He was of geriatric fragility, a man whose slippered pace always elicited an ominous gasp from the visiting care-giver.
‘Lemme help you…’ The nurse would approach, only to be thwarted by his swatting hands.
‘You’re all ludicrous…’ He would snicker, stubbornly abandoning his walker.
Finally, with his perilous, tightrope performance achieved, he would lower himself onto the cushions of his antique chair. As the nurse delivered an equally teetering, clinking set of saucer and cup brimming with percolator scorched coffee, the man would begin his pat-pat-pattering of hands-on-thighs, the rhythm instantly summoning his petite canine fluff balls.
‘Ah, Robes…’ One of the dogs leaped on his lap, the other settling, after three ritualistic rotations of the chair, onto the hardwood floor. ‘And, here is Mr. Pierre.’
One of the nurse’s fattened thumbs smooshed a button on the television remote, the large, flat screen attached to the wall bursting with quarreling pundits.
‘Channel…Oh, whatisit? The financial news channel—Ah, yes, that’s the channel. Thank you, Gloria.’
Mr. Pierre growled.
If one ventured through the heirloom leaden corridors of the house, ascending its various, baroque spiral staircases, while evading desiccated clumps of dog feces, I imagine you would encounter a small, hardwood floor landing leading to—what could best be described as—a chamber door.
If you unlatched that medieval door, allowing its massive, rust peeling hinges to screech open, it would reveal a space once reserved as the home’s ballroom.
The room was no longer some lavish spectacle of high snobbery, of marble and diamond chandeliers where bloodline wealth convened to marry off debutantes and consolidate power, but the bedroom mausoleum of the Grand Dame.
‘Will your partner being joining you for coffee this morning?’ Gloria asked the man.
‘Oh, I don’t think so, Gloria. Her condition has again flared.’
Yes, the Grand Dame was again beset by her condition, whose various, incapacitating afflictions, according to her physician and psychiatrist, were all symptomatic of her hypochondriasis.
As Gloria returned to the kitchen to prepare the man’s poached egg breakfast, the Grand Dame was in her bed, prone and heaped with bedsheets, moaning from the incurable diseases conjured by her mind.
Soon, the Doctor would arrive, his medical bag bulging with instruments and rattling with pill containers. He would evaluate her condition with specialized devices, some of them experimental, wired with bleeping and buzzing gadgetry.
‘Microbes…’ The Doctor would whisper.
‘Oh, no, doctor!’ The Grand Dame would exclaim, her agonizing heart stressing the Doctor’s equipment.
The doctor would prescribe one of his famous elixirs, while recommending restful isolation.
‘Oh, but my niece and daughter are visiting! She’s entering the state beauty pageant!’
The doctor responded with a somber nod. ‘I will make sure the potency of this dosage is…’ His lips halted, suspended mid-sentence as his eyes became distracted by the pyramid-like arrangement of photographs on the Grand Dame’s wall. ‘Apologies…I’m admiring your photos.’
‘Yes, David was here the other day and graciously volunteered to go through my mementos and redesign the shrine, as he calls it.’
Behind the glass of those silver and brass frames, the Grand Dame was immortalized as youthful beauty, a bygone era archetype of black and white glamour. Throughout the shrine, there were photos of her posed on settee’s, staring into the camera with assured elegance. In others, her lithe figure was draped across those small sofas, blond hair cascading onto what appeared to be a marble floor with a black and white checkered pattern.
‘I was a New York city fashion model, as you know…’
‘Yes…’ He stared into a photograph of her alluring, feline eyes and sensuously pursed lips.
‘But, then…then I met my partner, Charles. He was living with…David at the time. They’re both famous artists, I’m not sure if you know, doctor. David did these marvelous, large canvas abstracts of men…he’s been an inspiration to many modern artists. My partner, Charles, is accomplished himself…’
The doctor nodded.
‘As you know, Charles is very handsome. David always said that we would have had beautiful children, if not for Charles condition.’
‘Yes. I still remember. Very vividly, doctor. I was in Paris and David had to rush Charles to the emergency room. They were told by the doctor, a very experienced Hebrew doctor, that Charles condition prevented him from…’ She hesitated. ‘Having children, I should say.’
The Grand Dame’s eyelids shuddered. ‘Oh, doctor, I must rest.’
In the kitchen, Gloria was rinsing the percolator of its caffeinated sludge, when there was a knock at the back door.
From the sink, she heard the screen door creak, then its wooden slats, bloated with humidity, nudged back into the threshold.
‘Good afternoon, Gloria…’ David appeared.
Gloria smiled. ‘David, after all these years, it just popped into my head, why don’t you come in from the front door?’
He smirked. ‘The neighbors are a ravenous, malicious, gossiping clique, Gloria.’
‘There was one cup left,’ Gloria handed David a mug of coffee. ‘The rest was gooey grounds.’
David nodded, accepting the coffee. ‘How is he this morning?’
‘He went striding off without his walker…’
‘But, he was very balanced. And, he’s seems like himself. Grumping about Wall Street and his Grand Dame.’
‘She must be exhausted, yes?’ A satirical, theatrical roll of his eyes. ‘Her quack has left?’
Gloria giggled. ‘The doctor left a bit ago.’
‘Oh, my…our dear doktor.’
There was an aristocratic presence to David, a man of heredity affluence, one who could recite dusty, obscure passages of English poetry and debate the latest New Yorker critiques, but as Gloria had experienced many times, he was unafraid to jeopardize his bespoke trousers to sit on dirty, back porch steps and share a few cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon with the simple folk.
‘How are you, David? That’s the most important question…’
He groaned. ‘I will be gone for a week. I have to return to New York. The intolerable, incessant meet and greets with collectors and my dealer. We all sip champagne, laugh earnestly and everyone pretends they’re a catalyst for world peace…’ He stops. ‘So, you know what I am asking—’
‘When haven’t I taken care of Charles?’
‘I know…’ A quick kiss on Gloria’s cheek.
‘You’re unseemly…’ David leaned to kiss Charles forehead. ‘And, disheveled as ever.’ He arrayed the remaining strands of Charles’ hair. ‘What happened to those lustrous locks?’ He patted Robes tiny, seemingly insubstantial furry skull.
‘You happened…You.’ Charles hands trembled as he sipped from his porcelain coffee cup.
‘I heard you were being adventurous this morning.’
‘I’m not a cripple, David.’
‘When I came in, I saw a painting. Are you painting?’
Charles nodded, captivated by the outlandish commentary of the news station. ‘It may be my last one.’
‘You remember Stanley, my dealer? I’m visiting him next week. He’s going to ask what you have in the vault. He said a late career retrospective for you could be quite lucrative, Charles…’
‘Stanley is a vindictive, plundering fascist…’ Charles finally turned from the television, smiling. ‘That’s why you like him, rich boy.’
She gasped, flushed with embarrassment. She was an intruder, a witness to one of the most simplistic, yet symbolic gestures of human intimacy…
‘Gloria, what is it?’ David’s eyes were swelled with concern.
‘I-I-I’m sorry…I just never saw you two do that…’
David and Charles were sitting in their adjoining, antique chairs that resembled replica thrones, holding hands.
‘Well…’ Began Charles, his unoccupied hand petting Robes, ‘Get over it.’
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