“Unbelievable,” Violet muttered, waiting for her sister to come to the door. Two Gold Street in lower Manhattan is a nice enough building, but five thousand dollars a month, wow. She shrugged and muttered, “I guess if you want to work in a luxury hotel in New York City, that’s what you have to pay.
“Speaking of money,” Violet glanced at her watch and frowned, “two days gone from work aren’t going to help my finances any.”
She hadn’t bothered to bring her laptop. The last time she’d visited her sister she’d lugged the thing around and never had a moment’s peace to write even a paragraph. Mavis’ bratty kids, Victor and Sally, had climbed into her lap every time she’d sat down, the rest of the time Mavis had dragged her all over Manhattan to see this site, visit that store and admire the general splendor. Not that Violet objected to children, per se, or to sightseeing, per se, but as a freelance writer she seldom had any such thing as a day off.
Violet clutched her overnight bag with both hands and bounced it against her knees. Three projects waiting completion, I don’t have time to waste, let’s do this already.
Mavis, her auburn hair styled in lose waves, opened the door, her face warming with an affectionate smile. “Violet.” She kissed her sister on the cheek. “You’re looking fit.”
“Thanks. I run every day. Where do you run, Mavis? Is it safe to run in this neighborhood?” Violet loosed a nervous laugh. Ouch, that didn’t come out right.
Mavis shook her head. “Violet, if you’re worried about it, you can use my visitor’s pass and run on a treadmill at the gym.” She stepped back to allow Violet room to enter. “How was your flight?”
Violet grimaced. “Mavis, you know I have an irrational fear of treadmills.” She kissed her sister’s cheek and stepped inside far enough to allow Mavis to close the door. “And these days, flying is not a fun proposition, you know that too, Mavis.” Violet glared. “Oh, I forgot, you fly first class.”
“Ah, Violet, the same as ever.” Mavis managed a sickly smile and gestured. “Come in, come in. Arlene just got here.”
Violet stepped past the sparkling clean kitchen into the living room. “Hello Arlene, love that new hair color. How are the kids?”
Arlene looked up from her spot on the sofa where she’d been staring at her I-phone, her mouth fell open, she frowned, then said, “It’s my natural color, Violet.”
Violet waved a hand. “Ha, ha, sorry. I haven’t seen your natural hair color in so long I forgot.”
Arlene stuck out her tongue. “Yeah, right, sure you forgot.” She set her phone on the coffee table and stood up, smoothing her slacks and attempting a friendly smile. “It’s good to see you Violet. It’s refreshing to discover you haven’t changed.”
“Ah, you’re so sweet. How are the kids?”
“The kids are fine. They’re staying with Toby’s parents while I’m gone.” She leaned over the coffee table and gave Violet an awkward hug. Standing back and grinning, she hunched her shoulders in an “I’m so lucky” sort of body expression. “It’s nice to get a break from them. No laundry, no crumbs to sweep up, no snotty noses or whining bedtime rituals. And I won’t have to cook a single meal while I’m here.” Arlene beamed, now aglow with her typical joyousness. “Of course, I miss them already!” She giggled. “I enjoy leaving them behind, but I love going back.”
Violet attempted a friendly smile. “I’m glad you’re getting a break.” She set her overnight bag on the floor and perched on the loveseat. Arlene’s kids are brats too. She smoothed hair away from her forehead. I guess, my problem is I think all kids are brats.
Mavis breezed in from the kitchen carrying a tray with a pitcher of iced tea, sugar bowl, teaspoons and three glasses. “Violet, I loved your piece in that online magazine. What was it called? Oh yes, I remember, Pocketbook. It was great.”
Violet accepted a glass of iced tea, doused the liquid with several spoonfuls of sugar and stirred vigorously. “Thanks.” She scrutinized her sister, thinking, Ha! Mavis! You normally never bother to read any of my stuff. Violet’s eyes narrowed. What do you want? Her eyes widened. I’ll bet she wants me to take care of Mom. She stifled the angry, sarcastic quip that bit at her lips, choosing to gulp her tea instead. Lowering the glass and holding it with both hands, she managed a genuine appreciative look and murmured, “I’m pleased you liked it.”
Mavis’s cheerful expression faded, her eyes reflected a mind full of questions, as if she could almost hear Violet’s thoughts. She grimaced and turned to Arlene. “Tell me about the kids.” She handed Arlene her glass.
“We have Tyler in little league. You should see him; he’s a mini-Alex Rodriquez.” She chuckled. “ Samantha is such a beauty queen. She insists on picking out her clothes every day by herself. She wants to start dance this summer.”
