Fiction 2010 / Issues / Spring 2010 / Volume 40

Puree — Terry Heller

“They called from Good Samaritan. Your father has pneumonia again.” She was talking to the first son on vacation in California, far from the zero winter waste of Waterloo. Dr. Parkinson was scooping the final bits from the cream-colored bowl of her husband’s cranium. She saw herself pulling that bowl away, but her imaginary grip was so tenuous, the doctor’s hands so strong – boney, long-fingered, bloodless, cold, and strong. “I know they don’t feed him right. When I’m not there, they let him breathe in his food.” She remembered his dinner plate. Mashed potatoes and butter were his favorite. The green puree was peas. The brown puree was chopped steak. The pink puree was strawberry angel-food dessert. The red puree in one glass was tomato juice, his other favorite. The clear puree in the other was thickened water. On a good day, he spooned his food mostly into his mouth, partly onto his white terry bib. On a bad day, she or an attendant fed him, as he tilted in his wheel-chair, rubbing his feet together until his shoes came off. Every day a nurse drained a can or two of supplement through the tube to his stomach. “They said his fever was 105, but it has come down since they started the antibiotic. His lungs are congested.” She remembered his roommate at the dinner table, shouting at the attendants. “I woke up at 4 and needed to use the bathroom, and I called and called and nobody came.” “I think he sleeps all the time because he doesn’t get enough sleep at night. His roommate is so loud, and he’s always shouting out for help.” She listened to her son’s questions. “They said they’d call me if his condition changes. I haven’t seen him for two days. When I was there on Sunday, he kept saying he wanted to go home. Usually I can’t understand what he tries to say, but he spoke real clear this time.” She remembered him inching his wheel-chair toward the door with the alarms, the outer door he could not pass. “You can’t go home,” she had said. But he insisted, pushing his knees up against the glass and reaching for the bar. Beside him, with one hand on her walker, she tried to push his chair away. He gripped her wrist. She was surprised at the strength of his cold, pale hand. “I want to go home!” He jerked her arm, and she felt her arthritic shoulder snap. “Yes, he did hurt me. It’s still sore. He’s never done that before in our whole life. I don’t sleep.” She listened again. “They don’t take his temperature every day. If they took care of him, he wouldn’t get pneumonia. I’m tired. Nothing is getting done around here.” She thought of crossing the parking lot from their apartment to the home, the new snow, the ice, the bitter cold. “No…. No wheel-chair. If I can’t get my motor going to walk over there, then they’ll make me stay there with him, and I can’t afford it. It takes all we have to keep him there.” But it was the hungry chair she was thinking of, the one that had swallowed her husband and now was yearning after her. She saw it licking its chrome teeth. It didn’t care for puree.

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