Saturday, October 06, 2018

Copper

I would be most grateful for feedback on this very short story that I have struggled with on and off for about two months. I think it finished now but am totally open to suggestions. I am hoping the point of it is clear or that some reflection on elder life is teased out of readers. It's a true story.



COPPER

His middle-aged son brought the dogs for a visit every Wednesday afternoon, Scotch Terriers who looked just like the picture on the old Black and White Scotch whisky bottles. I’d be drawn to my second floor window by their ecstatic yips.

The old man would be at his open window on the ground floor, leaning out, waiting, calling them by name, Maud, Billy, over and over, his quavering voice filled with longing, his magnificent head of white hair streaked with traces of a youthful auburn. His son would hold each dog up in turn for him to pet with his crippled arthritic hands.

Someone told me they were like children to him after his wife died. He held on to the marital home until he was no longer able and his son then moved him into our no pets allowed independent senior living building five years ago. Word had it he signed over his house to his son with the understanding that he took care of the dogs and brought them to visit.

Last month he graduated from our building into one with a higher level of care. A couple of small trucks and a station wagon showed up with the whining dogs peering out the open window. Ten minutes later his son emerged from the building carrying a large suitcase. Next came the old man, tottering along on his walker, his extraordinary hair like an orange-streaked cloud at sunset. He was stooped over, reluctance in each uncertain footfall, losing more and more ground as he fell further behind his son.

But catching sight of the dogs he straightened with some effort and his eyes lit up, Maud, Billy! and they bounced out of the open car door to greet him, trying desperately to climb the walker to get at his face. His son folded the walker into the trunk as his father clung to the car door, looking up at my window. I saw tears lodging in all the folds of his face and I nodded, absorbing a little of his pain and fear.

As his son helped him into the back seat the dogs fell onto his lap in spasms of joy, his words were blurred and hoarse under the excitement of their yelping.

The station wagon moved away and was quickly out of sight. No one stands around outside to say goodbye to anyone leaving here. It’s like it’s contagious and no one’s been vaccinated.

The trucks immediately disgorged their drivers and the two men vanished into the building. Shortly afterwards, the windows to the apartment were thrown open and the accouterments of his left-behind-life were tossed onto the lawn.

Where are you taking all his stuff? asked Bertha, who patrols the grounds of our building like a border guard, all ninety years and ninety pounds of her. The men looked at each other then at her.

To the dump, lady, to the dump, one of them said impatiently. They loaded the two trucks with boxes of dishes, cheap shelving, metal tray tables, a saggy couch, an over-used easy chair, pantry items, an old mattress, a melamine headboard, sad linens, a wonky kitchen table with rusty kitchen chairs, photos in frames of weddings and children and soldiers, many albums, scrapbooks, magazines, an old console television and a stereo turntable, rickety bookcases, books, a giant bag of dog biscuits.

It took a week to air the place out for I heard the old fellow smoked like a chimney.

Professionals then came to dismantle and eject all the cabinetry and fixtures and cart it all away, some of it falling apart, missing knobs and drawer fronts.

A few days after that a pair of plumbers came. I could hear the hammering and the sound of things being torn apart, next I heard a clinking and clanging an hour or two later and looked down below and caught a glimpse of copper and for a few seconds thought it was the old man’s head protruding from the window.

But no,various lengths of copper piping were being passed slowly and carefully through the apartment window from one worker to the other.

They were then wrapped like treasure in flannel sheets before being reverently placed inside a van, to be auctioned off, no doubt, to the highest bidder.

36 comments:

  1. yikes. and wow. That is one of the saddest pieces I've ever read. And excellent. I hate it that so many senior housing places do not allow pets. The shelters end up with these sad, abandoned animals. And the treatment of his belongings against the treatment of the copper is brilliant. Send it out. This makes me very glad that my mom was cared for in her home with her old cat until the end. The cat lived another six months and was also cared for. And my 90 year old in laws are here with us.

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    1. Thanks Sharyn, it was heartbreaking to watch all this go down.
      Lucky elders in your life. I think it a shame animals are not allowed in buildings. I attribute this to allergies and also the odd irresponsible or incompetent pet owner (smells, cleaning, vet care, lack of transportation, etc.)

      I would certainly care for another elder dog if this was allowed.

      XO
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  2. Heartbreaking..but I don't understand why the copper was taken away. Wouldn't the next owner/tenant need the plumbing?

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    1. Copper plumbing is now replaced with plastic, Starzz.

      XO
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  3. Vary sad indeed and very well written. I live in a retirement town but the buildings here do accept pets. When I read stories like this, it breaks my heart. Gone are the days when families took care of their elders and held them close to their hearts. We live in a throw away society where even our elders can be discarded. Bette Davis once said "Getting old is not for sissies."

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    1. Her famous quote Judith, the older I get the more I believe it :).

      I've always loved the Margaret Meade story about those anthropologists she had trained coming to the USA to study elders and being staggered at how institutionalized they were.

      XO
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  4. We aren't our things they only mean something to us and shouldn't mean much. Live beings make each other happy , those we love, all those we love.

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    1. So true Gemma but this is what capitalism makes of us, setting up desires. I truly don't know what the solution is.

      XO
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  5. Great writing of a very sad happening WWW! Thank you for sharing it.
    This sentence is so true, I guess - but also chilling: "No one stands around outside to say goodbye to anyone leaving here. It’s like it’s contagious and no one’s been vaccinated."

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    1. Thanks T. Though being the activist I am, I'm hoping to put in some positive changes into this lovely building.

      XO
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  6. How do you think this story would sound if you changed it to present tense? Possibly even more powerful. -Kate

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  7. Our things will be donated to charity when we are dead. No problem. They served their purpose when we were alive.