Mavis poured herself some tea. “That’s fabulous. Samantha is a natural; so athletic and graceful all at the same time. And I bet Tyler’ll end up with a MVP award before the season is over.”
Arlene grinned from ear to ear.
Violet nursed her tea. If you want to see Arlene happy, just get her started talking about her kids. She glanced at Mavis. Googling for my latest piece, complimenting Arlene on her kids, Mavis is really laying it on. She definitely wants something.
She tuned out the latest tale about Tyler’s little league exploits and Samantha’s final days in the spring tumbling class and went to the window hoping to find a comforting view. Nope. Nothing but concrete canyons. Wonderful.
Interrupting Arlene, Violet blurted, “Not much of a view, Mavis, not for five thousand a month.”
Mavis retorted, “It’s the city, Violet. There are other amenities.”
Violet turned away from the depressing sights and stared at her sisters. “Yes, I suppose there are, but for the life of me I can’t think what those might be.”
Mavis sighed and patted the couch. “Violet, we both know you love open country and you’re not happy in the city. I love the city and Arlene doesn’t mind it--you know that too--so let’s just pretend we had that conversation and we finished it. Now, come over here and sit with us. We need to talk about Mom.”
Violet regained her seat and set her glass on the coffee table. Here it comes, just as I suspected. Mom is starting to fail and Mavis going to ask me to take care of her.
Mavis sighed. “Both Mrs. Cortez and Tender Care called me. Tender Care is the name of the company that provides in-home care for Mom on the weekends and once a week to give Mrs. Cortez a break. “Basically Mom can’t be alone at all anymore.
“Mrs. Cortez was staying through the day, fixing her meals and cleaning house. She used to put Mom to bed after supper and Mom managed on her own until she came back in the morning. We had a different girl for Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday so Mrs. Cortez could have a break.
“Up until a few days ago, Mom did fine. She watched Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune every night, kept her crossword puzzles finished and read her Bible daily, but Mrs. Cortez said she started noticing Mom slowing down on the crossword puzzles a few months ago and doing little things like leaving out the milk all night and the light on in the bathroom, but nothing serious. While Mom could carry on coherent conversations and remembered most everything, Mrs. Cortez didn’t worry about it much.
“But a couple of nights ago Mom went outside and stood on the corner in her nightgown. When the cops found her she muttered something about waiting for Dad to come home from work. They asked her where she lived and, thank God, she was able to tell them. They helped her inside and found Mrs. Cortez’s phone number on the refrigerator.
“The next day Mrs. Cortez took her to the doctor to check for a stroke.” Mavis shrugged. “Maybe she had a tiny one, I don’t know, but the bottom line is, Mom can’t live by herself anymore.”
Arlene asked, “Did they do any other tests?”
“They did. She doesn’t have diabetes and the definitive tests for Alzheimer’s are unavailable until a person is dead. I guess the generic name for what she has is ‘dementia.’” Mavis sighed again. “Mom has dementia. It’s not very bad yet. Mrs. Cortez says Mom could probably handle being alone at night a little longer, but I think it would be stupid to push it. It’s only going to get worse from here.”
She looked down at her hands, then back up at Arlene and Violet. “I’ve promised Mrs. Cortez a huge bonus, a Caribbean vacation, whatever it takes to get her to stay with Mom 24/7 until we find a permanent solution. Mrs. Cortez has her daughter coming in a couple of hours every day so she can do other things. I didn’t like the weekend caretaker, so I let her go.” Mavis’s face wore an uncharacteristically worried expression.
Her hands going sweaty, Violet asked, “What do you suggest we do?”
Mavis swallowed. “One of us has to move to Roswell.” She looked at Arlene, then their heads swiveled in unison to gaze in Violet’s direction.
I knew it; I knew it! Violet pushed the air with her opened palms. “No! I have a life in Downs! I just bought a house and I have a boyfriend.”
Mavis pursed her lips, sympathy mingled with resolve settled on her face. “Violet, you’re the only one who doesn’t have kids and a husband. You’re the only one who works from home. You’re the one to move in with Mom and take care of her.”
Arlene raised her hand and volunteered, “I’ll come every three months and stay for a week so you can have a break.”
Violet snapped. “Oh, you two already have this worked out, do you?”
Her two sisters frowned and looked at one another. Mavis turned her attention to Violet and said, “No, we didn’t. This is the first Arlene has heard of it.”
Violet groused. “Fine, just fine. You two always joined forces against me before, why stop now.”
Mavis reasoned, “Violet, you’re a freelance writer, you can work anywhere. They have internet in Roswell, probably better service than in that little collection of houses where you live now.”
