Fiction by Jennifer Shneiderman
Carl took his time picking through cellophane-wrapped flowers in the store’s waterlogged buckets. He searched for the nicest of the bunch. No dried, browned stems. No missing petals. He searched for perfect yellow disks and unmolested white rays. Daisies for Daisy. The word came from the Old English “day’s eye,” a flower that opens in the morning and closes at night.
“Mom has become forgetful,” said Julia, shifting the phone from one ear to the next.
“Well, she’s always been a little scatter-brained. You know that,” said Carl, holding the phone under his chin and labeling file folders. It was his busy season, and he didn’t have the time or desire to talk about Daisy, his ex-wife. The ex-wife who betrayed him, divorced him and hired his best friend, an attorney, to represent her in the divorce. She was a piece of work who didn’t deserve the time of day.
“This is something different, Dad,” said Julia. “Her doctor says she has dementia.”
Carl stopped filing. “Dementia? Are you sure?”
“The house was a mess,” she said. “Not quite Hoarders Buried Alive messy, but headed in that direction.”
“You know that TV show,” said Julia. The one where the authorities bring in hazmat teams to clean out houses? Don’t worry. I got the place cleaned up and organized. But she doesn’t drive or cook anymore. She can’t walk alone in the neighborhood – she gets lost.”
“That’s terrible,” said Carl, rubbing his head and looking at the stacks of tax returns on his desk.
“Alzheimer’s,” said Julia. “It’s already quite advanced.” After a long pause, she said, “Dad, are you still there?”
“Yes,” he replied quietly.
“I’m living with her now. She needs constant supervision,” said Julia.
“How can it be that bad? Doesn’t it take years for people to deteriorate?” asked Carl, slicing an envelope with a letter opener.
“She wants to see you, Dad. Keeps asking when you’re coming,” said Julia. “If you have it in your heart …”
Carl was silent, clenching his jaw. “Dad?”
“I guess I could drop by,” he managed, pushing the unfinished returns aside.
On the drive to the house, Carl imagined Daisy, or at least Future Daisy, shriveled and wheelchair-bound, living in a smelly skilled nursing facility, gleaming floors juxtaposed by dulled senses and fading memories.
Carl made his way slowly up the concrete walkway, noticing that the yard was tidy and well kept. A white iron railing had been installed on the concrete stairway leading to the front door. He eschewed the banister and prided himself on still being able to jog up the steps like Barack Obama boarding Air Force One. Julia answered the door, and Daisy stood in her shadow.
Daisy’s appearance was dramatically diminished. Her eyes were the same china blue, but there was a distance, her expression vacant and child-like. She looked tiny in a Tiffany blue wool suit that was about two sizes too big for her. Her hair, now salt white, had been smoothed into an elegant French twist.
Carl took Daisy’s hand and kissed her cheek, then stood awkwardly, wondering if he had overstepped. Her skin was still soft, but papery, like flyleaf.
“Good evening, Carl,” said Daisy casually. “I’m almost ready.”
Carl frowned. “Ready for what?”
“Why, for our date, silly.” Daisy leaned forward and whispered, “Mother says I need to be home by 9. School night and all.” She winked and patted his arm. Carl stared at Julia. Daisy put on a beige trench coat slung across a bench in the foyer.
“Excuse me a moment,” Carl said evenly.
“All right, I’ll check my lipstick,” said Daisy, opening a navy blue clutch purse and heading to a gilded mirror in the foyer. He noticed that her gait was stiff and slow.
Carl grabbed Julia’s shoulder and pushed her into the dining room.
“Julia, she thinks I’m taking her out! What the hell?” he whispered.
Julia shrugged. “I know, Dad, I tried. I told her a hundred times you were just stopping by for a visit.”
“I’m sorry. I just … can’t do this. I gotta go,” he said.
“Dad … please,” Julia pleaded.
Carl bolted out of the dining room, past Daisy and out the front door. The shock of cold spring air was a welcome affront. It was starting to rain. He almost lost his footing on the slick steps, and he grabbed for the railing. When he reached his car, he drove in circles for a while, finally pulling over and letting the grief wash over him.
He remembered a vacation they had taken in Waikiki. It was the rainy season, and every morning a light rain with fog and clouds advanced slowly, relentlessly, swallowing the city. Then double rainbows decorated the sky.
Carl started the car and drove to a grocery store. The daisies he finally chose did not have pure-yellow centers, but irises of light green, growing darker toward the center.
Carl held the bouquet in his hand. Julia answered the door and moved aside to let him enter. When Daisy saw Carl, she brightened and said, “Let me put those in some water.”
Julia quickly intercepted, “I’ll do that,” and took the flowers from her father. Before she could retrieve a vase, Carl whispered in Julia’s ear, “I’ll be here every Saturday at 5:00 to pick her up.” Julia’s face collapsed in grief and gratitude.
“We should get going.” Daisy looked at Julia blankly for a moment and then turned to Carl. “Mother says I have to be home by 9. It’s a school night, after all.”
Carl helped Daisy put on her coat and extended his arm. “Shall we share a vanilla shake at The Starlight Diner?”
“One shake, two straws,” giggled Daisy as Carl helped her down the stairs and into the night.
Jennifer Shneiderman is a licensed clinical social worker and writer living in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in many publications, including: The Rubbertop Review, Writers Resist and The Perch. She received an Honorable Mention in the Laura Riding Jackson 2020 Poetry Competition. Her family has lived in Madison and Milwaukee, enjoying vacations in beautiful Door County.