HomeSouthern VoicePassing Time

Passing Time

by Amanda Inman

The room quivered like rising heat on asphalt. Mary gripped the edge of the counter, dropping the spoon she was using to stir green beans. Tiny black spots crowded her vision like a swarm of gnats and caused the trees outside her window to look like ghosts. She held on tighter, but her grip gave way and her hand hit the metal pot on the stove on her way to the floor.

A searing pain gripped her hand and shot through her arm and she couldn’t help but cry. She screamed behind closed lips. Needle-like pain pricked her arm, but she couldn’t get up from the floor to run her hand under cold water.

She saw her husband pushing himself toward her in his walker. His face wrinkled and his glasses intensified his wide eyes. “Honey, what happened?” he asked, coming to her side.

“I’m all right,” she said as she tried to get up from the floor. “Just have a little burn is all.” She covered her burn with her other hand.

“Let me see,” he said, trying to help her up. She took her left hand off and revealed the burn. Her skin was raised and red, and torn in a few places.

“Maybe we should get you to a doctor to look at it,” he said.

“It’s just a burn. I can take care of it myself,” she said, and pulled her hand close to her chest. Her eyes squinted in determination. “Don’t you think I know how to take care of a burn?”

“Well, I wasn’t rightly saying that,” he said.

She flipped off the stove and sighed. The bubbles pushed the shriveled rubbery green beans around the pot as she walked back to the bathroom to bandage her wound.

Hudson stood in the doorway, knuckles white around the metal poles of his walker. “Why don’t you let me fix something for dinner? You want an egg sandwich or something?”

“I’ll fix dinner, honey. Don’t worry about it,” she said as she wrapped the gauze around her hand.

Hudson tapped on his walker. “I don’t mind cooking —”

“I told you I’ll fix it,” she said, creases forming in her forehead,  her jaw set. “I ain’t going to let this dizziness get me down,” she said, putting tape on the gauze. “I just ain’t going to.”

Hudson didn’t say anything else. Mary met his eyes in the mirror, then looked away. His gray eyes looked paler than usual.

When Mary finished, she slid past Hudson to the kitchen where she pulled out two metal bowls and a potato and sat down at the table. She began peeling it, scrunched her face when she felt a pain in the back of her head. Hudson sat in the chair beside of her and placed a hand on her arm.

“I still think we should try going to another doctor about them dizzy spells,” Hudson said.

She shook her head. “Don’t none of ‘em know what they talking about,” she said. “You heard him. You were there.”

***

A week earlier, the doctor walked into the room. His hair was styled in a boyish bowl-cut hairstyle and his skin was clustered with acne. Mary thought he looked way too young to be out of high school, much less college. She sat on the edge of the table while Hudson sat in the chair tapping his walker. The doctor poked and prodded, took blood and ran tests, then sat there with her chart in front of him, clicking his pen. “Well, the tests all came out clear,” he said.

Mary slid back on the table. “So what’s wrong with me? Can’t nobody tell me what’s wrong with me?” she asked.

The doctor sighed. He bit his lip, then spoke. “Well, we could try changing your acid reflux medication again.”

“I ain’t even been on this one but a few weeks. That’s what the doctor last time told me and it didn’t work.”

The doctor flipped the pages on her chart. She imagined he was flipping through the results for the CT scan, the MRI, the X-rays, the tests. Then he spoke. “To be honest with you, Mrs. Morris, everything’s already been done that I would have said to do. There’s nothing else I know of that we can do for you besides change medication. I’m sorry. Sometimes these things work like this.”

She sat on the table, looking at her husband. He just stared at the floor.

Now, Hudson sat in front of her, with the same look of defeat on his face. He didn’t say anything, just covered her left hand in his.

