are old women waiting
through their darkening windows
the end or beginning of agony
old women seen through half-ajar doors
they are not waiting
an entrance to somewhere
unknown and desired
and not new.
— from “Rooming houses are old women” by Audre Lorde
There was a flash of cold as Louise pierced the drug bulb on the port behind her ear and fluid rushed through the port set in the bone. She held it there, waiting for the familiar sensation of thousands of tiny feet marching into her brain’s circulation. Her doctor said it was a common transient side effect, probably psychological.
She held the bulb in place, engaged in what passed for thinking for her these days, until her Minder, not sensing any movement in the room for a sufficient period of time, gently said, “Louise?” in feminine BBC accents.
This startled her enough that she dropped the bulb and it rolled under the loveseat. She sighed and went to fetch her little grabby tool from the kitchenette, since she certainly couldn’t get down on her knees and hope to get back up again without calling for assistance via one of the many panic buttons arrayed around her apartment. But she couldn’t remember in what safe place she’d put the grabby tool, so settled for her broom, and used it to excavate the bulb—oh, actually, several bulbs—from under the loveseat. She bent over slowly to pick up the bulbs and counted them as she did so. “One, two, three, goodness, why haven’t I got these out before now? Five… or was that four?” She used the arm of the loveseat to push herself back upright, her right hip popping painfully as she did so.
And… what was she doing again?
Her eye was caught by the purple diamond logo on the sides of the bulbs and she read, “Neures-Q,” aloud, and remembered that these had held her medicine, the medicine that was supposed to keep her from losing more of her mind. She shook herself and made her way resolutely to the trash can, keeping the handful of bulbs in her line of sight the whole way.
Neures-Q. She’d retired by the time it came out of preclinical trials, but she could imagine the scramble at the agency to come up with a new structural naming scheme for this thing that wasn’t a normal chemical-based drug and it wasn’t exactly a biologically-based drug either. If anything, it was a dose of tiny biomechanistic soldiers who maintained a holding action against the forces that snarled and choked her neurons. It couldn’t restore function, but it supposedly slowed her inevitable decline.
She successfully deposited the bulbs in the trash can. Score one on the to-do list today.
“Louise,” her Minder said, “your mail is here.”
She hurried the ten steps across her studio apartment to the door, shuffling a bit because her knees were still stiff this morning, and reached it just as the chime sounded. She opened the door with a big smile for her one periodic human contact.
And there was Aisha in her postal carrier uniform, smiling back, her dark face wrinkling up at the corners of her eyes. “Hey, there, Louise, how’s it going?” she said, handing over a handful of envelopes.
“Not bad, considering the alternative,” Louise said, and part of her winced at the repetition of the exchange. “How’s your boy then?”
Aisha grinned. “He’s just fine. Got a letter from him yesterday.”
“Oh, that’s good, that’s fine!” Louise exclaimed, gripping her door in one hand and the envelopes in the other. She bit back, with almost physical effort, an offer of tea, or cookies, or anything that would keep Aisha there a moment longer. She knew that other women in the building—women who were further along the long downhill slide than she was herself—did it all the time, and Aisha smilingly declined every one. “Well, I’ll see you Thursday, with luck.”
“Here’s to luck, Louise,” Aisha said, and Louise thought she glimpsed relief in the woman’s smile as she eased away up the hall.
Louise closed the door slowly, shutting off her last glimpse of Aisha’s back. She leaned against the door, staring blankly down at the envelopes in her hand. What was she doing? Oh, yes. She sat down at her little kitchen table.
There was a letter from her niece, a brusque, dutiful thing that recapped the children’s latest athletic and (occasional) academic achievements, her husband’s work travel, and her own latest projects. There were a few advertisements, from companies that still sent out paper fliers to old people. And there was a prize at the bottom of the pile.
A letter from Mick.
Louise sat and stared at the handwritten address in Mick’s shaky print that had always looked like she was writing while riding a speeding bus. She ran wrinkled brown fingers over the depressions the pen made in the paper.
“Oh, you,” she murmured to the paper. “Why the hell were you so damned stubborn anyway?”
They’d had a thing for years, on again, off again. Mick’s work took her all over the country all the time, and once she’d retired, she bought an RV and kept driving all over the country. She made an effort to get to Louise’s house at least twice a year for nearly twenty years, and Louise made an effort not to beg her to move in more than once a year. And then the fool had had a stroke on the other side of the country, just as Louise was being moved into Paradise Living after a fall and a broken hip. Now Mick lived with nurses and assistants who insisted on calling her “Ardelia,” and Louise lived… here.
She reached for a letter opener and slit open the envelope. The letter was typically short:
Much improvement here. Still can’t get the damned assistants to call me my proper name, but things could be worse. Enclosed is a little gift for you to try; has made an enormous change in my life.
Love and the Moon,
Folded into the page was a small glassine envelope that contained two pills. Louise carefully slid them into her palm, desperately grateful she was still on the good side of the brain function charts and the staff didn’t open and screen her mail yet.
The diamond-shaped tablets were flat and pale yellow, embossed on one side with a small oblong that could have been a stylized eye, and on the other with CZD-10 and BTP. The second abbreviation she recognized from her Neures-Q bulbs: Better Thinking Pharma. CZD was clearly their newest market offering.
After rolling them over and over in her fingertips, she slid them back into the envelope and tucked it into her shirt pocket. Maybe later she would be able to think enough to look them up.