At 91, Gladys sips bourbon from her grandmother’s floral teacup. It’s eleven in the morning. The teacup shakes slightly in her veined and big-knuckled hand. The saucer clinks several times as she sets it down. She’s given up reading the newspaper because her eyes are shot and she feels reading glasses are gauche.
Her radio, an original transistor radio picking up programs still broadcast in FM signal, plays light jazz music. She wears a light cotton gown. Her white wispy hair dances around her face catching the morning light. Her eyes are set deep within her wrinkled face, looking out her window to the yard she pays a young Hispanic man to mow and trim.
Her lips, moistened from the bourbon, tense every so often as she thinks of moments in her past. She dwells here more and more, in the thoughts of a youth so vivid in her mind. She revels in her thoughts, as they take her back to times before dementia and the pains became the focal point of her life. Mornings are the best, with her bourbon and her thoughts.
She remembers the small apartment where she, her sister and parents lived. It was an Irish neighborhood. She remembers ‘rushing the can’ to her parents as they listened to Benny Goodman. The can, coming from the corner bar. Was filled with cold beer her parents would drink in clear glasses while dancing in the kitchen. At nine years old, she would give the slip of paper to the bartender for credit at the bar from her father. She remembers the smoky bar. She remembers neighbors sitting on the stoops of her New York City neighborhood.
Her older sister, Esther, would come home with stories from The Cotton Club where she was a coat check girl. She told her parents about the fur coats, the shimmering clothes and way the dance floor pulsed with people dancing, drinking martinis, smoking unfiltered cigarettes. Gladys would sit in the window overlooking the alleyway watching her parents dance, wanting to be older. She remembers her mother moving to the icebox to get the beer can, cracking it open with a can opener. Her dad would pluck her from her window seat while her mother opened the beer. He would twirl her around to the happy music. She could smell the beer on his breath, the smoke on his clothes.
Gladys brings a hand up and feels the cotton collar of her house gown. She thinks of the sable furs her sister described from her job at The Cotton Club. In her silent reverie, Gladys picks up the cork from her bourbon bottle. The weight in her hand reminds her of the Bazooka Joe bubble gum her mother would give to her. She’d unpeel the wrapper, read the joke to her parents and they would hoot and holler with tipsy delight.
Gladys’ toe is bouncing along to the jazz station on her FM radio. The bouncing reminds her of her sister bouncing on the bed as they both giggled together about a Barney Coogle cartoon called ‘Patch Mah Britches’. The character and his big bottom are covered by pants with a hole in the seat of his pants. They fell back onto the bed laughing at the picture of the man’s underwear poking through his britches.
The radio goes to a commercial and her thoughts stop as the advertisement for an erectile dysfunction. She looks wide eyed at the table, the plate from dinner with her remaining meal still on the table. She forgot to eat last night. She sips her bourbon. The next commercial for feminine hygiene products for maximum flow days causes her to scoff. She looks at the table again where her teeth are submerged in a glass next to her uneaten meal. She touches her mouth as if she’s surprised her teeth are across the table from her
The music begins again and she’s skipping down the sidewalk beneath her apartment, throwing a stone onto the hopscotch square. She hops leaning forward to pick up the stone. A siren sounds down the street and she looks up as folks lean out their windows to watch the fire truck rumble by with its large water tank with firefighters hanging off the sides.
Finishing her hopscotch she says hello to Mrs. Finnegan the fat lady across the hall who wears enormous dresses and hands out candy. She gives Gladys three pieces of salt water taffy. She puts the candies into her pocket and runs upstairs to share with Esther. The radio in the kitchen is playing a rhumba song. Esther grabs Gladys and they try to copy the dance moves they’ve heard about. They both trip over each other falling into a pile, giggling on the kitchen floor.
“Mom!” Gladys hears snapping her away from thoughts of her childhood.
Gladys walks to the door. “”Yes?” she says.
“Mom,” the woman says, “Open up I have your groceries.”
“Groceries?” Gladys says, “I didn’t order any groceries.”
“Mom,” the woman says, “it’s me. Your daughter.”
Gladys looks at the woman and says, “I don’t know. I need to call my daughter to see if she ordered these groceries.”
“Mom,” the woman said. “I’m your daughter.”
“Oh…” Gladys said.