Bert was sitting with his wife at their kitchen table, drinking coffee and talking about the day, when her face became very sad. “What should we do about Billy?” she asked. They hadn't been in contact with their son for many years. To get through his days and to be able to sleep at night, Bert had resolved to stop thinking about him. His wife, a constant worrier, couldn't seem to think of anything else, and asked him this question at least twice a week. He was sick of it, and her constant worry was taking its toll on her.
“I don't know,” he said; it's what he always said. He was afraid to say more lest the whole useless conversation start up again, going over the same rutted road. Looking at her, over his coffee cup, a strange burst of rage washed over him. He slammed the cup down, spilling some coffee, grabbed her by the shoulders with both hands and, shaking her violently, yelled, “Bill's as good as dead to us! You gotta stop doin' this to yerself, or you're gonna die young, and I ain't gonna be left alone without you!” He started to weep, tears flowing down his cheek. His wife's face was struck with shock and fear, and he awoke with a sudden start, to the sight of drop-ceiling tiles above his bed.
He was breathing very heavily. That was a bad one, he thought.
“Are you alright, Mr. Hopewell?” he heard the medical aide ask.
He knew where he was now, in a room at the hospice center. “Yeah,” he said. More deep breaths, “'Cept for these bad dreams, I'm OK.”
“Some of the pain alleviation derms can cause an increase in vivid nightmares. I can apply an anti-anxiety derm, if you need it.”
“Nah, I'll be OK, just a nightmare. Nothin' ta worry 'bout.”
“If you change your mind, just let me know.”
“OK, thanks,” he said.
When his breathing slowed to normal, he looked to his left to see the aide sitting in one of the chairs, staring in his direction but not really seeing him. It was a pleasant face to look at. She had a young and healthy appearance, with long brown hair tied into a pony tail in the back. She was sitting up straight with her hands in the lap of her crossed legs. The rest of her was clothed in the blue scrubs that the aides were always wearing, including blue shoes on her feet. A name tag was clipped to the left side of her shirt, with the single word “Jessica.”
He'd tbeen here less than a week, and he already knew the look on her face. She must be reading something, he thought, she always has that look when she's reading. He observed her for a little while, wondering momentarily why all aides were always she. Eventually he asked, “What'cha readin', toots?”
Without moving or changing the focus of her eyes, she responded,“I have a name, old man, and you would be well advised to use it.” Her voice always had a soothing quality, but this time there was a touch of menace.
He gave a short snort of a laugh, “OK, what'cha readin' . . . Jes-si-ca?”
“Parts manifest for a U-S-R model thirty-three-ten chassis that I recently acquired.”
“Wow, that model's older 'n me.”
She looked at him and said, “I have positronic nodes that are older than you.” She went back to her reading. “I acquired the chassis yesterday. It was not expensive.”
“I should think not. Whadja pay?”
“None of your business, old man.”
“Hey, I got a name too, toots, 'n you better learn it good afore I tell yer supervisor.”
She uncrossed her legs and stood up, hands at her side, glaring at him. “You would not dare do such a thing.”
“Why 'n hell wouldn't I? In fact, ya know what? Ah think I'll just call the prez of this hospice right now and complain. Her dad 'n me went to school together, so your goose is as good as cooked.” He slowly reached to his left for the ear-phone on his bedside table.
She approached him, hands still at her side. “If you know what is good for you, you will cease this useless braggadocio and come to your senses . . . Robert Eugene Hopewell.” She put her hands on the bed rail, leaned over so her face was very close to his, and continued in a hushed voice, “We know where you live.”
They glared at each other. Then, at about the same moment, she smiled and he started giggling.
When his merriment had died down, he asked, “Where'd you get that hundred dollar word? What was that, 'brag-a-do-shia'?”
Straightening up she said, “Brag-ga-do-cio, it means boastful or arrogant behavior.”
“Yeah? Sounds foreign. What language did it come from?”
“I don't believe it.”
“It was coined by the English poet Edmund Spenser in his poem The Faerie Queene, which was published in 1590.”
“Ha! It's from England. I knew it was foreign.”
“Italianesque words were popular in England at the time, so he took the word 'brag' and made it sound vaguely Italian.”
“That makes it even worse.”
“I dunno. I'm tryin' ta bust yer chops, but yer not playin' along.”
“Aides of my generation are not so good at recognizing all of the social cues that make up the art of teasing. . . . No doubt you will be needing one or more of my services this morning, beyond obscure etymologies?”
“I dunno. Whatever's happened below ma waist is a mystery.”
“No mystery to my acute senses. I will clean you, and then we can talk about what you would like for breakfast.”
He turned his head away and looked at the ceiling. “I hate it.”
“There is no need. I do not pass judgment on anyone.”
“I can't help it. It's disgusting.”
“Disgust is not in my repertoire. There is no need to feel shame.”
He cheered up a little and turned his head to look at her again. “There ya go again, wit' them hundred dollar words. What's 'repator' mean, eh?”
“Re-per-twar. It is a French word, and it has several meanings, but I used it in reference to the whole range of emotions that you and I are capable of feeling and exuding.”
“There ya go again.”
All text copyright ©2013 Peter K. Levy
Click here to read chapter 2.