A shaft of sunlight barrels through the glass and slams into the side of Caroline’s face. It glances off her ruddy cheek without apology, highlighting the linear branding left by Father Time himself. Time may have claimed Caroline’s face, but he left her heart and mind intact, and for that she was grateful.
It was Caroline’s habit to take this particular chair at the noon meal so Paralee would not bemoan the harshness of the noonday sun on her own face. It was their favorite table, and a small sacrifice for her friend. Besides, she knew how sensitive Parlee was about her age and it made life at the Wilmington Willows a smidge more tolerable when Paralee was happy, or at least not unhappy.
Caroline cranes her neck so she can see around Wilma Gunderstadt’s extra-wide wheelchair parked squarely in the doorway while she studied the menu. Caroline quells the urge to be impatient.
It was Friday. Friday was always fish, everybody knew that. But to be fair, it could be cod, or catfish. haddock or flounder. Caroline looked at the narrow piece of room temperature flounder lying on her plate between two hush puppies and grinned.
“It’s phallic flounder today, Wilma,” she held her plate out toward the woman so she could see her narrow slab of fish adorned with a round nugget of deep-fried cornbread on either side.
“Hey, did you happen to see Paralee on your way down?” Caroline asks as Wilma wheels up to the serving line snickering into her cleavage.
“Gimme the phallic flounder, two hushpuppies and some tapioca pudding,” Wilma gestures.
The food service girl obeys, but before she hands Wilma her plate she snaps a photo with her iPhone and winks.
“With any luck this’ll go viral,” the food server says before disappearing into the kitchen.
“Wilma, come sit with us, er, I mean me,” Caroline pushes the chair next to her further around the table making space for Wilma’s extra wide transport.
Paralee surveys the dining room from the side door so Caroline doesn’t spot her. What the hell is that ole heifer doing at our table? Damn Caroline. She’s always so chipper and nice, including every stray person that comes through the door. What if I don’t want anyone else’s company today? Did she ever think of that?
Paralee rolls to the serving line with her tray on her lap. Irritation locks her jaw in place. If she wasn’t going to speak she’d have to point. She jabs a crooked finger at the mashed potatoes and gravy, rolls a foot and points at the orange jello and waits for her plate to be passed under the sneeze guard.
“No meat?” the bored server chides.
“Did I point at meat?” Paralee bubbles over with aggravation. “I’d have pointed at meat if you had any meat there to point at, but ya only got fish, now dontcha! You got a ribeye back there you’re not telling me about? No? Well then, give me my damn plate and stop asking stupid questions.”
The dining room falls silent except for Wilma. She was giggling so hard she peed her britches.
“Paralee, get your surly ass over here and keep Caroline company while I go change my drawers.”
Wilma leaves her plate untouched and happily wheels away to her room.
“Paralee, what’s gotten into you?” Caroline whispers as Paralee pulls into the empty spot at the table and slides her tray off her lap.
“What’s gotten into me?” Paralee huffs. “I’m surprised you have to ask, Caroline. But since you did, let me tell you what’s gotten into me. Wilting Willows Retirement Home — that’s what’s gotten into me. I’m sick of this place. There’s nothing to do here but wait for the Grim Reaper to come calling and frankly, I think he’s a lazy son of a bitch.”
Caroline pretends to study her picked over flounder. A single tear rolls down her cheek.
“Awe, shit, Caroline. I didn’t mean to make you cry. I’m sorry, Toots. I’m bored, that’s all.”
Paralee pushes her jello around the plate with a butter knife.
The residents in the dining room resume the business of eating and gossiping. Some cast furtive glances at the pair waiting for Paralee’s next outburst, but it doesn’t come.
“Well, I’ve got good news,” Caroline brightens. “You remember the Wine and Watercolor event that got cancelled last month? It’s back on for tonight. Please say you’ll come with me, Paralee, it’ll be so much fun.”
“You mean the warden is gonna let us have a glass of wine? Real wine?” Paralee perks up.
“Yup, and we get to make our very own watercolor picture,” Caroline aims her signature grin at Paralee while clapping her hands like a little girl with a new dollhouse.
“Oh joy. You can have my seat at the kiddie table, I’ll go for the grapes though,” Paralee pats Caroline’s arm.
