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Fiction, Short Fiction
by: J. Dennis McKay
"Why did you call me to the office?" she asks.
I'm Mr. Vickers today, "Just to congratulate you on your report card."
"Well I tried very hard. I did all my homework and studied every night."
At least I know Mr. Vickers. Even though I'd never met him. "Yes, I know Violet. You got straight A's. You are a very diligent student." I'm Mr. Vickers often these days. I'm getting to know him well.
"Thank you, Mr. Vickers. I do try hard. I really do."
* ~ * ~ *
"Why doesn't your sister go? It's her godmother. She should go."
"She's in Chicago, mum. She's on business."
"Yes, well, she should go. She never goes."
"Yes mum, but she's very busy all the time. It's hard for her to go."
"She should make the time. It's her godmother, after all."
"Tell her to go when she gets back from Chicago."
"I will, mum."
"I'd go. I do go. She's my aunt and I go as often as I can, but its such a long drive from out here."
"Yes, mum. I know. You visit her a lot."
* ~ * ~ *
"Did you get the coins I sent for Christmas?"
The quick change takes a second for me to adjust. But she doesn't notice. "Yes, I got them, I have the complete set now."
"Good. I never quite trust the Post. And I wanted you to have the whole set."
"Yes, aunt Vi, I have the whole set now," I've had the whole set for twelve years now. They're collecting dust in my closet, somewhere. "It's a lovely set. The new ones are very pretty."
"I wanted you to have the whole set. To remember."
"Yes, I will remember."
Off in a corner of the common room a nurse is asking questions. "And do you remember what day it is?"
"It's a lovely flower," comes the answer from a feeble voice.
"Yes, it's a lovely flower, but do you know what day it is?"
"It's my birthday."
I try and tune out the conversation in the corner. "Do you want me to bring the set by so you can see it? I have them all in a lovely case."
"That would be nice. I would like to see the case."
"I'll bring it tomorrow." And I will. Even though she won't remember. But maybe she will.
* ~ * ~ *
"I can't be the one who goes all the time."
"Yes, mum, I know. It's such a long drive for you."
"And the roads are still awful this time of year."
"There's still snow on the ground out there, I know."
"It's the elevation. It always amazes me. We're only a half hour out of the city, but the elevation makes all the difference."
"Yes it does. It was a tough winter out there this year, wasn't it?"
"Awful, just awful. I never thought it was going to end. But it looks like spring is finally coming. I wonder if it's too early to start working in the flower garden?"
"You'll get frost until the middle or end of May, mum. You do every year." And she plants a few weeks too early every year and the frost kills half her flowers every year.
"Yes, well, I think we'll have a good spring this year. I think I'll start planting in the next couple of weeks, as soon as the last of the snow is gone."
"Of course, mum. Do you want me to pick up anything for the garden, then?"
"Maybe next week. I'll be coming into town next week to see aunt Vi, and we can both go and pick some things out then."
"You're sister really should come."
"To the greenhouse?"
"When we go to see aunt Vi. She's her godmother, you know."
* ~ * ~ *
There has been some silence for a while. Vi's eyelids, paper thin like the rest of her, are drooping and she's breathing slow, and unsteady. The nurse in the corner is continuing her inquisition. "I know it's your birthday, but what day is your birthday?" she's becoming a little frustrated. "It's not my birthday. It's the 26th, it's my mother's birthday." The nurse jots something down. I think for a second and realize it is, in fact, the 26th. "Do you know what month it is?" she asks. "April, silly. My mother's birthday is always April 26th." The nurse jots something down on her clipboard. "Do you know what year?" "Of course, silly, it's '52." Not bad. Only off by half a century or so.
"Mr. Vickers?" Vi's eyes snap open, alert and fearful.
"Why did you call me to the office?"
"To congratulate you on your report card, Violet. You're a very diligent student."
"Oh, I was so worried when Ms. Crawford told me you wanted to see me."
"There's nothing to worry about, Violet. You're a very good student."
