Freddy the Goldfish
The first thing I noticed about the room was the dead goldfish.The room smelled of mothballs and old people. The door was a hideous shade of green. The wallpaper was beginning to peel off of the walls. There was an older women sitting in the middle of the floor curled into a ball. There was a clock on the mantel piece that wouldn't stop ticking. But the first thing I noticed was the dead goldfish. Walking over I peered into the fish bowl. The water was vaguely green and rather gross. Who knows how long it's been since the water's been changed. Nana Lucille probably didn't even notice that the goldfish was dead. She might not even be aware that there is one. Poor goldfish. I named him Freddy. Well really the guy at the pet store had named him Freddy. Mom had told me that I was crazy for getting Nana a goldfish, but I thought it might brighten the place up a little. Apparently it had achieved the opposite.
I shook my head and made a note to myself to flush Freddy before I left. I walked over to the window and moved the dark curtains aside. The street outside was fairly busy. There were cars, people riding bikes, children crying as their mothers dragged them along. My attention was drawn to a man leaving a car parked right outside Nana's building. It was a nice car. I don't know much about cars but I could tell it was new. Not new, like he'd just bought it but brand new, this year's model, kind of new. I hope he didn't intend on leaving it parked there. It would probably be gone by the time I turned around.
He opened his car door just as a biker squeezing between lanes of traffic got to him. I shook my head as he fell. The coffee in his hand went flying and his briefcase flew into the road. Bike Guy got up only to be shoved by Car Guy. I turned away from the window, dropping the curtain back into place as the two started screaming at each other. Car Guy didn't even notice a couple of kids leaving with his very fancy briefcase. I decided to leave the curtains closed.
"Hey Nana." I said sweetly as I walked over and knelt down next to her. She was still curled up in a ball on the floor. I didn't really expect her to move. Trying to motivate her was like trying to start a fire with wet wood. Sighing I pulled her into a sitting position.
She pulled her knees to her chest and looked around the room. Her gray hair was lose around her face and it struck me how much she looked like a child. She fingered the ivory rosette broach on her lapel. I recognized that broach. She always wore it on special occasions. She hadn't worn it for years but then she hadn't left the house for years. I wondered if she recognized today's importance.
I'd always been close with Nana growing up. She'd take me out to dinner Friday night. Just the two of us. Or we'd go shopping on Saturday. I'd tag along to church on Sundays. I think she knew it must be hard, me being the only girl with five brothers. My parents always had their hands full. I spent almost every weekend with my Nana. I didn't care that she was sixty years older than me. She was my best friend. Until a few years ago.
Grandpa died unexpectedly in his sleep. No one saw it coming. The funeral was awful. Mom was a wreck. Uncle Tom was catatonic. I ran off. Couldn't stand it. I loved my Grandpa very much. He was more a father than Father.
Nana had been the perfect hostess. Made all the funeral arrangements. Cooked all the food. Hadn't shed a tear at his casket. At the time I thought she was amazing. I see now it wasn't right. She was there when they were falling apart. We started to move on. She didn't.
It started with little things. It always does. Stopped leaving the house. Started losing track of time. Would mix up names and places. Mom just thought she was getting older. Didn't realize until it was too late. She wasn't well. Mom and Uncle Tom wanted to ''fix'' her. Because that was their right.
Nana and I sat together in silence. The clocks endless ticking our only conversation. The doorbell rang. Nana jumped up and moved away from the door. I wondered again, if a part of her knew. Knew today was different. Knew that the man at the door was here for her. I wondered if she was still in there. Trapped inside herself by the pain and the grief. Maybe we could have saved her. Maybe I could have.
She began to rummage through drawers and couch cushions. I shook my head. I should help her find what she was looking for. That ticking was driving me crazy. I turned away from Nana. Those few steps to door seemed the most difficult I had ever made in my life. My hand shook as I turned the door knob and pulled back the hideous green door to let in the man who'd I'd come to meet.
"Hello. It's so good to finally meet you. I'm Mr. Jacobsen but you already know that don't you?" He smiled. Shook my hand. I nodded. I had nothing to say to him. I turned back to Mr. Jacobsen. He was much too cheery for a man in his position.
He walked past me. Unaffected by my demeanor.
"Now as I mentioned all payment is to be made upfront and in full." He smiled a toothy smile. His teeth were yellow. I pulled crumbled bills out of my pocket. He snatched the money out of my hand. I shivered. Crossing my arms I watched him count the money. Twice. He put it in his suitcase.
He moved farther into the room. Sat down in the pink chair. Smiled at me and Nana again. "Don't sit there," Nana commanded. "That's the cat's chair." We both jumped at Nana's tone. That was the most I'd heard her say in a long time. It didn't surprise me that she sounded like a child. Mr. Jacobsen didn't move. His smile turned condescending
"I don't see a cat." He contradicted "Nor evidence of one." We stood there. The clock's ticking louder than before.
"You don't have to stay if you don't want to you know. Most people seem to prefer a key at the door. Though I always think it's nice to have someone stay and watch." His smile grew wider. I stared at his briefcase on the coffee table. I noticed it was the same man from the window. There was no more noise outside. He had gotten his briefcase back.
"No." I whispered. Almost immediately I felt my checks flush with colour. I hadn't meant to shout. I tried again. "No. I want to stay. Someone should be here. Not just some stranger." I said. He walked over to me. He reached forward. Rubbed my cheek.
"She won't know or care." He soothed. "She's gone and probably has been for some. Prolonging this isn't doing her any favors. It's for her own good."
"This isn't right." I said. He looked at me. His smiled changed to a smirk.
"You seemed quite convinced that it was when we spoke on the phone. Might I remind you, that if you are starting to have second thoughts, that there are no refunds."
"No. This is my mother's choice. Not mine. She just wanted to leave a key at the front. She was okay with her mother dying alone. With a stranger." I glanced at him. "This isn't right."
He shook his head slowly. Didn't even try to convince me I was wrong. Didn't care. He walked over to the coffee table and opened his briefcase. Pulled on blue latex gloves. Filled a syringe with white liquid from a bottle.
"I need her to lie down on the couch." He said without looking at me. I walked over to Nana. She stared at the image in the ornate oval frame sitting delicately on the table next to the pink chair. In it was her and Grandpa on their wedding day. I fought back the tears.
"Come on Nana." I said as I steered her to the couch. "You're going to go see Grandpa."Nana seemed pleased by this. I refused to let myself cry. Not in front of Mr. Jacobsen. The clock ticked loudly.
I expected something dramatic. There was nothing. The liquid went in. Mr. Jacobsen stood up. Pulled off his gloves.
"Time of death – Seven o' two p.m. the seventeenth of October." He said. I stared at him. He was still smiling. He placed his things back in his brief case and headed to the door. He made a signal to someone outside. Men came in and Nana left. I didn't get up. How could that be it? The clock continued to tick louder and louder.
"It was very nice meeting you. If you ever require my services again please feel free to let me know. You have my number." Mr. Jacobsen said as he walked out the hideously green door. Closed it behind him. I hated him. I barely knew him. I hated him.
I finally became agitated by the monotonous ticking of the ornate clock on the mantelpiece. I stormed out of the apartment. I ran down the stairs and out the door into the rain. The neighbors had seen Mr. Jacobsen enter and leave. My outburst did not shock them.
Nana was gone. She was gone. I would never get her back. I stood in front of the hideous green door. The last time I would do so. I tilted my face to the sky. Let the rain mingle with the tears. Only then did I realize. I'd forgotten the goldfish.