Short: The Gift
Alexia refused gifts and thought family events were like emergency-room visits, painful and preventable. As another guest strolled by and squeezed her arthritic hand in greeting, she envisioned herself out in the garden of her old home, the aroma of jasmine wafting about her on the warm spring day. Instead, she sat in the over-sanitized dining hall of an assisted living home, barraged by well meaning, but quite annoying friends and family.
She turned ninety-five today. The day marked an anniversary of another kind as well, it was three years ago today they moved her into this place. She’d wanted to die in her own home, but her family thought otherwise. They wanted her to die amongst the care of strangers, those paid to pretend they wanted her there.
With a sigh, she leaned back and put the most recent unwanted gift on the table nearest her. Her family, she supposed, meant well in their own way. She glanced out the window onto a concrete courtyard framed by aging, brown arborvitae and dying irises.
“Grandma?” A voice boomed near her head and she started in her chair. “Sorry there, Grandma. There’s a visitor here for you.”
She stared at the balding attendant dressed in yellow scrubs with a puppy-dog print stretching over his expansive stomach.
“I never gave you permission to call me Grandma or anything else, for that matter.” She gave him her best scowl, a look that would have brought him to his knees in her younger days as an English teacher.
“She’s a feisty one.” He spoke to a young woman—well she looked young to Alexia, but everyone did. Alexia noted that she was quite attractive as she watched her pull up a metal folding chair.
“I didn’t know it was your birthday.” Her confession came in hushed tones as she looked around the room at the balloons and guests milling about, speaking overly loud to the other aged attendees.
“Then what in the world are you doing here?” Alexia looked at the woman again, and couldn’t place her. That was nothing new today. Relatives came out of the woodwork for this birthday. Many of them told her where they lived and what their financial status was, making her wonder if they were putting in a last-ditch effort to be added to her substantial will.
“Well, I wanted to see you. My mother told me so much about you, that when I moved to the area, I thought I should stop in and say hi.”
“Who is your mother?”
The name floated through her memory until it found purchase. “Lilly. How is she? She was my best student!”
“She’s passed away. But she spoke of you so often, I felt I knew you.”
Dear Lilly, gone. She’d written so many wonderful articles and even a few books over the years. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”
“It was recent. Cancer.”
“It’s taken many of my friends and family.”
“So, what do you do?”
“I write. Novels. I’m not published yet, but I’m working on it every day.”
“Good. Don’t give up. If it’s your gift, then that’s what you should do. I’d love to read your work. Although, these days, with my old eyes, you’d probably have to read it to me.” Alexia knew in this busy day and age, young people had too few moments to stop in and visit, let alone read to an old woman.
“Would you really? That’d mean so much to me. Mom said you were the best editor she ever had.”
“Oh, that’s lovely.” She reached over and took the young woman’s hand in hers.
“I’m sorry I don’t have a present with me.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Alexia glanced at the growing stack of gifts and felt relief. What would an old woman sharing a two hundred square foot room do with all those things anyway? Most would probably be knickknacks soon knocked off her solitary bookcase by the inept staff and swept into the dustbin. She looked at her new friend as she moved to leave.
“Will you be back soon? With your novel?” She watched the woman’s eyes sparkle.
“Yes. How about tomorrow?”
She leaned down and gave Alexia a kiss on her cheek. It was the most sincere thing she’d received all day.
“You haven’t told me your name.”
“Alex. Mom named me after you.” Unshed tears filled her eyes as she waved goodbye and left.
What a lovely gift.
Copyright by April McGowan 2010