Fiction

Sharpies


I want to settle the problem of my older sister Monica. She’s losing her marbles. She’s eighty-two and she’s still a drama queen and she’s driving me nuts. Why does the oppressive responsibility for her well-being drape itself across my shoulders like a moth-eaten shawl? Why me?

She’s hasn’t mellowed or grown gracious or wise. She’s still a royal nerd and a bossy snob. She rubs all my fur in the irritated direction. And now she’s presenting new challenges which I’ve accepted over these last few months – dementia. If she decides to speak, and that’s a rare occurrence, Monica claims the wildest fantasies.

She still occupies our old family place down on Simcoe. Every day, I drive over to check up, to make sure that Monica hasn’t injured herself. I make sure she’s got soup and bread and cheese; make sure that she hasn’t attempted tea and then forgotten the stove. I’m in charge. Yeah, I worry that a neglected burner might incinerate the whole damn neighbourhood.

Last Thursday, Monica said. “Ghoulish green shadows on the walls.” I deduced that she meant the old house was getting mouldy, so I checked the walls and the ceiling, even the bathroom – high and low. “Look, there’s nothing.” I indicated where she was pointing. “Everything looks perfectly dry and intact and egg-shell cream.”

“An alien invasion.” She laughed softly to herself, hoping, I suppose, that I wouldn’t comprehend her private jokes. That’s my sister; thinks she’s clever. “Radioactive luminosity.” She laughed again. Then she sneezed four times in a row.

I scoffed at her pronouncements. Every day that I visited I tried to make things pleasant while I fixed her lunch. On Tuesday, she grew mad as holy stink and flounced herself into the vinyl recliner. She folded her arms across her bosomy chest and began another stupid and dramatic silence. She pouted and wouldn’t eat anything. “Humff.” And then she went and stuck out her bottom lip like a sulky baby. I half expected her to turn around and suck her blessed thumb.

I need to expedite the arrangements for her move into a care home. I’ve selected the Harrison Smythe Lodge. A nurse practitioner arrived from the Lodge last month to perform a brief assessment. Physically, my sister gets around jolly well. Mentally, her faculties could not be accurately evaluated because Monica pretends she’s incapable of speech. She’s stubborn as a mule that way. “Supervision suggested” was the final diagnosis.

We don’t have extra space for Monica to move into our place. My husband, Dan, insists we can’t manage anything like that. And mentally, Monica is slipping further into strange thoughts and weirdness. When she deigns to speak to me, she tells crazy stories. My husband hasn’t offered to lift so much as a pinky finger in the way of helping out. Everything falls to me.

She’s seven years my senior and she never gave me any credit. We grew up in Brandon, Manitoba before we moved out here to Victoria. Throughout my childhood I remember that if things were not delegated or decided exactly to Monica’s satisfaction she’d go into a major snit. She refused to talk, even then, especially to me. She’d put on lofty airs. When she was a teenager, Monica treated me like crap. I was the ultimate pesky younger sibling. She doesn’t have to be so hoity-toity now. She’s supposed to be mature. Well, someone has to be. It’s my turn now. I’m the person who decides. Yeah, me Sarah – the little squirt of a sister – me!

Once, when I was around twelve and Monica was almost grown, she told all her friends, and anybody who would listen, and I mean everyone, that her little sister, Sarah, wasn’t the “sharpest tool in the shed.” Well, I’ll show my sister! Who’s the sharpie now?

A while ago, I went over, and Monica insisted that there had been a cougar sighting near the corner of Oswego and Michigan right by the elementary school. Oh yeah, her intellect is slipping. “Ridiculous notion,” I said to her. “There’d never ever be a cougar so close to the downtown area.” And then Monica got her knickers into a royal twist. “Humff,” was all she said to any of my efforts at further conversation.

The Harrison Smythe Lodge looks better and better. I wonder how that waiting list is progressing?

So I went over to our old place again. I think it was Thursday last, and after I let myself inside using the spare ring of keys I’d recently confiscated, I found Monica sulking in the living room. She said: “A big orange bus is floating in the harbour.”

