Ungrateful

Green wet pears hanging on the tree branch

Old Anthony was happy about the corona virus. It kept that girl and that Leep out of his room and his life, and meant even more minimal contact with his caregivers at Sunny Shores, which was neither sunny nor near any recognizable body of water.

By chance, his room overlooked a sparse patch of lawn and a tree, all of it (and Sunny Shores) enclosed by a tall chain link fence. This fence was meant to prevent the folks from Floor 6 from escaping, should they manage to wander out of their locked ward, but mostly it made Anthony feel as if he too was a prisoner.

It was a pear tree. He had a memory of his uncle’s farm in the country where he and his sister and parents took brief summer vacations, as his uncle tolerated them for a week or two without charge. Uncle Frank’s orchards included a few rows of pear trees, and Anthony remembered the teardrop shape of the canopies, the warm, luminous leaves and the plump clusters of fruit, never quite ready for picking when the family visited. They feasted on late cherries and peaches, but those who came after enjoyed the pears.

The tree outside his window was solitary, old, and neglected, but home to a hive of honeybees, which Anthony observed with interest, as he had nothing else to do. Especially now, with the lockdown.

All Sunny Shores residents were banned from the dining room and other common rooms, about which Anthony cared not a whit; but it made it more difficult to connect with Presley. It was not impossible, however, because staff had been cut back, ostensibly because patient isolation made a full complement of caregivers unnecessary. But Anthony knew the proprietors of Sunny Shores were most interested in saving a few bucks. They were a business, after all, and he remembered when they switched to powdered milk in the hopes no one would notice, and the declining number of chips in the chocolate chip cookies, and the fewer and smaller proteins on his plate… a shrivelled thigh instead of a plump breast with his rice and peas did not go unnoticed.

He couldn’t tell if the person who dropped off his lunch and dinner tray was the red-headed one with the big teeth or the brunette with the permanent lip blister, since they now wore caps and masks. The masks didn’t look like the ones he saw medical people wear on television: They looked like the kind you bought at Home Hardware to protect your face from sawdust. Whatever.

He wasn’t sure what precisely was in those bottles Presley sold him, or where she got them, but they did the trick. The sharp, clear, bitter liquid came in mason jars with screw top lids and blank labels on them, presumably so Presley’s customers could disguise their hooch however they desired. Anthony labelled his “CPAP” and figured the redhead and the brunette would likely not notice or care, even though he didn’t use a CPAP machine. They tended to be incurious.

If the girl or Leep ever noticed the jar on the dresser, they said nothing, perhaps because of misplaced trust in a man’s right to privacy, even an old, homeless drunk.

Sometimes the Wiry Guy came in with his meds, also masked for do-it-yourself projects. He liked to chat but thankfully his voice was muffled and Anthony had never been good at understanding accented English.

He could enjoy his CPAP liquid in peace, enjoy the warm oblivion it brought, without thought of who the girl really was and why Leep wanted to see him. Arranging and following through with the meet-ups with Presley were enough to occupy his mind between watching CIS: Las Vegas and Ironside reruns and staring out the window at the bees.

They were as busy and industrious as the cliché, but they also possessed the kind of grace and indifference that Anthony had long admired and so rarely seen in life: Tawny, hovering creatures who had no idea how the sunlight filtered through their wings and illuminated them like fireflies, who filled their days with routines never challenged, who never mourned losses, and who lived and worked in splendidly oblivious isolation.

One day he recognized Wiry Guy as the man cutting the lawn around the pear tree. Anthony wondered if he was a grass cutter who dispensed medications or a nurse who mowed lawns. Neither option made sense, until Anthony took his CPAP jar from the dresser top and poured himself a few small shots.

Wiry Guy was likely a nurse, since he seemed unskilled at cutting the lawn, leaving ragged patches like badly cut hair and accidentally ramming his mower into the pear tree. The latter action resulted in Wiry Guy getting stung by the usually benign bees, evidenced by a waving of arms and some screaming and a rush to get back inside, leaving the mower forlornly abandoned under the shade of the tree.

That’s why, in the end, Anthony was expelled from Sunny Shores. His memory of it was not as sharp as his memories of his uncle’s farm, but sure, he became irate when Wiry Guy reemerged on the lawn with a hose fitted with a power nozzle, and emboldened by CPAP elixir, Anthony summoned enough wherewithal to tie his dressing gown closed and stumble out of his room, past the empty desk at the reception and out the doors into a day that was warmer than it looked.

He stopped Wiry Guy’s destruction of the hive by pushing the mower into the back of his legs, then grabbing the hose and turning it steadily onto the nurse, who, so he was told, almost drowned. Who ever heard of a man drowning from a garden hose?

It got fuzzier after that, but when Anthony’s head cleared, he’d discovered he too had been stung twice, both on the upper calf of his left leg. Ungrateful bees.

The girl had appeared in his room and was packing a duffle bag with his meager belongings, and talking.

“Drunk, too?” she said. She didn’t sound angry, exactly; in fact, he wasn’t even sure she was talking to him. But he quickly understood that this scenario meant that he had to leave the facility and go to live with this girl, his daughter. He hated Sunny Shores, but they mostly left him alone there, and now he would have to live in quarantine with this girl interfering in his life and what few pleasures he had left.

He wasn’t so happy about the corona virus now.

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