“I’ll be just a minute, Annushka. I left something in the carriage.”
I quickly don the sable cape and clip the sparkling barrette in my hair. I remove my watch and “Jessica Teague” nametag, hide my cell phone deep in my costume bag, and slip on diamond earrings. She had given them to me on an earlier Russian day, said they were family heirlooms.
“I’m ready,” I call out. She opens the door.
We kiss cheeks, and she waves me into one of the deep-cushioned burgundy chairs. She’s wearing pale pink satin that perfectly complements this corner of the room. Even when she’s the French painter or Amelia Earhart or the American gospel singer, her clothes fit the part, and her surroundings are rearranged to show off her considerable beauty. At 92, she’s lovely – tiny, fine-boned, but strong – like the china cups laid out for tea. She’s lost her memory, but not her mind, and certainly not her sense of style.
We pour out morning tea and chatter about art, music, and our fictitious high-born Russian friends. Anyone walking in on us would take us for two cultured ladies, not a dementia patient and her primary caregiver. It took me a long time to convince the nursing home staff that it would be perfectly healthy for Mary if we all acted out whatever world she inhabited. That world changes frequently, but we’ve learned to read the cues and play the parts. Her delusions never spoil her life or ours. In fact, our clear minds and perfect memories sometimes seem a bit dull compared to her endless creativity.
We listen to Rimsky-Korsakov, eat an excellent lunch, and then take turns reading Chekhov in between naps. Just before time for the nurse to come take her for a bath, I give her a special gift – a pot of tiny bluets in full bloom.
“I love bluets – tiny and strong,” she exclaims. “They’re a lot like me!”
“Yes, dearest Mary,” I whisper, “they are just like you.”