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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Judith Robinson, a young black woman, is assigned as a Mentor to James Patterson Gardner, an old white man with Alzheimer's.
"How the hell is this going to work out?", Mr. Gardner asks himself.
And . . . ??

Submitted: July 06, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: July 06, 2017





A Short Story in Chapters

Nicholas Cochran

Chapter Two


Regardless of the etiology of the program, it was working beautifully after only two years. The thrust of the program was to give every member of society a responsibility for someone other than themselves.

There was no objective in the program to bring any recipient of the program services---i.e. a Mentee---‘into line’; or to accept of reject any dogma, philosophy, or religion; but simply to allow each recipient (which included the Mentor; he or she has a Mentor as well) to expect and appreciate consideration and assistance from another citizen.

A simple visit and a talk were sufficient to discharge the Mentor’s obligation. But what happened almost immediately after the program went into effect, was that the Mentors became extremely ingenious in their choices for their charges; reading to the older and infirm; shopping for all those citizens who worked two or more jobs or were laid out with illness, or were busy mentoring their own citizen.

It was as though the requirement to help was almost immediately replaced by not only a desire to ‘help’ but also a spur to find any number of additional ways to assist their Mentee, many of  which were surprisingly inventive—and some actually quite remarkable, such that they became guidelines and suggestions for the program itself. 

Of course, some Mentors hated their Mentees on sight and vice versa, but the program was almost inordinately flexible and ninety percent of the time a good relationship between the Mentor and Mentee resulted.

In the other ten percent of cases, the director of the precinct or the ward—and, if necessary, finally, the state director of the program—would find a suitable match such that the final tally was satisfaction of ninety-nine percent of the Mentors and Mentees. The last one percent was visited by and mentored by the national directors with the result that most of that one percent eventually came into the program.

In the case of a mother and a newborn child, the Mentor for the mother was also the Mentor for the child until the child reached the age of three and could talk and walk. At that age, the question of another Mentor for the child was discretionary with the Precinct Captain, with appeals allowed all the way up to the State Director, appeals that would depend on any number of circumstances surrounding the mother—as well as the needs of the child. However, great care was taken not to drive a wedge between mother and child by having two Mentors at odds with each other about the direction to be given or taken by the child, a direction that would put the wishes of the mother aside. 

But in fact, the Mentor Program was not about rules and regulations. There was no Orwellian infrastructure that would produce some Boschian landscape of children being taken from mothers and mothers being harassed or fined—or chastened in any way.

On the contrary, the signal concept of the program was to help. Period. It was not to create a responsibility in the Mentees but simply to have the Mentor offer help in a variety of ways that the Mentee wanted or thought they wanted.

Of course, the Mentee could always change their mind about a request they had made. 
There was no structure for complaints about the Mentee, which is to say that no new body of laws or regulations was passed or even applied ad hoc. The State and Federal laws were not added to in any way and the State laws, particularly, were applied only in circumstances where they would be applied absent a Mentor for the entire Mentor Program. No, the ‘push’ was entirely from the opposite direction.

“How can I help you?” was, and still is the motto of the program from coast to coast; from Alaska to Hawaii.

Now it took a little while in the beginning for the Mentors and Mentees to feel comfortable with each other and become accustomed to the aims of the program. What were the aims?  Why did the country need a Mentor Program? What gave rise to this ‘helping’ idea and particularly on a nation-wide scale?

Twenty years into the Third Millennium the country finally woke up to the fact that there was a serious disconnect between the citizens of the country on all levels; social, economic, and political, so much so that nationwide fracturing was nearing explosive proportions; East versus West and everyone versus the South.

And as quickly and effectively as the enshrouding fog lifts and shimmers from the Golden Gate Bridge on an early summer’s morning, this idea of helping each other as a means to fashion a transcontinental band of ‘brotherhood’ dropped over the country and was taken up almost immediately by all political parties as well as most of the individual States who viewed the Program mainly as a means to cut costs, by having Mentors act very much like Social Workers, Crime Prevention members, assisted living workers; and to a certain extent, developers of new revenue streams by urging mentees to purchase those things that they truly wanted, needed, and could afford.

As corollaries, came reports (via anonymous hotlines) of violations of building codes, health codes, suspicious behavior, and of generally bad situations. Statistics after the first two years revealed staggering falls in crime, health code violations, building code violations, unwed mothers, alcoholism, drug sales and use, gang activity and membership.

