as she stays out of my personal business, I think we’ll be fine.”
I meant that. I really did.
The maid showed up a week later. Her name was Tanya, pronounced Tan-ya, like the color. I guess she’d lived a beat-down life, as mother used to say. She wore a dingy nurse’s uniform, a faded blue cotton dress with questionable stains above the right breast and knee. She’d poured herself into that flimsy costume and she, and it, smelled like cigarettes. She told me right away that she’d need to take several breaks throughout the day. She looked down at Missy without smiling.
“This your dog?”
“Why, yes. This is Missy. She’s old but sweet.” I patted my leg and the dog jumped into my chair, precious thing.
“Only if she needs to,” I said.
“Well, I cain’t be worried about it, or I won’t be able to do my job.” She took a little step back.
“And what is your job, exactly?”
“Help you get along.”
It was hardly my fault that Tanya turned out to be an ignorant lump that cared more about sneaking miniature pecan pies from my pantry than tending to her duties. I’m a fair woman and I didn’t expect miracles out of her. But I did expect her to clean the house once a week and to stay awake while I watch my shows. And I requested a hot lunch instead of sandwiches every day which, I felt, was only reasonable. I can make my own self a cold lunch, even in this chair.
But you know how people are, trying to get by doing as little as they can. Tanya was no exception. First, she handed me baloney and bread on a paper plate, three days in a row. Then every time I turned around she was either in the bathroom with the fan on, or outside, sucking on a cigarette. She stayed with me nights, too, and I heard her snoring from the guest bedroom, louder than Jerry ever did. All that was bad enough. But when I saw her kick my Missy, well, that was it. I sent her packing.
Linda burst through my front room later that day, hair flying. She’d gotten a call from the home care agency. I’d reported a case of abuse, and she’d come straight from the shop to see about me. I told her Tanya was gone. Had she smacked me, or anything? Worse, I said, she hurt Missy. Everybody knows poodles are sensitive, and my dog cowered for the rest of the day because of that trash.
Linda’s eyebrows got low, then, like she was preparing to give a speech, but I held up my hand before she could get started.
“You made a mistake with that woman, but I’m willing to overlook it,” I said. “She was a sack of nothing, and she stole from me, but it’s in the past. I think we can agree that, from now on, I’m the one ought to be picking out my own help.”
Unfortunately, the next girl was no better than Tanya, even though her references were good. Lynn wasn’t fat, that was something, but I could tell right off she wasn’t a dog person. She never even looked at Missy, and the dog could feel the hate. The poor thing even got to where she raised up her jowls, showing her little crooked teeth, every time that woman came near me.
Then, at lunch, after Lynn had been sulking around the house for five days, things took a turn for the worse. It started with me leaning over my chair to reach for a bit of biscuit that’d fallen on top of my left foot. I’d seen where Missy was fixing to go after it and I drew back to let her have it, like I always do. Well, Lynn saw Missy lunging at my foot, and I guess she thought it was her place to discipline my dog, because she grabbed the poor thing by the back of her neck and tossed her across the kitchen.
She asked was I okay. I was so mad I didn’t answer. I wheeled myself over to where Missy sat shivering and patted my leg. Would you believe she wouldn’t jump in my lap?
I turned around and pointed at the door. “You get out of my house.”
She gathered her things and left, slamming the wall with her overnight bag on her way out. That afternoon Linda called me up on the phone and gave me an earful. Lynn had tattled to headquarters about me, said I treated her poorly. The people at the agency told Linda they could “no longer send home health care workers to my residence.” Home health care workers! Flunkies from the Holiday Inn, more like.
Linda, back at the house.
“We’re out of options, plain and simple,” she said. “I don’t know how it’s going to be possible for you to stay at home anymore.”
“Those girls were awful,” I said. “I never saw Missy bite anybody before, but I did see both of them girls kick her. If she bit, it was to defend herself. I’m not leaving.”
Linda pulled at her face.
“You don’t need to do anything,” I said. “Just go on back to the garden center. They’ll be wondering where you went.”
I pretended to look at something on my left. Nothing uglier than an old woman crying.
“Just for tonight, then, Mama,” Linda said, patting my shoulder. “You’ll call if you need anything?”
I nodded, and she dropped a kiss on top of my head, like I was her little girl.
Jerry visited me later that night, like he does sometimes, and I lay in my bed staring at him from behind my eyelids. If I keep perfectly still I can get him to stay on a little longer. I waited for him to tell me what he’s been up to, or that I should be nicer to Linda, or where I’d put my glasses. But he stayed quiet and looked at me with an expression I couldn’t decipher.
Then it dawned on me I’d forgotten to take my medication. That’s what he was trying to tell me. My pills sat all the way over on the bathroom counter, and I was flat out on the bed. I had no choice but to skip my dose, or haul myself upright and force my legs to get me to my chair.
I woke up the next morning with Linda heaving me on to my bed.