Monday, 1 February 2010
THE SUNSHINE SENIOR SERVICE By Kieran J. Shea
Judy Ramirez stood in the rain and thumbed the buzzer. To her left, a greasy rectangular screen sputtered to life—her father’s unshaven, Psoriasis-ravaged mug—glaring.
“What do you want?”
Judy held up a small sack from the personal needs bodega around the corner.
“Hey, Pops. Thought I’d stop by and bring you some groceries.”
“Yeah. I was kind of down in the neighborhood.”
“Don’t want ‘em.”
“Come on, Pops. Open up.”
The screen crackled. The picture grew skinny and widened like an ancient funhouse mirror.
“Lemme ask you, how do I know there’s just groceries in that there bag, hmm?”
Judy looked down into the sack dolefully. Her father’s slide into insanity gouged deep creases of paranoia in his brain The drugs he took only helped so much.
“They’re groceries, Pops. Bread. Eggs. Cans of chicken. I even bought those little raspberry jam cookies you like.”
The old man’s wild, bushy eyebrows met. “Briarwoods? The heart-shaped ones? Not that knock-off Chinese shit. Please tell me not those. Can’t stand that imitation Chink crap.”
Judy shifted on her feet. “Yeah. Briarwoods. A whole box. And enough with the suspicions already, all right? For cryin’ out loud and for the thousandth time, I said I was sorry. Jeeze....”
Her father worked his jaw warily and tongued the corner of his mouth.
“And it’s kind of wet out here if you haven’t noticed, Pops.”
Her father’s bloodshot eyes loomed closer to the camera, “Don’t you check the weather, woman? Duh. Gonna rain straight through ‘til Thursday. Look at you, not even dressed for it. No coat, no duty slicker. Standing there. That your police uniform these days, God damn aloha shirt? Look like a dork. Big dorky dyke.”
Her sexuality was such a callous between them Judy glazed right over his remark. “Yeah, well. I’m off duty and a coworker is having a luau party later. Anyway, I wasn’t planning on standing here in the rain like this. Come on, Pops. Open up.”
A grumble and then the screen winked off. After a few prolonged moments Judy heard the bolts and skeletal mechanisms in the door shooting free of their locks. The door cracked open and stale, hot air flooded out, sweat musty and medicinal. Her father stood before her, hands curled like a giant, blistered prawns.
‘Bout time. Judy thought forcing a smile.
“I know why you’re here.”
“You think I don’t know. But I know. God damn right I know. I know. And you know what else? I’ve always known you’d be the one in the end. That’s right, chickiepoo. Known it since you were a bitty, little runt hiding behind your mother’s legs. You. Not your brothers. Not Miguel or Pedro. They were never a devious little sneak like you. You’d never catch them talking to their father about something like that. No, sir. Had some sense of family those two.”
“Yeah, yeah. Good old Miguel and Pedro. Real stand up guys. Look where that got them.”
“Don’t you bad mouth your older brothers.”
“You ought to have more respect for the dead. Especially soldiers. They died for this country.”
“This country. Spare me the lecture.”
“You could have enlisted like them too, you know. Been a true patriot in your country’s hour of need. But no. Nooooooooo. Little miss carpetmuncher took the chickenshit way out. Became a police officer, a she-wolf thumping heads for the man.”
Judy set the sack down on the counter. She pinched the bridge of her nose and shut her eyes. She ran her fingers over her wet, black pixie cut. “I was a cop by then, Pops. Seven years in. Martial law…remember? The Water Riots of 2038? The Second Virus? Ring a fuckin’ bell in that dry, pinto bean brain of yours?”
“Bah. Water riots….”
“Didn’t see you complain when I got you and mom airlifted out of San Antonio before the government pulse-nuked the entire border back to the stone age.”
“Oh sure. Big deal. My little girl, the hero. I would have gone out swinging if you had let me. Your mother too.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Judy began to unpack the groceries, “Whatever…”
“Go ahead. Be snotty about it. We still had pride when we were in our eighties. Least we still were allowed to own guns then. God damn ageism. One damn, sordid indignity after another. Bones disintegrating, can’t take a decent crap even with the lubes the doctor give me. I shit marbles.”
“You ask me that was the beginning of the end, when the government decided we can’t legally own guns because we’re too old.”
