The Sopranos was on last night. Three episodes followed by a spy movie. It featured some young detective, who managed to figure out every problem put before her and have a witty response to everything. What a stupid idea. These damn shows and movies are why we have so much paranoia and speculation in the world. I am so glad I can overcome all this phoniness and see the world beyond my computer for what it really is.
* * * * *
1) Five medium sized potatoes
2) Unsalted Land o’ Lakes butter
3) Two Febreeze bottles (meadow & rain scented)
4) One head of iceberg lettuce
5) Dental floss and tape
6) Three small bottles of bleach
7) Two cartons of white jumbo eggs (non-organic)
And that’s just one stop on my weekly run for my elderly neighbors in apartment 8A.
Just in case you are arithmetically challenged, that’s twenty-four eggs, more than any one person could possibly eat in seven days. Now, let’s assume for a moment that she and her husband just really like scrambled eggs. That’s still about six meals of the same bland dish each week for her and her husband. Of course, this is assuming that their nurses use two eggs per person like rational people. For all I know, they could use one or as many as three. Who knows? The mere thought of eating so many eggs makes me want to throw up.
I’ve seen her fridge too. Three unopened gray cartons of twelve non-organic white jumbo eggs are stacked neatly in the back of the top shelf. Two weeks ago, the nurses began to complain about a horrible, lingering smell. The stench sunk into their clothes and occupied every corner and nook so that each time I’d breathe in, it would be there, waiting. The nurses had me throw out two older cartons. Only five of the eggs had been used.
“Non-organic.” They’re always non-organic. When I first got this job, it seemed like an unnecessary detail. On my first night, one of her nurses and caretakers told me that Estelle doesn’t like to buy organic items. At first I thought it was because they cost more. That’s reasonable, right? But why spend any money at all on eggs when they are left to rot in the back of the fridge?
I’ve tried to work out every possible reason for why someone- anyone- would want so many white jumbo non-organic eggs. She can’t be using them to make her cupcakes that are “just to die for” because she’s confined to her bed. She can’t be saving them for Halloween pranks because December’s just passed. Besides, I highly doubt she had the strength to throw them out her window. Then again, I’ve never seen her so I really wouldn’t know the extent of her strength. The nurses can’t be taking the sixty jumbo white, non-organic eggs soon to be on the top shelf for themselves. They wouldn’t left more than just five empty styrofoam cradles.
No, I have to go beyond all reason to explain the eggs. No one in their right mind would buy so many without a clear purpose. Maybe that’s it. She isn’t in her right mind. Am I working for an insane person? I would like to think the nurses would have warned me before hiring me if that were the case. Estelle Goldberg must be sane, but she musn’t be herself. Perhaps “Estelle Goldberg”, my unseen employer, is just a cover identity for a secret agent like in all the spy movies and shows that play late at night. Maybe she’s a long term operative on surveillance. The nurses are probably guards to protect her from discovery. The agent has to appear to be a normal citizen so she poses as an old, bedridden lady, which keeps her from having to leave her house to show her face. Could there be a better disguise? For appearance’s sake, she has to make seemingly ordinary purchases like two cartons of white jumbo eggs (non-organic) and medium-sized potatoes. Her room must be filled with top-secret papers and high-gear tech or whatever the hell it’s called. That’s why I’ve never been allowed past the living room. Even old Lou, her hunched over “husband,” must be a part of the ruse. I bet he was hired to play the role of a caring spouse. No, he would have squealed by now. He must be a retired operative brought in for one last job by a boss with a gravelly voice a perfectly tailored gray suit.
And they thought they had such a clever cover story.
My hands are shivering from standing in front of the refrigerated section for too long. I place the gray styrofoam boxes into my cart and move on down the aisle.
8) One medium cantaloupe
My cart is heavy. It rattles against the gray and blue tiled floor. This cantaloupe is much heavier than the many others I buy each Friday. I’ll have to rearrange its position when I add the other groceries.
I bet the agent living under her name is like a ninja just like in the old kung-fu movies. She is probably really young and wears black leather when she fights with her guns and what-not. I bet she’s got black hair and dark eyes that make her look more dangerous to her enemies. She probably strikes fear in the hearts of men.
