I AWOKE TO THE SOUND of my cell phone buzzing on the nightstand. With half my face buried in a pillow and one eye opened, I watched as the illuminated device vibrated closer and closer to the edge. In a laggard attempt to reach it before it hit the floor, I stretched out my arm. The lazy effort proved futile as the phone fell and crashed against the wooden floor. By the sound of it, I was certain the phone and case scattered in different directions.
I sat on the edge of the bed for a moment, because for a few days I had been suffering from vertigo due to an ear infection.
After the dizziness subsided, I leaned over and turned on the lamp that was atop the nightstand. There, I saw a bottle of amoxicillin the doctor had prescribed for me.
I opened the bottle, placed one of the antibiotic tablets in my mouth before picking up a coffee cup half-filled with warm water from the previous evening, and swallowed.
The flat taste of the water combined with the bitterness of the pill made my face shrivel up, and I stuck out my tongue in distaste.
I stood up, gathered the scattered components and attached the case to the phone, then turned it on.
The phone vibrated, informing me of a missed call from Chasity Reyes. She was Grandma Mae’s live-in hospice nurse.
I clicked on the voicemail and listened to the message.
“Mr. Pavlis,” Chasity said. “It’s Ms. Reyes. Give me a call as soon as you get my message.”
Receiving a call from her at 4:16 in the morning could only mean one thing. Grandma Mae had succumbed to brain cancer.
This is it, I thought. Grandma Mae has passed on and her days of suffering are over.
My finger hovered over Chasity’s name. I was reluctant to call her back because I wasn’t ready to lose Grandma Mae. She was all the family I had. She’d been raising me since the death of my parents when I was eleven, and although her death was expected at any moment, losing her would be devastating to my psychological well-being.
Grandma Mae played a vital role in my upbringing and I couldn’t say I’d be the same man without her. The ethical values and principles I lived by were due to her vigilant fostering. It was because of her I developed the habit of always doing what was moral and correct, even if it meant I would be crucified for it.
I closed my eyes, drew in a deep breath, and prepared myself for the worst news since my parents’ deaths. I tapped on Chasity’s name. She picked up before the first ring ended.
“Mr. Pavlis,” she said. By her tone, I knew something wasn’t right. “I’m sorry to disturb you so early in the morning. Can you get here as soon as possible?”
“Is she gone?” I said.
“She’s still with us at the moment. But it doesn’t seem she has very much time left.”
In the background, I could hear Grandma Mae hollering, but I couldn’t make out her words.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“I’m not sure. She was sound asleep until an hour ago. She woke up and started this erratic behavior, screaming for justice.”
“All right. I’m on my way.”
Knowing Grandma Mae was still alive brought relief, but with it came uncertainty and fear. Her mental health had been progressively declining in recent months. But she was never erratic.
At her worst, she couldn’t remember who I was. It was probable her change in conduct and mental state meant she would be leaving me soon.
I made my way to the adjacent bathroom and washed my face. After drying off with a towel, I stared into the mirror because I hadn’t noticed the dark circles around my eyes before.
Between working long hours and tending to Grandma Mae, sleep had to take a back seat to other priorities.
For someone who took pride in my appearance, it was distressing to see blemishes. I wouldn’t go as far to say I had the anatomy of a model, but if I were looking to settle down, I’d be a decent catch. I’m not ashamed of the slight belly fat and love handles I gained in recent years either.
At five ten, I had smooth skin and teal-colored eyes. My golden-blond hair was straight and then curled at the ends, reaching the tips of my earlobes. I’d been meaning to pay a visit to the barbershop, but with the number of hours I put in at the Peacock, and the shifts assigned, it was almost impossible.
The Peacock was the name of the hotel I was employed at as a front desk clerk. That was a steep step down in wages from the Fortune 50 company I worked for in Chicago. But since moving to Colorado to be closer to Grandma Mae, I hadn’t had much success finding a job. The Peacock was the best offer given by the temp agency. It was either that or bike courier, and the latter didn’t pay enough for me to sustain a decent living.
While brushing my teeth, I focused my attention on the sterling silver chain with a key pendant hanging around my neck, a gift from Grandma Mae shortly before she became ill. She said she thought of me when she saw it because I had the key to her heart.
After brushing my teeth, I changed from pajamas into a pair of jeans and sweater, grabbed my coat, then headed downstairs.
Outside the apartment building, the brisk December wind caught hold of me, and I gasped twice. I thought to go back upstairs for a scarf but decided against it because my car was parked just a few feet away.
As I opened the door to my gray Toyota Camry, passed down to me from Grandma Mae, I glanced across the street and saw a figure standing at the bus stop. It seemed as though his attention was directed at me, but I couldn’t be sure because of the dull lighting on the street. He could’ve been wondering why I was awake at such an early hour, just as I had wondered of him. He wore a dark trench coat and a dark wide-brimmed hat. I tried to convince myself he was waiting for the bus, but as the public transit vehicle arrived and veered off without him boarding, I had a sneaky suspicion I was under surveillance.
I turned on the ignition and pulled out. As I drove past the man, I gave him another glance. This time I was certain he was watching me because our eyes locked and I had a clear sight of him. He was tall and slim with a serious demeanor and a chevron mustache.
What the hell’s this guy’s problem?
It was plausible I was being paranoid. After all, I lived half my life feeling like I was being watched, and that was through no fault of my own.
While growing up, there were instances where Grandma Mae asked if I ever thought I was being followed, or if any new people introduced themselves to me. As I got older, I convinced myself she was delusional. However, she was never diagnosed with a mental illness because I could never bring myself to have her committed in any institutionalized asylum.
At times, her paranoia forced us to move out of state. In the span of five years we moved three times. We went from Texas to Oklahoma to Kansas then to Missouri, until I was assured and independent enough to venture out on my own.
Grandma Mae left Missouri for Colorado expecting me to follow. Instead, I took an internship in Chicago and we split ways. As much as it pained me to leave, the decision to take the position was beneficial both to my future and my mental health.
When she wasn’t in a frangible state, she was wonderful. She taught me how to play the piano and schooled me on classical jazz and rock. She was a lover of vintage automobiles and subscribed to Classic Car magazine. She was a dual intellect, a bookworm in her own right, but also street savvy.
Before I knew it, I was parked outside Grandma Mae’s house. She lived in a beautiful two-story bungalow in a peaceful affluent neighborhood. For years I wondered how she could afford the houses she’d lived in without a steady source of income, and as I exited the vehicle and gazed at her latest purchase, I couldn’t help but feel as though I’d missed something—like her winning the jackpot of the Colorado lottery.