Issue 222, Fall 2017
I’d started to visit Olivia more often because it was obvious she was lonely. The ALS lady who’d been moved to Hopkins had been Aunt Olivia’s closest friend, leaving aside Merton Hillstead, who actually went home. Even the friendly paperboy who sometimes went into Harmony House to say hello to the ladies at early breakfast had quit the route. One Sunday, she didn’t get her paper at all, which left her with only the two p.m. bingo, or three thirty “Our Friendly World” (slides of places the director of Harmony House and his wife had lived, with soundtracks by their son, who was a fellowship student at Juilliard). Instead of attending either of those activities, O. tore up some magazines and started assembling a collage on special paper I’d gotten her from Utrecht. The glue stick I’d found was making things much easier. Whatever new drug they had her on for her rheumatoid arthritis was helping; she was back to wearing blouses that buttoned, assuming they didn’t have too many and that she could casually not close the top ones that she couldn’t see. As for leggings, they were the best things ever, winter or over-air-conditioned summer. The aide had to pull them on her, but O. considered them the ultimate improvement on pants. They never wrinkled.
I was walking across the Harmony House parking lot, carrying a bag from Whole Foods of things O. liked, such as toasted pumpkin seeds, candy bars studded with dried fruit, nectarines, Tate’s gluten-free chocolate-chip cookies. Those she always went for first. She used manicure scissors to open the two individual bags inside the larger Tate’s bag. I liked to watch this respectful cutting of the plastic. I didn’t insist in an overbearing way about helping. So the leftover cookies wouldn’t lose their crispiness, she ate two, then put the rest in a jar with a tight lid. The last time I’d visited, one of the old people passing by in a wheelchair had hinted that she’d like a cookie. “Those are lightning bugs, they’re not cookies,” O. said. After that, she began putting the jar in the bottom dresser drawer, even if that did make it harder to get at them. The drawer didn’t always stay on its tracks.
I gave my name at the side door—at least the guard didn’t still ask to see my driver’s license after two years—and told her I was going to visit Olivia Miller. “You didn’t bring any food she’s not allowed, did you?” she asked. The guard was named Dianne Omansky. She was a retired first-grade teacher whose late husband had run the miniature-golf course on Rio Road. “Certainly not,” I said, lying the same way the six-year-olds must have lied to her. O. didn’t have diabetes and her blood pressure was under control; also, I bought toasted seeds without salt. I think Dianne Omansky was jealous that O. got so many things she never shared.