I could tell from the look on my grandfather’s face that he was miserable from the second I walked in. The wrinkles on his face were hard and he looked as if he could slap the nurse who had assisted him into his wheelchair. His hazel eyes seemed cold as he glanced over at my spot in the doorway of room 348 of Rosewood’s Assisted Living Health Home. The nurse, a woman who seemed to be in her very early twenties with long blonde hair locked his wheels and said a cheery good-bye to him before excusing herself from the room. She wasn’t even out of earshot before Grandpa began swearing.
“I hate this damn place.” He sputtered, the air whistling as he left out a huff. This was due to his past diagnosis of emphysema and his COPD. Grandpa has whistled when he talks for as long as I can remember. I guess smoking for fifty years will do that to a person. “I hate the people. The food is AWFUL. Why can’t I decide how much damn salt I get? I am 85 years old! Last I checked, I am a god damn full-grown man!” He continued to rant. Sighing myself, I walked over and sat on the bed next to him.
“Grandpa, it can’t all be that bad. You’re the only one on your floor with his own room! And I mean, a lot of these girls are pretty good lookin’, right?” I said, winking at him. He shrugged.
“Yeah but they have the personality of a wet rag. Ugrhhhh.” He moaned, stretching out his right leg. It cracked at the hip like it usually does since his fall this past summer. I turned my head and looked out the window at the gray January sky. I could tell it was going to snow later tonight like the weatherman had said this morning on the news. I wasn’t surprised seeing as it was New Year’s Day.
“It’s only been a few weeks. Just give it a bit more time. It’s a huge adjustment. Are you making friends at least?” He gave me a small smile.
“There is this one woman on the other end of the hall. She winks at me every morning over breakfast. I think your old grandpa still has some moves left. I’m going to ask her to the movie that’s playing this Friday night.”
“That’ll be fun!” I said cheerfully. “See? It’s not all that bad.” The sound of heavy boots clumping up the hallway made us both turn to look at the door. My father, a burly man with a short brown beard and mustache stepped into the room. His traditional Ford baseball cap sat on his head and he also wore his usual light blue work shirt that had his name, Jack, printed on the breast pocket. He looked bigger in the small room and seemed to feel awkward as he shoved his hands into his pockets.
“Hey Dad.” He said, nodding at my grandpa. “How’s it going?” Grandpa waved a hand at him, not answering. His annoyance level went up again. He still was a strong believer that Dad wanted him here to “get rid of his old ass” as he liked to put it. That wasn’t the case though unfortunately. Grandpa had lived with us for about ten years but this past summer, he fell getting into the shower when no one was home. He ended up laying on the floor with a bruised hip for almost three hours before Dad got home from work. That’s when we all made the decision that he should be placed in a home.
“He said things are okay. He doesn’t like the food and all the staff suck.” I replied for him. Dad smiled at me.
“So, nothing new?” I returned the smile and saw that Grandpa had a small one he was trying to hide.
“Knock it off, asshole.” He muttered, shooting a glance at my father. Though it doesn’t seem it, Dad and Grandpa are really close. Grandpa just assumes that Dad wants nothing to do with him now because of his accident.
“Dad, the nurse at the front desk said you tossed a tray at someone. You gotta be careful. You’ll hurt someone that way.” Grandpa shrugged.
“The food was cold. I told her to warm it up. She said it was warm enough. I wanted to show her just how cold it was. Got me some hot food though.” Running a hand through my hair, I shot a peek at my father’s face. I could tell he wanted to be mad but he couldn’t be. I could only imagine how hard this was for him. Even though he was my grandfather, it was his own father sitting in a nursing home.
“We’ll see about getting you a microwave for your room. That way you can warm things up the way you want, okay?”
“Fine.” Grandpa muttered back. “I want a cigarette.” Dad sighed.
“Grandpa, you can’t smoke on the grounds and you’re not allowed to leave the campus yet until your 90-day trial period is up. You know that.”
“Yeah? Doesn’t change the fact I still want one.” He glared at my father before turning back to me. “How’s your mother doing?”
