A feverish Chicago summer ebbed into autumn. No telltale falling leaves signaled the change of seasons on this block of concrete walkways surrounding the massive twenty-story apartment building. I yanked open the heavy door. Inside the foyer, through the grimy glass doors, I noticed Margaret parking Josie, in her wheelchair, in front of the elevator. When Margaret saw me, she ran to unlock the door before I got a chance to grab the key from my purse. Had she been waiting for me? My neck muscles tightened.
“Top of the morning to you,” Margaret sang out in her Irish brogue, exposing black and broken teeth. Her face was impassive in spite of her hearty welcome. My eyes skimmed over her quickly. She was empty handed and the pockets in her cardigan sweater, and in the cotton dress it covered, weren’t bulging. She sometimes stashed the ice pick under Josie’s lap blanket. Margaret chose not to come to the clinic for health care so I didn’t know what medication she was taking to control her paranoid schizophrenic personality, or if she took medication at all. Her aggressive outbursts occurred randomly. I had heard secondhand stories where she had brandished the ice pick. So far as I knew, she hadn’t hurt anyone. I kept my guard up with Margaret and worried about Josie.
When she came from Ireland ten years ago, Margaret was much younger than sixty, the cut off age to live in this senior building. So she petitioned the Chicago Housing Authority to allow her to live with her aunt. Margaret’s attention had kept Josie out of a nursing home.
Up to a month ago, Margaret literally pulled Josie behind her as she rushed around going nowhere. When Josie became unsteady on her feet, Margaret put her in the wheelchair and bundled her up as if to fend off an infiltrating enemy.
“How are you doing today?” I said to Josie’s pixy face as she peeked from the blanket shroud. She blinked. My neck muscles relaxed. I fantasized Margaret would push Josie around in her wheelchair after Josie was dead and none of us would catch on until Josie started to stink.
Something had to disturb Margaret more than usual for her to wait for me this early in the morning. “Josie won’t eat.” Margaret said abruptly to the ceiling, avoiding my eyes. “I put food in her mouth and she spits it out.”
We had been around this topic before. Margaret wanted to believe Josie was just fine, thank you. Any advice I gave could be met with a disagreeable outburst. “You could try to give Josie small feedings and soft food like pudding, ice cream or Jell-O.” I held my breath while Margaret fussed with Josie’s blanket. “You can’t force Josie to eat, if she doesn’t want to,”
“Glory be, she not eating enough to keep her body alive,” Margaret shrieked.
Just then, the elevator doors opened with a loud scraping sound, emitting the usual stench: urine and beer. A reminder that last Friday was the first of the month when social security checks were placed into the mailboxes. Many of the old timers who lived in the building cashed their checks and spent the weekend in an alcoholic stupor.
Margaret changed the focus of her frustration as she pinched her nostrils with her fingers. She yelled in a nasally voice, “It is an insult to the good people in this building that the drunks cavort and carry on so, pissing in public places.” Her demeanor could have been misinterpreted as an attempt at humor, but I knew better.
An elderly man stepped off the elevator and nodded his head in greeting as he maneuvered around Josie’s wheelchair. Margaret whipped the chair about, through the doors that the man graciously held open and both women faded into morning fog. I suspected Margaret would wheel Josie into the clinic later today, asking, again, why Josie wouldn’t eat.
—to be continued.