9) Chicken breast between .5 and 1 pounds
“Swipe and sign.” The person this plastic card is made for doesn’t exist. Estelle Goldberg is just a name- a ghost of a person. “Have a nice night.”
* * * * *
1) Add one inch of silver chain to the opal earrings
2) Add gold lobster clasp to purple necklace
The description provided by my shopping list doesn’t seem to capture the true qualities of this jewelry. It is seriously old lady gear complete with clunky gems and all. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not the cheap stuff that can be bought in any old dollar store. This is some jewelry fit for a fancy dress party of a past decade.
What possible use could a bedridden lady have for all this jewelry she gets repaired each and every week? She won’t be going out any time soon and she doesn’t get any visitors from outside her agency.
Maybe it’s just another part of the cover story. After all, what old lady would be complete without some bulky jewelry? No, that’s superfluous. Spies don’t get such detailed identities in the shows. Besides, I don’t think even the richest of agents have the money for these indulgences. A logical explanation would be children to pass the pieces down to, but Lou and the nurses claim they have none.
Well, that throws the spy theory out the window. Who else could possibly need a cover story? I swear I’ve seen shows with other situations like this.
Perhaps they’re hiding their identities from a gang or the Mafia. Maybe they saw something happen many years ago and are now being protected by the government. That would be nurses, then. They must be hired witness protection agents. That would explain why they are so bad at making anything other than scrambled eggs and fruit salads, mainly centered around cantaloupe.
According to what old “Lou” told me on my first day, he used to be a professor at the University of Chicago. That city is known for it’s high crime rates, right? I bet there are tons of mob-related crimes happening every day over there. It’s probably a part of daily life for the city’s people.
“I’m sorry. I think she means she wants the silver chain to be attached at the top notch there”
“That’s gonna cost much more.”
I’ve seen it plenty of times in the movies and on TV late at night while pulling an all-nighter studying. Some poor, innocent bystander witnesses a horrible deed like murder committed by a group of fat, old men in sweatpants and is then put under the protection of the government until the culprits can be put on trial. That would make sense of all the rest. Even the sixty white non-organic eggs stacked on the top shelf and the ridiculously clunky grandma necklace.
3) Pick up the blue necklace, red ring, and pair of earrings from last week.
“Is next Friday alright for pickup?” the man behind the glass asks as he tucks away the jewelry in a white envelope covered in scribbled numbers. His stupidity amazes me. I only ever come to his shops on Fridays. Why would he expect anything else?
I hand him back the receipt with “Estelle Goldberg” crudely scratched in cursive at the bottom. The ‘s’ isn't in cursive. To this day, I haven’t been able to make a carbon copy of her signature. Even in this new scenario, that isn’t her name. I stuff the ticket in my pocket and continue out into the cold.
My breath appears before me as I walk and my cart rattles behind me. Every so often, it jumps up and hits my ankle. The pain snaps me out of my daydream temporarily but I’m soon pulled back. In all the shows I’ve seen, the mobs never forgive and never forget. They kill everyone even associated with the crime. I’m sure to die. Perhaps the nurses- or whatever they are- are also protecting me. That would be why they chose to hire someone from the same building as their witnesses. If -no, when- the mob comes to take care of the loose ends, I highly doubt these agents will be able to keep me safe. I’ll have to change my name. Maybe they’ll fake my death. That’s going to upset my parents. They won’t even get a body to bury. It’s going to be such a hassle when the case ends and I have to explain all this to my parents.
The red cart jumps off the sidewalk again and hits my angle. I trip and let loose a little laugh. What a stupid little dream.
* * * * *
1) Pick up Goldberg and Tepper prescription medication
2) Five bottles of eye drops
3) Three large clear Purell bottles with pumps like hand soap bottles
I can understand the final two. Even those hiding from the mob have their basic hygienic needs. It’s the first one that gets me. We live in a world where no one trusts anyone. I find it all amazingly dumb. I don’t believe in making assumptions or prying, but that’s not the point. Why would these people, who clearly want to keep their identities hidden, trust me to retrieve their medication in an age of teenage drug abuse?
