Me/Mom: Hi, Dad, how are you doing today?" "Hello, Harold, we're here."
(No response. Dad continues to stare at the light striping the wall.)
Me: I'll just put the wheelchair over here and get the chair by you so Mom can sit by you.
(I push the wheelchair to the foot of the bed and then pick up the visitor's chair and position it next to Dad's side. As I am doing this, Mom bends down and picks up Dad's slippers to place them on the wheelchair's seat.)
Dad: Don't touch them! They're poisoned with powder they put on them!"
Mom: Harold, they're just your shoes.
Dad: No! There's poison on them. I saw them powder them. Wash your hands! Wash your hands!
Me: Dad, if the powder was that bad, they wouldn't be sticking your feet in them.
Dad: (Making abrupt, powerful pushing away movements with both hands.) All right, if you won't listen, there's nothing I can do. (Jaw set, he looks at neither of us.)
Me: OK, Dad, we'll go wash our hands. (I motion to Mom and take her into the bathroom.) Mom, remember when the German brain specialist said there were two dads--Dad and somebody else? I think Somebody Else is here today, so let's be careful and just leave early if we can't get along.
Mom: OK, let's not argue.
(We wash our hands and return. We talk to Dad but he does not respond. He continues to stare at the play of light and shadow on the wall. Occasionally he gives us sidelong glances. I pick up the daily cafeteria menu to have something to talk about.)
Me: Hey, roast beef, mashed potatoes, and gravy today, Dad. You like that.
(Dad turns his head slowly to face us.) Be very, very careful. Don't eat anything here. (He slowly turns his head so that he is staring at the stripes of light on the wall again. Mom and I talk of inconsequential, innocuous things, trying to draw Dad into the conversation. His body has a tenseness to it. He is aware of us but not responding to us. Mom and I chat and some minutes pass.)
Dad: Well, nice to have you come and visit. (He turns his head to look at us as he speaks. His voice lacks emotion and is guarded as he follows the social ritual of manners. He face is expressionless.) I'm tired and want to rest now. See you tomorrow.
Mom: OK, Harold, we'll go and let you rest.
Dad: Be careful on your way out. Don't take any chances.
(As we stand up, Dad's gaze shifts back to light and shadow. Mom kisses him. He does not respond.)