7: Black Eyebrows

7: Black Eyebrows

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer's & Other Dementias

Black Eyebrows

It is a far, far better thing to have a firm anchor in nonsense than to put out on the troubled seas of thought.

~John Kenneth Galbraith

“No, you cannot have black. You’re getting brown,” I say to my eighty-six-year-old mother.

“But I want black!” she whines.

“Mom, you used to wear black when your hair was dark. It’s white now, and brown is more suitable,” I tell her as I walk with her to the cosmetics section. In my mind I see her face as it was a week ago, made up with stark black eyebrows haphazardly colored in by her hand.

Today she is using her cane and surprisingly able to keep up with me. A few weeks ago she would not have been able to. It’s incredible what a shot of cortisone to the knee can do.

I pick up an eyebrow pencil in brown and show it to her. “How much is that one?” she asks.

“$5.99,” I answer.

“Put it back. I don’t want it,” she says, walking to the next shelf.

I grab up another pencil and get the same question.

“$4.50,” I tell her.

She waves a hand in the air. “No, I don’t want that one either.”

I find another brand for 99 cents. “Okay, I’ll take that one,” she says. “But don’t they have the powder kind? That’s what I really want.”

I tell her no and direct her to the front of the store. My husband takes the shopping cart from me. He goes through the checkout while I sit on a bench with my mother. It’s standard procedure when we take her shopping.

As we wait, my mother says something that reminds me of my father.

“You sound just like Dad,” I say to her. “Except he would have said, ‘What the hell’s the difference?’ ” I’m laughing as I add in the swear word.

She smiles. “January 4th,” she says as she moves her cane off to the side.

“What?”

“January 4th, the day he died,” she answers.

“No Mom, July… July 6th,” I tell her.

She looks at me quizzically, her bare eyebrows drawing close. “July? I thought it was January.”

“No, Mom. July 6th.”

“Oh. Well he’s in a better place than we are.”

It’s her customary line. One she has used many times during the past two years.

I sit there and people watch. An obese woman is coming towards us. She sits in a motorized shopping cart, trying to maneuver it back to its mooring.

Quickly I turn to my mother. “So what did you do today?” I ask.

Too late. She has already spotted the woman. “Honey, look at that woman! Look how fat she is!” she says.

“Shh, don’t say that, Mom,” I whisper.

“Why? She can’t hear me,” she says in her normal tone.

She had always taught me not to stare at people because they were different.

I change the subject and breathe a sigh of relief when I distract her.

“So, January 4th,” she says again.

“No, Mom. July 6th,” I tell her and the whole conversation begins again.

She shakes her head and taps her index finger to her forehead. “Nobody home,” she says.

We drive back to her house and sit on the front porch. I go inside and call my sister.

“We took her to Kmart. I bought her an eyebrow pencil,” I tell Joanna.

“No!” she yells into the phone. “Have you seen what she looks like when she gets hold of an eyebrow pencil? She makes herself look like a clown!”

I laugh and tell her yes, I have seen her. “I felt bad not getting it for her,” I say as I check my mother’s pillbox.

“Don’t give it to her. She’ll forget you bought it anyway,” Joanna says.

I agree to keep it for now.

I finish my conversation and go back outside to join my mother and husband.

“What are those?” my mother asks pointing to red roses on a bush.

“Mom, what do they look like?” I ask.

“A rose?” she asks.

I nod.

“Yeah a rose, but is there any other name for it?” she asks.

“A rose is a rose by any other name,” my husband quotes. He is not into Shakespeare and I can tell by the way he says it that he has answered my mother many times already.

“And what’s that?” she asks pointing to a solar lantern in the front garden.

“What does it look like?” I ask again.

“A light?” she asks.

“Yes, Mom, it’s a light.”

“Oh, so I pay for it with my electricity,” she says with disgust.

“No Mom, it’s solar. I bought it for Dad a few years ago.”

She is quiet for a minute and I watch the boys a few doors down playing basketball.

“January 4th,” she says again, this time staring off into space.

“Yeah Mom, January 4th,” I answer.

~Maria Montagna Bohlman

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