***

Mary walked outside to her little garden — only half its size this year. Weeds choked out last year’s potato hills, and the rows of last year’s corn. A few new stalks leaned against the rest of the other black dried ones and Mary knew that meant coons had been eating her corn. She shook her head and snapped off green beans from the vines, putting them in her apron pocket. The sun beat down hard, but Mary was always taught to never go outside without a wide-brimmed hat. As she walked toward the house, she thought of her son. I wish he lived closer, she thought. He lived on the other side of the country, working for some big business company she could never remember the name of. It seemed like only yesterday he was home helping her in the garden.

As she neared the clothes line, her head became cloudy and pin pricks clustered in the back of her head. The grass swam like a river and she reached for the clothes line, held on tight as she could. When she woke, she was on the ground with all her beans scattered across the grass in front of her. She gathered the beans and walked inside the house. Her leg hurt when she put weight on it, but she could manage a little pain.

Hudson sat at the table, reading the newspaper. Mary walked to the cabinet and pulled out a container to empty the beans into. “Beans are doing good so far, but I’m afraid those ol’ coons done got into what corn we’ve got.” She sighed.

“Guess we need to set a trap for ‘em then,” he said.

“I tell ya. Can’t have no garden for all the ol’ varmints want to eat up everything.”

Hudson didn’t say anything, but his eyes dropped to her leg. “What’s wrong with your leg, honey?” he asked, as she walked to the table.

“Oh, nothing. I’m fine.”

His forehead creased. “Sure are walking funny.”

“Just slipped. Grass is wet,” she said, snapping the beans.

“Funny we ain’t had no rain lately to make it wet. You sure you didn’t have another one of them spells?”

“I did get a tad dizzy,” she said. “Look, I’ll be just fine.”

Hudson tapped on his walker. “I’m starting to think you shouldn’t go outdoors unless I go out with you.”

“An’ I’m starting to think I should knock you upside the head with that walker. I told you I’m fine and I mean it,” she said, snapping beans faster.

Hudson shuffled his papers and went to the other room.

***

The next day, while Mary was folding laundry, the phone rang.

“Hey, Mom. How are things?” her son William asked.

“It’s all been good lately. Good to hear from you,” she said. “How’s that business life been treating you?”

“It’s been going good. Can’t stay on here too long, but I just wanted to tell you that I got some time off work and I want to fly the family down to see you.”

Her chest rose. “When will you be coming?”

“Well, I know it’s short notice, but we’re flying out this weekend for Labor Day. Looking forward to seeing you and Dad.”

“We are too,” she said.

“Well, we’ll let you know when we make it there. Bye.”

When she got off the phone, she walked in the living room, where Hudson sat on the couch watching TV.

“William just called,” she said. “He’s coming down here next week with his family.”

“That’s good. I been wondering when they’d make it down.”

“Me too. I need to bring up the big fold-up table from downstairs so there’ll be enough room for everybody when they get here.”

“Let’s let Will get it for us when he gets here.”

“Now, honey, you know he don’t come to do our work. I want things to be ready when they get here.”

“I know. I just don’t think it’s a good idea for you to go downstairs, not with how many spells you’ve had lately.”

Mary sighed and sat down on the couch beside her husband. She waited until he was asleep on the couch before going downstairs.

“Can’t nobody tell me what I can’t do,” she said.

Her leg had gotten stiff in the past couple of days and seemed to creak and pop as she moved from step to step. She managed to bring two of the chairs upstairs and set them in the kitchen and went back down for the rest. She only made it a few steps down before she spots clouded her eyes again. She tried to walk faster down the steps, but her leg refused to cooperate. When she woke up, she couldn’t move her leg and her hip seared with pain. She heard footsteps above her and saw Hudson, holding on to the rail, coming down the steps one at a time.

“Mary? You all right?”

“I’m fine,” she said, wincing at the throbbing pain in her leg and hip.

“This is why I didn’t want you down here,” he said, as he made it halfway down. “You don’t ever listen.” He blew out his breath. “Can you move at all?”

Mary tried to push herself up with her arms. Her butt fell back to the step, sending a sensation throughout her lower half. She screamed behind her lips.

