The Oldest Woman’s Secret

The reporter sits across from me and asks very nicely if he can record our conversation. Video, he says. I know what video is, I tell him. My voice doesn’t sound like my voice. I’m 115 years old. I used to be the second oldest person in the world. Since February, I’ve been the oldest person still alive.

“1900 isn’t that long ago,” I tell him. “It’s still the twentieth century.”

“We’re in the 21st now,” he says kindly. Continue reading “The Oldest Woman’s Secret”


Room Service Surprise

“Room Service!” I knocked again.
No answer. No sound from within. There was no “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door.

I checked my instructions. Nothing about leaving the service outside the door. I checked my phone. Five minutes until my shift was over. If I brought the service back to the kitchen, there would be questions and scrutiny. I might be docked pay. I might be delayed. I checked my phone again. I was meeting my girlfriend in twenty minutes. Just enough time to change out of my uniform and run to the concert hall. If I missed her performance again, she was going to break up with me this time for sure.

It’s not that I’m crazy in love, that’s not my m.o. But I do love her and I hate chaos. If she broke up with me, it would mess with my concentration, and I’d fail my bar exams. If I failed, then I’d lose my scholarship and hotel work would become my permanent employment, and as you’re about to learn, it was not my vocation. Continue reading “Room Service Surprise”

Cold Hard Cash

Finding a birthday present for my mother is never easy. After all, she can make anything she wants. My sister always comes up with something inventive. She’s like that. For example, on Mother’s 125th, Maggie gave her a dozen rubies that turned into roses, which threw off a fragrance of an Italian spring, and then all the petals flew up, forming Mother’s name, Alosinatiania, and disappeared in a rosy cloud pierced by a rainbow. I don’t have her gift. We’re half and half, and I got the wrong half. I am reduced to shopping for a present. There are no magic shops, contrary to what humans think. Why would there be when they, and I say they advisedly, can do it all themselves. And I am also reduced to working because when you can’t make anything, you have to buy it. As a result, I am in Walmart this morning, along with many other magicless people, in a crush of eager shoppers looking for big discounts, of which there are none, though there is plenty of junk. How can I possibly find a present for Mother here?

Face it, kid, I think, you’d better get out while you can, and I push and shove my way through the scurrilous crowd to get to the exit. From here I have to find my car in the parking lot because I am dependent on fuel burning transportation. Well, that isn’t any different from my sister, except that the fuel she burns is a steak dinner. I, on the other hand, have to be a vegetarian, because meat packs on my thighs. When I finally get out of the parking lot, having endured honking horns and thrusting fingers, I drive in a random direction, knowing that I’ll eventually come to a mall. Humans never get tired of malls.

My situation is precisely what Grandmother warned my mother about before she hooked up with Dad. He was a great guy, and I wish I could talk to him, but he’s long dead. The only legacy I have from Mother’s side of the family is longevity. I am eighty in human years, and look about thirty. Nobody knows whether my life will be somewhat foreshortened because of my paternal heritage, so I’ve always taken my life on its own terms, one day at a time. The days have mounted up, and I wish that I had taken some of them to update my medical degree. Unfortunately, I obtained it before antibiotics were discovered, and leeches are no longer a recommended treatment.

I’ve asked my family not to give me any magic gifts for my birthday or holidays. They’re beautiful, but I have material needs, and as they say, cash is the universal gift certificate. Unfortunately, my family understood that to mean flying cash or disappearing cash or cash that turns into rainbows. And when I said cold hard cash, they gave me exactly that, meaning dollars made of ice, which they thought very amusing. Maybe I’ll get Mother a nightgown on ebay, I think, and begin to head for home, a modest apartment in a modest drab suburb. I miss Dad. We had a laugh together when the stock market crashed. He even laughed when people started jumping out of buildings. He was a bit odd, my Dad was, but a handsome man. Everyone agreed on that, even Grandmother, who said that as humans went, he couldn’t be bettered on appearance.

Grandmother wasn’t angry with mother for falling in love with Dad, not even for getting pregnant, not even for having twins one of whom is, how shall I put it, not developmentally delayed (that is human speak—denying the facts, I’ll never catch up). Crippled I should say. That’s what my sister called me in her worse moments: Cripp.

Worse, now she feels sorry for me, and if I called her, she would make something from me for Mother in a flash. However I have no means to call her because she doesn’t have or know how to use a phone, landline or cell. I have to wait for her to pop in, which she does whenever she infrequently thinks of me.