“She’s fine. The doctor said her foot has been improving and she’s using her cane more now. She’s going to come see you later this week with Alexis.”
“Have her bring me some black jelly beans. She knows which ones I like.” He winked at me, smiling almost ear to ear.
“Okay, Grandpa.” He turned back to look at Dad.
“Are we still on for your mother’s birthday party? I know I’m here but I’m sure we could do something for it.” Dad nodded.
“Yeah. I already talked to the director about it. She said we can have the larger group room at the end of the month for the party. Bobby and Judy are coming. Kathy and Autumn are gonna bake the cake like they do every year. It’ll be fun.” He looked at his watch. “Autumn and I have to get going, Dad. I’ll be over to see you tomorrow on my lunch break. You want anything when I come over?”
“Some real goddamn food.” Dad laughed.
“Sure thing.” I stood and gave Grandpa a quick kiss on the cheek. Dad waved and we walked out of the room. In the hallway, Dad wrapped an arm around my shoulders and sighed. “He’s such an ass.”
“I see where you get it.” I responded. Dad let out a loud laugh and pulled me closer into him.
“Ha ha, kiddo. Least I’m not the one that looks like a dead ringer for your grandmother.” I glared at him as we reached the elevator. It was located next to the desk where nurses and aides were doing paperwork and assisting other residents. They all smiled at us as we passed. He pushed the button as he let go of me.
“Thanks, Dad.” I said. “What day are we doing Grandma’s party?” Even though my grandma passed away about five years ago, we still have a birthday party for her every year. At first, it was just a small get together to help my grandpa deal with it the first year but it kept happening year after year. Now, we buy small presents for him to give to him or stuff to hang on her grave. We usually have the party at our house and Dad cooks out on the grill but with Grandpa being here, that wasn’t an option.
“They said we could have it the 30th. Let your Uncle Jamie know if him and the kids want to come, they are more than welcome. Just no sneaking alcohol to your grandfather. It might kill him.” The doors of the elevator opened as he let out a laugh. His breath caught however and he began to cough hard. Reaching out, he gripped the edge of the door frame for support. After minute or so, the coughing subsided. The elevator had left us though.
“You okay, Dad?” I asked. He nodded, wiping his forehead with his brow. He sounded winded now and his breath sort of wheezed for a second. He was able to catch his breath as he hit the button again. The doors opened and we filed into the elevator.
“I’m okay, Autty.” The elevator took us the short distance downstairs to the lobby. Once outside, the cold air made us walk faster to his red pickup truck that was parked there. Hopping in, I rubbed my hands together to try and gain the feeling back to them. Dad climbed into the driver’s side, pulling his Carhart on as he did. “Damn it’s cold!” He exclaimed, putting the key in the ignition. The truck roared to life, shuddering a bit like it usually does. He maneuvered the old standard so it lurched forward as I pulled my seatbelt on. He pulled forward and out of the parking lot. “Gotta stop and get some milk before we head home. Any big plans tonight?”
“Oh, you know. Friday nights are usually my party nights. I have pictures to edit and my signs to put together.”
“I told you I would do your signs.” He said, turning towards the small convenient store that was up the street from our house. I shrugged.
“It’s fine. It’s just four 2x4’s and a few nails. I think I can manage. You and Momma can watch a movie or something and Alexis can help me. I’m sure there’s a western on you guys haven’t seen yet this month.” He nodded.
“I think there’s a good one with John Wayne on tonight! I should get your mom some ice cream then.” He said as he pulled into the parking lot. He climbed out and walked into the store, leaving me in the truck with my thoughts.
My name is Autumn-Anne. No one calls me that though unless you’re my Momma and I’m in really big trouble. I’m turning twenty-five this year and I live in the quiet upstate New York town of Middleville. It really is a small town. If you blink while driving through it, you will miss it. At least, that’s the joke I’ve heard told about it since I was a kid. I have lived here my entire life and there is nowhere else on this planet I would rather be.
