Gaining Visibility(6)

By: Pamela Hearon

Julia wished with all her heart she could get Hettie out of this place and take her home to live. But her own home—the one she and Frank had shared—had too many levels and no full bath downstairs. And Hettie’s house was built before handicap accessibility was even a term. Not a single door was wide enough for a wheelchair to pass through. Realizing that going home was never going to be an option, Hettie had sold all of the big pieces of furniture. The old, stately home with the shady corner lot now sat shuttered and empty.

Julia rarely drove by anymore. The good memories were too overshadowed by the sad.

“Tell you what.” Julia patted Hettie’s hand, trying to conjure enough enthusiasm to raise both their spirits. “It’s a gorgeous day, and the peonies have started to bloom. Whatcha say we go for a walk?”

Hettie’s eyes flashed with appreciation, and she started kicking the covers off using her good leg. “I can’t go strutting my stuff in my gowntail. We’ll have half the men here chasing after me.” She eased her right leg off the edge of the bed and reached over to grab under the knee of her left one.

“Be careful.” Julia took a small step back to give her room but stayed close enough to help.

“Quit hovering,” Hettie snapped, and pointed toward the closet. “Grab my turquoise housedress, will you?”

Julia found the duster that buttoned up the front while her mother-in-law struggled to a sitting position on the side of the bed, panting from the exertion. She didn’t protest when Julia took over the job of getting her out of her nightclothes and fully dressed. They’d moved her from the bed to the wheelchair and back often enough to know what worked and what didn’t.

“Got this down to a science, don’t we?” Hettie gave a loud grunt as she settled into the seat.

Julia lifted her foot and set it on the footrest. “That we do.” She shot her a grin as she unlatched the brake. “Ready?”

“More than you’ll ever know.”

The trip to the front door took a while since everybody they passed wanted to stop and talk. They all knew Julia, treating her as something special because she chose to take care of her mother-in-law when Frank bailed. But, like with the cancer, Julia assured them she deserved no medals when the subject came up, which it rarely did these days.

She loved Hettie as much as she loved her own mother. When her parents were killed while she was in college, her soon-to-be mother-in-law became mom to her in every way except name.

Jim Overby was parked in his usual spot in front of the TV in the lobby. When he saw them coming, he used his good leg to propel his wheelchair toward the front door to intercept them.

“Morning, Hettie. Hi, Julia.”

“Good morning, Jim.”

Jim always spoke to her and Julia always answered, but he seldom looked her way, and when he did, it was merely a quick glance. It was fine to be invisible to Jim. When Hettie was around, the whole world was invisible to Jim. The old man had eyes only for her mother-in-law, and it had been that way since the day Hettie moved in.

“My daughter sent me a new Celtic Woman CD. I’m going to listen to it this afternoon if you’d like to stop by.” The hope in his voice was unmistakable.

Hettie gave a one-shoulder shrug. “We’re going for a walk, but I will if I’m not too tired.”

Jim nodded. “Okay.”

To Julia’s delight, he actually winked at Hettie before he pushed back. She held her giggle until they got outside in the sunshine. “Oh my goodness, Hettie. He was flirting with you.”

“The doofus.” Hettie chuckled. “He got that CD last week, and we’ve listened to it at least five times.”

They had a good laugh together as they made their way into the garden at the side of the building.

“Know what you should do?” Hettie tilted her head back to make eye contact. “Find yourself a man in Italy. A good man.”

Julia rolled her eyes. “I’m going to Italy to hike—not to find a man.”

“Three weeks should give plenty of time for both.” Hettie pointed to where the hummingbirds darted around a feeder in aerial combat. “That damn rubythroat thinks he’s king of the realm. Runs all the rest of them away. Did I ever tell you I fell in love in Italy?”

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