“Not my law…”
“But you enforce it don’t you? That makes you just as bad. Makes you complacent in their maliciousness. You read your history and you’d see those government candyasses enacted a betrayal of the highest order. This was once a great country.”
Sure, Judy thought, believe the mendacity, swallow the fable whole and choke. Was a whore straight out of the gate.
She carefully removed two carryout cups of coffee from the bag on the counter. “Here,” she said, hoping for a distraction.
Her father pretzeled his skinny arms in front of his chest in pouty defiance.
“What? Come on. It’s just coffee, Pops. Two creams, two sugars, just like always. Just like since forever.”
“I don’t want none.”
Judy sighed. Judy didn’t like her coffee sweet or with anything even remotely white in it, but to prove it to her old man she removed the cup’s lid and took a sharp slurp. Yuck. She held out the paper cup again, “See? See me dying over here, Dad? It’s good.”
Begrudgingly her father took the cup. He gingerly shuffled across the efficiency to a lone table as Judy set about placing the rest of the groceries in the cupboards. Judy was almost finished when a sharp bark came from behind.
“Whoa! What’s that?! Stop right there! What was that you just put in my refrigerator?”
Judy straightened. She swung the refrigerator door shut with her hip.
“It’s an orange.”
“An orange? An orange? Where did you get the money for a God damn real orange? You shake down someone? You on the take?”
“They’re not that expensive.”
“Fuck you they’re not that expensive. I know the price of produce, woman. I know. Costs a fortune. People mortgage their homes for a little fresh fiber don’t come in some pill.”
“They’re good. Worth the money. Anyway, it’s a treat.”
“Don’t give me that. Treat.” Her father snorted sourly, “I don’t want it. Don’t forget I remember how it used to be. Your great, great cousins on your mother’s side used to pick citrus.”
“Here we go. More of the good old days.”
“They picked grapefruit. That’s right. Had pride. Ruby Red. Acres and acres of them down in Brownsville. Back when there was a Brownsville.”
Judy moved toward the center of the apartment and refused to engage. She hated this place, the sour hot air, but it was all she could afford after her father’s pension ran dry. Not exactly assisted living, but plenty of security. A warehoused ghetto for the aged. Chewed a raw chunk of her credits every pay period. With her father’s extensive medical expenses, it was no wonder Judy had to live in the central barracks. Freaking embarrassing that, her a lieutenant detective and all. And it was so lonely. Personal company was forbidden on base. She hadn’t had any pussy for months now, and she wondered if she’d always be alone. Had she a time machine she’d go back and throttle the brainiacs who thought life extension breakthroughs were such a swell idea, along with the fertility specialists who made it possible for women in their late sixties to breed. Her mother.
There was a media strip on the far wall of the living area that played images of her family. Her brothers, her mother before the sneaky melanoma on her foot took her. Judy saw one of herself flash by, all grim at her academy graduation decades ago and one of her at age seven kissing her mom’s silky cheek.
Judy sat down at the table across from her father. They sipped their coffee in silence. She crossed her legs and reached down to scratch behind the black elastic of her ankle holster. Judy cleared her throat and folded her hands on the table.
“Pops, let me crystallize this for you, okay? Once and for all. Even though I brought the subject up a month ago, I just, you know, I just want you to understand if you thought about it I’d be okay with it. Not that I want you to. I don’t, I swear to God, I don’t. Believe me, I agree with you one hundred percent it’s legalized murder.”
“You agree with me….bullshit.”
“Yeah, I do. Think what you want but I’ve given it a lot of thought. This elective euthanasia stuff is insane. This is not about the new government incentive programs or the quality of life bullshit they harp about on the trans.”
Her father frowned absently into the corner. He swallowed some coffee and smacked his lips, “Decent coffee.”
“So can we get beyond the suspicions here, please? It makes these visits difficult.”
“I used to make coffee in a French press.”
“Do you remember my French press? Miguel and me, we’d sit around, make pots and pots. Laughing….your mother she’d—”
“—say we were going to burst our hearts and brains from all the caffeine—”
“What?! Why are you yelling at me?! Don’t you yell at me! I’m a hundred and twenty- seven-years old! You ought to know better. Why’re you so riled, girl?”
Judy hung her head and forced herself to calm down. She apologized, “I’m sorry. That was uncalled for.”
