Patsy Porco


In Humor on December 14, 2011 at 4:58 pm

As I walked through the dining room, I glanced out the window at the house across the street. I groaned inwardly. It had been more than a week since I had visited that house and I was feeling guilty. Two elderly sisters lived there and they craved outside company. The elder sister, Betty, was 92. While she looked every day of her years, her mind was extremely sharp, she still drove herself all over town and beyond, but she was deaf as a hatrack. Her younger sister, Laura, was 87 and her mind was sharp, too, but her body was failing her and she wasn’t often able to walk without assistance. Betty insisted that Laura’s mobility problem was all in her head. She often commented that she, Betty, was in the same shape as Laura was, but that she wasn’t a quitter. She refused to give up her independence so she used a large, black walnut cane to help her get around. Laura just rolled her eyes whenever Betty started on one of her tirades. 

 I knew I should bite the bullet and go over for a visit but just thinking about it exhausted me. While Laura was sweet and soft-spoken, Betty was demanding, loud, abrasive and tyrannical. Laura responded to Betty’s ceaseless commands with passive aggression; when Betty ordered Laura to eat her dinner, Laura would agree that she needed to eat to keep her strength up, and then she would put her plate down on the table next to her recliner and pointedly ignore her food. This would send Betty into hysterics. The more she would order Laura to eat, the more Laura would ignore her. I had been witness to their scenes on many occasions and was always relieved when I managed to escape from their house.

 One time was particularly memorable. Betty was sitting in her chair with the ottoman in front of her. On top of the ottoman was a square of wood. Betty had a solitaire game set up on it when I arrived. The phone was to her right. Laura sat across the room in her dark blue recliner. I tried to include both of them in the conversation, but Betty kept interrupting and monopolizing the conversation. She was on a rant about how Laura was starving herself to death. The conversation in that house was as stagnant as the air; we had been discussing the same subject for the last month. The ringing phone interrupted Betty’s diatribe and she jumped on it. The caller asked for her sister, so Betty barked an order to her sister to pick up the extension by her recliner.

While Betty talked at me loudly, Laura talked to her friend. Betty and Laura were no more than 15 feet apart, but Betty couldn’t hear Laura. So she concentrated on me, complaining about neighbors, the weather and, of course, how uncooperative Laura was being. I nodded when it seemed appropriate since there was no opportunity to interject a comment into Betty’s monologue. Meanwhile, Laura spoke softly into the phone. She knew her sister couldn’t hear her, and it was a good thing. She began by telling her friend that Betty was the nastiest, bossiest, most infuriating person to ever live. She continued in this vein for a good five minutes. By the end of her conversation, she had vowed to do away with her.

The entire time she was speaking, she was calm and smiling. Betty looked over at her sister numerous times to see if she could hear what Laura was saying, but she couldn’t. You couldn’t tell by Laura’s face that she was planning her sister’s death; she looked like a sweet old woman discussing the price of tomatoes. It was really hard to pay attention to Betty when Laura’s conversation was so enthralling. I had to force myself to look away from Laura so that Betty wouldn’t suspect that Laura was talking about her. Eventually Laura hung up and smiled sweetly at us. “What did I miss?” she asked. “Nothing … yet,” I responded, fixing her with a pointed look. Laura smiled beatifically at me in response.

Recalling that episode, I decided I could survive another day of guilt over not visiting them.


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  1. Oh, there’s material for a novel there….

  2. I think so, too! Only I haven’t any idea how to write a novel. Thanks!

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