When I get home, I park my car in the underground lot, and take the elevator up to the 20th floor. I do have a landline, a cell, and a laptop, which I presently boot up. How much is a used nightgown, anyway?

What Else Can You Wish For?

It’s my birthday. I invited all my friends, but nobody came. I don’t mind. I am still having the party. A decorator came and decorated my penthouse apartment. I wish my friends had come. They would see how pretty it is. They’ve never come to see my apartment. My lawyer warned me that lots of people would pretend to be my friend now to get money from me, but I should be firm and say NO. I would say YES. But nobody answered my invitation. I sent it on Facebook and I sent it on Evite, and nobody even RSVP’d.

My sister won’t come. She didn’t even call to wish me a happy birthday. My lawyer says that’s because I got the MONEY. She didn’t get any. That’s because she is a lesbian. I don’t mind that she is a lesbian. I would give her money if she asked, but she doesn’t talk to me. I asked my lawyer if I could give her some anyway. Half, I said. That seems fair since she is my half-sister. It’s my father who was rich, and she has a poor father, well not poor, but normal. Her father doesn’t mind that she is a lesbian but he doesn’t have a lot of money and he is also alive so she can’t inherit it, at least not now. I think she would rather have her father. He is very nice, and I think he would call me and wish me a happy birthday if he was my father.

My mother did not wish me a happy birthday either. She is not a lesbian. But she divorced my father and has a divorce settlement, but that was before he died, so she did not inherit any of the money either. I asked my father to leave money to my sister. He was very sick but he had all his marbles and he said no because she is a lesbian and so she won’t have any children but I will and so I need to inherit it to pass it along to my SON. I don’t know how he knows I will have a son. But he was always a little bit psychic. He knew that my mother was going to divorce him before she told me about it, and he sent me to the boarding school so I wouldn’t be upset by our broken home.

My friends are from the boarding school. But like I said, they aren’t coming to my party, not even one of them. I didn’t go to university because my father was sick and he needed someone to watch over the nurse to make sure she didn’t KILL him. Nurses always kill their rich patients, he said. And even though she isn’t in the will, he was still worried she would kill him and steal everything from our house. Our house had 50 rooms, so it was very hard to keep track of everything in it. He was also worried about the housekeeper and the maid stealing something, and also the gardener, though I don’t think that he had much to steal, just flowers and rakes.

I didn’t do a very good job of watching over everyone, and that disappointed my father, but he forgave me because I sat beside his bed and read his favourite stories. He liked mysteries about race horses, and I was surprised how many of those there are. I spent seven years reading books about race horses and murder out loud to my father while he was dying. I didn’t realize that dying was such a long occupation. But my father always said if you are going to do something, do it thoroughly, and so he did.

I want a cat or a dog. The penthouse is very nice but the condo association told me that dogs and cats are NOT ALLOWED. If I had a dog, I could go for a walk with him and then I would have something to do. I inherited all the servants, along with the money, and they do everything. The gardener is on the balcony now, tending to my balcony garden. It’s very much smaller than the garden around our house, but after a month of rattling around that house by myself I couldn’t stand it. For seven years, I had spent all my time in my father’s room, reading aloud to him, and going to sleep in my little bedroom. It was originally my father’s dressing room, but when he was dying, I asked the housekeeper to put a cot in there and that’s where I slept while he was dying.

The penthouse has one bedroom and it’s HUGE! Everything is huge in the penthouse, but there aren’t very many rooms. At least I can roller skate from one end to the other in under five minutes. I like roller skating. I don’t think you have to go to university to be a professional roller skater, but my lawyer says you have to be TOUGH and I am not tough. I asked him how I could toughen up but he had no suggestions. I gave all the servants the day off, since no one is coming to my party. I just want to have it by myself.

The cake is a double chocolate cake, five layers, becaue I thought there would be a lot of people to eat it. I don’t want to eat it by myself. I am not very hungry at all. So I am just going to blow out the candles and make a wish. I am not sure what to wish for. For seven years I wished my father would either get well or finish dying. What else is there to wish for?

The Missing Eyephone

“The victim tried to write something as he was dying,” she said.

“And how do you figure that?” I asked.

“The scratch marks. I see an “A” and a “B”. He must have realized there was blood under his nails.”

“So you think that he was writing the alphabet?”

