Lucy was sobbing louder than a chainsaw yesterday. I could hear her cries through her closed apartment door as I took out the trash. The smell of fresh bubblegum filled the hallways of our apartment complex. I had just finished my weekly duties as the building porter.
The black tiles on the hallway floor still reflected areas that had not fully dried. I had moped the floors with a sweet, tangy smelling cleaner that building management had given me for the task. There is something about a good-smelling clean that can make anyone cry, and Lucy already was quite vulnerable to tears.
There is a certain calm that overtakes a home shortly after it is thoroughly dusted, and perhaps the thorough cleaning was what caused Lucy to cry so much for her husband Juan who died last week.
My lover and I went to the viewing of Juan’s body which was held at a funeral home in North Bergen, NJ on Wednesday. There were just a few people there—a rather heavy Puerto Rican woman from the Bronx and her five children: three heavy-set boys and two skinny girls with long brown hair. The kids were all drinking coffee in a downstairs respite area of the funeral home. The mother noted that she would have to give her children Benedril to get them to go to sleep that night.
Lucy seemed delighted that Brian and I decided to show for the ceremony. Brian is still quite angry with Lucy for having Juan arrested by the Union City Police back in August. We both believe that if Lucy had not called the police on the poor, old man, he’d still be alive.
The truth was, Juan was dead as a cockroach that had just walked across a white pile of Borax, and there was nothing any of us could do to bring our elder back to life. Why be mean to an old widow? I asked myself as I turned to hug Lucy just steps away from Juan who looked quite good for a dead man who had been betrayed by a wife of nearly 30 years.
Upon hearing Lucy’s loud sobs, I decided to make her a cup of Starbucks Coffee – Verona flavor, from a bag of beans that Brian brought home on Wednesday. I frothed the milk for almost three minutes and put three tablespoons of sugar in the cup because I already know how Lucy likes her coffee. When Brian and I first moved here, I made Lucy and Juan coffee almost everyday. Lucy, I had noticed, became very animated after drinking the Starbucks coffee.
When Brian and I first moved to Union City, next door to Juan and Lucy, I made them coffee almost everyday. We became acquainted with the couple because Lucy knocked on our door to complain about not only the coffee smell, but that of what Lucy called “pot”.
Lucy, I had noticed, became very animated after drinking the Starbucks coffee, but the truth was, it kept her quiet and from calling the cops on us. She spent summer afternoons, chain-smoking and running from her door to ours; knocking for the silliest things—always wanting to come in and chat. We had to cut her off. Not only is Starbucks too expensive, but we grew tired of the old woman constantly knocking on our door and we were afraid the strong coffee might cause her to beat her little husband.
The cup of coffee I took to Lucy yesterday was the first cup of Starbucks she had since arresting her cute, little husband, Juan. Her tears quickly dried when she saw me standing there with a cup of coffee that she loves so much. She immediately grabbed the mug and ran over to her kitchen sink where she added tap water.
“Lucy! Don’t put any tap water in that!” I ordered. “I used Poland Springs water to make that cup and you’ll taint the exquisite taste.”
Lucy said she could not help it. It was just a habit she had. She said she was falling apart. “Just look at this mess!” The old Puerto Rican woman yelled as she wiped up what appeared to be spilled gravy covering the cabinets below the kitchen sink. “I just colored my hair and look at it! It’s red!” She shouted. “Juan got so fat before he died,” She went on to say. “I don’t know what that hospital did to him! They are going to put my husband in the cold ground far away in Elizabeth. I want him here in North Bergen, but Medicaid won’t pay for it. He still ain’t in the ground, you know. I would not let them take him. I called the Mayor’s office to see if they could help, but they just called. There is nothing they can do. They are going to put him in the ground in Elizabeth tomorrow and I will not be able to go visit him.”
“Just get him in the ground Lucy. It’s not so good to keep a dead body around for so long. Juan’s not going to be in Elizabeth. He’s here with us. Believe me, I heard his ghost walking up and down the hallways last night. Why do you think I had to clean it this morning? It really freaked me out,” I said, not telling a lie, because the truth was, late that night, around three, I heard the familiar footsteps in the hallway just outside my bed—-those slow steps of old Juan who often paced back and forth out there—angry at his wife Lucy for something, and up from all that coffee. He just paced back and forth as those with Alzheimer’s sometimes do. The sound of those little feet did not keep us up at night.
Lucy seemed to acknowledge my reference to Juan’s ghost as if she had heard it too. She noted, “That was a really good cup of coffee.” She ran to her sink and washed my Puerto Rican Starbucks coffee mug with her bare hands and ripped off three paper towels from the wall, and dried my cup before returning it to me.
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