Martin and his mother in the El Casa Retirement Home
They sat at a fold out table in front of a television set which was now turned off because Martin had turned it off the moment he had entered the little bedroom. From turning off the TV Martin went immediately to the wall thermostat switch and lowered the temperature from 85 degrees to 70, but his mother, sitting propped up in her recliner and scowling watched his every move.
“What is it?” she asked.
“What did you turn it down to?”
“80,” Martin lied.
“No! No! God damn it, leave it alone! Turn it back!”
Martin pretended to do what she asked by running his finger over the switch without actually touching it.
Martin’s mother was 90 years old and wore diapers underneath sweatpants and was missing three of her front upper teeth and always had on white slippers with little bows and spent her days in an old-folks home for millionaires hating every moment from when “they” got her out of bed in the morning until “they” put her back into bed at night. There were gardens and a swimming pool on the gorunds, and there were paved paths through eucalyptus trees and oaks and weeping willows, and there were rose bushes hundreds of years old that smelled like no roses you ever smelled in your life. None of these things she ever saw, or smelled. Three times a week someone came in to play classical piano in the recreation room which was heavily attended by other residents of the ward, but not by Jennifer Ladd, ever.
Most of the day, every day, she sat in front of her television set in her little room off the medical hall where nurses wheeled her elderly wheel-chair bound fellow residents who drooled from open mouths past her door in a constant parade of people who had lived too long. When she wasn’t sitting in her electric recliner watching TV she was playing backgammon with Martin or his sister. Once a week, on Fridays, she was wheeled up stairs to get her hair done. Martin visited on Sundays.
On this Sunday Martin came into room number four on the first floor of the La Casa Special Care Medical Ward and found his mother with her feet up in her recliner watching the TMC channel of black and white movies, the volume blaring. Her favorite movies were ones with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope and Tyrone Powers, her secret love, of whom she said Martin’s father was a dead ringer for, and the only reason she married the son-of-a-bitch. They divorced when Martin was six. When Bing or Bob, or Tyrone weren’t showing, his mother watched whatever movies were showing. Sometimes when he came in she was sound asleep with her head bent forward. On these days he would touch her on the arm and she would wake up and smile with her mouth showing the gaps of her missing teeth, and she would say, “Marty!”
This day Martin had just arrived when a nurse entered right behind him asking, “What can I do for you, Mrs. Ladd?”
“Nothing, get out,” was his mother’s reply.
Every nurse on the ward hated “Mrs. Ladd” and Martin closed his eyes for a moment and then opened them to watch the pretty, black haired nurse he had not seen before fake a smile and leave more quickly than she had arrived.
The backgammon board came out and Jennifer Ladd began to set up her pieces. Martin arranged his own pieces of round brown hard plastic discs.
“How are things?” he asked.
“You’re getting fat,” she replied.
“You’re getting skinny,” Martin said.
“I know,” his mother said as she began to shake her dice cup. “I can’t wait till I...”
“Until you what?”
“Never mind,” his mother said throwing one die from her black leather cup onto the board.
Me neither, thought Martin with a twinge of guilt as he looked across the playing table at his mother’s thin, pale face. She hadn’t been out in the sun in at least five years now.
“What is it?” she asked, a tinge of impatience already showing.
“One,” he told her.
He rolled his own die; “Six,” he said and laughed a mocking chortle meant to be a good natured “poke in the ribs” as he took the good roll of six-one.
His mother said nothing and shook her dice cup and rolled.
“Five-one,” he said.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” she said, pressing the remote control switch at the side of her chair, and her feet began to lower as the chair hummed.
Martin could smell that this was indeed the truth, and pulled the table away from his mother’s chair and brought her walker from behind him, setting it where she could reach it, as he leaned down for the little white switch on a cord which he pressed again and again and again as Jennifer Ladd made her way toward the bathroom.
I will never be that old, Martin thought, as he went out his mother’s room to wait in the hall as the same dark haired nurse entered.
“What can I do for you, Mrs. Ladd?”
Martin sat down in the hall near a large window and faked his own smiles again and again as wheelchair bound millionaires and billionaires were wheeled past with their mouths open and their eyes unfocused and saliva hanging from their chins like single strands of wet spider web.