Why were the care aides whispering about him when he lay on his motorized bed not five feet away? Just because he didn’t understand what they said didn’t mean he was hard of hearing. He was only waiting for them to say something that made sense.
Jack felt relaxed enough to drool. Over-medicated, he’d heard them whisper. His dog bothered them because he wasn’t hygienic. Sure, Elvis sleeping on his bed wasn’t completely safe, but it was fine if he spent the night in soiled adult nappies.
“You wouldn’t mind if we take Elvis for a short walk, would you, Jack.”
“Try it, and you won’t like what happens,” Jack said, letting his evil smile loose. The two care aides jerked back when he displayed a new set of poorly-made false teeth that seemed too big and brilliant for his puckered mouth. He’d even scared himself when he smiled in the mirror. “Elvis stays with me.” He imagined delivering this line in a resonant bass voice, but his old man quaver didn’t cut it. That meant using the toothy grin, the weapon he saved for dire situations. Both aides narrowed their eyes and shrugged, deciding it wasn’t worth risking a bite from his choppers.
Jack patted Elvis and watched his pet’s adoring eyes turn towards him and blink several times before closing for a nap. There was an audible doggy sigh as contagious and satisfying as a yawn.
Someone had absconded with Elvis two nights ago, and Jack had worked himself into an uncharacteristic state of agitation.
“Where’s Elvis?” Jack shouted at the aide, his scrawny arms crossed over his pajamas. It was difficult to appear menacing in pjs, especially ones with silhouettes of Elvis dancing across his chest.
“You haven’t eaten your breakfast. It’s your favourite – poached egg.”
“Not eating until you bring me Elvis.”
“He’s in for repairs. I told you yesterday.”
“I told you yesterday that I wouldn’t eat until you brought him back.”
He could hear the two women whispering at the door. “How can he remember even owning that bloody dog?” the grumpy one said.
“His memory must be a lot better than we thought,” the pretty one said. Jack watched them leave, wondering if he was risking an injection of something nasty by acting up.
“Here you go, Jack. Elvis is back.” The grumpy aide tossed a plush collie on his bed.
“Hey! That’s a stuffed dog. It’s not even the same breed. What do you take me for, a senile old man?”
“Jack, I understand you haven’t been eating.” The doctor was pretending to care, pouting like his old Mum when he wouldn’t eat his peas.
“Your people stole my dog.”
“You have a dog? In a care facility?” Now the doctor tried to look shocked, but that didn’t hit home either.
“Don’t play games, Doc. You know Elvis came here with me two years ago.
“When you arrived, you thought Elvis was real. Do you still think so?” Jack frowned and squinted up at the doctor. Maybe they should trade places.
“I know Elvis is a robot, but he’s my robot and I want him back.”
“Do you mind if I run a couple of tests.” The doctor pulled out a little computer and started poking at it.
“Darn right I mind. No Elvis, no tests.”
“Here’s your dog, you old fool.” The grumpy aide dumped Elvis on the bed. “You got us all into trouble.”
“As if I care,” Jack said. He ran his hand over Elvis’s stomach, felt the comforting heat radiating from the battery pack, and checked to see if the dog’s eyes turned to look at him adoringly when he stroked him. For the first time in days, he could relax and enjoy being pampered. Lunch was a mystery but it never tasted better.
Then the doctor showed up with his tests and asked a bunch of meaningless questions. Can you remember three items from that picture I showed you? Can you tell me the time from this clock face? Jack shrugged and waited until the doctor said something that made sense.
“Jack, I can’t help wonder if you’re playing games with me. Yesterday you were lucid. Today you can’t answer simple questions.” Jack’s eyebrows were hitting each other. He couldn’t understand a word.
Elvis moved his head to look at Jack, blinked his eyes, closed them, and sighed. Good plan, thought Jack, and he imitated the dog’s actions and fell asleep in an instant.
“What do you mean, the dog’s doing it?” The doctor banged his pen up and down on his iPad as if it were a bongo drum. He was glaring at the pretty aide.
“I tell you, Jack’s a zombie when that dog’s around. Take it away and he’s almost normal.”
“Sure, but I’d bet I’m right. Try it and see what happens.”
Jack sensed something was up. The aides were snickering and saying things that made no sense. He heard the word Elvis, and something in his brain clicked. He started to shake. His hand wobbled on the warm battery pack, and he stared into Elvis’s glossy black eyes, looking for help. Slowly his shaking subsided and he felt a lovely calm descend. When the doctor entered with the pretty aide, Jack was asleep. They took Elvis.
“He’s not upset?” the doctor asked.
“I wouldn’t say that. He’s stopped eating again, but he’s not talking rationally the way he did last time. He just sits there drooling.”
“You’ve changed his routine. That’s why he’s not eating. Now I’m worried about your mental state. Really? Suggesting the dog was making him senile?”
“Sorry, but I thought Elvis was affecting his brain.” There was a long silence when Jack wanted to open his eyes and see what was happening.
“Can we give him back his dog?”
“Why not? See if he starts eating again.”
Jack heard it all, but he didn’t let his face muscles tense or his eyes react. Funny thing was, he enjoyed listening to them talk. He could tell there was a budding relationship between the doctor and the pretty aide. He wanted to know more, but if he let on he wasn’t senile, everything would change for the worse because they’d evict him from the care home. Whatever it took, he wasn’t going back to that filthy hostel to fend for himself, and no way would Elvis turn him into a drooling idiot, either. That care aide had the brains to figure it out.
“Everything’s back to normal,” the pretty one said. “Jack’s eating again, so the doctor was right. We must have upset his routine. Funny though, Elvis has stopped doing his companion thing – you know, wiggling, blinking and sighing. I offered to change the batteries, but when I tried to take Elvis away, Jack bared those awful dentures and growled at me.”
“If he doesn’t miss that bogus pet affection, why should we care? Let him enjoy his plushy germ-ridden toy.” The grumpy aide shrugged and left the room with Jack’s empty dinner tray.
After they had gone, Jack wondered how Elvis had managed to make him act demented. He knew it had something to do with the battery he’d removed and shoved in the diaper pail. What really bothered him was not being able to remember which one of his wretched relatives had given him the dog as a present. Jack released a big sigh which was almost as satisfying as hearing one from Elvis.