As the Cap Turns
November 6, 2010
“I went out one door and blew in another,” Alice told me after she tried going out for a walk on an especially gusty day last week. She’s been feeling upbeat about her sister Pearl’s return from the hospital to her apartment at the assisted living facility in Wisconsin. They’ve been talking on the phone again every evening, and each time they talk Pearl’s voice sounds stronger.
So, in a celebratory mood, out she went, the wind attacked her hair, and in she came. She decided to walk around inside the building, and it proved so satisfying that she did it again today because it was raining. She walked through the Rosary room door and spotted Mr. Fickle. He sat by himself, slumped in a chair, his back to her. His body seemed too still. “That,” she said, “took the wind out of my sails.” Alarmed, she took a few steps closer. Suddenly he raised an arm and waved at an aide who walked briskly through the room on her way to prep the dining room for dinner.
“He was waving, so I knew he wasn’t dying,” she told me cheerfully. Then she reprimanded herself. “Alice, that’s not funny!”
She stopped to ask him if he was greeting all the girls going by. He answered with a vigorous “You bet!”
“He had his cap on,” she said. “Not backwards.” She had not approved of the backward cap, which was the way he wore it on Irene’s birthday. It made no sense to her that a man in his eighties would indulge in such behavior.
He looked off to the hallway on the right and announced that he could see someone coming. “Well good for you,” Alice told him and went on her way.
In the dining room an hour later she saw Mr. Fickle in his cap, which was still correctly positioned, bill over his brow. He approached a woman in a wheelchair, hugged her, then headed toward his table. But the woman called him back. He returned, listened to a few words she spoke into his ear, nodded, and pushed her chair toward the elevator. “Next thing you know,” Alice said, “up he goes in the elevator with her. She lives on the second floor.”
Alice’s table is near the elevator. She kept an eye on it while dinner was served.
“Some time later,” she told me, “here comes Mr. Fickle with that woman. They got off the elevator and guess what?” She paused. “His cap was on backwards!”
He returned the woman to her table and made the rounds, greeting various friends. “He was just all over the place,” Alice said, “running around with his cap on backwards, as if no one knew it was on the right way when he took her upstairs.”
I asked if she thought anyone would have noticed. “Anyone but you, I mean.”
“Maybe not.” She started to laugh. “They’d have to be interested.”
When she walked through the Rosary room on the way back to her apartment, as she does every night after dinner, she noted that Mr. Fickle, who had just finished setting up chairs for the Rosary group, did not wear his cap at all. “Not backward. Not forward,” she said. “Cap off.”
“Cap on chair?” I asked.
“Cap on chair. That’s right.”
He sat down on another chair to wait for the group to join him.
“I told him that he’d better wave at me,” Alice said.
He bypassed the wave and went for a hug, then added a kiss on the cheek, to which she responded, “Thank you.”
“Now that I’m telling you this silly story,” she said, “I’m wondering why I bothered to say thank you after getting a kiss and hug. Why on earth would I do that?”
I thought that my mother, who had been anxious and upset about Pearl for the past couple of weeks, felt relieved at her sister’s improvement and was enjoying herself, and that she felt grateful to Mr. Fickle for not being ill, or worse, in his chair that afternoon and for continuing to be the source of her fun. But before I could say any of that, she moved on, lowering her voice for dramatic effect. “Now what do you suppose could have happened up in that woman’s room,” she asked, “so that he came downstairs with his cap on backwards?”
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