I don't know what to say, so I let the silence stretch for a minute. "It's a lovely flower," I hear a feeble voice in the corner. "Yes," the nurse answers. "It's a very lovely flower. " There isn't a flower anywhere to be seen in the common room.
"When did you get the case?"
"Which case?" I'm baffled for a moment.
"The case for the coin set. You said you got a case for them."
"Oh," I answer, becoming me instead of Mr. Vickers. "I got it boxing day. So I'd have a place for the whole set."
* ~ * ~ *
"What's father up to, these days?"
"Tinkering on that damn tractor. He's been tinkering with that tractor all winter. I don't know why. There's never anything wrong with it."
"That's because he's always fixing it, mum."
"Well, I suppose."
"And the dogs? How are the dogs doing?"
"Fat and lazy, just like the cat. At least the cat still catches mice. The dogs don't. They just eat and dig in the garden."
The cat is mum's and the dogs are father's. "Well, they always make noise when someone comes up the drive."
"Scared the delivery man half to death yesterday. He'd just got out of his van when the two of them came charging around the house. I thought he was going to have a heart attack right on the spot."
"Well, isn't that why you keep them, mum? To scare off strangers?"
"It took a half an hour to talk him out of his van. He swore at me and told me to chain the dogs up before he comes next time."
"Well, why don't you chain them up before he comes?"
"I can never catch them. You know what it's like."
Yes, I did. The two Rotweilers were, in fact, neither fat nor lazy. And a perpetual hazard for mice and gophers, and any other small animal that strayed across their path. "Why don't you get father to call them? They always come when he calls."
"He was busy working on the tractor."
* ~ * ~ *
I'm halfway done my cigarette out front of the nursing home when a young nurse comes out. All the nurses are young. The older they get, the less they want to work around the old. "Got a cigarette?" she asks, rubbing her temples to relieve some inner tension. I hand her a cigarette and light it for her. "She's done in the washroom. She's looking tired so we helped her up into the bed."
"Don't keep her up too much longer. She gets miserable if she doesn't get a good sleep in the afternoon."
"Did you give her pills?"
The nurse looks down, unable to meet my eyes. "She's just, more relaxed when we give her the pills."
And easier to handle. "I know. Has she been sleeping well at night?"
"Except for the evening, when the sun sets. Sundowner's," she nods in the direction of the interior of the nursing home. "Just like the rest of them. We never have enough people on hand for sundown." The young nurse crinkles her eyes and rubs her temples with her spare hand, then takes another drag from the cigarette.
"I'll just say my good-byes, then, and let her have her nap." I drop my cigarette on the walk and crush it with a twist of my shoe.
* ~ * ~ *
"Let me know how she's doing when you get home."
"I'll call as soon as I get in," I lie.
"Your sister is the one who should be making the visits, you know."
"I know. But she's busy."
"Vi's her godmother."
"Tell her to visit the next time you talk to her."
"I will," I lie, "I promise to tell her."
"Good. We'll all go, when I come to town next week."
The three of us visiting Vi at the same time would be a terrible strain on her. "Yes, that'll be nice. She'll like that." It'll never happen anyway. My sister won't go within a mile of a nursing home.
* ~ * ~ *
Vi's so thin now it hardly looks like there's anything under the covers. Just a skinny face with translucent skin sticking out of the top. I pull up a chair and sit beside her so I won't be talking down to her. Her eyes flutter open after a minute and she notices me sitting there.
"What does the case look like?"
"It's green velvet, with a sprung lid."
"That's nice. You will bring it to show me, won't you?"
* ~ * ~ *
"Call me as soon as you get back?"
"Yes mum. As soon as I get back."
"Good. I'll talk to you then."
"Say hello to father for me."
"I will," she lies. "As soon as he comes in from tinkering on the tractor."
"Talk to you in a bit, mum."
"Talk to you later."
* ~ * ~ *
"I bought you those coins so you'd remember."
"Yes, aunt Vi, I'll remember."