Gray day. Dark day. Open curtains, but sun stops at window sill.

Chew slowly. Dentures clack, only half-fitting gums. Taste of a dry apple gone mealy; cheese; sick-sweet cranberry juice to help with the urinary tract infection. Plate on a TV tray table, cheese and apple half-eaten, juice untouched. TV beyond that, filling the room with flickering light. Rich soft faces of younger generations playing out Drama.

Fingers in lap. Bulging thick purple veins, almost ready to break through onion-paper skin, drain out swollen, arthritic joints. A thought, more coherent than most: My grandma used to drive down the street and borrow bees from the Smiths on Saturday afternoons. Mr. Smith liked to bee-keep, and she’d take a handful of bees from one of his hives and jab their stingers into her knuckle-joints. Her brow would soften in the most unnerving way as the bee-venom numbed the pain out of her fingers …

Shake head, slow. No Smiths here. No Bee-keeping. No grandma or ma … Dead now. In the dirt.


Not everything’s gone. There’s a son.

A son? What’s his name?

I don’t remember.

Grimace to myself. Of course, no remembering … everything tends to curdle in the gray. Sometimes he comes, but can’t remember the last time he was here. Sometimes, can’t remember anything. Head full of fear-soaked helpless brain matter, trying to shape itself around something, anything.

Fingers in my lap clench, eyes frown down at apple.

Suck on dentures, settle in chair … hesitate. A knock? No hearing aid, too expensive, only hear distant echoes.

Even so … another knock … three knocks.

Glance at calendar on far wall. Is it Monday? The girl in the nurse uniform brings food on Mondays.

But girl doesn’t knock. Simply opens door, walks in, sets food-bags on counter and walks out again, not lingering long enough to break through the gloom – her body barely a ripple in the air.

Knock comes again. Insistent.

Heave myself up on cracking, groaning knees, muscles shivering as they try to keep body upright. Shuffle forward. Shoes feel loose, soles drag in mussy carpet. Pause not to trip. Keep going, urged on from behind by voices on T.V.

Raise shaking hands to doorknob, fumble for lock, twist it open. Step back, slow, to make room. Cold light fills eyes; lean forward, squint to make out what’s beyond.

A young man. He’s tall, covered in modern baggy clothes, dark beard and hair visible under a hood. Even to my old, dead nose, sweat-smell comes off his clothes in a yellow cloud. Brown-red eyes, glassy, like a doll.

He looks down into my face. No flinch away, not like the others, coming in and out of my apartment out of guilt, insubstantial as ghosts. No one looks at me anymore, they can’t stand wrinkles or liver spots or oldness or grayness-

He mutters something. Don’t catch it. “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” Words come out slow around dentures. Takes time to pull out correct sounds from scattered memory. Most people won’t wait, will talk for me, around me, through me.

But the young man doesn’t interrupt.

He clears his throat, deep guttural sound. “My car broke down, ma’am. Could I use your phone?”

Needling thoughts answer him: But all the kids these days have their cellulars. And there’s a gas station just down the road.

 And you know, your front pocket looks real bulgy.

Sweat on back of neck, long, long hesitation. Have feeling of what’s coming next; familiar story, familiar script. From inside my gut, an echo of ma’s voice: Don’t talk to strangers, Margaret, and always be careful when men you don’t know come to the door…

Lips clench in defiance. Maybe if ma was here to tell me in person, those words would mean more to me. As it was, ma was already bleeding out of my head, leaving behind only shells of sounds, disintegrating…

“Of course,” say instead. Shuffling back more, digging carpet-tracks with my feet. “I think the phone is on the countertop in the kitchen …” Point one finger towards it. Watch finger shake midair like a gnarled twig. Lower finger, embarrassed.

Young man strides in, big fast strides on young legs. He peers around bend into kitchen; turns to look at T.V. Electric lights glint in his doll-eyes, reflecting the world.

He’s looking. He’s looking. Not wincing away from the room, as if the oldness hurts him somehow.

Turns and locks eyes with me again. Everything in me feels like weeping with relief. Just let out a shuddery breath instead.

“Nice place,” he says.

 But it’s not, my mind begins to say, It’s not, and God, I’m so ALONE in here. But there’s no time to make those thoughts out loud, he’s already moving, life doesn’t stop for the young…

His pocket splits open and hands appear, one hand holding a knife with a serrated edge … give knife and young man small sad smile… Know what’s coming. Can see future-blood glinting redly in the knife’s silver.

 Well. At least he finds my life worth ending.