Big Days, Little Days
October 17, 2012
When I called last night at nine o’clock, Alice said, “Oh, hello,” and put the phone down. I could hear papers rustling.
A minute passed before she came back. “Sorry to keep you waiting,” she said. “I was looking for my day.” I knew immediately what she meant.
Throughout the day, Alice jots down notes about things that happen. She uses the back of an envelope or whatever scrap of paper she has handy. When I call in the evening, she fishes around for this list of events and expands on each word or phrase. She likes drama and can create it out of the slightest whiff of the unusual, as she did a few nights ago:
9:30 p.m. The door to my apartment opens. A silhouette appears. Very large. Human, but not much shape to it. The hall lights were so bright I couldn’t make it out. To my tired eyes it could be either a man or a woman. It waved and went back into the hall. The door closed. Who was that?
She also makes stories of her own mistakes, even when embarrassed by them:
I’m kind of ashamed to tell you this. At two o’clock I thought I’d take a nap. So I was asleep when one of the aides came and opened the door and looked in. I glanced at my watch and it was four o’clock, and I thought, Oh, I slept two hours! So I tore into the bathroom and tried to do something with my hair, which is impossible, and hurried down to the dining room where I saw Millie, who’s always the earliest one there. Nobody else. I sat down at my table.
I picked up the paper where you can put in your order for a sandwich instead of the hot meal. The menu said the evening meal was going to be broccoli and meatloaf and mashed potatoes. They must own stock in a broccoli company. I thought, I’m not going to eat that again. I’ll order a sandwich, but then I realized it was too late because in my mind it was about 4:30, and you have to leave your sandwich order on your table before 3:30. Well, then nobody came and nobody came, and I looked at my watch again and it said three o’clock! I filled out the paper for an egg salad sandwich and left it on the table and got up from my chair and grabbed my walker and walked back home and sat down a while, and then I had to go back again at 4:30.
Sometimes a big day comes along, for example, the day she has a story published in the newsletter for The Place.This creates quite a long list, all of it focused on the single starburst event.
Such days can bring into sharp focus the much tighter orbit of ordinary days. Still, Alice is capable of spinning the most meager handful of straw into the gold that keeps her going, as was the case with her report to me last night about her bathroom scale:
I wanted to weigh myself, but when I stepped onto the scale it didn’t light up with the big red number. I thought the problem must be the battery. On the back of the scale it says, “Remove cover to change battery.” I didn’t see any cover. It was plain old metal, so I figured they must mean the other side.
I got busy trying to take the top of the scale off, but all I was doing was making a lot of grunting sounds. I tried and tried and couldn’t get it off, and so I got mad and dropped the thing onto the floor and the numbers lit up again. It’s fixed!
Dropping things onto the floor is one of Alice’s tried and true ways of repair, especially things with batteries in them. (See Alice Makes Repairs.)
She had also found a threaded needle that Meg had left for her and used it to cinch in the elastic band around the nightcap Thalia gave her almost two years ago. The band had gotten a little loose. She needs it to be tight to keep her hair from going wild. “Got that done,” she said.
We had both watched the presidential debate. “I watched it all,” she said, “even after I knew Obama was going to do okay.”
And so the day ended. Young people across the country were Twittering and Tumbling about binders full of women. (The best are here.)
No strange figures had appeared in Alice’s doorway to pretend alarm over. The nightcap elastic was now nicely tightened up, and the scale stood ready to weigh her again. We said goodnight to a little day in Alice’s big and long life.