Ms. Calburn’s Winter

This week’s Tuesday Tale:

“Tallie, shut the door. You’re letting winter in!”

Tallie set down her phone and picked up a knit blanket to drape over the woman’s legs.

“Tallie, no, I don’t need a blanket, not if you just shut the door. You are worse than my children. At least they have the sense to shut the door behind them. Good Lord, I’ll shut it myself. You are good for nothing.”

Tallie went back to her chair and picked up her phone to play her game. She had two more levels and then she would be in the final tournament. She clicked away at the buttons on her phone that was now a game device.

“There. See how much nicer it is when the door is shut,” the old lady said though she never left her chair.

Tallie did not notice. She almost had her opponent beat. One more blow and then—

“Tallie! The door!”

Tallie didn’t look up.

“Tallie! You left the door open again. Shut the door you’re letting winter in!”

There. She had completed the second to last level. She paused the game and set down her phone again. The old lady sat in her lazy boy chair. Tallie could get up and prove to the woman that the door was shut and had been shut for the past three hours, but what was the use? Tallie exhaled. Ms. Calburn was a nice woman, but she had this thing about doors and winter.

Tallie picked up a magazine and fanned herself. The temperature outside was ninety and inside this house offered no relief from that heat. Ms. Calburn was determined that there was a Swedish winter going on and that if they were not careful they both would catch pneumonia. Ms. Calburn complained viciously about Tallie’s choice of clothing, but a tank top and shorts were the only way a girl could survive this heat. She had an eight hour shift and today already felt like a double. She mashed the home button on her phone to check the time. She still had five hours to go.

“Tallie! Did you hear me?”

“Yes, Ms. Calburn. I shut the door.”

“Good.” The old lady huffed and closed her eyes.

Tallie hoped she would go to sleep, but those dreams were crushed five minutes later.

“Tallie!” The lady screamed so violently that Tallie actually jumped from her chair in alarm. “The door! The door! Shut it or we’ll freeze to death!”

Tallie sat back down. “Ms. Calburn, the door is shut.” She wondered how many times she would say that before today’s shift was done. Maybe she should keep track.

Tallie Collins had worked as an in-home private caregiver for eleven years. Impregnated in her second year of high school, she had chosen to keep the unexpected child and dropped out of school. She was raised by a single parent and she raised her child the same way. She had no use for men and made her way through the world with a stiff upper lip and a strong backbone. No one ever harmed Tallie Collins again. Her little girl was fifteen now and Tallie said her prayers that she would make it through high school in better shape than her mother. She lectured her daughter constantly about boys, but she could not help but worry that her little girl might get hurt. Tallie sighed, she had done everything she knew.

She did not mind her job. It paid well and she had a lot of down time. Patients like Ms. Calburn were annoying, but truthfully, Tallie didn’t mind. She liked the senile, old people because they entertained themselves. She had worked in child daycare right out of highschool and left that job as quickly as she could find a better one. Tallie liked her own daughter just fine, but she just could not put up with fifty kids at once, not without going crazy. Tallie looked at Ms. Calburn, who had snoozed off. She would rather be with crazy folks than going crazy herself.

Tallie picked up her phone in hopes that Ms. Calburn would stay asleep long enough for her to finish her game. She had one level left to complete.

When she had finished, Tallie stretch out on the couch. Ms. Calburn had decided to make a good long nap of the day and that suited Tallie just fine. She closed her own eyes. She was not supposed to sleep on the job, but who would know? She did not get to sleep long before the telephone rang – Ms. Calburn’s personal phone.


“Hi, this is Jessica Helms, Ms. Calburn’s daughter. Please put her on the phone.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Tallie knew better than to tell Jessica that her mother was sleeping. Jessica was self-proclaimed busy. Being a lawyer she could afford Tallie’s salary but could not afford an actual visit to see her own mother. She called regularly, but only for a brief ‘hello’. “Ms. Calburn,” Tallie nudged the old lady’s arm, “Ms. Calburn, it’s your daughter. She’s on the phone.”

Ms. Calburn stirred and reached for the phone. Tallie held it to her ear for her. The conversation was customarily brief and as usual, Ms. Calburn did not seem any happier for the call.

“Tallie, get me some hot tea.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Tallie did not understand how anyone could drink hot tea in this heat, but she obeyed.

