Tuesday, January 5, 2010

On the art of eating

There were too many residents to fit them all at the dining room table that seats eight. Marion and Gertrude were usually involuntarily elected to sit at the small tables on the porch. The logic was reasonable, unless you are preoccupied with fairness. Marion was usually too confused about where she was to put up much of an argument about sitting on the porch. And Gertrude always complained, "it's too cold." I think just looking out at the snowy landscape bumped down her internal thermometer a couple degrees. But both Marion and Gertrude were victims to their wheelchairs, and tended to end up wherever we rolled them.

I walked over to Marion. Thickly applied Clinique blush had become a blaring attempt for a rosy glow against her natural pallor. Her hair has been ironed into huge curls by a well-intentioned nineteen year-old, plasticized by a generous shower of hairspray.

"Are you done with your spaghetti?"

Bits of pasta and sauce were covering Marion’s darkened fungus-rotted fingernails and trembling hands. She had abandoned all attempts to use her fork and it was splayed off to the edge of the table. I could never understand why we would offer spaghetti to a person who struggled so greatly to feed herself, until the chef reminded me that spaghetti is one of her favorite foods.

I returned to the kitchen with the muddled remnants of Marion’s lunch. A uniformed coworker walked off to deliver her dessert as I loaded the dishwasher and gazed into the dining room. For a moment I stopped to watch the almost mechanical scene of 80 and 90 year-olds slowly and silently lifting spoons to their mouth.

Returning to the indoor porch to collect the last few dishes, my rushed gait was interrupted by something hard under my foot. I looked down to find a spoon flecked with mint chocolate chip ice cream on the oriental rug.

"Delicious dessert," came a sticky warble through chattering dentures.

Scanning the table for the remainder of Marion’s ice cream, my eyes eventually settled on the large green drip trailing down the wall, her bowl sprawled recklessly on the floor below the chaotic tabletop ruins.

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