Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Stevo, the PG-13 version

Sunday, December 3, 2005, 11:00AM
Steve's house

Lee calling, says my cell phone.

"Hey, Lila!"

"Hi! How are you, Steve?"

"Ok. You?"

"Could I ask you a huge favor?"


"You know my nana? The one up at Vista Verde?"

"That senior condo place?"

"Yeah. She's been bugging me to come visit. I hate going up there alone. She gives me such a guilt trip-"

"You want me to go visit your grandmother with you?" I ask, incredulous.

"Please? It'll be, like, an hour tops. And she's my great-grandmother."

"Oh man. Yeah, I guess so. I'm kinda bored today anyway."

"Thank you, Steve! That's so cool of you!"


1:05 PM
I-95 north, exit 8

I can see the five high-rise buildings before we're even off the highway. From a distance, the tall, grey structures look like they might house pricey condos, or ultra-modern office space. But as we pull into the lot, the towering evergreens and fluffy white blanket of snow fill me with a sense of calm, just as they were meant to.

I tap a little metal bell ornament hanging from the stubby christmas tree in the lobby as we walk by. A middle-aged woman helps a young girl on with her down jacket, saying, "You can't go without a coat, or you're gonna get hypothermia!"

"What's hypothermia, mom?"

"It's what little girls get when they don't listen to their mothers."

The woman looks up at Lila, smiling. "Is it still freezing out there?"

"Yes, it's really cold," Lila replies, with a little sniffle.

"Merry Christmas," the woman says, leading her daughter out the door.

For no particular reason, I find myself reading the announcements on the bulletin board. There's a bingo sign-up sheet containing five names; someone has drawn a line through William McKay and written "died" next to it. There will be two masses on Christmas day in the chapel, and Friday night's movie will be "Bridge on the River Kwai".

This place is like a city unto itself. I'm glad that these seniors have things to do, but it's also kind of claustrophobic to think that many of them will never leave the grounds again until they die. Is this all that's left for them? Bingo and old movies?

"You coming?" Lila asks with a smile, flipping the long hair that streams out from under her pink knit cap.

We get off the elevator on the 12th floor and knock on the door marked "1212".

"Come in!" says a frail old voice.

Lila pushes the door open, and we're hit by a whoosh of very hot air, and the loud blaring of a television set.

Nana is a small, frail woman, with her scalp clearly visible through her neatly coiffed grey hair. Thick glasses rest on a prominent bump in her nose, making her eyes look huge, like a muppet's. Wrinkled, veiny fingers clutch the handles of her wheelchair as she scoots toward the door to meet us.

"Leee!" she shouts, grabbing Lila's face in her hands, kissing her forehead. "Ooo, you're so cold! Here, lemme turn the heat up!"

Good idea! Turn it up a little higher, so I can pop some popcorn on your radiator.

"And who is this?" she says, turning her chair to look at me. "Oh, how handsome he is! Is this your boyfriend?"

"No, nana. This is my boss."

"Your what?"

"My boss!" she shouts.

"Sit down, let me get you a drink. You wanna drink?" We shake our heads no.

Lila and I take seats at a small round table, with faded snapshots carefully positioned under the glass top. I notice Lila's high school picture, and a couple from when she was growing up, plus six or seven other kids I don't recognize.

Nana scoots her wheelchair expertly around a corner and into the kitchen, pulling open the fridge with surprising force. I'm impressed at how well she gets around, especially for 98 years old.

She zooms back around the corner, three pink plastic teacups in one hand, a bottle of Ginger Ale in the other. She places them on the table and quickly scoots away again. "You want cookies?" she shouts, and Lila and I look at each other and laugh. Never bother trying to say no to an Italian grandmother.

Time passes quickly. Nana, or Fran, as she wants to be called, regales us for a solid hour with stories about growing up during the depression, meeting her first husband and raising her family.

The room falls silent for a minute. "Who are these for?" Lila says, pointing to little wrapped boxes underneath a short ceramic Christmas tree.

"Those are empty. And wouldja believe they won't let us have a real tree here? Isn't that a shame?" Fran says.

"Do you wanna go downstairs for a walk, Nana?" Lila asks. "It's snowing. It's really pretty!"

"No, I go on a Tuesday, when the nurse comes," Fran says. "She takes me downstairs, and I get a little air. And then every other Wednesday, I get my hair done. They come right up and do it here for me."

But what about every other day?, I think. What about all the empty hours? I think the boredom would probably kill me.

Fran takes Lila's face in her hand again. "You are such a beautiful girl, Lee. You were always so beautiful. I remember the day they brought you home from the hospital. I said, 'that is the most gorgeous baby I have ever seen!'"

"Thanks, Nana."

"You gotta boyfriend, Lee? Are you seeing anybody?"

"No, not really. Not right now," she says, blushing.

Fran turns to me, frowning somberly. "You don't like her, hah?" she says, and we all laugh.

"Lee, you want some oatmeal cookies? Lemme get you some oatmeal cookies." She zooms to the kitchen, then zooms back. "Oh, they have raisins. You don't like them with the raisins!"

"That's ok, nana-"

"When you were a little shrimp," Fran says with a twinkle in her eye, "you used to love oatmeal cookies, but God pity me if I got them with the raisins. You used to say, 'No bay-sins, nana! No bay-sins!' You were too young to even say it right!"

"You always tell that story, nana!"

"You were so cute," Fran says.

Lila peeks at her watch, then up at me. Looks like I'm the bad guy today.

"Lila, we should probably get going. The snow is supposed to get worse."

Fran puts a hand across my wrist. "Stay for a little bit. You want some pizzer? Lemme order you a pizzer. They bring it right up to the room!"

"It's getting bad out there, Fran."

"Come and see me again sometime. I'm all alone up here, you know," she says, turning her pale brown eyes up at me.

"We'll- OK, we'll do that Fran," I say, and as she warmly shakes my hand in both of hers, I feel a bit of melancholy for her, a dull ache that revisits me off and on throughout the day. This little visit might wind up being the highlight of her holiday season.

Lila's house

The snow really is getting bad; I almost spun out a few times on the way here.

"Why don't you come in until the snow stops," Lila says.

My heart races. I've been thinking about this all day, about what would happen when I dropped her off home. Would she invite me in? Would something happen? Did I want something to happen?

"You still fighting with Tim?" she asks as she pulls the hat away from her staticky hair.

"For now. It all comes out in the wash."

"I know."

I sit on her blue couch, on the far right hand side, just like I used to, and she sits on the floor underneath me, just like she used to.

And then we fuck. Just like we used to.