Alayna Munce

[Every Tuesday. . .]
excerpt from When I Was Young

Every Tuesday at the nursing home, Liza’s nephew signs her out for dinner and returns her twenty minutes late for her scheduled bath.  She and I small-talk as I soap her back.  Tonight Liza can’t remember the name of the restaurant but remembers they got lost on the way.  Can’t remember what she had for dinner but remembers —quite emphatically—that it was delicious.  I smile, though to be honest the better part of me is already home, book in hand, cat in lap.

When I do get home, the cat won’t settle, noses my book, kneads my thighs, sniffs my tea, turns round and round as if to rouse or quell some invisible vortex.  I stare at the ceiling--the cat’s tail swishing in my face, her asshole a repellent pink pucker, her purr infuriating--and picture myself at work, capable, needed, irreproachably earning my keep. 

It’s not lost on me, the absurdity of bathing other people’s grandparents for a living while other people bathe mine.  The disconnect there too far-gone to be reasonably mourned.  A whole economy wedged in the gap. 

Sorry, I say to Liza, when the water’s too hot or too cold.  She looks up.  Oh, no worry, it’s neither here nor there.

Last night I forgot to put the milk back in the fridge.  This morning it clots uncooperatively in my hot tea.  I know if I were to make a new cup and drink it clear, I’d drink it thinking, I should have just gone to the corner store.  So I go to the store thinking, I should have just had it clear.  I pay for the milk with a painstaking pocketful of nickels and dimes, the cashier looking over my shoulder as I count, and head home cradling the carton in the crook of my arm, a tipped column of sloshing white liquid, miles and miles from the nearest milk cow.  I try briefly as I walk to burrow under the surface of the moment but immediately hit bedrock. 

Outside Holy Family Catholic Church a woman squats on the sidewalk, back against the wall, panhandling--hairy-chinned, an air of contagion--my eyes at once drawn and spurned by hers as I pass.  I raise my gaze.  The signboard outside the church suggests I go forth, be fruitful and multiply

My cousin Clara has what I think of as a knack for life, her uncanny power for spotting four-leafed clovers a case in point.  Give her an hour on a lawn, she’ll pluck a dozen--no kidding--and I can’t even find one.  When she and her juggler/psychiatrist husband found they couldn’t conceive, they turned to technology.  All three eggs took and, when doctor offered the irrefutable advice that it would be better to abort the weakest, she refused.  So now Clara is the mother of triplets. 

Harrowing how each yes seems to call for yeses in triplicate, yeses rivering outward, exponential. 

Years ago, when Grandma was drawing up the family tree, Grandpa made an uncharacteristic stand:  he refused to let her leave off the childless divorces as if they’d never happened.  How I love him for that, for preserving the branches that seemed to lead nowhere. 

Most mornings I walk by the lake.  I have to cross the expressway to get there (the onramps and offramps sketching compulsive cloverleafs).  Last Christmas, having just seen ultrasound images of her mother’s cancer (all the veins drawing from the surrounding cells to feed the tumour) Gloria said that flying into Toronto (all the roads drawing from the countryside to feed the city), she couldn’t help but think. 

Something hisses under my skin these days, insistent, like the Freon that time I was impatient and used an ice-pick to defrost my fridge. 

Catching me steal a look at my watch while I’m waiting for him to manoeuvre his walker into position, Fred, the brain-injured man I shower on Wednesdays, says to me, Is it now?

Mornings by the lake, I think about the word design, about the organic nature of even the least organic thing, about the ancient story in which Love is the bastard child of Resource and Poverty, about the symmetrical helplessness of infants and elders.  The onramp and offramp of each life:  disability.  And in between? 

Can’t help feeling that somewhere we’ve missed a connection. 

Did I mention what it said on the hand-lettered sign held by the woman on the sidewalk? 

Spare some change or I’ll touch you.