The walkway is muddy. The ramp is long like a gallows. Im greeted at the door by a silver-eyed woman roughly my own age, maybe a few years older. She stands tall and straight as an exclamation point, in bootleg jeans and a form-fitting cotton work shirt. Shes coaxed her flaxen hair into an efficient bun at the back of her head.
You must be Benjamin, she says. Im Elsa. Come in. Trevors still brushing his teeth.
She leads me through the darkened dining room to the living room, where a tray table on wheels and a big-screen TV dominate the landscape. She offers me a straight-backed chair and seats herself across from me on the sofa next to the reclining figure of an enormous brown cat showing no signs of life.
Big cat, I say.
Hes a little testy but hes a good ratter. She pets the cat, who bristles immediately. She strokes it until it hisses. Undaunted, she forges on until the beast begins to purr. I like this woman. Shes tough. Forgiving. The kind that sticks it out when the going gets rough.
My neighbor has a cat, I offer.
What a coincidence, she says. So, tell me, do you have any other clients?
Not at the moment.
But you have experience caregiving, right?
Shes unable to suppress a sigh. Poor thing. First the lady in sweatpants, now me.
But Ive worked with kids a lot, I say.
Do you have children?
No. Not exactly.
She glances at the clock on the wall. Do you mind if I ask what led you to caregiving? she says.
I guess I thought I might be good at it.
Because . . . ?
Because Im a caring person. I understand peoples needs.
Do you know anything about MD?
A little bit.
And what did you think of the class?
I thought it was . . . uh, pretty informative.
Hmm, she says.
I mean, a lot of the stuff was common sense, but some of it was pretty eye-opening in terms of, you know . . . just different methods and approaches to . . . Ive lost her.
Benjamin, Ive taken the class, she says.
At last, Trevor wheels into the living room, a good-looking kid in spite of an oily complexion and a severe case of bed head. Hes sporting khaki cargoes, a black shirt, and G-Unit low-tops. The disease has left him wafer thin and knobby, slightly hunched, and oddly contorted in his jet black wheelchair.
Trevor, this is Benjamin.
You can call me Ben.
He shifts in his seat and angles his head back slightly. Whats up? he says.
Not much, I say. How about you?
Trevor is looking for a provider he can relate to, Elsa explains. Somebody with similar interests.
So what kind of stuff are you into? I say.
His hands are piled in his lap, his head lowered.
He likes gaming, says Elsa.
What games? I say.
Shooters, mostly, he mumbles.
Oh, right, like, uh, whats it called Mortal Combat? He rears his shoulders back, and hoists up his head, moving like a puppet. You play?
No. A guy on my softball team is always talking about it.
Excerpted from The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison. Copyright © 2012 by Jonathan Evison. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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