Sometimes I hate being an old lady.
But not for the reasons you’d think.
Yes, I hate the aches and pains, the forgetfulness, and endless pills, but more than that I hate the dismissal. People think old ladies are helpless. They don’t think we’re capable of anything.
Certainly not capable of murder.
When I heard the creak of the ancient bed, I stretched my old bones and straightened my apron. I walked to the bay window to wait.
From my fourth-floor vista I could watch the parade of nannies with strollers and cellphone-chatting dogwalkers in front of the townhouse I called home. I couldn’t call it my house, because I was only a live-in caregiver, but I was on duty every hour of every day, so over time it had become my home.
The townhouse was a nineteenth-century brownstone with massive stairs leading to the second-floor entrance and a tiny terrace to the side. The whole was surrounded by a spear-headed iron fence, which gave the house a creepy Addams family feel, but I loved it.
And I loved Eulah, the old dear: the woman who was my charge.
Before he died, Eulah’s husband, the Judge, had turned the fourth floor into a comfortable living space for Eulah as she descended into the dreamy netherworld of dementia. He’d installed an elevator and kitchenette with a refrigerator, sink, and microwave, but he knew open flames and ovens were not the best for forgetful people, so I did the main cooking in the second-floor kitchen and brought it up on a dumbwaiter.
There were two bedroom suites, one for Eulah and the Judge—now Eulah alone—and one for me. Both had bathrooms, large beds, and comfortable recliners. These rooms surrounded a sitting room with a sofa and overstuffed chairs. A sideboard displayed knickknacks and end tables held portraits of family.
So all-in-all, a pleasant life, though it had its demands.
I heard the soft creak of the bedroom door behind me.
I heard reptilian steps as Eulah crept toward me.
I braced myself.
Bony hands shoved my back.
I cried out, stumbled forward, and turned with my hand on my heart.
“Eulah! You scared me to death!”
She laughed with the evil abandon of a baby pulling the dog’s ears.
“That’s what I do to the new girls! Keeps them on their toes!”
She cocked her head. “Who are you?”
“Why it’s me, Eulah! Juanita! Your cook, maid, and personal assistant.” I saluted and bowed. I repeated my performance every morning and every morning she responded the same.
“Bah. I’ve never seen you before in my life.”
She swayed to her wheelchair and sat.
I took a silver brush from the sideboard and gently began brushing her hair. She picked up a framed picture from the end table. “Who’s this old man?”
“Your husband, Eulah. The Judge.”
“My husband! Then where is he?”
“I’m sorry, Eulah. The Judge passed away.”
“Last month. It was very sad.”
“Hmph.” She put down the frame.
“Who are they?” she pointed to two other pictures.
“Isabella and Philip. Your niece and nephew on your husband’s side,” I recited.
“How do you remember all these things?”
“Because I tell them to you every day?”
“Well, you may know these people, but I don’t.”
“They’re your houseguests,” I said, smoothing rebellious white hair. “They’re staying in your third-floor guestrooms.”
“Don’t they have homes of their own?”
“They do, but they’re staying for the reading of the will.”
“Can’t they read it themselves?”
“Yes, and I’m sure they have,” I said, following the script. “But your lawyer wanted to meet personally with the heirs so he could be certain they understood the terms of the trust.”
“That’s why they’re living in my house?”
“Yes,” I said, ready for her next line.
“Bah,” she said. “They’re killing me!”
I stopped brushing.
Well. That was certainly new.