The victim was a teacher. It could make sense. I covertly consulted my watch. Unlike my younger associates, I do not carry a cell phone. The superintendent ordered one for me. An eyephone, or maybe an earphone. I don’t know. We have no enforced retirement, thank God. Not that I wouldn’t want it, if I could afford it, but Mabel invested our retirement savings with her brother, who is currently on an island in the Pacific with said savings. As a result, I had to come out of retirement last year, and here I am, age eighty-one, supervising homicide cases again.

“No, that’s not what I think,” she said with exaggerated patience and rolling her eyes at the constable. She was sharp in every way. Sharp eyed, sharp nosed, sharp nostrils, pencil shaped, pencil browed. You can be assured that she has an eyephone and an earphone and every other electronic device that can be ordered from the tech division.

I suspect that she’s had my phone—the one that’s wired to the wall in my office—bugged. Do they still call it that? Surely there is something more clever than the bug that resided in the American ambassador’s office in Russia 70 years ago. It worked well, though. It was the discovery of that bug that made me want to be a spy. With my facility for languages I was a shoe-in. Unfortunately I didn’t have the stomach for murder. I flunked out of spy school, and they recommended I try the police force. A man disgusted by murder would make a good cop, they said. They were facaetious, but it was true. I am a good cop. “What do you think?” I asked.

“A name. Or initials. The A, B being sequential is coincidence.”

“You’re reading too much into it,” I said. “It looks to me like he was trying to hold onto the wall. That’s what I would do if I was shot and dying. I wouldn’t be thinking of leaving messages. Have you ever been shot?”

“No,” she said reluctantly. Presumably she looked forward to being shot. Sharply.

“I have. And you don’t think about leaving messages. You experience pain, shock, and disbelief, and your only thought is putting things back to the way they were. Staying upright, or shoving your guts back in. Personally I have not had my guts fall out, but I can attest to that being the case as I have observed other people’s guts falling out on more than one occasion.”

Did I mention that between being a spy and a police officer, I was a soldier? That is also not an occupation I would advise for someone who dislikes killing. However I did get a medal, which Mabel prizes. She even purchased a display case for it, and can’t understand how I could misplace the medal. It’s gold. If we are ever that broke, I can assure you that I would be able to place the medal in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. I have seen lamb’s tails shaking, and not just on a plate, but in the field. That was when I was a spy student. My friendship with the shepherdess I was supposed to be spying on was the result of my flunking my field assignment, not because of our relationship, that was encouraged, but because I refused to terminate it in the manner specified. If I hadn’t been a student, but a sworn in spy, I would have been disposed of in the manner that I refused to complete. “Have you checked his pockets?” I asked.

She—Detective Bradford, Anastasia Bradfrod—turned to the Constable. “Did you?”

He brought out the evidence bag. Both of them looked askance as I reached in with my bare hands. “This isn’t CSI,” I said. “You won’t find the murderer’s prints in your database. That’s what you call it, right?”

I was pulling their legs. Even fifty years ago, we had databases. They were on paper. I like paper.

Mary Martha’s Letter

Hi Ellie, good to get your email. It’s been ages! I’m so glad to hear all your good news. The promotion sounds fantastic, and Guy must really adore you to take you on an around the world trip in a private jet for your honeymoon. I so sympathize with your troubles renovating. I could barely cope with renovating my kitchen, never mind turning a 2500 sq ft house into a 5500 sq ft house. The log cabin at the end of the property for your art work sounds fantastic, especially the large windows to look out on your private woods.

There isn’t so much to say at my end. I’m still married to Xavier and he is still a devout Catholic like his mother with whom he is so close. They go to church so often that I’ve suggested that he might want to book a room there. LOL. Our children are all healthy Thank God, with the usual sniffles and illnesses. Right now they’re all down with the measles. It’s not that I’m against innoculation, but I think I slipped up in the schedule or else they’re in the 5% that the shots don’t work for. So all six are crammed into the one small room. Thank God I had the measles as a child or I don’t know how we would cope since number 7 and 8 are on the way. I’ve got plenty of energy, I just don’t dare sneeze because the old bladder ain’t what she used to be.

The other day in Loblaws, which is under renovation, some dust got up my nose and I sneezed and, well, you just have to imagine the water fall that ensued. The chubby lady who works the customer service counter came running over, thinking my water had broken, I’m that big and only 6 months now, but when she realized what it was, she skidded to a stop, not knowing what to do. I suggested a mop, and waddled away, no groceries purchased.

