by T James Lapointe
Rose has crooked teeth like bent nails covered in engine grease. She’s got a terribly hunched back and a laugh that makes you feel like nothing’s wrong anywhere. She isn’t slow in the way people often think she is— which is why I’m so glad I stopped that first time, remembering to be kind and to give her a little airtime.
“6 feet!” she always shouts as she sees me coming. Her six more like sixteen. “ I still do the ‘6 feet’, Sam, even though I got both my needles” she says, sheepishly gazing down at her ruined boots like the little girl she once was.
The first time she yelled ‘6 feet’ at me, I yelled back: “hey, me too!” Tossing a thumbs up, even though it’s not entirely true now that both shots are in me. ‘6 feet’ is probably still wise, but I miss looking into people’s eyes. Speaking of eyes, I can see how scared Rose is, and it breaks my heart. Not only that she’s living in such fear, but that she feels embarrassed by it. Of course, I can understand the fear, but the embarrassment makes me want to grab onto her. Give her a big hug. Tell her everything’s going to be alright, even if it’s a lie.
“All my friends are dead eh, Sam?”
“Really, Rose? I am so sorry to hear that.
“See, I’m the only one who didn’t live in that god awful Country Haven. I always told my sons if they put me in there, I would never forgive them. I’ve lived in my apartment for 53 years and I refuse to leave.”
“Yep, home is where the heart is, Rose.”
“Yea, well, Diane, Don, Francesca, Lonnie, Vin… I could go on. They all died in there, Sam. And they were the best. I went to grade school with all of them, eh?”
The Briar Mills Country Haven lost over 50 residents in the first months of COVID. As Rose mentioned, all her friends are gone. The Conservatives, desperate to remain in power, keep tossing band aid solutions but the indelible scars are here to stay. I often say to my wife, profit over people should be their campaign slogan. Although the Premier’s brilliant “open for business” somehow works too. Especially when you consider just how many new beds have been freed up for new customers since the pandemic took hold. Death is good for business.
Our farmhouse backs right onto the property of the Country Haven old age home, where they’re desperately working away on an expansion; one that should allow for enough room for Rose’s ‘6 feet’ should the 5th wave of COVID hit. It’s an abysmal situation if you stop and take a hard look at it, but very few do. No matter how much granite they pound from the ground, how many brand new double paned windows, fresh cinder walls, medically poignant white paint ‑ Country Haven will be haunted by ghosts for decades to come.
“My friends, they all died eh, Sam? And nobody seems to know about it. And you know if they do know… You know, like, about all the death, they don’t seem to care much.”
“ I care, Rose. Really, I do.”
“Yea, well that’s why I like you buddy. You’re the only guy in town who stops and talks to me. Everyone else just looks the other way, like I’m an old freak or somethin”.
“Ah, Rose, people are just people. They don’t look away. They’re all just too caught up in their own hells. Everyone’s in some relative degree of hell right now, you see…”
“I’m not in hell, Sam!” She spits from just far enough away.
“Nope, I got my new T.V. comin this week in the mail, and wanna know what, Sam?
“What’s that, Rose?”
“It’s one of those big, huge flat ones that looks like a pretty window.”
She delights with an earnest smile.
“Oh, well I stand corrected then. Sounds like you’re making the best of things after all. And good on ya, Rose. So, what are you planning on watching through the big pretty window when it arrives?
“Well, obviously, NASCAR.
“NASCAR?” I ask.
Yea! I just love watching when they crash and flip over like a hundred times, ha ha ha! Sometimes the cars even catch on fire! Oh, Sam it’s glorious. And you know, I love how loud it is too— like dark, beautiful thunder. It’s the only show that drowns out the construction noise across the street, eh?
Whenever I hear the jackhammers goin, it just makes me wanna cry. You know, for my friends who died. It’s like they’re poundin and smashin away on top their damned heads! Dancin on their graves! Fuckin bastards. Anyway, Sam, the big pretty window. It’s all I’ve got left. And you! I have you too, Sam. At least when we run into each other, eh?
“Absolutely, Rose. When we run into each other, you’ll always have me. That’s a promise.”
“Okay, well thanks a lot buddy. I gotta go.”
Rose starts humming a whimsey, little tune as she walks off toward home. She seems okay today, and it makes me feel good. Like there’s hope. For all of us.
“Hey Rose?!” I yell after her.
“What’s the name of that show again?!”
“It’s called NASCAR, Sam!”
NAAASSSCAR, it’s fuckin awesome!”