Hudson made it down to the bottom of the steps and touched Mary’s leg. She jerked. “We need to call the rescue squad,” he said.

“Naw, we don’t. It’s just like last time. Pain will go away. Just got to walk it off,” she said, trying to push herself up again. She fell back down.

“Let me go call the rescue squad to come get you,” he said as he started up the steps.

“I know you ain’t going deaf, Hudson. I told you I don’t want you to call no blame rescue squad.”

“Mary, I’m worried about you.”

“I told you. I’ll be fine.”

Hudson made it up a few more steps. “People our age break their hips all the time. We ain’t young no more —neither one of us. With you having all these dizzy spells and being so stubborn headed, it’s getting hard for me to take care of you.”

“I don’t need nobody taking care of me, Hudson. You, or nobody else.”

“Well, you know what will happen if you broke your hip, and it’s nothing either you or I can do about it,” he said, making it to the top of the steps.

Mary’s muscles tightened. She shouted up the steps. “I can take care of myself and have been doing just fine for all these years and I don’t need nobody even thinkin’ they going to put me in some nursing home. Your mind dies there, Hudson. I seen it with Daddy,” she said, her eyes flushing with tears. She remembered the pocket watch her dad gave her in the nursing home — the last present he gave her. He never told Mary why he gave it to her, but it was right before her dad let go of all responsibility on the farm and turned it over to his children. She was the oldest.

Now, Hudson stood at the top of the steps and Mary could see his outline sway back and forth. “Well, what are you going to do? Just lay there?” he asked. She didn’t say anything, but continued to cry.

“I’m calling the rescue squad,” he said, as he disappeared from sight.

           ***

In the ambulance, Mary tried not to look at her husband. She stared at the ceiling, closed her eyes. She thought of the cucumbers, the shriveled greenish black ones she left on the vines the day before. She was tired of making pickles this year. She opened her eyes when she felt Hudson’s warm hand rubbing her back.

“Sometimes it’s not bad to take help,” he told her.

She shot her gaze to him and when she saw how red his eyes looked, her face lightened.

“I love you, and want to take care of you ‘cause that’s what I’m supposed to do. You a strong woman and I love you for it, but sometimes it’s nice to have a little help.” He tapped on his walker, his hands shaking.

Mary just looked at him.

“And I sure as heck know I need my wife,” he said. His forehead wrinkled and he looked at the ceiling. His lips shook, and he pressed them together.

Mary shifted herself toward her husband and rubbed her hand across his knee. “I know. Thank you.”

When they got to the hospital, the doctor came in and confirmed that she had a broken hip. Mary’s body tightened, she clenched her jaw, prayed the doctor would leave the room. But he stood there, like the big oak tree outside her house, and as he opened his mouth to speak, she closed her eyes.

“Mrs. Morris, we’re keeping you here tonight and tomorrow, but you and your husband need to decide which rehabilitation center you would like to stay at until your leg is healed up and you can go home. Will there be someone near your home who can take care of you when you get back?”

Mary was silent, so Hudson spoke. “The only young ‘un we have is our son, Will, and he lives all the way across country for his job.”

“Well, then, that changes things,” the doctor said, scratching his head. “Since it seems like similar incidents like this have occurred a lot in the past month, we may want to consider sending you to a nursing home.”

Mary’s breathing increased. She didn’t say anything, just watched as the doctor’s stethoscope moved back and forth when he talked. He used big hand gestures.

“You obviously don’t have to go, but if you don’t have anyone to take care of you, it would be strongly recommended. It’s a big responsibility for your husband by himself.” He clicked his pen and made a few marks on the chart. “I’ll let you two discuss it and we’ll figure out what we’ll do tomorrow,” he said, leaving the room.

Hudson reached over and touched Mary’s hand. She gripped the metal poles of the bed and pressed her eyes shut.

“Is it what you wanted?” she said, staring at the wall.

Hudson looked confused. “What do you mean?”