I think that I keep Loblaws afloat all on my own, or rather on my own with the help of my family. The older three are teenagers now, and I can’t keep the fridge filled fast enough. But I can’t complain since so many families I know have real problems with their children, and mine are all healthy. I Thank God every day for my blessings.

Oh, in my congratulations, I forgot to say how thrilled I am to hear about your two children. Full scholarships to Harvard and MIT! That’s quite the accomplishment. And the presidential award, well, who would have known that when we were back in high school and I was tutoring you in math. It must be your first husband’s gene’s, may he rest in peace. I am sure that he inspired your children with his heroism, and they fully live up to the legacy he left.

My oldest is applying for a mechanics apprenticeship. He’s always loved tinkering, and he is eager to be out working. He doesn’t get it from Xavier, who can’t lift a hammer, but from his grandfather. Xavier sings beautifully and is in the choir. He is very busy, when he’s not in church or at work, with the local amateur theatre. I’d better go as he volunteered me to sew the costumes. I’m just not busy enough! LOL.

Ever glad to hear from you!

Your friend,
Mary Martha.

The Nurse’s Story

I had hoped, when I was in the hospital, that my mother would tell me the things I’d always wanted to know, like why she got married at 16 instead of waiting until she was 21. She had promised she would tell me one day, when I got married, then when I married someone she liked, then when I had my first child, then—well, you get the idea. She never did. And I thought that, sitting by her side, with the machines whirring, and the quiet of the night in ICU, that she would say all the things I’d wanted to know. But when she was awake, she was gasping for breath and muttering about the pain in her legs, and when she slept, I was grateful that she was out of pain. The nurse, competent, cheerful, a Jungian archetype of Nurse, adjusted settings and injected medication. Her name tag said “Trish.”

“When she came in she was talking about the stars,” Trish said. “She said, ‘The stars are so beautiful. I have a big bedroom.”

“She was talking about her room at the rehab facility,” I said. “It’s brand new. The rooms are all huge.”

“No, I don’t think so. She said it was a bedroom in the stars and her bed was so comfortable.”

That didn’t sound like my mother. The bed would be lumpy, or too hard, or too soft—that would be something she’d say. “Mmm,” I murmured noncommittaly.

“I lost my mother twenty years ago,” Trish said. “You never forget it. But I still talk to her, and I think she talks back. When the sparrow comes to my window, that’s her.”

“Toronto has a lot of sparrows,” I couldn’t help but say.

She smiled. The Jungian nurse is wise? I wondered. I’d have to look it up when I got home. “Yes,” she said. “But they don’t all have blue beaks. Blue was my mother’s favourite colour. Generally, what I say, when my mother taps at my window, is Fuck you. Don’t think you can get my forgiveness now. It’s too late. You should have talked to me when you were alive.”

“You didn’t get along?” I ask, curious. My mother is out of it again. I can’t do anything for her but sit and hold her hand, which is dry, arthritic, incapable of smacking me one.

“Oh, we got along just fine until I got married.”

“She didn’t like your husband?”

“No, my wife. She didn’t like my wife.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

Trish shrugged. “She wouldn’t have liked any wife of her son’s. I always was a Mama’s boy.”

“You don’t look like one,” I couldn’t help but say.

“Thanks!” Trish laughed. “I was a pretty boy. Probably better looking than I am as a woman.”

“You look very efficient,” I say.

“Damned with faint praise.”

“And your wife?”

“She left me. And then a year ago she came out. The irony.”

“Yes,” I said. “Did you always know?”

“That she was a lesbian? I had no idea. Never mind, I know what you’re asking. I did and I didn’t. If I’d been born a girl, I’d have been a tomboy. It wasn’t like I wanted to play house or play with dolls. They’re boring toys. I destroyed my sister’s dolls. Not on purpose you know, but having them act out parts in my game about the Gulag, and then forgetting them in the frozen wasteland. I was very interested in Russia. In a previous life, I’m sure that I was Russian. I loved War and Peace. I think the first sign, to me, was the books I loved. That one, and Anna Karenina even more. I didn’t know any boys who liked the same books. I pretended to be interested in worms, fascinated by them. I wasn’t afraid of worms, you understand. I wasn’t squeamish.”

“No, you wouldn’t be,” I said, “not if you were interested in nursing.”

“I wasn’t then, but I didn’t mind blood or worms. I just wasn’t interested in the things my friends were. I didn’t really want to play with girls, either. Or at least not their games. For a long time I thought I was neither.”

“What changed your mind?”

“I wanted to be a nun.”

“Not a priest.”

“That’s right.”