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  8. Old age is cruel and the way we treat our aged makes it doubly so. My son found an escaped dog recently and when he took it back to a very elderly lady (he thought about 90) she said the dog was all she has in the world. Somehow pets are treated as accessories but they are not, they are family.

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    1. I so agree Kylie, I still grieve my beloved Ansa and wish I could home an elderly dog but not allowed in this building.
      They are totally family.

      XO
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  9. The writing! I loved this and it made me sooo sad. I can hardly express my feelings after reading this. So sad and so true. I read this to my husband and we talked about it for quite a while. What we hope for, what we will settle for, what we should do to be ready should we live a long time and not be able to care for ourselves.
    We wondered, do others talk, plan and wonder about these things or do most of us just go along afraid to think about the future? No one else I know really talks about it honestly and some even consider it rude and insensitive to even broach the subject.
    Well done!

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    1. Isn't it extraordinary Candace how we don't discuss the most important things of life for fear of causing distress? I can think of so many topics "off limits": religion, aging, politics, etc. The most important things of all.

      I'll never forget that old man's face.

      Thank you for the kind and insightful words.

      XO
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  10. How sad that the old man's apartment was being matter-of-factly stripped of everything right down to the cabinetry and the copper piping. And the casual explanation "They're going to the dump,lady". As if his life was of no significance whatever.

    I wouldn't want to comment on your writing style. All I can say is, it reads very well as it is. A very poignant story, told in an engaging way.

    And as Kylie says, pets are not just accessories, they are precious parts of people's lives.

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    1. This will haunt me, Nick, we have no idea do we? I know I have a DNR order but that's about it. I've read of others seeking an end in Switzerland when denied Dignitas here for whatever medical reasons.

      We need discussion on all of this. And plans for our own end of life.

      XO
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  11. Loved it and have read it through several times.
    I don’t find it sad though. His son visits him weekly with his precious pets. His old stuff has to go - ( loved the “sad linens” by the way! I know those so well )
    More please of this lovely length of story. Very well done. x

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    1. Thank you so much Anne, I love your perspective on it too. His son cared for him in an obligatory way. I never saw the daughter in law and thought there might be a story there, who knows.

      XO
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  12. Oops, you asked for feedback. We'll it's obviously engaging. I like the way you don't tell us what to feel and the descriptions are all evocative. I can see it all

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    1. Thank you Kylie, I found it extraordinarily challenging to write for such a short piece - conveying the feelings. I may publicly read it at the end of the month though I don't want to depress the audience.:)

      XO
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    2. It is up to the audience to feel what they will . They will also be prompted to think about things. Which is a wonderful thing , the story as written is thought provoking and I could "see" it all in my mind, I can still see in my mind what I pictured when I first read it.

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    3. Thanks Gemma, I am so flattered by your words, it is so important that readers see in their own ways and own feelings.
      XO
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  13. I came back to read comments and agree with many of them. I do think you should read this publicly, it is really good. It conveys so very much in just a few words. Just right. So evocative letting the reader discover their feelings about this. Oh I do hope I am properly conveying what I mean. I am not a writer. At all.

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    1. Thank you Candace - you conveyed your feelings on this beautifully.
      Interestingly enough I ran into an old couple I know well from my rural days in the shops today (I say "Old" but they are younger than I!) and they are so distraught, he won't leave the family home and she is ready.
      He was bent over from artho-something in the spine and is a care to her. She has heart trouble. I asked if they were content and they looked at me stunned. I said you need to think about that and I hugged them.

      XO
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    2. Stellar! Every word important.

      "No one stands around outside to say goodbye to anyone leaving here. It’s like it’s contagious and no one’s been vaccinated." Very powerful and thought provoking. Will your possible public reading be where you live? It could be food for thought and maybe little changes will happen between residents.

      Reading this reinforced my choice to focus on my 91 year old mom's, my husband's parents (86 and 88), and severeal aunt's care / help. Still, it would be helpful if some made some decisions to live in easier homes versus the old farmhouses with lots of yard to mow, steps and steep driveways. Many of my friends don't get the care scene; they see the travel limits we've put on ourselves as a result of this choice. Kim in PA

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    3. Many I've observed Kim, hang on until it's far too late and sadly, their last years are compromised by ill health, enormous physical and mental challenges but most of all this burden and worry on their children who themselves fight their own aging process. It seems terribly unfair to everybody.
      I see an almost carefree element in this independent senior living complex and in discussing with others see this enormous relief in both the elders and their children including my own daughter.
      I am so confident I've done the right thing. And am so content with my decision. And would love to do a workshop series on this for elders who are on the fence. (There's a good thought!)

      XO
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    1. Why thank you sir.

      I'm making a few slight adjustments and then firing it off to Canada Writes before I can do further damage to it.

      XO
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  15. Your words really make an emotional impact. Will be quite a moving reading to an audience with the power of your verbal delivery. The reality is so many of our possessions have meaning only to us. Parting with some of them can feel like giving away part of out life. We do have to wonder sometimes what the relationship between parent and child might have been throughout all the preceding years.

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    1. Thank you Joared. I wondered the same, very little words exchanged between them even when he presented the dogs on their weekly visits. I did talk to the dogs a few times and Son told me he was "obligated" to bring them to visit. He, too, smoked, so I didn't linger with him. Maybe there was a contract?
      Or maybe it was far simpler.
      Sometimes deeper stories we can only speculate on.

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  16. Well. That just broke my heart. Beautifully written.

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    1. Thank you SAW for your supportive words. I think it's nearly ready now for send off.

      XO
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Email me at wisewebwomanatgmaildotcom if you're having trouble.