Coffee on Mondays

Photo by Rodnae Productions on Pexels

As Marianne strode toward Miss Dottie’s room, she passed the rooms of other residents. Next to each suite number, two shelves displayed mementos of the occupant’s life—wedding photos, figurines, and signs with cheerful slogans. Several doors were open, and Marianne peered in as she ambled by to see what others kept when they downsized their life into a ten-foot by thirteen-foot room.

Mondays were always coffee day, and Marianne had a routine. She packed up some magazines—this morning she selected last month’s issue of Better Homes and Gardens and First for Women—and stuffed them into her canvas tote. After shrugging into a thick cable-knit sweater, she bounded down the steps of her apartment building and headed to her gray Toyota SUV. She folded down the car’s rear seats, then opened the driver’s door and slid behind the steering wheel.

It was a fifteen-minute drive to Pleasant Farm. On the way, Marianne adjusted the heat setting on the passenger side to 77 degrees and switched on the seat warmer. At 7:45 a.m., she pulled into the one remaining spot in the parking lot, grateful that she didn’t have to park on the street. She grabbed her purse and walked through the sliding glass doors into the senior living facility to pick up her mother.

The foyer was furnished as fashionably as a lobby at a four-star hotel, with plush, navy upholstered chairs and polished cherry end tables with blue and pink silk flower arrangements. Framed prints of Claude Monet’s Woman with a Parasol and The Water Lilly Pond hung on the wall. Next to the door was a glass table with an urn of freshly brewed coffee and a domed cake plate piled with pastries. The air smelled of cinnamon and apples.

Marianne stopped at the receptionist’s desk to sign in. Corrine greeted her with a smile. “It’s coffee day already? Miss Dottie will be pleased.”

A short stroll down the hallway on the right led Marianne to the double cherry wood doors of the memory care community. She rang the doorbell.

Today, Trisha appeared at the door. A rainbow of colors from the stained-glass panels illuminated her face as she punched in the entry code. The locked doors swung open and Trisha, wearing her navy shirt with Pleasant Farm embroidered over her left breast, greeted Marianne as she ushered her in and secured the doors behind her.

“Miss Dottie’s waiting for you. She’s having a good morning.”

Marianne disliked the notion that “good,” an overused, nebulous term, could describe her mother’s morning. “Good” had many definitions, with several degrees of “good” within each one. She didn’t think any of them applied to her mother’s cognitive state. Miss Dottie’s was in her own unique world. It fit within the events that defined her life, but didn’t correspond to the reality of here and now. At best, her mother was cooperative and friendly, although she was oblivious to the circumstances that characterized her daily existence. Still, Marianne responded to Trisha’s observation with a cheery “wonderful.”

As Marianne strode toward Miss Dottie’s room, she passed the rooms of other residents. Next to each suite number, two shelves displayed mementos of the occupant’s life—wedding photos, figurines, and signs with cheerful slogans. Several doors were open, and Marianne peered in as she ambled by to see what others kept when they downsized their life into a ten-foot by thirteen-foot room.

At Miss Dottie’s door, Marianne knocked, then pushed down on the door handle. It opened, so she made a mental note to hang a sign inside that reminded her mother to keep her door locked. As she entered, a petite, white-haired woman poked her head out of the bathroom. She eyed Marianne warily, then broke into a wide smile. “Betty! I’ve been waiting days for you to come.”

“It’s me, Mom. Marianne.” She hugged Miss Dottie. “Do you want to go for coffee?”

“I certainly do,” Miss Dottie acknowledged, grinning. “Will Mama be there?”

Marianne commented that Mama wasn’t available, not mentioning that Mama died more than twenty years ago. She quickly scanned Miss Dottie’s outfit—gray slacks and a purple turtleneck sweater—and was satisfied it would keep her mother warm. “Shall we find your shoes and jacket?” she asked, framing the command as a suggestion. Then she searched the room for her mother’s black loafers and white woolen coat.

At 8:10 a.m., like every Monday, Marianne escorted her mother to the double cherry wood doors. Miss Dottie pushed her walker, a glittery hot-pink rolling model with a thick padded seat, cup holder, and flowered pouch. While they walked, Marianne covered her mother’s left hand with her own and gently steered as they moved forward. Without thinking, she lightly stroked Miss Dottie’s thin, frail fingers, taking care that she didn’t damage her mother’s wrinkled, papery skin.

As they progressed down the hall, Miss Dottie turned toward Marianne and smiled. “Betty, it’s so good to see you. Where are we going?”

“We’re going out for coffee, Mom.”

“We are? But I don’t have any money.”

“That’s okay, Mom. I’m buying.”

“Oh Betty, you’re such a wonderful sister. You always take excellent care of me.”

“I try, Mom,” Marianne replied, not bothering to point out she wasn’t Betty.

When they reached the double cherry wood doors, Marianne waved at Trisha, who shuffled over and entered the code once more so the doors would open. Marianne navigated Miss Dottie down the main hallway and signed her out at the front desk. They both waved to Corrine as they exited through the sliding glass doors and headed to the gray Toyota. Marianne opened the SUV’s passenger door. “Here we are,” she announced as she helped Miss Dottie ease into the seat.

“This is a wonderful treat, Betty. I hardly ever get out, you know. Where are we going?”

Marianne reached in and buckled Miss Dottie’s seatbelt. “We’re going for coffee, Mom. Remember?”

“I didn’t.” She frowned. “My memory isn’t what it used to be. Will Mama be there?”