I utter two short names and the man behind the counter gives me three bags of prescription medication without a second thought. He demands no explanation or form of identification. I just stroll in and leave with three small, orange containers of tiny, white pills. Half the time, I’m refilling medication I got them not a week before. That just doesn’t seem right to me. Who can be so sick that they’d need so many pills? No one. So we’re back to Estelle not even existing- at least not anymore. The girl they employed before me said she only had to go to the pharmacy for medication once a month and she got to meet the lady of the house. So, I figure Estelle must have died just before the old girl was replaced by me. Lou and the nurses have to be keeping her body in her bedroom and pretending she’s still alive so they can get what he wants with her money. Lou must have done it and the nurses must have joined in for the drugs. Maybe it was an overdose at the hand of the drugs meant to preserve her. Or perhaps they used her pillows to smother her. Either way, she must be dead. It’s the only way to explain it all. Lou and the nurses must be keeping up appearances by purchasing the usual items. That’s why only five of the many white jumbo non-organic eggs on the top shelf had been eaten. Lou must not be a fan of scrambled eggs. They even keep the air conditioner on high and a large supply of Febreeze in the closet to preserve the body and hide the smell of rotten flesh. I bet she’s just lying there, gray face and all, on her bed.
The cash register dings and I am brought out of my reverie. The pharmacy is run by a kind Indian family that I’ve known all my life. It’s such a shame they’ve been dragged into all of this. They’ll lose what few customers they have.
“Sign here.” A pen is in my hand and a receipt rests on the counter in front of me. I know the name, but how can I sign for a dead woman? how can i participate in this conspiracy? What will become of me when the police find out? I sign and continue back to the apartment. It’s been two hours since I set off. I’m certainly going to be pain well tonight.
To the naked eye, their house looks the same as it did when I left, but I can see the key differences illuminated by the truth. The stacked newspapers cast sharper shadows than usual and the lighting makes the small room look like a scary fun house from a poorly coordinated carnival. Past the cramped kitchen and the living room, Estelle Goldberg’s corpse ress. This night’s nurse and Lou sit side by side eating cantaloupe on the couch. He smiles and I manage a wave.
* * * * *
Tonight’s homework assignments lie in my lap but the words and numbers mean nothing to me. Just two stories beneath me, a dead woman rests and the criminals go unpunished. I can see it now. Her skin has sunken between her bones, creating hollow pockets or flesh. Her face is worn and wrinkled. The lines marking her age are even darker than the blue bags beneath her eyes. Her hair is thin and gray. Her scalp is clearly visible from the small but many bald spots. The silver strands of hair cling to her sullen cheeks like she must’ve clung to life when she was so brutally murdered. She appears peaceful but if the dead could talk, she’d scream.
It is now eleven at night and I have accomplished nothing. My parents sleep down the hall but I can’t close my eyes for more than a minute. My bedroom floor is cold when I stand up. I find my winter coat and slippers among the items strewn across my floor and make my way silently to the fire escape. The metal railings sting my palms as I descend. It’s a lucky coincidence we live in the same line of apartments. If I couldn’t see the apartment for myself I’d almost certainly go insane. The black structure is indistinguishable from the night. I have only the distant building lights to guide me. A wind rushes past and I freeze. A few snowflakes sting my face. I look up for more, but they were just left overs from the previous flurries. The chill digs into my bones like needle-thin icicles chasing away every trace of warmth. Two stories down and I am at their window. It’s nearly frosted over and the glass fogs with my heavy breathing. I’m looking into the living room but the door to the bedroom is open and I can see clearly. Estelle lies still on the bed. She’s dead. I was right. Tonight’s nurse, Kathy, walks past with a plate. She sits beside the body. The corpse- no, Estelle- turns her head and eats a single bite of scrambled eggs before taking a handful of multicolored pills. Around her neck hangs a clunky purple bead necklace just like the ones all those sweet old grandmas on TV have.
This can’t be right.