UNITED STATES—His dog on a leash, Davy exits from the room, passing by the two other beds, one empty and the other occupied by a woman in catatonia. In the halls, there’s a man in a wheelchair pushing himself along with his legs.

Before Davy crosses to the gymnasium, cries reach his ears, “Nooo, I’m going to fall. I can’t do that.”

“Look,” says Willow, the therapist, “here’s your son. He’s here to see how well you can do.”

“I want to go back to my bed.” Mom shoots Davy a fierce look, raw and naked. Who knows what is going on in the skull, her hair now matted and combed like a man’s, since she came to this place.

“Davy wants to see you do something.”

“I can’t.”

“You say you can’t, but then you do it,” says Willow. “What are you afraid of?”

“I’m afraid of falling.”

“You aren’t going to fall with the two of us here. We’re going to be holding you.”

“Take-me-back-to-my-room.”

“Eventually.”

“What’s this eventually?” She demands, “Take me to my bed. NOW. Oh god, this is mean.”

“Here, Betty, we’re going to stand you up. Sit still for the belt.”

The second therapist straps a wide rainbow-colored cloth belt rather like a guitarrist’s shoulder strap, but it girdles the old woman’s distended belly. One, two, three: they hoist her to a horizontal bar, which she grips her finger-claws around with a pressure that could crush diamonds.

“Put me down now. You’re hurting me. Davy, how are you letting them do this to me?”

The son says nothing.

“He wants to see you get well,” Willow says.

“This is cruel. Take me back to my bed. NOW.”

“Let’s see if you can move one foot and then the other.”

“I can’t. I can’t move my feet.”

“There you just did it now.”

“I want to go back to bed. When are you taking me back to my bed?”

“Eventually.”

Davy and the therapists chuckle.

“Let me get back down onto my bed. Oh god,” she cries as they seat her into the wheel chair again.”

“Let’s try something else, the bicycle.”

“That’s for children. I can’t do that, I won’t do that.”

“Did you ever here about the little train that could?”

“TAKE ME TO MY BED. No.”

“Mom,” Davy says, “you need to do what they are asking you do. They are giving you two more days to show improvement. If you keep saying no, Medicare is going to stop paying for this.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Don’t you want to see your roses again? Don’t you want to be able to get up and take a sh**?”

“My son thinks he’s a comedian. That’s how they talk.”

“Mom, it’s not funny. You could die. You lay there in bed, you’re going to get pneumonia and bedsores and be dead, dead, dead.”

“Take me to my bed.”

Willow takes Davy aside, “She did very well on the bar. Take her back to the room and keep her seated until lunch.” In a louder voice: “Mrs. Bird, you’re done for today.”

Davy and his mom are halfway through the lobby when they meet a visitor. It’s Tatiana, the hot caregiver. “You look adorable,” she says, with her eyes fixated on the elderly, suspicious woman. Tatiana bends down and fixates her green eyes on the mother’s wintry gaze and caresses her fine white hair.

“We brought this for you.”

Big balloons appear. The old woman croaks, “Tania, could you scratch my back. Davy doesn’t know how to do it.”

“Remember the word we learned?”

“Please.”

“And what is my name? Do you remember it? Ta-tiana. And this is…”

“Oscar.”

Tatiana’s boyfriend stares at the mother intensely. Davy isn’t even in the room, he’s a million miles away in Poughkeepsie.

“You look so beautiful today. We’re going to make you well. It’ll be 24/7 when you get home. 24/7.”

Together Oscar and Tatiana chant, “24/7… 24/7… 24/7.” Tatiana brings out the castanets, doing and interpretive dance number around the head of Mabel’s bed, accompanied by Oscar’s maracas.

“People would pay a thousand dollars to have hair like yours. It’s truly platinum blonde,” says Tatiana.

“I’m here,” says the mother, bed-bound in the nursing facility.

“Tatiana, could you scratch my back?”

“Remember that word we learned?”

“Oh, I don’t,” the mother replies and turns to Tatiana’s boyfriend. “Oscar, could you scratch my back?”

“I’m the person who cares for you all the time and you don’t even remember my name,” Tatiana says coyly, as Oscar’s fingernails dig into the old woman’s flabby shoulder blade.

“That isn’t doing anything,” she says. And as his hands move down the spine, “Yes, there it is.”

“We’ll be back soon,”says Tatiana. “We’re going on a trip to San Francisco.”

To be continued…

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Hollywood humorist Grady Miller grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon). His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)