His for Keeps(9)

By: Theodora Taylor

However those dreams soon start feeling like they’re slipping away when I finally make it into the gated community, filled with rolling hills, huge mansions, and as promised, an idyll golf course with lush green grass, sand pits, and even a sparkling lake. As pretty as the place is, it’s a total nightmare to navigate, and even with the little map the gas station attendant drew for me, I keep on getting turned around on roads that turn out to be unmarked cul-de-sacs or just don’t go through, because forget you, hapless home aide, we’re a gated community, we don’t have to make sense.

I have to ask three different gardeners, in broken Spanish, how to get to Telescope Road before I finally pull up to the place I’m supposed to be living until further notice—over half an hour after I was supposed to arrive. I’m cursing that dang Family Feud & Friends game for real as I get out of the car.

Compared to the rest of the neighborhood’s showy mega-mansions, Rose Gaither’s house is cute as a button. A large, blue Cape cod with a covered porch and neat brick steps. I run up them and push on the doorbell, my heart still beating erratically in my chest from the Dora the Explorer episode that just getting here put me through.

I wait, but no answer. I look at my watch. Now it’s thirty-two minutes past when I was supposed to be here.

I curse again and lean on the doorbell. Still no answer, though. And the scar that runs down the entire left side of my face feels like it’s pulsing under the heavy makeup I’ve put on to cover it up. A sure sign I’m more stressed than I need to be at a first meeting with a new client.

Where’s the night nurse? I wonder. She was supposed to meet me and take me through my duties before I started my first shift.

Not knowing what else to do, I try the doorbell a third time.

But still no answer.

Okay, obviously I’m going to have to call the agency. But first I decide to try the doorknob, just in case…

The handle depresses easily and the door swings open with barely a creak.

Weird, I think, wondering if I should look for the client or go get my bags out of my car. I decide to look for the client, because the last thing a multiple stroke victim needs is to be shocked to death by the presence of a stranger in her house.

I check downstairs first. The house is a little grander on the inside. Gleaming hardwood floors and a sweeping staircase are the first things I see when I walk in through the door. But I pass the stairs and search for the downstairs bedroom first. I don’t care how fancy you are. Nobody’s going to want to climb a marble staircase after going through a stroke.

Turns out I’m right, and I find a post-it note from the absent night nurse on one of the first closed doors I come to.

“Sorry, family emergency. Will try to call you later in the day with instructions.”

I give the note some serious stank face. Maybe the night nurse really did have a family emergency, or maybe she just didn’t feel like sticking around to train the new home aide who was putting her out of a job. Either way, it’s not the best way to start off with a new client.

Shake it off, I think, stuffing the post-it into the front pocket of my scrubs. I take a deep breath and give a little knock before pushing through the door with a bright smile on my face—

—only to find Rose Gaither prone on the bed. Her eyes wide. One hand at her chest, wrapped fist tight around something I can only assume is a cross.

She’s in distress, I realize right away. Another stroke—no a heart attack, I quickly correct myself, running over to the bed.

I pull out my phone and call 9-1-1. Calmly I tell the answering operator what’s going on, then I give her the address, hoping like hell the ambulance has an easier time finding this place than I did. But I try not to worry too much about that. Ms. Gaither lives in a rich neighborhood. Ambulances, I know from experience, have a way of finding their way extra quick to the homes of the rich.

“I’m fixing to begin life saving procedures now,” I inform the operator.

This isn’t my first rodeo, and I’ve become good at attending to clients while talking on the phone with 9-1-1 at the same time. It’s one of those skills you wish you didn’t have, but of course get before too long as a home health aide. And I’ve been doing this job in some way or another ever since high school.

But when I go to put my hands on her chest, the little old lady knocks them away with her bent arm, still clinging to her necklace. At first I think it’s involuntary, but then she frantically shakes her head at me and I remember…

The short history file I’d received a few days ago on her. And the five words I’d been a little surprised to see. “Has a DNR on file.”