“She can’t come,” Marianne answered as she stowed the hot-pink walker in the SUV’s cargo space. The coffee shop was three blocks away—a ten-minute drive. At 8:40 a.m., like every Monday, Marianne parked in front of the coffee shop, retrieved Miss Dottie’s walker from the back, helped her mother out of the car, and maneuvered her into the café. Nick, the manager, waved to them as Marianne helped Miss Dottie into a chair at the table by the window.

“Good morning Marianne, Miss Dottie,” he called. “The usual?”

Marianne replied. “Morning, Nick. Yes, please.”

“How do you know him, Betty?”

“We come here every Monday, Mom, and order the same thing. We’re his regular customers.”

Miss Dottie turned her head and surveyed the compact space. “We’ve been here before? It doesn’t look familiar.”

“Yes, we’re here every week. We both drink mocha lattes. Nick puts whipped cream on yours.”

With her gaze focused on Nick, Miss Dottie nodded and said, “He’s handsome. Reminds me of Ted. It’s too bad, what happened to him.”

A server set the two lattes on the table. Marianne sipped hers and smiled at her mother. “Who was Ted?” she asked.

“You know, the boy you dated when you were in junior college.”

“I’m sorry, Mom. That was Betty who dated him. Not me. I didn’t know Ted.”

“Yes, you did, remember? He died from that lung disease while he was a young man. It devastated you.”

“Mom, I’m, Marianne. I never dated Ted.”

A scowl flashed across Miss Dottie’s face. “Betty, I’m not an idiot.” She banged her fist, and the table shook, which caused her coffee to slosh over the rim of her cup into the saucer. “It was you. Don’t lie to me. I may have only been twelve years old, but I knew about him. Mama knew, too. It wasn’t a secret.” As Miss Dottie spoke, the volume of her voice intensified. Several other patrons glanced at them, and Marianne was certain they were speculating about the lies she told this sweet, little elderly woman.

Like every other Monday, Marianne took a deep breath and willed herself to keep smiling. She grasped her mother’s hand and murmured, “Mom, I’m not Betty. I’m Marianne, your daughter.”

Miss Dottie leaned in and scrutinized her daughter’s face. Marianne waited for a flicker of recognition from her mother’s aged blue eyes, but the older woman’s stare remained unchanged.

“No, you’re my big sister,” Miss Dottie said with a curt nod that indicated satisfaction with her conclusion. “How could you be my daughter?”

Marianne’s chest tightened. For a moment she couldn’t catch her breath, but she continued to smile. She swallowed more coffee, hoping the warm brew would soften the lump in her throat. Miss Dottie smiled back—her earlier irritation dissipated—and chattered about Ted and how nice it was that he took her, the kid sister, on their dates to the soda fountain in Klein’s Drugstore; and wasn’t he a gentleman to buy her a Cherry Coke; and she wished she could voice her appreciation now and thank him, but it was too late because he passed away; and wasn’t that a shame?

Marianne nodded and her mother continued to ramble, noting it was also a shame how Aunt Pearl and Uncle Jim treated cousin Margaret when that slick, fast-Eddie boss of hers got her pregnant and didn’t marry her, and they forced Margaret to hide in the house until the baby was born; and at least she visited Margaret at home and was glad their brother Ike punched Margaret’s boss in the nose.

Then, like every Monday, Marianne stood at 10:30 a.m. She told Miss Dottie they served lunch at eleven o’clock and it was time to go. She escorted her mother back to the gray Toyota, helped her into the passenger seat, and fastened her seat belt. She stowed the hot-pink walker in the back, then settled into the driver’s seat. Marianne continued to smile as she drove, and Miss Dottie cheerfully reminisced about the days when she and Betty rode to work together in Betty’s blue and white Chevrolet Bel Air and took dictation and typed letters for the young lawyers at Miller & Miller’s law office. Marianne responded as though she had lived those moments with Miss Dottie, affirming that Vincent was, in fact, excellent husband material and that old Mr. Miller was a kindhearted man despite his gruff demeanor.

When they reached Pleasant Farm, Marianne pulled the SUV into the last spot in the parking lot, lifted the hot-pink walker out of the cargo space, and grabbed the tote and her purse. She helped her mother out of the car, then escorted Miss Dottie through the sliding glass doors. As Marianne signed her mother back in, Corrine commented she hoped they enjoyed their coffee. Then mother and daughter sauntered down the corridor. When they reached the cherry wood doors, Marianne fished the issues of Better Homes and Gardens and First for Women out of the canvas bag and set them on the padded seat of Miss Dottie’s walker.

“I thought you might like to look at these,” she said as she rang the doorbell.

“Oh, yes. I love magazines. Thank you, Betty!” Miss Dottie beamed as she ran her fingers across the pile. Soon Trisha appeared, punched in the code, and the doors swung open.

Marianne hugged her mother. “Bye, Mom. I’ll see you on Thursday,” she said as Miss Dottie guided her walker through the double doors.

Her mother turned, her face still donning a grin, and blew Marianne a kiss. “Bye, Betty. I love you.”

“Love you, too, Mom,” Marianne called as the double doors folded shut. She watched Trisha and Miss Dottie through the stained-glass panels. A rainbow of colors bathed their backs as they drifted away. And then at 10:50 a.m., like every Monday, Marianne stopped smiling and swallowed, hoping to quell the constriction that lingered in her throat.

This story was first published in Coffee House Writers 2020 Anthology, Vol. 2

Check out “Coffee on Mondays.” Miss Dottie’s was in her own unique world. It fit within the events that defined her life, but didn’t correspond to the reality of here and now.

Written by Allorianna Matsourani
Copyright 2020

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