A Tale of Two Grandmothers
By Lena DiBiasio & Hayley Altman
Two grandmothers meet and form a close bond, only to discover that the nursing home they live in is up to no good.
The worn-down Nissan Sentra puttered along the road, Ruthie’s hands practically reaching above her head to clutch the wheel. She was in a moment of reflection, as one does while driving themselves to an old folk’s home. It was Benjamin’s idea, her oldest and most obnoxious child. He had flung into her living room proposing the idea of Crystal Springs as if visiting his lonely mother once a year earned him the say-so. It was an assisted living home, but that was code for “place that smells like pee where I can dump my naggy mom.”
“Make a RIGHT turn,” Ruthie’s phone shouted at its typical earsplitting volume.
Ruthie loved Siri. Ruthie loved a lot of things—she loved baking, knitting, and frogs. Her house was decorated with all kinds of amphibian-related knickknacks, which were all self-gifted because she barely received Christmas or birthday presents anymore.
She had to admit, despite dreading the idea of being shipped off to live with people who would forget her name instantly after she told them, she was in dire need of a friend. Did she want to leave her home? No. Did she have any desire to socialize with people who watched Judge Judy for fun? Also, no. As she pulled her car into the dismal grey parking lot, she tried to smile.
Maybe this will work out. Maybe.
Swoosh. Swoosh. Swoosh.
The gliding force of the wheels beneath her was irritatingly familiar. A powerful sound from her youth now a condescending reminder of her incapacity. Thin rubber tubes and sharp metal spokes separated her calcium-deficient bones from the waxy, colorless floor. Oh, how she had come to hate her insides. Aging was a contact sport, and the medical chart in her aid’s hand was the referee—the results were in, and she wasn’t celebrating.
She had been a known force on the basketball court at sixteen. The kids in her neighborhood—a congested square-mile of tenements in the Upper Bronx—would hang on the chain-link fence surrounding the concrete court and yell, “Betty for the Block! Betty for the Block!” Her ears would buzz at the sound of their confidence, and adrenaline sent her five-foot-eight stature soaring.
Swoosh. Swoosh. Swoosh.
Crystal Springs was exactly what Ruthie had expected it to be. She had settled in quite nicely, in her opinion, making a few friends here and there. Each day during arts and crafts hour, they would sit in a very silent circle to knit identical scarves. Ruthie didn’t hate it, but she certainly didn’t love it.
Ruthie couldn’t help but notice the woman in the corner during these hours spent in the cramped community room with floral-covered walls. Every day, without fail, she would roll briskly into the room and set up a little card table. She sat and played solitaire by herself, muttering and cursing under her breath all the while. She never wore the cute cardigans that Ruthie and the other knitters did; instead, she always donned a giant T-shirt with a slogan like “THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX” printed inside a small box. She also wore Air Jordans, and Ruthie had a sneaking suspicion that she would never be caught dead in a knitting circle.
Ruthie felt a spark of spontaneity, in addition to her usual boredom, as she finished the thirty-sixth row in her scarf. She hoisted herself out of her rocking chair and headed straight towards the source of her captivation.
“Good morning!” Ruthie said with a grin as she reached the card table.
“Mornin’.” The woman’s eyes stayed glued to the deck in her hand.
“I’m Ruth! Ruthie, if you want.”
“Beatrice,” she answered and looked up begrudgingly.
“Mind if I join you? That is, only if you don’t mind making it a game for two.”
Beatrice looked surprised, as if no one had ever offered to play with her.
“Come on then, have a seat.”
Ruthie noticed a hint of a smile dance across Beatrice’s lips as she rolled her wheelchair over to make room for the Shirley to her Laverne.
Ruthie proved to be the antidote to Beatrice’s abrasiveness. The constricting environment of Crystal Springs often catalyzed her banal rants, complaining to every staff member paid to listen that the soup at dinner was too hot or the Friday movie was chauvinistic. She knew she could improve her delivery, but a syrupy-sweet follow-up by Ruthie seemed to do the trick instead. Their influence quickly received attention from other residents, and a makeshift town hall evolved to organize the persistent requests.
“Those orange horse pills always get stuck in my throat.”
“I’m wiped out by noon everyday.”
“I forgot to take mine, and I feel like a million bucks.”
Each morning at 10 a.m., the aids passed around dixie cups filled with a technicolor assortment of pills. Small red ones treated high blood pressure, the blue cholesterol, and the green reflux. This practice seemed standard in a house of the living dead, but fifteen worrisome comments signaled a grave pattern.
“They’re drugging us,” Ruthie said in a firm whisper while collecting soiled paper goods left behind by the recent attendees.
“Well, of course, they are. Where would we be without those damn dixie cups? Probably in the morgue, and then poof—how would Mr. Springs afford all this crystal?” Beatrice answered with contempt.
“No, you don’t get it,” she repeated, this time with a sharp edge to her voice. “They. Are. Drugging. Us.”
We began brainstorming for our pair piece by pasting ideas on a Jamboard. Lena sparked the concept of writing about old ladies, and we developed a story around two grandmothers that would get into trouble in a nursing home. We noted key plot points, character names and descriptions. Then we each wrote a background piece to introduce our respective characters, and we collaborated on the climax of the story.
Lena DiBiasio is an aspiring writer attending high school in New York City. She has been writing since the ripe young age of eight years old and her love for the craft has not diminished since. She won silver and gold National Scholastic Awards in 2019 and received a silver regional Scholastic award in both 2020 and 2021.
Hayley Altman is a Girls Write Now mentor and enjoys reading and writing fiction and poetry. She has written for various student publications, such as The Review—University of Delaware’s independent student newspaper. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey and works in data analytics.Hayley Altman is a Girls Write Now mentor and enjoys reading and writing fiction and poetry. She has written for various student publications, such as The Review—University of Delaware’s independent student newspaper. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey and works in data analytics.