“I’ve got to get ready. The Queen is coming.” She was walking down the hall towards me. Her face had a look of determination, her lips drawn tight not exactly in a smile. After stating her work for the day she hurried on past me.
You had to push one button to get in. The trick was you had to push four buttons to get out and they had to be in the right sequence. You had to remember the code and if the Queen was coming, who had time to memorize the code.
Mom didn’t remember the code and neither did Nelda. Every super hero needs a nemesis and that is what Mom had. Nelda would go in people’s rooms and shop. After all she had to shop, the Queen was coming. A nice sweater here, an interesting book over there. Just the right blouse in this room and a useful walker in the corner that had to be moved to the hall. Mom couldn’t remember a lot of things but she remembered she had to lock her door to keep Nelda out. Nelda took things.
Mom became the Nelda police. “Nelda, you can’t go in that man’s room.” “Nelda put that back. It doesn’t belong to you.” One day it led to a hand grab by Mom and a shove by Nelda.
“I can’t stand Nelda.”
“Well Mom, you don’t need to tell Nelda what to do.”
“Oh yes I do. Someone has to.”
From day to day I would walk down the hall to mom’s room and Nelda would walk past me.
Some days a brusk “Hello” other days a contemptible sideward glance. On a rare day you would get a nice smile and a pleasant word or two. As the months went on you had to be careful as you approached the door with the code. You didn’t want Nelda to follow you out. She had to be side tracked by one of the young girls, come over here Nelda and help me fold napkins.
I’m not sure when it happened in the months that followed. Maybe it was the day after day after day of saying hello. Or maybe it was the suspense of never knowing what you would get when you passed her in the hall or as you waved hello to her as she sat at the dinner table eating her poached fish with mashed potatoes and scattered peas. A little warm spot started to grow in my heart for Nelda.
Somewhere as summer turned to winter Nelda lost her words but I would say “Hello” to Nelda. She had become in someway a friend. She had lost her words but you could tell her mood by the press of her lips. Some days you got a smile, somedays you got a look of distain but more and more you got a smile.
Mom went up to the hospital for two weeks and when we came back the light in Nelda’s eyes had grown dim. Her head started to slump to the side. Mom was unsteady on her feet. We tried to show her how to use the walker and all of a sudden she would be on her knees her hands still gripping the black handles. We had trouble lifting mom up and setting her in a chair. Someone was tugging on my back pocket. I turned. It was Nelda. She had a look of concern in her eyes. I patted her on the arm and turned back to help mom.
Christmas Eve, my husband and I came with guitar in hand. We passed out bells to people sitting in the big room. “Nelda do you want to ring this bell while we sing?”
Nelda’s head rested on the side of her shoulder. One of the young girls said, “Here Nelda, I will help you.” My husband and I sang. Shirley was taking great care to move the bell from well to the left and then back well to the right. I placed a bell on the chair by June. She couldn’t lift it or move it but her eyes looked down at it intently.
I plucked at the guitar strings and the sound of Silent Night rang through the big room. I looked up from the music at Nelda. The light was back in her eyes. She was listening to the music. There was a slight smile on her lips. “Merry Christmas Nelda.”
A few weeks later I wondered where Nelda was. Then I heard. There would be no more hellos as she sat at the table. She had gone off to see the Queen.
(Names have been changed in this post except for Mom)