her, because her memory was shot and she couldn’t recognize them.”

“Gosh, that’s sad.” Dianne took a drink of the black coffee and grimaced. “It must’ve been a lonely place for her.”

“Oh, she was happy enough. Every day was a new beginning. She could never remember anyone, so we constantly did introductions and she was always happy to meet new people.”

The server placed the salads on the table correctly. “Anything else you need?”

“No thanks,” replied Dianne.

Emily took a bite of salad and spoke with her mouth full. “She dad at hunch.”

“I beg your pardon.” Dianne paused with a forkful of lettuce in midair.

“She died at lunch.”

“Who?’

“Mrs. Harper… at Parkland. She came down to lunch one day and we thought she’d dozed off while waiting for her meal to be served, but it turned out that she died. Just closed her eyes and was gone.”

“Oh my, that must have been disturbing for her table mates.”

“It happens all the time.” Emily focused on salad and the two ate in silence.

“But it’s sad, don’t you think? There she was, living at Parkland Manor, with no visitors, not remembering her neighbours and then, without warning, she’s gone.”

Emily set down her fork and swallowed a bite. “Would you rather that she suffered from some long illness like cancer, or had taken a fall and broken her hip, or had been struck down by a heart attack?”

“Well… no. But wasn’t it upsetting for her lunch mates, and the serving staff?”

Emily laughed and resumed eating. “Heck no. Like I said, it happens a lot. Most of the time we just wheel the person away saying it’s time for them to have a rest and the others at the table never clue in.” She made direct eye contact. “It’s what most of them want. To go quickly and without pain, either to themselves or their family.”

“Speaking of which… What did the negligent children say?”

“Say?”

“When they were told their mother was dead, what was their reaction?”

“The usual,” said Emily. “They wanted to know the amount of the final invoice and when the room had to be cleared out.”

“They didn’t ask about their mother?”

“What’s to ask? The woman was dead.”

“But… I don’t know… where was the body.”

“Well jeez, Dianne, I called the ambulance and they took the body away. What did you think, we returned her to her room? Honestly.”

“So that’s that. Mrs….”

“Harper.”

“Right, Mrs. Harper is just taken away, the kids clear out her stuff and life goes on. Nobody mourns her. No impact from her passing.”

“I put her photo on the Remembrance Board and the chaplain will say a prayer for her.” Emily licked salad dressing off her finger. “And they left most of the stuff in the room.”

“Can they do that?”

“Happens all the time. They took the TV, her jewellery and a couple paintings. I handled the rest of the stuff.”

“What do you mean, you handled it.”

“Well, Mr. Johnstone needed a powerlift chair and can’t afford it, so he got that. Some of the clothes went to her friends who had admired them, but I sent most to a charity shop. The personal supplies, disposable underwear, shampoo, meal replacement drinks and such, went to the storage cupboard to be used when a resident accidentally runs out. The dresser, desk, chair and bedside table all went to a church group that helps new immigrants set up house. The hospital bed was left in the room for the new person coming in.”

“Wow. You made all those decisions?”

“Of course. That’s my job, Dianne.”

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Marion Reidel, Upper Canadian Author with a wicked sense of humour. Buy her book, visit her on tour, and also get the tattoo.

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