State Prison sentences and prison populations in both State and Federal penitentiaries nosedived. Of course present and ex-cons were resistive (as well as some other members of society) but with the right Mentors, (of which there were many more than required) the in and out prison population was perhaps the most immediate success of the program because of the volunteer ex-cons who signed up on day one and took their ‘mission’ more seriously than any other sector of the Mentor Program.

It would take several years to parse and dissect all the favorable figures but whatever the etiology, as long as the Mentor Program existed, it would appear that general living conditions of the entire citizenry were being elevated.

Well before passing the Mentor Program bill, mock programs were set in place in various States and of course, the major finding of these ‘practice’ sessions was that if the Mentor was carefully chosen, the plan worked like a charm. And if the first Mentor was not what the situation really needed, then another was easily found.

And so Judith Robinson, Mentor, was about to meet her Mentee, Mr. Gardner. She had attended a two-week evening class conducted for Mentors of people with Alzheimer’s.

She had separately read about and Googled Stage One or Mild Stage of the disease. Then she had called other Mentors from a list provided by the program to ask their advice and to glean from their experiences any useful approaches that they may have used with their Mentees, particularly in the first meeting.

Now was the hour. Fully prepped, briefed and encouraged, Judith took a deep breath, exhaled with a sigh, patted the cat,Doormouse, and closed her apartment door.

Silver streaks of a weak February sun glanced off the dripping pines of the Berkeley hills. A marine layer threatened from the north. Streaks of pink with bars of grey banded errant veils of fog draping the City.The sidewalk in front of the Lorimer Apartments’ lawn area sparkled with drippings from the redwoods that bordered the road. A ground fog wound its way between the adjacent buildings.

Judith tugged her multicolored wool scarf by its loose end until she was close to strangling herself in her bid to defeat the cold that threatened to dive into her nose. She won—momentarily—and lifting her steps to a brisk pace, she headed for the bus stop two blocks away.

Nearing the AC Transit stop, she felt a sudden chill and realized that it was not the cold this time, but fear.

Judith had seen a picture of Mr. Gardner, actually a number of them on his Google+ Page. He was quite handsome. Steel-grey hair was worn in a crew cut. A patrician nose equally divided two hypnotic blue eyes. But it was his jaw that everyone noticed first; square, tight, determined. His lips had ceased to show more than a line although they were not cruel, more, resolute. 

None of the photos (all but one, a bank photo, were candid shots) gave any hint of his Alzheimer’s. Nevertheless, she knew from her classes and reading that the insidious killer declined to reveal itself until well into the death spiral. Perhaps that made it more frightening for her because where and when was she supposed to react to any particular word or deed of Mr.Gardner which occurred as a result of his disease?

The bus ride was without incident; just another ride on an old AC Transit number over old narrow streets, past dreary ranch stucco houses. After riding for no more than fifteen minutes, the single-storey boxes gave way to two-storey domiciles and smoother streets, followed by the recessed villas of the North Berkeley Hills’ monied class.

Ten minutes later, Judith’s bus stopped. The driver kindly told her that this was where she needed to get off. Mr. Gardner’s address was around the first corner, about five houses up on the left. 

Judith was tempted to tell the driver a lie; that she had mistaken the address and needed to get off and return to her house to call for correct directions. A mental image of her dead mother screwing up her face in disgust and disappointment, squelched any speech. 

She nodded a thank you to the driver and added a verbal thank you after her feet hit the pavement. He grinned a silent wish for good luck. Judith smiled back and turned to begin her walk to the corner and the quest of Mr. Gardner’s house. 

Despite the horrid weather, which now included a fine freezing mist, not uncommon high up the hills on a nasty February morning, Judith suppressed both her reluctance and her fear. 

A dazzling, incredibly fast montage of the people she had surveyed, the areas she had canvassed, the faces lighting up with hope as they understood the meaning of the program, filled her inner eye. Her resolve doubled as she bent into the north wind slipping along the ridges of the East Bay Parks.

* * *

James Patterson Gardner clenched his jaw in a natural reaction to almost anything, good or bad, as though he was recalibrating his determination to defeat someone, or some thing that threatened either himself or some one or thing he cared about deeply. 

He checked his watch as he slid the beige drape slightly to the side to allow himself a good peek at the young black woman nearing his sidewalk. He could see her head and scarf as they tracked along the top of the hedge bordering the right front lawn of his property. He sighed with resignation.

how the hell is this going to work out?

End of Chapter Two

© Copyright 2018 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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