Violet’s eyes narrowed. “It’s a town, Mavis, with a motel and restaurants. And, of course they have internet in Roswell, but that’s not the point. The point is you two have already decided and I don’t have any say in it.”
Arlene cleared her throat. “Actually, Violet, you could say “no” and help us pay for 24/7 care. One or more of us would have to go to Roswell and set it all up, but that’s do-able. We can find new people and keep Mrs. Cortez part time.”
Mavis shook her head. “No, Arlene, that’s not going to work. Mrs. Cortez wants to quit. She wants to spend more time with her husband now that he’s retired.” Her eyes dropped to her tea glass. “They want to take an extended vacation if other things work out in their lives.”
Feeling as if someone had left her heart sitting on a block of dry ice, Violet said, “Surely we can find someone.”
Mavis stared at Violet with that domineering, oldest sister look she hated. “With Mrs. Cortez out of the picture, if we hire people to care for Mom, one of us has to go check on things at least twice a month if not more often than that to be sure she’s being treated well and deal with whatever issues come up.” She paused. “The truth is, with none of us nearby checking on her regularly, we set Mom up for abuse.” She glanced meaningfully between Violet and Arlene.
Violet scowled. She’s right about that. I should know, I did an article on elder abuse a few months ago--things can get really ugly. Mavis probably already knows I know. She sighed.
Mavis continued, “Mom’s situation is going to continue to deteriorate, and probably faster without Mrs. Cortez onboard to help unless one of us takes over. Mom’s not going to do well with a fresh batch of strangers wandering through her house all the time. She needs continuity and stability.
“We won’t find another caretaker like Mrs. Cortez. She’s one of a kind. And trying to see to an older person’s needs from New York and Wisconsin and Kansas isn’t going to work. We’re all too far away to make a difference.”
Violet didn’t speak. Besides the article on abuse of the elderly, she’d written a blog post a few months earlier about the difficulties in finding responsible, kind people to look after old people in their homes. Thankfully neither Mavis nor Arlene had seen the article or they’d know that they hadn’t even scratched the surface of the problems they’d soon be facing if they couldn’t find three or more of Mrs. Cortez’s clones.
Gloom descended over Violet. Mavis is right, from a purely practical standpoint, I am the best person to live with Mom and take care of her. “Can’t we try to find some people to care for Mom?”
Mavis and Arlene looked at Violet as if she had just suggested that they should hire a hit man.
At last, Mavis said, “Haven’t you been listening, Violet? We’re already having trouble locating people to take care of Mom. Besides, even if we do that, very soon we’ll find ourselves going to Roswell every time we turn around to handle some crisis or another. That will be expensive and use vast quantities of time, time which none of us has. Meanwhile, Mom might suffer a serious injury or take a turn for the worse and none of us would be there for her.”
Violet grimaced, picked up tea glass and drank. Maybe they did know about the difficulties after all.
Mavis made a sudden twist of her shoulders, straightened her back and parked her hands on her knees--signs of imminent big sister domination about to come down on little sister Violet. “Violet, face it. You know better than we do what Mom will be up against if we leave her in strangers’ hands when we’re all living so far away. You did that article for that caregiver association in Michigan. You can’t pretend you don’t know what we’re up against.”
“We could put her in a nursing home,” Violet said, regretting the whine infecting her voice.
Arlene gasped. “Violet, we swore to Dad on his deathbed that we’d never do that to her, not when we had better options.”
Violet snorted an irritated laugh. “Yeah, well, Dad is dead.”
“He may be dead, but we promised,” Mavis barked.
Violet’s shoulders hunched and her heart ached. “You and Arlene promised, I was down the hall getting coffee.” Just when I found a boyfriend I really like and my garden is weed-free for the first time since I started buying a house. Aloud she grumped, “I guess that’s how it works, the person who’s not at the meeting gets stuck with the worst job.”
Mavis sounded irritated. “Well, I’m sorry about that Violet, but neither Arlene nor I can do it. Even if we could move to Roswell, we would still have our families to raise. Kids take a lot of time and energy, not that you’d know anything about that.”
Arlene blurted, “You’re the best person for the job.” She lifted a finger. “I’m pretty sure there aren’t any jobs in Roswell for a timberland valuations analyst nor is there a snazzy enough hotel where Lawrence can pull down the kind of salary he’s used to--not within two hundred miles anyway.”
