The Water Bottle
Special note: Names, location, and composite descriptions of people have been changed in this story.
They were friends from way back.
Save me, somebody save me
For a time, my father required us to spend time with her.
Save me, somebody save me
Whenever my father expected us to visit her, he'd play Aretha Franklin's Save Me
Her name was Mamie.
Whenever I hear that song, I think of her and of him and of the one day when I visited her.
I remember it was November when my mother dispatched me to visit Mamie. My father had spent the night on a bender, ending it with what seemed like an endless replay of Aretha Franklin's Save Me. It was early morning when my mother finally put my father to bed and shut the record player. She said to me, "Orval, you know your father wanted to go and see Mamie today. You have to go see her."
"Mom," I said, "that lady scares me, and she doesn't laugh. She cackles."
"Orval, someday you will be old, and when you are old, people will think the same things about you."
And then I thought about Mamie’s laugh. When she laughed she smiled, exposing pearly white dentures, but what came out as laughter sounded like the click-sputtering sound a gas-powered lawn mower makes as it roars to life, you know, those initial clicks and sputters the engine makes when you start it up, just before it roars to life. Only with Mamie, you'd just hear the click-sputtering, and it would go on and on. She had a healthy click-sputter, and the whole of her shook when she laughed.
I pondered my mother's words as I walked in the rain. The wind was blowing and I was not wearing a jacket that adequately shielded me from it. There were times during my walk when the rain seemed to come at me from all sides, in wind-blown gusts.
When I arrived at Mamie’s trailer, her rose garden was still in full bloom, despite the fact that the trees on her property had already shed their leaves and succumbed to winter's sleep. I detested coming to this place. Mamie smelled of urine and her tiny trailer was cramped. She was living in the trailer that had once been intended for her guests. my father called it her guest bungalow.
I would often stand there, recalling my previous visits, amongst the beauties of her rose garden, listening to my father reminisce with her, the front door of her trailer open to the garden, and her cackling, her endless click-sputtering.
I walked up to the trailer door and knocked.
Mamie replied, "who is it?" Her voice had a constipated quality to it. This is hard to describe, except to say it is the voice I have when, in the past, I've been caught on the bathroom toilet by someone banging on the door to be let in and I've replied, "I'm busy," in a voice that sounded strained due to my own real constipation.
Yes. That is exactly the way Mamie always sounded.
I replied, "it's me, Mamie, Ed's son Orval."
I hear click-sputtering.
"Well, come the f%ck in already you little shit!"
She's been drinking. She doesn't speak to me like this when she's sober.
"Okay, Mamie." I open the door and step in.
I'm accosted by the smell of urine and a blast of dry heat. It's hot in here as she has an enormous electric heater on the floor, cranked up to maximum, it's red-hot heating coils stare angrily out at me.
"Sit down, shit head." More cackling.
I reply, "thank you, Mamie. My father is not able to be here today. He isn't feeling well..."
She interrupts me, "bullshit, that f%cker is sauced isn't he?" She jabs at me with her right hand to answer her. I look away.
Oh my God it smells like death in here.
"Alright, then," she says, "you can help me. I haven't been able to get out of this f%cking chair today 'cause I threw out my back. I need my water bottle."
"You need your water bottle?"
"Don't back talk me, you f%ck!"
"Mamie, I don't mean to back-talk you."
"I need you to go to my bathroom. In the bathroom is my water bottle. I need you to fill it up with hot water from the tap and then bring it to me. Can you do that for me?"
She experiences a back spasm in that moment.
As her lips part, I see her dentures dislodge from the roof of her mouth. She's screaming and click-sputtering all at once.
"Yes, Mamie. I'll get it right away."
I can hear her dentures, now loose, clattering inside her mouth.
Quickly, I make my way to her bathroom. The smell of urine is almost unbearable here. I think of opening the window, and then I stop myself from doing it because I'm concerned it'll be too cold for Mamie if that draft reaches the front of the trailer.
And then I see them. There are two rubber bags hanging from the shower curtain rod in her bathroom. One looks rounded, is somewhat deflated, and has an accordion pattern around its circumference. The other bag is more rectangular in shape, also deflated. Both have long rubber tubes attached to them. Both have convenient hooks that allow them to be suspended from the curtain rod.
"I said hurry you little shit! My back is killing me... aaaaahhhhhhh!" she lets out another scream.
My heart is pounding.
Which of these bags is the water bottle?
I grab the rounded bottle with the accordion pattern around it's circumference. I turn on the tap. Fortunately, the water heats quickly and I fill up the bag. As it fills, its rounded shape takes form in the shape of a ball. I detach it and hurriedly make my way to the front of the trailer.
Mamie looks at me, and then she smiles. Her smile turns into a cackle-n-sputter. The cackle-n-sputter turns into a full throated hee-haw, donkey braying laugh.
"That's a f%cking douche pump you f%cking moron! Give me that!"
Shakily, I hand the douche pump to Mamie.
Mamie promptly hits me in the side of the head with it and says, "you're a useless douchebag! Now take this back and get me my water bottle!"
I take the douche pump to her bathroom and toss it into her bathtub.
I feel humiliated.
It doesn't help that she's resumed her click-sputtering laughter. As I fill up the water bottle with hot water, I can hear the clink of glass on glass. She's making herself another cocktail. She has a sidebar conveniently located next to where she is seated.
After filling the water bottle I return to the front of the trailer and extend my right arm out to her with it. She says," don't just stand there, douchebag, put it behind my back."
I put the water bottle on her back.
"No, you stupid shit! Put it all the way down my back, near my ass. You know where your ass is, right, Orval?"
I shift the water bottle down her back.
"Ohhh, that's good. That's really good, Orval. Thank you."
This is the only nice thing she's had to say. I've gotten used to the smell of urine and the extreme dry heat. I don't know what compels me to do it, but I find myself getting up and going to her kitchen. As I've seen my father do so many times before, I wash her dishes and sit them in the drying rack. Then, I go back to her bedroom and start to make her bed. Mamie had soiled the sheets, so, I look for another set of sheets and I make her bed up, fresh.
When I return to the front of the trailer, Mamie is sleeping. She is snoring. I go back to the bedroom and retrieve a small blanket for her. When I get back to her, I tuck the blanket in around her. I take a look around her place and my eyes land on the electric heater. I turn it down to low, pushing it as far away from her as I can. Then I exit the trailer. As I close the door and step away, I've unintentionally roused Mamie. She says, "thanks, douchebag."
Through the door, I answer, "you're welcome, Mamie."
It's still raining and the wind seems to be blowing from every direction as I make my way home. I'm grateful for the rain. It isn't cold anymore. It's just welcoming. The rain and wind feel so good after being in that hot, dry space.
save me, somebody save me
save me, somebody save me