Written by Julian Matthews
It was my daily routine. I liked my coffee hot. Put the water to boil in the kettle first.
Then take the seven pills in the pillbox that Jenna had filled for the week. Today was Friday.
One for my heart, two for my pressure, two for the arthritis and the last two to keep me sane.
I have to take the last two or Jenna said she would send me to a home. I surely didn’t want to go to a home, I would rather be on my own.
Was she coming today?
The calendar said Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. I had crossed out Thursday, so today must be Friday.
Oh, I still have some cake in the fridge. That lemon drizzle butter cake Jenna got from the new cake shop run by that former stewardess in the township. She has the touch. Her cakes are fresh and not too sweet, not too dry and not too moist. Just right.
I liked it so, because it reminded me of mum’s. Her sugee and chocolate cake were not up to par yet but the lemon drizzle butter cake was perfect. Pricey but worth it.
I’ll just pop it in the microwave. Jenna taught me how to use it. Press here, then here. Forty seconds and it would be just right.
Did I put the water to boil? Let me check. Oh, yes, I did.
I once left the gas stove on overnight. And the next morning, though it smelt funny, I lit it anyway. Jenna was so mad. She’d wanted to get rid of that cooker for years.
The doctor said I had 40 percent burns. I thought he must be Einstein to calculate percentages on a person’s skin so accurately. Especially, skin as wrinkly and spotty as mine.
I liked the word spotty like as if I were a leopard, camouflaged in the trees, ready to pounce on prey. Better leopard than cougar, I suppose. I am just too old to be a cougar.
I wonder if they are all cougars at the home that Jenna keeps talking about. I am sure the men are all lechers. Maybe even lepers. Eww, lecherous lepers. This leopard will show them.
Jenna threatened to send me there again after the incident. I surely didn’t want to go to a home. I would rather be on my own.
There was no need for skin grafts but I singed my eyebrows for good. They never grew back. I never really liked having to pluck them regularly anyway. One less weight to carry to my grave.
After I was discharged, Jenna took my Royal gas cooker away and replaced it with an electric stove. I could still use my whistling kettle though. And there it goes!
Did I say, I liked my coffee hot? I do. The lemon drizzle butter cake is nice and warm now.
The soft sunlight streaming in at this time of the day is so lovely on the balcony. I need my Vitamin D, said Jenna. She moved my cane chair there so I could get some sun every morning. As if my wrinkles needed any more sun to get the creases out.
Once I told her sitting so long in the sun made my crow’s feet as dark as the bird’s. Jenna laughed. She called them laugh lines, not crow’s feet. She was still sweet that way.
“Oh, amah, you still can make me laugh at your age!”
“At my age? Of course, I can. I tickled your tiny feet and made you giggle on the first day you were born, chellam! September 10th, 1965. A day before my birthday. So you’re always one day ahead of me.”
She smiled. I needed to remind Jenna of my ability to remember dates, so she wouldn’t think I was slipping. It was a little game we played. She didn’t know I had all the dates marked out on a calendar and chose which date to drop in conversation — a birth date or an anniversary or the date of James’ death. I would repeat a particular date over and over again, walking in circles around the bedroom, the night before or sometimes, when my head hurt, I would cheat like I did in school and scribble it with a ballpoint pen in my palm. Jenna never found out when I peeked.
It was Jenna’s idea to move me to this condo on the 12th floor. I had to give up the house after the third robbery. There was nothing to take really that last time — so I gave the two robbers a piece of my mind and kicked one of them in the shin. The angry one knocked me to the ground. When I came to, I called Jenna.
She was so mad. She took me to the clinic nearby and got the stitches done. We didn’t even bother filing a police report. They are pretty useless and never do anything these days anyway. Jenna’s solution was a guarded condo in a gated community. I consented because I didn’t want to go to a home. I would rather be on my own.
Did I switch off the electric stove? I am sure I did. Oh, why bother? It cuts off automatically anyway.
I usually switch off the main plugs only at night. Saves electricity. I read somewhere that if you leave the plugs on it would raise your electricity bill by 15 percent. Someone did the math. I make sure I switch off everything before bedtime — the stove, the TV, the radio, the hot water shower and I double-lock the doors.
Wait. Did I switch off the microwave just now? I will check later. Jenna isn’t coming today, is she?
I am sure she isn’t. It’s Wednesday anyway.
The sun this time of the day on the balcony is just nice, not too hot, not too glaring. Gregory Peck would be along soon. I knotted my hair and straightened my housecoat.
They didn’t allow pets in this apartment. No dogs. No cats. I had to give up Lucky to the shelter at PAWS. Jenna assured me he would be cared for and they would find him a new home. I felt at 12, Lucky was almost my age and half blind and deaf, and no one would adopt an old mongrel. But Jenna said they cull the dogs at the SPCA these days — so we went with PAWS.
I do hear the occasional bark sometimes at night on my block. A resident either two floors above or below me had broken the rules and smuggled in a Shih Tzu or maybe a Fox Terrier, based on the cute bark.
People need companions in their old age.
Ah, here comes Gregory Peck swooping down majestically landing on the banister. He coos and I coo coo back. I am sure he understands every word I say.
He looks so regal with his mix of pristine white and posh grey feathers and the rich, striking purple band around his neck. I feed him the expensive brown Basmati rice that Jenna buys for me. Oh, she would be so mad if she knew. Sometimes, I feed him the Gardenia butterscotch bread she buys me. She always wondered how I finished those so quickly.
“Coo, coo, Mr Peck. How are we today? Breaking little hearts on the terraces, are we?” and I broke him a little piece of the lemon drizzle butter cake.
“Coo, coo,” he replies as if to say: “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Wait. Was that a Gregory Peck or a Clark Gable quote? Maybe it was Bogart.
Oh, I’ll just Google it up on the laptop computer Jenna got me. Thank god they invented Google so we never need forget anything these days. Jenna said an Indian chap is the CEO now. Those Indian men are bloody smart now. They weren’t very smart in my time. Especially not my James. I don’t want Jenna to catch me forgetting again.
She doesn’t know about Gregory Peck yet. None of the residents like the pigeons nesting on the balconies and ledges of this condo. They shit everywhere and mess up the aircon compressors. Poor birdies. Where else would they go?
Gregory Peck keeps me company. I am not allowed to go out these last few weeks because of the pandemic. Apparently at 90, I am vulnerable. Jenna even bought me a box of masks. I tried one on. I look like Batman. Or Zorro. Or all those doctors and nurses after surgery when James died.
Gregory Peck cocked his head and gave me the eyeball. “Coo, coo, are you tearing up, again?” He never lets me come close enough to pet him. “Ok, I am not having any of this. Pull yourself together, sweetheart. I’m off, ” and he took off.
The wailing ambulance going by scared him. I wonder who could be in it today. So many go by each day.
I miss James, my sweet acha. He would never send me to a home. We always lived on our own and took care of ourselves, even after Jenna left.
Wait. Did I turn off the gas stove? I better check. Jenna would be so mad.
Julian Matthews is a former journalist and trainer finding new ways to express himself in the pandemic through poetry, short stories and creative non-fiction. He was recently published in Nine Cloud Journal, Poor Yorick Journal, Second Chance Lit, Poetry and Covid, and Unmasked: Reflections on Virus-time (curated by Shamini Flint). He is based in Malaysia.