George was a cobbler and a remote control car enthusiast. When his wife,Edna, got dementia, George started gathering computer chips and antennae.
Edna walked in the mornings while she smoked. She used to walk with the older women in the neighborhood, The Silver Sneakers, but they frowned both upon her smoking and her senility. It was a catchy thing and the functioning elderly would have none of it in their midst. Nimble minds make others stronger, Gerdy said. Edna said that Gerdy had it coming to her and she was setting herself up for some Parkinsons or MS. Edna said it with a bit of hurt in her eyes, knowing just that she’d missed some stories. Edna walked alone now and would alternate between her eggshell kitten heels and her orthopedic walking shoes, favorites representing a forty year time gap. She left a weak trail of smoke behind her in the morning cold and George watched her walk from his lawn chair until she and her smoke had disappeared from sight.
George started with the shoes, carefully selecting a pair from the back of her closet first. Something that pinched a little and wouldn’t be missed on good days. He lifted a leather sole with expert precision and used his wood carving tools to make a shallow cavity. This was the home of the first chip. Something he’d ordered from on online pet supply company.
He set up the center in the “men’s lounge” a place Edna’s younger mind had learned to avoid, and she thereby continued to avoid it. A new map on the wall could easily be explained by a new found interest in geography and he hid anything technical in with his extensive collection of remote control cars, their docile red bulbs mixing in with black wires and remote screens. He stirred the tracking equipment in and it was nearly indistinguishable. Especially with eyes that only saw categories. The charting of Edna was on the map, with push pins. First daily pattern charts, later involving yarn and county maps of the grocery store, the bank. He needed to find her; it hurt him to watch her blending into everything.
Edna hated the shoes George set out before her; she knew she they weren’t her favorite. George practiced with them around the house playing with receptors and GPS technology he had ordered online after he put her to bed at 8:27, so she could finish her peppermint tea after MASH. In her near sleep , as she lay in bed, Edna chattered about the t.v. She said it was always sad when one sister was prettier. And that one usually was. George answered her calmly, trying to sound like a father, despite his gut, and repeated back to her little bits of what she said. He needed to always know what room of the house she was in. He thought she could go out longer this way too. He could keep her safe.
When Edna started to have lung trouble, George struggled to explain it to her. She kept saying it was her stomach and George left it at that. He pulled the doctor aside, awkwardly and with hesitation, and he spoke to him about inserting a chip. He wanted a chip with her, he said, didn’t much care where, as long as it didn’t hurt her. The doctor told him he was concerned about the ethics and would consult with the mental health team the next morning. In the end, someone mercifully let it happen and she was to be activated in two months, when the healing was done. George breathed deeply and thought about taking the chips out of the shoes. About the day when he could do that and give her dignity. He would only have to wait until she healed.
She started to get confused about when to brush her teeth and when it was a good idea to do the recycling. At first, George would follow her and put things back together. Removed the toaster from the recycling bin every morning when she threw it in at 2 am. Explained to her that the antibiotic ointment was not toothpaste. Edna was never happy with him; she said she saw things right. George smiled and brushed her hair from her eyes. He started hoarding things in the men’s lounge. All poisons under lock and key. Only the appropriate items in the appropriate spaces. Buying time. He numbered her daily routine. Shower 1. Towel 2. Clothes 3. Shoes 4. Good days she would call him crazy and ask him what he was up to with all these numbers. When he could, he’d retreat to his room, after making sure she was wearing something with tracking, and it calmed him to watch her glowing dot of a presence on the screens. Less complicated. Visible and bright.
Edna’s sister called on a Saturday and after a long chat about what George thought Edna could do, her sister won and said she would have none of his nonsense. They were going shopping. George sat near his maps and his ever growing collection of screens while she was gone. He looked at maps of the mall online. And knew when Edna had picked out a new dress. When she was having lunch in the food court. When she was finally on her way home.
When asked about the day, Edna was full of smiles. George felt relief and that he could hold her as long as needed. She said she needed a smoke, to relax. He watched her walk away. He had given her his latest present, light up shoes. She liked them because she remembered the early nineties. The glowing red lights on her heels, flames, birthday candles as she disappeared from view.
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Portland Fiction Project
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