That hasn’t always been the case though. When I was eighteen and thought I knew better than the world, I took off with a dumb boy to New York City. I managed to live there for about a year before I realized a big city wasn’t where my heart belonged. I came back here, heart-broken and tail between my legs. Not all bad came from it though. I started going to school for photography and I just graduated with my Bachelor’s in it. I have been taking pictures my whole life and it was my Daddy who helped me decide it was what I should be doing. Once I received my degree, he converted the office space above his garage in town so I could have my own studio. We’ve been working on it all fall and winter to get it ready to open next week. Even though above a mechanic’s shop isn’t the ideal spot for a studio, there’s really nowhere else in town I would rather be every day. That way I can keep an eye on my Dad.
About four months ago, he started having these coughing spells. He said it was just a cold but it kept going for about a month. He finally went to the doctor where they said he had the early signs of COPD. They tested him though and he had no other signs of it. The coughing would come and go, depending on where he was or what he was doing. Dad’s had every test in the book done on him but no one can really say 100% what is wrong with him. He likes to compare himself to a car though and says “Sometimes, they make loud noises you can’t fix.” It makes me worried that something serious is wrong with him like cancer but he’s been tested for all of them and they come back negative each time.
He emerged from the store carrying a bag in one hand and a gallon of milk in the other. Climbing back in, he handed both to me. The bag was cold as I set it on my lap. Peaking in, I saw it was Death by Chocolate ice cream which was Momma’s favorite. He smiled at me before backing out of his space.
“Momma!” I called, walking in the backdoor of the house. I was standing in our kitchen which smelled so much like chicken, it made my mouth water. Our house is a pretty nice house but you can tell it’s “lived in” as my Momma likes to put it. There’s clutter in some places and it’s not all that uncommon to find various car parts dissembled around the place so Dad can work on them at night when the garage is closed. I heard footsteps coming up behind me and I stepped aside so Dad could come in off the back porch. We both pulled our coats off and hung them on the rack next to the door. I was kicking my boots off when my Mom shuffled into the kitchen.
“Hey. How’s Grandpa doing?” She asked, popping the over door open. The warm air from it made her dirty blonde hair blow off her face. My mom’s petite frame looked odd in the oversized sweater and sweatpants she wore. She held her cane in her right hand as she moved to grab a pot holder from the drawer next to the oven.
“He’s Grandpa.” I started, putting the milk in the fridge and the ice cream in the freezer. She let out a chuckle as she removed the pan of chicken from the oven and set it on the stove top. Dad pulled his work boots off and moved to help her move the pan of mashed potatoes so she could fit both on the stove top. She shut the oven door and turned it off before set the pot holder back in the drawer.
“Is he still being rotten to the staff?” She asked, mixing the potatoes in the pot.
“Of course, he is.” Dad replied, walking over to the cupboard. He grabbed four plates and headed towards the hall to set the table. I grabbed forks and knives from the drawer next to the sink to follow him. When you leave the kitchen, it’s a three step walk to the dining room. It’s a smaller room with just enough room for our table and four chairs. Dad had already set the plates down and some napkins. I set the forks and knives next to the plates and then grabbed three glasses from the china cabinet on the other side of the room. I set them at Momma’s, Alexis’ and my spot. Dad disappeared back into the kitchen and I heard the familiar sound of a can of beer open. He reappeared with a bowl of steaming hot potatoes and set it in the middle of the table. “Go find the brat.” He said, walking back towards the kitchen. I walked out the dining room and into the connected living room where the stairs were located.
“ALEXIS!” I called up them. I could hear the soft thumping of music. Standing there, I waited for any sign of life. After a minute, I headed up the stairs where her bedroom and my parents’ room was located. Her door was locked, the KEEP OUT EVERYONE sign made of paper looking just as angry as usual. The music was coming from behind her door. I knocked loudly, hoping she could hear me. The door swung open quickly and the miserable teen we’ve all come to love stood there.
“What?” She asked in a grumpy tone. Her black and frizzy hair was pulled back with a headband and her eyes were lined in such a thick layer of black eyeliner, she looked like she hadn’t slept in weeks.