“I mean the nursing home thing,” she said.  “You wanted me to go, didn’t you?”

Hudson’s eyes swam with tears and he wiped his face. “Mary, I love you. I never want to have to live without you. Do you know how much it breaks my heart to see you suffer like this?”

She stared at the ceiling to keep from crying. It was rare for Hudson to show this much emotion.

“Do you know how bad it makes me feel that I can’t take care of you and be there for you? I promised you when we married I would, and now,” he said, his voice cracking, “I feel like I’m breaking a promise I made to you.”

She turned to face him. “You ain’t breaking no promise,” she said, taking his hand.

“I mean, I can’t do as many things anymore either because of my walker. You know it was hard at first, but that’s when I told myself that we all get old. We’ve had our time to work, and enjoy life; now it’s someone else’s turn.”

Mary lay back against the pillows and watched the fuzzy static dance across the television screen. She reached over and gripped Hudson’s hand, letting out her breath.

***

Even after a few days in the nursing home, the smell of Lysol mixed with hand soap still closed in on Mary, and when she opened her mouth, she could taste it. As strong as it was, nothing could cover the taste of copper that already coated her taste buds. Light reflected off the tiled floors, almost blinding her and she watched each pained or sleeping face behind each door frame, as the nurse wheeled her back to her room. She had asked the nurse to take her down the hall so she could get out for a little while, but now, she wished she hadn’t. It only depressed her more.

“Here you go, Mrs. Mary,” the young nurse said, helping her into bed. The stark walls barely had color, and on the wall beside her bed hung a cork board with a list of activities and a welcome card from the nurse staff. She still wasn’t sure why she was being welcomed.

She looked straight ahead, nothing sparkled behind her eyes. Her mouth remained a straight line. She leaned back against the pillows and tried to clear her mind. As soon as she began to drift to sleep, she heard a slight knock at the door.

“You have someone here to see you,” the nurse said.

Her son, William walked in.

She sat up in bed. “Well, hey. I thought you’d bring the posse with you,” she said.

He kissed her on the forehead. “Not today,” he said. “Everyone’s still exhausted and jet-lagged so I told them they could just stay at the hotel. So, how are you?”

She shrugged.

He shifted his weight. “So, what kind of trick did they use to get you in here? I know for sure they had to drag you in here, screaming the whole way,” he said.

She shook her head and looked at her hands. “William, we all get old.”

His forehead creased and his mouth turned down.

Mary reached out her hand to gesture him closer. “Come here. Let me give you something.”

He walked over to the side of the bed.

Mary picked up the pocket watch off the table beside her. “Daddy gave me this in the nursing home. Didn’t say anything — just gave it to me. Never knew what he meant by it.” She fingered the design in the gold surface. “I told your Dad to get it and bring it here cause I hoped you’d come.” Mary looked at her son. His forehead wrinkled and his eyes focused on the pocket watch. She continued, “Now, I’m giving it to you.”

Will jumped and she saw that he studied her face. “Mom, why don’t you just hold on to it for a while for me? You have plenty more years left,” he said.

Mary shook her head, looked at the strong, tall man that stood in front of her, remembered how she used to rock him to sleep, not so long ago. “I want you to have it. Still got a few good years left in it, but the body,” she said, looking at her shriveled hands. “We just never know about the body.”

Will walked over to the bed and hugged his mother. She let her head slide down to his chest and he held her close. He held the watch’s chain in his hand and the watch slid over her shoulder, coming between them. Mary smiled as he cradled her in his arms.

Amanda Inman lives in Farmville, Virginia, and is currently pursuing her MA. Growing up in Southern Virginia, she learned that hard work is a way of life. She helped out in the garden in the summers, helped make apple butter each fall and was surrounded by many strong, independent, hardworking people. As an undergrad, Inman worked as part of her university’s literary journal, The Dos Passos Review, slushing through submissions and attending conferences and other related events. She is now employed as a Teaching Assistant at Longwood University. 

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