“Nonsense,” I said. “If a bus had splashed into the water there’d be plenty of emergency rescue and impressive news stories in the papers and on TV. Your eyes are not so bright,” I assured her. “You’ve got cataracts and triple focus lenses.” I started making sandwiches.

She ambled into the kitchen holding the door frame for support.“You think that bus might have slipped into the drink somewhere from across the way, like near Laurel Point?” She glared at me like a satisfied bear. “Might have splashed into the water from Dallas Road?”

I sat her down and turned on the TV, volume extra high. I made her endure the entire noon newscast. We sat together in the kitchen, wading through time, hearing not a whisper about any bus mishap. “See, there, that proves it,” I told her. “You’ve simply had a strange and crazy vision.”

Back at home, I told Dan that my sister was in need of psychiatric care. “She’s hallucinating.”

He shrugged. “You decide what’s best.” And Dan set off for the pub and the pool hall like he always does.

I telephoned the Lodge, pleading this time. They told me they might have an opening. The first woman I spoke with assured me that all the staff members were aware and could handle Monica’s degrading levels of cognitive awareness. They were not flummoxed by senility. Then the woman put me through to the director of patient care, a business-like person named Mrs. Wynn. We had another tiresome conversation. Mrs. Wynn put me on hold. I waited and waited and waited. Finally, she came back on the line. “Yes,” she said. “Got it.” And then Mrs. Wynn offered Monica a single-room accommodation.

Hooray! My sister is welcome to move in as early as next Monday. Finally, my mind floats free. Maybe Monica will flourish in there, if she will leave off with her silent and pouty nonsense. But Monica has always been a stubborn snoodge. She uses her grand display of silence like a secret weapon. But, I’m the grown-up now. I decide what’s best. Me! Sarah! Yeah, me!

When I went over to pick her up, my sister gave me the iciest reception. I had to cajole her out to the car and help her fasten the seat belt around her generous middle. She was doing her famous silent schtick. “Humff,” she declared as we pulled into the parking lot at the Lodge. I got Monica heaved out of the car and we went inside to sign the papers. She stuck out her tongue. How rude and embarrassing, I thought. But Mrs. Wynn didn’t flinch. “We’ll get you settled in,” the director said. I heard Monica sigh ever so slightly.

And then Monica stuck her tongue even further out, galling me again. She kept completely mute even as we were shown into her room. I stayed for a while. The place was homey; clean and simple. Staff members buzzed about, exhibiting a welcome efficiency. One of the care aides said: “It takes a while to settle down.” The aide finished making up the bed with a checkered quilt. She presented Monica with a huge pot of yellow chrysanthemums which made my sister sneeze.

Afterwards, back inside the old house, I flitted around, cleaning out the fridge and vacuuming. At four-thirty, it grew murky. I flicked on the living room lights and the radio. The massive floor lamps splayed spooky green shadows that shimmered emerald hues over the walls and ceiling. I investigated this phenomenon. Inside each lamp base, a dark-green incandescent bulb. Where on earth had Monica found these garish lights? Likely they were remnants from a Christmastime.

I continued tidying up, chucking a stack of Monday Magazines into the recycle bin; colourful brochures, old papers. The radio blared the news of yet another cougar sighting. Yeah right, in the James Bay neighbourhood. I sniffed. I sweated. My shoes felt as if I’d pulled the Velcro fasteners far too snug.

I discarded printed flyers, some advertising blurbs from Rogers Chocolates, half-price sales at The Bay Centre. I stared long and hard at a glossy trifold brochure which detailed a newish tourist attraction. There was a strange picture. Hippo Tours, a novelty operation, had recently relocated from Toronto and they operated an amphibious bus tour; driving through the city and then the environs of the harbour surf. A schedule of operations for 2013 was attached. And there it was, this strange picture – an image of a half-submerged bus chugging through the seas.

 

Katrina Johnston Katrina Johnston is the winner of the CBC-Canada Writes True Winter Tale (2011). She lives in James Bay in Victoria BC, Canada. The goal of her fiction is to share a journey.