Jan Allen

What Would Judas I. Do?

Dr. Ward’s nurse shepherds Laurie into an exam room. Unnoticed, I follow behind. Laurie and I sit down, and after the nurse takes Laurie’s blood pressure, she hands her a clipboard with a sheet of paper, a pen dangling on a string. 

The nurse instructs: “Draw a clock and make the time show 11:10.”

When the two of us are alone, Laurie says, “I don’t care what time it is. Or what year it is. Do you, Debbie?”

In situations like these, Laurie doesn’t respond like this because she thinks what she’s being asked to do is stupid. She’s trying to cover for the fact that she doesn’t remember how to do what she is being directed to do, (although I suppose she could also think it’s stupid).  

“What year is this, Laurie?” I ask her.

Laurie drops her eyes to the clipboard on her lap, picks up the pen. She doesn’t answer my question, never will answer my question. 

For a full minute Laurie does nothing, just holds the pen an inch above the paper. Is she thinking ahead about where to position the hands? Is she baffled by the simple drawing of a circle? Has she already forgotten what she’s been instructed to do?

Laurie is 18 years older than me, but we’ve been best friends for the past 30 years. I clamp my mouth shut, place my hands under my thighs. I have to physically stop myself from helping her. 

It’s not lost on me that in the not-distant-enough future my daughter might ask me what year it is, and no matter how hard I focus, I might not be able to answer her. I don’t know what terrifies me more—forgetting what year it is or putting my daughter in the situation I am in today. 

It takes Laurie ten minutes or so, but she does it. The two hands are of equal size, but one points at where 11 would be, the other at 2. I remember the same test last year. She’d done it faster, and she’d drawn in all the numbers on the clock, but one hand had pointed to 10, the other to 11—10:55, not 11:10. 

Could she be improving? 

When Dr. Ward enters, he acknowledges Laurie, his patient for the past ten years, by making eye contact with a framed diploma a foot over Laurie’s head and smiling with closed lips. This acknowledgment lasts as long as it takes me to cross my legs. He plops down on his wheeled stool, rolls it up to his computer, and for the rest of our visit stares at the screen like it’s streaming the latest episode of The Simpsons or The Crown. He seems more like a Crown person. 

We are here for Laurie’s yearly physical exam, but also because the admissions lady at All Saints Nursing Center insists on a History & Physical from Laurie’s primary care physician. I want Dr. Ward to say Laurie can no longer live on her own, that she needs to be admitted to a place with 24-hour care. I want my dear friend to be safe. 

I pull a small notebook from my purse, paraphrase from the bulleted notes I’ve written:

  • Laurie’s not a good driver. She goes 10 miles per hour in a 45. Also, she’s confessed to me that she gets lost on roads less than two miles from the apartment she’s lived in for 35 years. Her Civic looks like what a bumper car at an amusement park would look like if it didn’t have bumpers. 
  • She’s not paying her bills.
  • She’s not taking her pills. If Laurie fills a prescription, she’ll quickly stop taking it because of a dry mouth or drooling, a dry mouth and drooling; constipation or diarrhea, constipation and diarrhea; not sleeping a wink since starting it and having nightmares since starting it; oh! and fatigue (isn’t everybody over 60 exhausted, from too many hours spent tossing and turning in the dark?). 
  • She’s not keeping track of her cash.
  • She’s not taking out her trash. There’s not much, to be honest, because Laurie has difficulty parting with things.
  • She’s not washing her hair, or her clothes, or her dishes. There are no dishes to wash because . . .  

She’s not eating is written in my notebook, but I can’t say it. By now I’m sure I feel worse than Judas Iscariot did, because he at least got 30 pieces of silver. Besides, the nurse had recorded Laurie’s weight at 86 when we first arrived, seven pounds down from our visit last year. “Not eating” is obvious. 

Laurie has no family left. She never married. Probably Laurie doesn’t remember this, but decades ago she asked me to take Power of Attorney. 

I’ve thought about moving her in with me, but that would change everything in my life. Absolutely. Every. Last. Thing. I can’t do it. 

While Dr. Ward taps on his keyboard, Laurie complains about those newfangled “roustabouts” at intersections . . . and maybe other things. He’d stopped listening to her nine years ago, and I stop after the roundabout spiel. He lets her ramble for five minutes, then cuts her off.

He fills out the History & Physical. I was hoping he would do something that would take the decision out of my hands. At the end of our visit, he pats Laurie on her shoulder, which is more of a push out of the room, and he says to her, “I think you should consider doing what your friend wants you to do. I’ve heard this Saints place is the best nursing home in the city.” 

Laurie plods along beside me out the door like a worn-out dog that doesn’t need a leash, just like she did when we toured the assisted living facility.

As Dr. Ward said, All Saints has a great reputation, and old people from near and far are vying to get in. Well, not the old people themselves—certainly not Laurie—but definitely their families. The nuns at All Saints have chosen Laurie over 10 other applicants. She charmed them all when I dragged her there for the tour and the interview, the same way she’s charmed everybody her whole life, with her rambling funny reflections and her double-dimple smile. (Perhaps nuns are more susceptible to devilish grins.)

Now, when we get in my car, all she says is, “Can we stop at Jack’s for lunch?” 


She’ll take one bite out of a burger, and that will be the end of that. 

I have no idea if Laurie knows what I’m up to. If she does, she thinks I’m wasting my time. She thinks she’s the one who gets to decide where she lives out the rest of her life. I don’t understand all the legalities with this POA, but I think she’s wrong. 

After I drop Laurie off at her apartment today, I’ll be heading back to All Saints. If I’m allowed, I’ll sign the admission papers. If social workers must decide, one visit with Laurie and I’m sure they’ll agree with me. They’ll see she’s too skinny, all the food I’ve taken there is spoiled in her refrigerator, her place is piled to the ceiling with junk, her car looks like it’s been pelted with softball-size hail. They’ll ask her a simple one-word-answer question like “What was your mother’s maiden name?” and she’ll turn it into a 25-minute convoluted monologue that may or may not include “Baughman.” These observations will most likely lead them to conclude that Laurie is not able to care for herself, and thus they will insist upon admission to All Saints.

But the thing is that for as long as I’ve known Laurie, she’s always paid high insurance rates, then driven—too slowly—like the streets are one big Dodgem ride at Coney Island. She’s always been a hoarder. She’s always offered her friends rambling speeches, which most of the time included “What was I talking about again?” And she’s never weighed more than 104. 

As I lie awake in bed, I ask myself if I’m doing the right thing. In a dining room with chandeliers and ivory tablecloths, she will be served three meals a day, but I don’t know if she will eat them. She will be around the staff and other residents, and Laurie loves to talk, but I don’t know for sure that she’ll interact with anyone. I will be responsible for removing her from the place where she’s felt secure for the last 35 years. When will I be able to sleep again?

Jan Allen’s short stories have appeared in Every Day Fiction, The MacGuffin and fellow-writer-voted Sixfold.