I Like You Just Fine When You're Not Around - Ann Garvin
Horn Broken, Look for Finger
Tig Monahan tried to imagine what it would be like to lose her mind. Was it like a quick, fully aware, terror-filled slip on an icy sidewalk, or slower, where a tiny skidding sensation goes unnoticed until suddenly you realize all four limbs are in the air and your face is in a ditch. With her mother, Hallie, it was hard to tell what she’d been aware of, or how the knotted neurons in her brain foretold her foggy future. Either way, her mother’s mind was not her own, her secrets were locked inside, and Tig was left to ponder the icy aftermath.
It was almost six P.M. and Hallie’s nightly agitation was right on time; actually, a half-hour ahead of schedule, due to the recent relocation from Tig’s home to Hope House.
“Where is he?” her mother said, her voice flapping like a bird startled from its roost. “Is your father here?” Hallie worked the worn platinum wedding band, loose beneath her knuckle, around and around. “He said I should wait.” She shoved the bedside stand out of the way and stood, the evening version of her dementia giving her a kind of agility that her laid-back daytime confusion seemed to eschew.
“It’s okay, Mom. I’m here. I’ve got you.”
Her mother emptied her purse onto the bed. “Wendy, get your father.”
“It’s Tig, Mom,” Tig, the forgotten daughter and sister to Wendy-the-absent-Monahan, said. “What are you looking for?”
Hallie stopped in her frantic search through her purse and snapped, “What do you think I’m searching for? It’s always right here, in this pocket.” Her piercing blue eyes were clearly seeing one daughter where the other one stood, reminding Tig of how sure her mother had always been. Sure and blunt and lovely. Her signature soft, sun-blond hair now frayed and wild, white; her once full lips turned inward with the sourness of age.
“N’est-ce pas?” her mother said, changing from agitation to despondency, to French, a language she loved and remembered better than her family. She snatched Tig’s hand in her pale fist.
Tig worked to keep her own anxiety locked inside, knowing that when she cried, it only upset her mother. “We can’t all cry,” her mother used to say when Tig and Wendy were girls. “Someone has to man the battle stations.” Tig struggled against her grief, her lips twitching in effort.
A nurse swept into the room, responding to the call bell Tig had silently rung for assistance. Over her mother’s head, Tig said, “I thought maybe tonight she wouldn’t need a sedative. I thought if I spent the whole day with her it might help.”
The nurse drew a line with her lips and looked sympathetically at Tig, as if to say, Here’s another one who just doesn’t get it yet. Another relative really low on the learning curve. “Alzheimer’s softens for no man, no how, no way. It’s been one week. She was at your home for much longer than that. She needs time to acclimate.” To Tig’s mother she said, “Hallie, let’s get you settled for the night.”
Hallie Monahan ignored the nurse and began tearing at her sheets. Tig said, “My mom ran her own business. She was a vet, and a single parent. You have no idea how much she would hate being seen like this. Hate being here.”
The nurse spoke to Hallie in a tone that made Tig want to curl up on the wrinkled bedding for a nap. “Hallie, love. I have your medication here. Try some orange juice. Here you go.” Inexplicably, Hallie turned, flipped the small pill into her mouth and slammed back her orange juice like a drunk in a biker bar.
She returned to her sheets and buried her arm up to her elbow into the pillowcase and searched. “If I could tell you,” her mother said.
Behind her, Tig said, “Mom, let’s sit down.” When her mother didn’t budge, Tig said to the nurse, “She had an almost photographic memory. Photographic.” The emphatic way she said “photographic” got her mother’s attention, and for just a moment she gazed at Tig with what almost seemed like clarity. But, just as quickly, her mother’s face fell and she returned to yanking at her ring.
“I shouldn’t have moved her out of my house.”
Her mother upended her now-empty purse for the tenth time, muttering, “It’s here. It’s always here.”
“You did the right thing. Just let this medicine take effect. You should go home and get some rest. Don’t you work in the morning?” The nurse gently