Mavis nodded. “Believe it or not, Violet, I’ve already looked into it and talked it over with Lawrence. I know, cost of living is real cheap in New Mexico and Texas, but Lawrence likes the city and the high-pressure, luxury hotel business. He’s finally gotten where he wants to be in his job. He’s over-qualified for a job as hotel manager in Roswell and I don’t think they’d hire him even if I could get him to consider it.” She sighed. “It’s not fair to ask him to give up what he’s worked for years to achieve. And I’m not going to sacrifice my marriage so you can stay in Downs, Kansas, with a boyfriend who hasn’t even asked you to marry him yet!” She glared at Violet. “Arlene’s Toby would have to find work in an area that provides no jobs in his field. But worse, if they moved, that leaves his parents without anybody around to help them just when his Dad’s health is beginning to fail.”
Violet glowered, feeling as if someone had punched her in the gut. The news was hardly a surprise. She had noticed her mother had been a little slow during their last phone conversation and at one point totally dropped out of the conversation leaving a sentence unfinished.
Mavis’s mouth formed a hard line. “Violet, it’s not fair; its stinks, but of the three of us, you stand to lose the least by moving to Roswell to take care of Mom.”
Arlene blathered, “You work from home, you’re not married, you’re the best choice.”
“Yeah, Arlene, I believe that was mentioned.” Violet lowered her eyes. Damn.
In a gentle tone, Mavis said, “Violet, how about Arlene and I hire you to take care of Mom. That way if taking care of her interferes with your work, at least you won’t go broke.”
Violet’s head popped up. “Are you kidding me? Now you want to insult me on top of planning my life for me?”
Mavis shook her head. “It’s not an insult. You’ll be taking over Mrs. Cortez’s job we should pay you.”
“No, I don’t need your money.”
Mavis pursed her lips, then drank tea.
Grief washed through Violet. You shouldn’t be upset with them. Take their money, you can use steady money and, actually, Mavis is sweet to offer--it means she actually gets that you’re giving up something too.
Everything they’ve said is entirely reasonable. And worse, they’re right. You’re the best woman for the job.
Face it: this is normal. This is how it always is: things finally start going right for you and something screws it up.
Her eyes watering, Violet snapped. “Fine. Fine. You’ve decided. You two promised Dad. And as usual, I get stuck following through.”
Mavis drew a bead on Violet as if she were behaving like a spoiled child. “That’s not always the case and you know it, Violet.”
Feeling petulant and increasingly childish under Mavis’ stare, Violet folded her arms over her chest and hung her head.
Mavis pressed on. “It won’t be that bad. Roswell has a symphony orchestra and two art museums. Arlene is going to come and spell you every few months and I’m going to pay whatever bills Mom’s retirement and Social Security checks don’t cover. And, I’ll pay for someone, whoever you find, to come in and watch Mom for a few hours every day so you can work or go to the store or a movie. We’ll be paying you too, so you’ll make a little extra cash. I think you should receive at least what we’ve been paying Mrs. Cortez.”
Arlene couldn’t resist adding, “And you’ll get to find out if that mechanic boyfriend of yours really loves you or not.”
Violet slammed her iced tea glass on the table splashing liquid over Mavis’s Elle Décor magazine. “Fine. Fine. I get it. But I don’t want your money! I’m her daughter, if I’m going to do it, I should just do it.”
Mavis patted her hand. “I’m sorry, Violet. I’m sorry it’s worked out this way. I wish there was a better alternative.”
Violet jerked her hand away.
Arlene quipped, “Look at it this way, Mom took good care of you Violet. She paid for your college education after you lost all your scholarships and bought your first car for you. You owe her.”
Violet glared at Arlene. “That’s horse manure, Arlene. If I said that to one of your kids you’d have a fit.”
Arlene looked surprised.
Violet scowled and watched Mavis clean up the spilled tea. Uh, maybe she wouldn’t. Maybe she’s hoping her little darlings will be her little slaves when she’s an old bag. The problem is, Mama will do better if someone who loves her is there to take care of her in her own house. She needs someone familiar. She stared at her hands, loosening her fists and spreading wide her fingers, blinking away her tears. Her voice barely audible she murmured, “I don’t owe Mama anything, Arlene.” She raised her chin and stared at her middle sister. “If you ever say that one of your kids owes you and I hear you say it, I’m going to slap you in the face.”
Arlene blinked and lowered her gaze.
Violet’s words felt like globs of lead falling to the floor. She blubbered. “You two owe me, big time.” Like they’ll ever do anything this difficult for me.
Mavis' sympathetic look would have irritated Violet if she hadn’t felt so desolate. “Yes, we do. I promised Mrs. Cortez a Caribbean vacation, how about I look into one for you?”