She wiped her ass over and over. Inspecting the paper closely after each wipe. When she could see no more fecal matter she carefully brought the paper to her nose and inhaled. She cocked her head, thought for a moment, then dropped the paper into the toilet bowl and flushed.
“That was disgusting.” A strange voice speaking quietly but echoing off the tile.
She gave a start. Her panties were still around her calves. Frightened. Very frightened. She was also more than a little embarrassed.
“What? Is someone here?” she wanted to scream but her voice caught and her question came out as a croak. She felt short of breath. She fumbled and, somehow, couldn’t get control of her panties and get them up so that she could run.
“You know I’m here Margaret. You make me come in here every day with you. I hate it. It’s disgusting. Your shit smells like you eat cat food. But I do this because it’s my job and I don’t complain or make comments. But this new thing of yours, this scat sniffing thing, is more than I can sit by and watch quietly. Why are you smelling your toilet paper?”
“Who the hell are you?” Her heart was palpitating. She was starting to sweat on her upper lip and armpits. She could feel rivulets of it course down her ribs. Her legs were getting raw from her futile attempts to claw her panties up her lap. Where was she?
“I’m your home healthcare worker Margaret. And stop scratching yourself!”
“I’m the guy who comes over every day at four and makes your dinner and gives you your meds and watches television with you. And who now, unfortunately, has to accompany you to the toilet so you won’t break a hip. Or hit your head. Or drown yourself.”
“I’m ready to wipe now!”
“That’ll be our new drinking game Margaret. Every time you say that I’ll have a drink. You’ve already wiped. May I leave?”
“No! I’ll need you to hold me steady so I don’t fall.”
“Hold me steady!”
She was recovering her senses. She was home. She had her slave or servant or whatever he called himself there to help.
“Hold me steady now!” she felt steady enough to bellow, “I’m not feeling too steady and if I should fall there would be hell to pay for both of us. So hold me steady while I wipe! And tell me your name again.”
“My name is Todd. And you just wiped yourself and you smelled the paper and you flushed and you didn’t fall. So let’s just get you up and get your clothes on you and go in the den and watch Highway to Heaven or Match Game or some other shit and let’s forget I ever saw what I just saw.
“What’s this about a drinking game?”
“Never mind Margaret. I was just being a smart ass.”
“I want a drink!”
“When I was a little girl, during the depression, my daddy used to tell us only one wipe, only one square, we got to be careful with the paper he’d say, that stuff don’t grow on trees you know!”
“But now I’m a grown woman and I got my own money and I can wipe my ass all I want. And I can wipe it so goddam many times until it takes off all the stink. And if you don’t like it you can just kiss it you hear me?”
“Yes Margaret I hear you.”
“And you stop calling me Margaret like you think I think I’m Princess Margaret or something. I know you’re being a smartass. I may be old but I ain’t dumb. Now you get me off this throne and get my drawers up and get me a goddam drink. ”
“Call me Margie honey. I’m drinking scotch.”
He helped her back to her couch. Covered her legs with her old knitted blanket with the doghair still there from a beloved pet dead some few months. She refused to let anyone wash it. She wanted the hair to stay there. And the smell too. She wanted to remember. Smell was one of the few things that could take her where she wanted to go. She could take a big whiff of that rank blanket and see her departed beloved and feel he was there. She remembered so little now. She went in and out of states of mind in which sometimes she knew who and where she was and some in which a great fear overcame her. She would suddenly not know where she was or how she got there. The people around her were strangers. How was she to know if they meant harm? She knew it. She was going. The blanket helped her hold onto something. And she knew the dog hair gave it that power damn it. And it would only be washed over her dead body.
Once settled on the couch, the television on, the remote clicking. Hours going by, cigarettes smoked until the butts overflowed the huge amber glass ashtray purchased at some garage sale. Neither of them speaking. Neither of them thinking.
Each of them knowing that thinking would devolve into a different remembering and that remembering would hurt.
Margie hurt for her lost years and her going mind. For her family, for the world, for her dead dog whom she missed far far more than her dead husband. Mostly she ached from the crushing weight of memory. And the fear of losing her faculties before losing her life.
Every so often she would lift a corner of the blanket and inhale. Remembering hurt. But not remembering was scarier.