“Juanita!” she screeched, never letting her cataract-ridden eyes leave the window. “Juanita, I want to go to the parlor.”
Her nurse bustled up the stairs towards the old woman.
“It’s Wanda, ma’am,” she said.
“Call yourself whatever you like. The children didn’t come today. I want to go to the parlor.”
The nurse’s lips squeezed into a tight line.
“They should be here any minute,” she said, pushing the wheelchair away from the wide window overlooking the circular driveway, the fountain, the palatial grounds, the iron gate in the distance.
“The children won’t come. They’ve never cared about their mother,” she said. Her gnarled hands played with the string of pearls around her neck. “And where are you taking me? The parlor is downstairs.”
The wheelchair rolled quietly over Persian rugs, past doors and doors of empty guest bedrooms.
“You may have forgotten, ma’am, but — ”
“I’m sharp as a tack, don’t forget a thing. Where are you taking me?”
Wanda continued as if the old woman hadn’t cut her off.
“You scheduled an appointment with Dr. Krauss today.”
“He sounds foreign.”
“He’s German. You hired him to do a house call. He cost a lot of money, remember?”
“I don’t have the cancer. I don’t need a doctor.”
“He’s an anti-aging specialist.”
The old woman harrumphed. “I’m sharp as a tack,” she said. She stroked her hair, short and bone white. “I want to go to the parlor.”
The nurse pushed the wheelchair into a room that had all of the antique furniture shoved to one side. A metal pod, brushed silver and cold-looking, hummed softly in the center of the room. The impeccably groomed man smoothed his suit when he met the old woman’s eyes.
“Ah, Mrs. Eastham, you are looking lovely today.” He lifted her hand and bent to kiss it. His nails had been manicured and lightly buffed. “Would you like to begin?”
“Her children wanted to be here,” said the nurse.
Dr. Krauss looked at her and slowly blinked.
“I’m here,” he said.
“But, her children — ”
“I have a ticket back to Cologne in ten hours. We’ll begin,” he carried on as if Wanda had never spoken.
He tossed the nurse a flimsy hospital gown.
“Get her into this,” he ordered her, then turned to the old woman. “You’ve made a good choice, Mrs. Eastham, a fine choice.”
Dr. Krauss returned to the machine and left Wanda to wrestle the old woman out of her clothes and into the gown.
There was a knock at the door. Two men entered with apprehension.
The fat man wiped sweat from his brow and stared at the machine. The younger, paler one loosened his tie and stared at his cell phone.
“How much is this costing?” the younger one asked. His brother shushed him and put his handkerchief to his moist upper lip.
“You’re late!” shrieked Mrs. Eastham. The hospital gown hung like her skin, wrinkled and too big for the body underneath it. She still wore the string of pearls.
“But, Mother,” said the fat one, “the firm wouldn’t — ”
“You always wanted me in a home. You don’t want me to do this.”
“It is cutting into the trust fund,” said the younger one, absorbed in his little screen.
Dr. Krauss artfully stepped in.
“Now you’re here, Mrs. Eastham is ready and paid in full — we can begin,” he intoned in a practiced voice.
He took the old woman’s brittle elbow in his hands and tried to lift her from her chair.
“I don’t want to go into a home!” she yelled.
“You won’t have to, Mother,” the fat man said. “This will make everything better.”
Dr. Krauss motioned for the nurse to come help lift the struggling matriarch.
“I don’t have the cancer!”
“With what we paid, it had better make everything better,” the younger one muttered, tapping diligently on his keyboard with both thumbs.
The doctor had his arms around Mrs. Eastham’s middle and lifted her bodily from the wheelchair.
“Open the pod,” he ordered the nurse.
The old woman was shaking in fury, thrashing her head back and forth, fists meekly pounding the doctor’s arms.
“I’m sharp as a tack!”
Half of the ovoid container swung open when Wanda gave it even the lightest touch. The inside, every surface, was covered in tendrils that dripped a milky white substance oozing slowly, stickily.
“You don’t care about me!”
Dr. Krauss lifted her in. Several tendrils moved and began to encase her in thick viscous liquid.
“You don’t care!”
Dr. Krauss shut the door.
It was silent in the room.
The machine didn’t hum, didn’t buzz, and any sound that the nurse or children or doctor made was muffled by the thick carpet.
Shifting nervously, the fat son looked at his gold wrist watch. The other stopped typing and stared at the round metal case.
“How much air does she have in there?” he asked.
“Enough,” said Dr. Krauss.
A faint purr came from the machine. Then, a beep.
The door opened on its own.
Sharp blue eyes stared out framed by wavy auburn hair. She licked plump lips, and put one hand to a face with smooth, tanned skin. The fingers trailed past a collar bone to the pearl necklace to a curvy decollate to a flat stomach hidden by the hospital gown. The graceful hand removed one last clinging tendril from her abdomen.
A dainty foot ventured out, then another. The calves flexed and tried their own weight.
“Mother?” the fat one mumbled.
Mrs. Eastham looked up from her body with wide eyes and clutched her pearls.
She stared at each person in the room in turn, lingering on Dr. Krauss. She gave a curt nod of approval.
Mrs. Eastham strode over to the wheelchair and plopped down.
When she smiled at their shock there were no crow’s feet around her eyes.
“Juanita!” she screeched happily, “I want to go to the parlor!”
Claire Webber is a student at The Evergreen State College, and has previously been published in Everyday Weirdness and 365 Tomorrows. Her desk is always cluttered and she struggles with mortality. She also knits.