“Tallie, the door.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

When the tea was finished, Ms. Calburn rested her head against the chair and moaned softly.

Tallie checked her phone. Her daughter had texted her. She read the message and let out her own moan. Summertime was the worst for parenting. Her daughter was not out of school for one week before she was getting into trouble and they had been arguing for the whole of it. She sent an angry reply text. Her daughter should know better than to ask to go to that party. Some parents would congratulate her for her daughter at least asking, but not Tallie, she knew that asking was the first step. Skipping out of the house to go to the unpermitted party was the next and Tallie did not know how to prevent her daughter from walking into trouble. She was fifteen. Tallie shot off another text. This was some way of communicating. She thought about calling, but she did not want to wake her patient, who looked to be sleeping again. Besides, her daughter would not answer. Tallie knew that from experience.

“Tallie! Tallie!” Ms. Calburn woke with a start.

“I’m here, Ms. Calburn.” Tallie expected another request to shut the door.

“Jessica! She’s in trouble!”

“Ms. Calburn. Jessica is fine. She just called you. She is not in trouble.”

The old lady shook her head. She looked angry.

Tallie frowned, this was not a normal subject and if Tallie had learned anything over the years, old people always talked about the same boring things. That is, unless they changed medications, but Ms. Calburn hadn’t changed medication in over two years. “What do you mean?”

“Tallie, Jessica is rebelling against me.”

Tallie looked at the telephone as though it held an answer.

“Tallie, she’s not obeying me. She’s not coming home.” Ms. Calburn sobbed.

Tallie’s phone buzzed in her pocket. She ignored it until it buzzed a second time. She slipped out her device and read the text message. She rolled her eyes. Her daughter was going to turn her hair gray before the day was out.

“Tallie, Jessica said she’s not coming home.”

Tallie stared at Ms. Calburn. She did not know what the old lady meant, but her words struck Tallie’s ears like a boomerang. She looked back at the message on her phone. Her own daughter had said those same words. Tallie gripped the phone in her hand. She needed to call her daughter, but Ms. Calburn was crying now. She snatched a tissue from the box and handed it to the lady as she pressed the green call button on her phone. She tapped her foot as she listened to the rings. Her daughter didn’t answer. She tried again. Same result.

“Tallie, she’s not coming.”

Tallie shoved her phone in her back pocket and dabbed the tissue under the old lady’s eyes. “Ms. Calbun? Ms. Calburn, do you want me to call her?” When the lady did not answer, Tallie picked up the phone and dialed Jessica’s number of her own volition. She wasn’t sure what made her do it. She had strict instructions never to bother Jessica unless it was an emergency and the only thing that Jessica deemed an emergency were do-not-resuscitate decisions. Tallie listened to the rings anyway. If she could not get her own daughter to answer, maybe she could get Ms. Calburn’s.

“Hello, this is the Law Office of Helms and Helms.” Jessica Helms worked with her husband, now ex-husband, but they still shared the same firm.

“Can I speak with Jessica Helms please?”

“She is with a client right now, may I take a message?”

Tallie didn’t know that the secretary always gave that reply. “Um, no.”

The secretary hung up without any other acknowledgment.

“I’m sorry, Ms. Calburn. I couldn’t speak with her.”

Ms. Calburn reached her hand out from under her blanket and grabbed Tallie wrist. “She’s not coming home to comb my hair. Will you do it?”

Tallie smiled and breathed a sigh of relief. Ms. Calburn only permitted certain caregivers to comb her hair and up until now, Tallie was not one of the select. She picked up a brush and gently ran it through the old lady’s silver hair. The woman sighed gently and Tallie began to hum the same way she had when she combed her daughter’s hair.

“Tallie, the door… It’s cool in here. ”

Tallie set down the brush to close the door for her.

Thank you for reading!  Let me know what you thought by commenting below.  Maybe you have a parent or grandparent in the same condition.  How do you relate to this story? For more short stories follow my blog to be sure to catch the next one! -Abby

One thought on “Ms. Calburn’s Winter

  1. Chris says:

    Nicely told, though a little depressing. Is this what awaits all of us? Our final years spent in the fog of dementia? I especially like the juxtaposition of Tallie’s precarious situation with her own nameless daughter and Ms. Calburn’s estranged relationship with Jessica.

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