Toenail Moon in a Ten Cent Town

Driving home tonight the moon hung just above the road, a huge sliver in the sky, a “toenail moon” as one of my boys used to call it. It is silvery-white and hangs so low in the sky I almost believe I could reach out and touch it.

I made it through an hour and a half of clogging practice this week and only thought of Dad a few times. Tomorrow it will have been one month. It all seems so long ago…How could this only be one month and not a year or a decade?

Cookie held my hand when I went to see her today. We sat in her room, her in her wheelchair; me perched on the side of her narrow hospital bed. Her hands and legs are full of bruises. They say it’s the medication she’s on. But today she kept rubbing her leg, just above her knee.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know. It was just so unnecessary.”

“What, Cookie? What was unnecessary? Did you hurt your leg?”

She nods, frowning. “Yes, I guess I’m a sissy,” she said and smiled.

“You’re not a sissy. You’re one of the bravest women I…”

“Well, it was just so unnecessary,” she says, interrupting.

“How did it happen?”

Cookie’s face clouds and she shakes her head. “They say it’s my…What that word? I can’t think…I don’t know.” She is frustrated. “This is so unnecessary!”

I would do anything to give her back her mind. I grasp for words, a thesaurus of possibilities. “Birthday?” She shakes her head no. “Anniversary?”

I’ve found the word. She nods. “I say it doesn’t matter. I don’t care if it’s my…What was that word?”

I’m wondering, who would tell her it’s her anniversary with her husband long dead? I can’t remember, is it her birthday? There wasn’t a Happy Birthday sign on her door.

“This is all so unnecessary!”

But it isn’t really. It is very necessary. I can’t tell her this though. Cookie has reached the place where she can no longer hear my complete sentences. She barely retains phrases.

“So, what do you…” her voice trails off as she forgets the question.

“Know?” I supply. “Oh, nothing. It’s cold…”

Cookie is rubbing her knee again, not listening. That is when I notice her hearing aid is missing from her ear. I check the box on the dresser. It isn’t there. An aide comes in and I ask if she knows what’s happened to it, but she’s new.

“It’s been a long time,” she tells me seriously.

The girl hasn’t been working at the place more than a week. How the hell would she know? I think she is just giving me whatever answer she thinks will make me give up and go away, believing that she is doing her job and caring about her patient.


Cookie’s nurse is tired too. When I tell her Cookie’s knee hurts and is swollen she gives me a vague look, like she’s surprised I think she should do something about it. When I ask about the hearing aide she frowns and says, “I think it’s been missing at least three weeks. Her daughter says she doesn’t know where Cookie lost it.”

Given that Cookie can’t retain a sentence- I am not surprised to hear this- only sad.

“Maybe that’s why she’s been more confused lately,” I suggest. “She can’t hear us.”

The nurse nods, measuring out meds for another patient and only half listening. “Yeah, when I get right up next to her, she answers me,” she says.

I realize then that no one thinks it would be a good idea to replace Cookie’s missing hearing aide. No one seems to think hearing will be of any benefit to someone who is losing their memory and their mind.

I take the elevator to the second floor where sweet Hilda gives me a hand-crocheted Jack O’Lantern pin. They are doing something to her bladder with electrodes, she explains, pointing to a small black box. “I keep peeing in the bed, so they’re trying to train my bladder to hold it.”

I look at the box, the squares of sealed-up electrodes and realize she’s serious. I feel like I’ve slipped into Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory. You can train bladders not to pee?

I roll my eyes at Hilda. “So, you’re telling me if your bladder’s bad, they’ll zap it and say ‘Bad bladder! Bad! Bad!’ until it gets the message?”

Hilda chuckles and rolls her eyes back at me. “They don’t know what in the hell they’re doing!”

I wonder if she knows how true that is. Hilda’s pretty with it. She probably knows exactly what’s going on.

By the time I reach the second nursing home I am almost too tired to get out of the car. I have made the mistake of listening to “Running With Scissors” while I drive. Dysfunction is everywhere. Nursing homes are little better than insane asylums, I think. I wonder if I do anybody any good or whether I’m just fooling myself.

And then I get a grip and instruct myself to stop feeling sorry for myself.

I walk up the long, walkway carrying my heavy, black backpack. Wayland is sitting by the door in his wheelchair. He’s a chunky black man wearing a ski hat and bug-eye dark glasses. He sees me, breaks out in a big grin and says, “Hey baby!”

I rub his shoulder. He’s eating a piece of pound cake and clutching a Pepsi can. As I walk past he calls after me, “I love you!”

“Back at ya, Big Man,” I say. I walk into the dining room where the activity director and, I kid you not, the director of the local funeral home, are divvying up cake and serving it to the residents.

The funeral director sponsors the monthly birthday party. He comes with his wife, wearing his unctuous smile, pretending to dance with residents in wheelchairs. He treats them like stupid babies and all I can think when I see him is that he’s trolling for future clients. Over time, you learn to ignore him. The residents do. The activity director does and now, so do I.

But my buddies greet me like a long lost daughter. Toni cuts cake and gives me grief for not getting there sooner. Little old ladies hug me and one dirty old man makes a smooching gesture and winks.

I know they don’t pay me enough to make the mortgage here and the paperwork is horrendous, but the love…Well, even on a flat-broke, dead-dog-tired Thursday, their love slices through my fatigue. It hangs out there in front of me, forcing me to pay attention to its beauty. Their love is as big as the toenail moon that lit up my drive home tonight and it is every bit as glorious.

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