I wake up the next morning at my usual time, before dawn, naturally. Sheila groans and rolls over as I climb out of bed. I walk to the shower and turn the water on lukewarm. I can’t shake the dream about him from last night. His presence, placement, unavailability, all conspire against me, even in my sleep. The running water doesn’t help clear my thoughts either, like it usually does. When I’m done, I put on some shorts and head into the kitchen, grabbing some pre-made parfaits and some cookies. A simple breakfast for a simple day, although the frozen fruits aren’t quite as good as fresh ones, peaches are out of season while apples, though always available, are a pain. The blinds are open and the neighbor is outside, smoking a cigarette and texting, again. I wave, and he puts out his cigarette and goes back inside. I smile, finish breakfast, clean up, and put on my work clothes. Sheila has gone back to sleep. She hates being left here all day, but I won’t give her a key and she refuses to get up when I do.
By the time I get to work my coworker has already bathed Jason. I look over the log of what’s been done and am thankful to find an easy day ahead of me. Jason isn’t quite old, 64, but an accident a while back left him too disabled to care for himself. The family doesn’t want to do any of the dirty work, so they hire caregivers. It pays well and Jason is easy to care for. His mind is still sharp enough to engage the people around him, which make dealing with the physicality of the job easier. Considering the heat today though, it’s likely I’ll have to give him another bath before the end of my shift.
“Good morning, Jason. How’d you sleep?” I turn on the TV and set it to the Science channel. He claims it keeps his mind sharp, though before long we’ll be doing crosswords, which is probably better for him.
“Well enough. This heat makes it hard to sleep, I end up sweating most of the night through… assuming I don’t piddle on the sheets. How was your night?”
“Alright. Strange dreams though. One-track mind recently.”
“Still dating that Sheila girl?” His eyebrow is arched, and the corners of his mouth have pulled gently downwards, which almost gets lost in the wrinkles of his jowls. Behind his brown eyes I can see the lecture formulating. I smile.
“Yes, actually. She’s at home right now.”
“Have you given her a key?” His expression doesn’t change.
“No, of course not.”
Jason’s sigh whistles from between his gum and his dentures. I pull back the disgust that comes up without my consent. Just part of the job.
“Listen, I like you well enough, but you’re practically keeping her in a cage by actin’ like this. You know she doesn’t like being stuck at your place. How do you know she don’t got things to do with her day? Did you even ask last night? It’s not a fit way to treat a lady, and in my day, you would’ve been beaten for it already by the other menfolk in her life. If she’s gonna stay with you as much as she does, you gotta give her a key.”
I nod, frowning. “I’m not ready for that yet. I need to be in control of my space; I hate coming home to, ‘Surprise, came over without telling you.’”
His eyes go wide and the cord for his oxygen tank jumps a little bit from a muscle spasm in his back. “What, you don’t trust her? Then why you dating her? You already talk to her all the time on those gadgets you youngsters call phones.” Before I can answer, his jowls shake as his chest convulses, the corners of his mouth lost as the folds of his cheek cover them up. Spittle makes its ways to the edges of his mouth; I wipe it off, trying not to think about it. “I get it. Nevermind then, sometimes I forget how young you are.” When he’s calmed down a little bit, he continues. “Listen, someday soon though, you gotta start thinking about forever. You won’t stay young, and you’re already startin’ to get past your prime.”
My chest puffs up reflexively and I get up to go get the paper. Jason calls after me. “Damn it boy, I can’t believe your ego is still that sensitive at your age. Leave the paper. Go do whatever while I watch TV. I won’t have you sulkin’ around bein’ all offended.” He stares me down from the corner of his eyes; my chest puffs up more and I step onto his balcony and start planning the rest of my day on my tablet and generally ignoring him. I know he’ll call if he needs me.