“Time to eat.” I said, heading towards the stairs. She let out a loud huff and turned her music off. I was at the bottom of the stairs when I heard her door shut. Alexis is referred as my little sister even though she is really my little cousin. We adopted her when she was two years old after her mother abandoned her at a CPS office in our county. Alexis had been bounced around from relative to relative for a few months before that but when my parents found her, they knew right away that she belonged with us. You can tell she is adopted however if you look at us together. Where we all have light skin, Alexis has darker skin that her mother claims came from her Jamaican father. We all believe that she has no clue who Alexis’s father really is so she says it’s this guy to cover her tracks.
Walking into the living room, I paused for a second to look at the school pictures on the wall. Mom had recently updated Alexis when she received them from the beginning of the school year. Mine was still my senior picture for almost 6 years ago. I almost groaned when I looked at it. Though I look pretty much the same, my long brown curly hair was still as unmanageable as it was then, I felt like I was the dumbest kid in the world then. Well that is until I hear Alexis speak. That would make anyone feel better about themselves as a teen.
Next to my picture was one of a girl who looked like me but more like my mother. She had the same dirty blonde hair as her and the same hazel eyes as her as well. She was wearing a dark blue prom dress and her hair was pinned back in an up do. She was laughing at something but her eyes had managed to catch the lens just as the picture was being taken.
That was my older sister Becca. She died about three hours after this photo was taken, ten years ago this June. She was killed by a drunk driver one their way home from the junior prom when she was just sixteen years old. I was only fourteen when she died but it still managed to shatter my entire world. My family also felt the effects. It was as if someone had taken our family and placed us in a blender on high. It took years for my parents to even feel comfortable enough to talk about it out loud and the pain is still there to this day. To me, it was like losing the other half of my body in a split second. I will never forget the way I felt that day and sometimes, I have dreams where I wake up and feel like I am living through it all over again.
Breaking out of my thoughts, I headed back to the dining room where everyone was now sitting. Mom placed her cane in the corner by her chair while Dad started scooping potatoes onto his plate. Alexis sat in her seat across from him, her nose buried into her phone. When I sat down, I made a noise and kicked her under the table. She glared at me before setting her phone on the table next to her plate. “Looks good, Momma!” I said, smiling at her. She smiled back, the right corner of her mouth dropping slightly less than the other.
“Thanks! It’s a new recipe I found on the internet that your aunt sent me. Thought I would give it a try.” Six months ago, my mother had a stroke. It was a mild stroke but one nonetheless. It was one of the scariest things I think my Dad and I had ever lived through. Luckily, she only lost some of the movement in her foot and her face but her doctor believes it will return once she continues with her therapy. Even though she hates using her cane, she’s come a long way from the walker she had to use for a while. She’s pretty much back to her old self but does seem to have more emotional moments now and then. Her doctor said it was a sign of the damage her brain might have suffered while her stroke was happening. Besides that, she’s the same caring and sweet mother I’ve always had.
“How was your day today, brat?” Dad asked, taking a bite from his plate. She shrugged.
“Fine.” She said, not even looking up. Dad rolled his eyes and took a sip from his beer. Alexis has undergone a change in the past year or so. She’s become a teenager that is barely tolerable to be around. I’m convinced she’s the devil reincarnated but my parents think it’s just because her birth mother has reappeared lately. Either way, there’s a good chance I will end up throat punching her before she is fourteen.
“How’s the studio coming along?” Mom asked, looking at me.
“Good! I think we will be good to open by next week!” I said, taking a bite of mashed potatoes. It was amazing like usual.
“That’s great, honey. Are you booking people yet? Ginger from the bank said that she wants family portraits done. She loved the Christmas photos you did last month!”
“She should have booked an appointment then. I’ll give you one of my cards to give her. Just let her know where I’ll be taking them now until it gets nicer outside. Alexis is going to help me put my sign together tonight.” I took another bite as she made a noise. I kicked her under the table again.
“Stop fucking kicking me!” She exclaimed. My grip on my fork tightened as I felt the room tense up.
“Alexis, watch your mouth!” Mom said in a dangerous tone.
“Good to see dinner go as usual around here.” Dad said, taking another sip of his beer.