My father calls just as we are about to leave the car.
It’s his third call of the day.
“Don’t pick up,” my husband instructs, fixing me with a hard stare.
But I do, immediately rummaging through my bag for a chocolate kiss and popping one in my mouth. Sugar calms. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
“Hi Dad,” I say pleasantly, the sweetness softening my tongue. “You’re at your doctor appointment?”
“Yes,” he grumbles dejectedly, sounding lost and faraway, which he is. “But they are taking a long time.”
“Let’s go,” My husband interrupts, exiting the car and opening the back door to release the children. I shoot him my nasty eye glare, which he returns to me with his own give-me-a-break eye roll. Touche.
“Don’t worry,” I hurriedly assure my father, the last bits of patience dissolving in my mouth. “There’s plenty of time.”
I hang up mildly abruptly, the only way with him, and hurry to catch up with my husband and our three boys who are already headed into the hospital to visit my husband’s aunt.
She has some health problems, but the biggest is her progressing dementia. Still, she nods pleasantly when we arrive; possibly happy to see us, possibly uncertain who we are.
We try to prompt some conversation but quickly realize that a polite, vacant, ‘No thank you’, ‘yes’, or ‘I don’t know’ is as much as she’s capable of giving. It’s uncomfortable and ultimately we give up on talk, instead opting to hyper focus on our blissfully ignorant boys as they spin quarters across the table.
They are too wild, but she doesn’t really seem to notice; her line of vision both straight ahead and internal. Remembering her fondness for sweets, I find some more chocolate kisses and set them in front of her. Slowly she reaches for one, automatically unwrapping it, and placing it in her mouth. I feel a childish pride in her acceptance and wish I had something more to offer.
Suddenly without prompting, she announces to everyone and no-one, “Time for bed.”
My husband and I look at each other startled. Was she asking us to leave? Were my boys too loud? I immediately stop the game of quarters.
Shortly after, we say our good-byes and leave her sitting in the same seat we found her, still staring straight ahead; her aged fingers slowly working the silver foil of another chocolate.
Back in the car, I notice a missed call from my father. Taking a deep breath, I dial his number and unconsciously search my bag for another kiss, which soothes me the moment it touches my lips. It makes me think of my husband’s aunt, sitting straight and placid; seemingly unaffected by our visit, her mouth full of chocolate but no words, and wonder if she was doing the same with us.