“Great. It starts at 6 o’clock in the day room. Don’t be late Paralee. I wanna get a seat up front so’s I can see the teacher. I’ll see you later. I’ve got some things to do this afternoon.
“What on earth do you have to do?” Paralee barks at Caroline’s back as she hurries from the dining room.
Paralee takes a reluctant spoonful of jello. As it melts on her tongue she tries to remember the last time she’d had a decent glass of wine. Hell, at this point she’d take a glass of cooking sherry it had been so long.
At 5:59 pm, Paralee wheels herself into the packed day room. There’s a table up front with watercolor sets, brushes, a stack of thick paper and plastic cups. The instructor was busy setting up her easel. Paralee scans the room for Caroline and any evidence of the promised libation.
Spotting Caroline right where she said she’d be, at the front table, Paralee works her way through the crowd.
“Hey, where’s the vino? You promised me wine, remember?”
“It’s right there.” Caroline points to a purple box on the end of the table.
“Where? I don’t see any bottles of wine up there,” Paralee could hardly disguise her impatience.
“There,” Caroline insists and points again.
Paralee follows her finger to the purple box and frowns.
“Since when does wine come in a box?” Paralee demands.
“Since you been at Wilmington Willows, apparently. Now, go get your supplies Paralee, she’s gonna start the class soon.”
Paralee gives Caroline a sideways scowl but obeys. She returns to the table a couple minutes later with a tray of watercolor paint and an empty plastic cup.
“Where’s your brush and paper, Paralee? You can’t paint without paper and a brush.”
“I can’t paint without a glass of that wine either, but here I am.” Paralee looks around the room to see if anyone was casually sipping a cup of vino. No one seemed to care one way or the other about the wine. Never mind it was a taste of the life they used to have, all they seemed to be interested in was slapping paint onto a piece of paper.
“Alright everyone, may I have your attention?” The woman, dressed like a hippy love child of the seventies, looks around the room expectantly.
Paralee clears her throat. “Excuse me miss, I thought this was supposed to be Wine and Watercolors? This may come as a shock to you, but some of us came for the wine part of the program. So, when’s that happening?”
“Oh dear. I do apologize if you were mislead. The wine is actually part of the painting process,” the woman blushes.
“Right. So, that’s what I’m asking. I’d like my glass of wine now so I can get the process of drinking it started,” Paralee snorts.
“Oh no, we’re not going to drink it, we’re going to add it to our watercolor paint. You’ll see what I mean once we start. It has such a lovely effect on the paper and the colors.” The woman gives Paralee a quizzical look before returning her attention to the group at large.
Paralee sat quietly for a minute before maneuvering her chair back up to the front of the room to get the rest of her supplies. She places a sheet of paper on her lap and the paintbrush behind her ear before taking a plastic cup from the stack and holding it up to the instructor.
“I’ll need that wine now.” Paralee flashes a charming grin at the art hippy.
“Oh, okay. Can you hold on just a minute?”
“I’ll be right here,” Paralee chirps.
The instructor takes hold of the purple box and makes a big show of wrestling the spigot free while holding her hand out for Paralee’s cup, which she then fills with about an inch of red liquid.
“That should do it,” she returns in a flat tone.
“Should do what?” bewildered, Paralee looks into the cup and scowls.
“That’s all you need,” the woman insists. “Now, could you take your seat so we can get started?”
Paralee motions for the woman to lean in. The room goes silent as the whispering becomes quite animated. When their conversation concludes, the instructor, reluctantly takes Paralee’s plastic cup back and fills it to the brim. Paralee turns and grins at Caroline before rolling out the side door into the hall.
She hears Caroline’s slippered feet scuffling after her and waits.
“What are you doing? I thought you were gonna paint? What did you say to that nice lady?”
“Well, Toots, I just told her if she gave me a cup of that wine, I’d leave her to teach her class in peace. Who ever heard of painting with perfectly good wine? not that this is ‘good’ wine, but you get my meaning. Anyhow, I guess she pegged me for a troublemaker and gave in,” Paralee shrugs. “Cheers! Toots.” Paralee gingerly holds up the over full plastic cup and gives Caroline a rare smile before taking a sip.
“See ya later Toots. Paint me a nice picture,” Paralee says over her shoulder as she wheels slowly down the hall.
Copyright Sk, 2021. All rights reserved.
*image credit: Fineartamerica.com