"Mama, tell me about Grandma," the little girl asked.
Her mother sighed and glanced at her mother, lying restlessly on the couch. In the evening light, Grandma's skin was a strange shade of ashen and green. Everyone in the household except the little girl knew that it was not an illusion; Grandma's liver had been failing for some time, and the backed-up bile in her bloodstream had now begun to penetrate the capillaries nearest the skin. They told the little girl that Grandma was just 'in a bit of a state' and wouldn't elaborate.
"Well," the mother said hesitantly. She looked down at her daughter, and a tear coursed down her cheek. Hurriedly, the mother looked away and wiped her face. With a brave smile and sparkling eyes, she faced her daughter again. "Grandma...well, she's uh, she's..." She glanced at her mother and back to her daughter. "Grandma is soon going to have an adventure," she said cryptically.
"An adventure?" the girl replied, eyes wide.
"Yes," her mother replied. "Grandma is, well, you see, she's going to go to another place."
The little girl looked over at the supine and languid figure on the couch. "But Grandma can't walk any more, Mama," she protested. "How is she going to go to another place?"
The mother caught a sob and stared out the window for a long moment, trembling. When she had control of herself, she again smiled and replied "It's her spirit that will go to the other place, honey. Her body will remain here. We'll put her body in the ground because she won't need it anymore."
The little girl looked at the old woman on the couch, who until a few months ago had been the vibrant, smiling, loving friend she'd always taken for granted. Now she looked solemnly at her mother. "Why is Grandma like that, Mama?" she asked.
Her mother sighed deeply. A long moment passed. At length, she turned to her daughter, lips pursed. "It's like this, honey," she replied. She sighed. Pressing on, she said "We used to have doctors and hospitals who could help Grandma," she began. "Young men and women would go to medical school and become doctors because they wanted to help people and because they could make a pretty good living doing it. And we used to have hospitals where sick people could go, and these doctors and their helpers called nurses would take really, really good care of people. If we had that now, Grandma would get better. But we listened to a man who told us he would lead us from a bad place to a good place. He said he had the answers to poverty and homelessness and racism. He said the evil capitalists were to blame, and if we elected him, he could solve all our problems. Some people didn't believe him. But many, many people did, and we voted for him."
"We had high hopes that he would bring a new world, that he was some sort of, I don't know, messiah or something. We were so happy, believing that everything would be just fine. But within days after he took office, things began to change. He brought in a team of people just like him, and they began to dismantle--that means take apart, honey--the government. Then they rebuilt it like they wanted it to be, with government people running everything and everybody reporting to the government to get their handouts. Soon it became more sensible not to work, since there are always some who won't rely on the government but insist on making their own way. The government required those people to support the rest of us."
"Well, honey, things began to go bad. At first, we didn't see the full extent of what this man was doing, or if we did, we looked the other way. After all, those millions of us who voted for him couldn't have been that stupid, could we? No, not at all. But we became nervous, honey. We sure did."
"One of the things that changed was that the government took over the hospitals and began to tell doctors and nurses how to do their work. Most doctors didn't like that. Many of them quit being doctors. Soon we had to invite doctors from other countries to come to work in the hospitals. But that seemed okay, because they would work for a lot less than our own doctors had been earning. Some of them actually seemed to know medicine."
"But what we discovered is that with the government running the hospitals, it became more and more difficult to see a doctor. There's what's called 'rationed care,' which...well, the best I can explain it is if I buy a package of Oreos and only give you one a week or maybe one a year because there aren't enough Oreos for you and all your friends. Do you see, honey?"
The little girl shook her head.
Her mother sighed. "I don't either, to tell you the truth," she remarked bitterly. She glanced at her mother and quickly away. "Well, anyway, we tried to get Grandma into a hospital a few months ago, when she began to feel bad, but we just couldn't get an appointment. I think it's because of her age."
"Yes," the mother replied. "You see, honey, the government has, uh, 'guidelines' on who can receive care and who can't. People like your Grandma are considered to be over the age where people are useful, so they have to give the care to younger people."
The little girl walked over to her grandmother and smoothed a wisp of gray hair off the semi-counscious woman's forehead. "Grandma isn't old, Mama," she said quietly.
When there was no reply, the little girl glanced at her mother. The woman sat, head buried in her hands, weeping and rocking gently back and forth. Quickly the little girl ran to her mother and buried her face in her lap. "Oh, I hope you don't get too old for the government, Mama!" she cried.