“Damn right it was uncalled for.”
“But did you hear anything of what I just said?”
“I heard, I heard….”
“And per the program protocols the elective euthanasia has to be consensual within family members. That means we, both of us, would have to agree. Plus, like, you have to have a live feed and a government witness on standby to record the whole thing. It’s a real big pain in the ass.”
“People can put up with a lot of pain in the ass for a little money.”
“Just please stop grilling me. Yeah, I brought it up, but it’s not about money. I’m sorry.”
Judy sat back, “Thank you.”
“D’you know Dorothy?” her father asked.
“Dorothy? Who? What? You mean Mrs. Drake? Down the block?”
“The one with—”
Her father flopped his hands outward, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. The colossal fire hydrant boobs. She went ahead and did it.”
Her father’s head bobbed, “True. Had a big fiesta for all her friends and told us that she was going to do it. Anyway, it happened last Friday.”
Judy looked into her cup. “That’s awful.”
“Here’s the messed up part. She had her sister smother her with a pillow.”
“What about the prescribed cocktail? I thought they had to use that.”
Her father shook his head, “Nope. They changed things in the law a few weeks ago, not that you’d notice something like that, you out there protecting and serving. You now can choose your exit strategy. Apparently she had this frilly velvet pillow since she was a little girl. Her grandmother or somebody gave it to her. Sentimental value. Anyway Dorothy didn’t want to just go to sleep so she asked her sister to use that pillow on her. Said she wanted to feel life, the struggle at the end.”
“Phhht…what’re you going to do? Even though I disagreed with her decision I admire her brass, telling the government to go spin with their preferred, sanitized methods. Prescribed cocktail my ass. Fuckers. More people choose their own way of checking out maybe they’d repeal the law. Yeah. Make it real messy so you and your kind be running around making sure it wasn’t a crime.”
They sat for a while longer after that. Judy talked about some of the arrests she made on a few cases and tried to recap the previous night’s game for him. Even though she knew her father never, ever missed baseball she told him anyway to fill up the time. He nodded along and drank his coffee, swallowing a few silver pills from a dispenser in his shirt pocket as they talked. After a while Judy checked the time stamp on the far wall’s media strip and jerked a thumb toward the door. She stood.
“Well, I’ll stop by next week, see how you’re getting along, okay?”
“Maybe we can go out for Cuban food. How’s that sound? Hit Havana Cabana for some ropa vieja? Haven’t done that for a while.”
As she tucked in her chair her father pawed her wrist. She was genuinely startled by his sudden physical touch.
“Listen,” her father whispered gravely, watery eyes rolling up to her, “I know I’m a burden, but so were you. So were all of you. Your brothers, you. It was a bad idea having kids that late in life, but your mother….”
Judy looked down at her father’s aged and disease ravaged face. She patted the papery skin of his hand. A very small part of her wanted to believe this was his attempt at expressing affection, but Judy knew that was a lie. It was too late for that.
“Pops…you did the best you could. By all of us.”
Her father released his grip and looked away with a weakened huff.
“Go to your stupid party.”
Outside the rain had grown heavier, if that was even possible. Judy was soaked to the skin by the time she trotted back to her government issued cruiser.
Before she unlocked the door an icy surge slipped in her gut and her stomach rose up in her throat. Judy bent over and vomited up all the coffee, a stinging wash of hot bile between her feet.
After a minute of coughing she wiped her mouth, composed herself, and looked around. The cameras on this block were down. She knew that. She’d checked, but a casual witness to her distress could be more complex.
The street was vacant. The rain.
Inside the cruiser the onboard computers reminded Judy once again to advise dispatch of her location and final destination even though she was off the clock. She typed in the coordinates, reapplied some lipstick, and swung out into the street. Three blocks later she found the flow of traffic.
Incoming data screens flashed as she drove through the rain. Looked like carnage in all sectors. No shortage of work, but that was for later. Much later. For tomorrow. Now she was looking forward to a drink. Maybe a dozen. Getting laid, if that was at all possible, forget all this in a blur of oblivion.
On the passenger seat she moved some papers and carefully plucked up the 10cc syringe she used to poison her father’s orange. Judy Ramirez flicked it out the window into a chugging storm drain as she hit the freeway onramp, racing toward whatever was next.
Kieran Shea blogs at Black Irish Blarney.