Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy

I’d made it eight months in Australia, heeding the warnings from people about the types of things you can get sucked into via Gumtree. I’d never had any problems though. Gumtree united me in holy matrimony with plenty of odd jobs. By the powers invested in thee, I met my previous employer, Ivy.

“I’m intrigued by those things in your nose. You obviously have more money than sense.”

Her blunt character didn’t offend me; I was rather humoured by her honesty. Despite the variance between us, she hired me on the spot.

After the interview Ivy said, “I feel like I’ve known you my whole life.” Cute, right? If all I have to do is cook and clean for this reserved elderly lady, while she stares at my nose rings, I thought, a month will be a breeze.

About a week in, any humour I’d found in Ivy’s character was gone. On a good day, we were eating ice creams and looking at pictures of her grandkids or puppies. Other days would only escalate in terms of how many times I’d almost cried and how crude she was.

One day, I was dusting the windows and moved the duster to far over from the part I had just done. Spurs of dust and words of fury filled the air. Ivy started yelling at me to move “TWO FUCKING INCHES at a time and shut up”.  Everything I did was through regimented instruction. Absolutely every detail.

“Go in the bathroom. Open the cupboard under the hand sink, take out the small dish, put it on the table. Take out the container with powder, put it on the table. NEATLY do you understand? Take out the soap. Put it on the table. Turn on the washing machine. Bring the container, the soap and the small dish so I can show you exactly how much you need to fill it. STOP. Do you fucking understand stop? Is English your first language?”

I tried asking her to give me fewer instructions at once, or I’d simply do things like turn on and open the washing machine before her telling me. Except if she didn’t hear the power switch tick on her command, I’d have to take everything out and be instructed through it again.

The thing I didn’t mention yet is that Ivy is totally bed ridden. She has osteonecrosis, which basically kills the bones and joints. She also has osteoarthritis in her hands so she has little-to-no ability or strength to make her own movements. This is why she needs a house keeper. This is also why I had a lot of understanding for her temperament. Essentially, Ivy is in control of not much more than what she can instruct others to do.

She would tell me about life in aged care, the nurses, the gossip, the “waterside retirement villas.” She saw through the facades used to keep elderly people quiet and out of the way. The method to her madness, I suppose. I never asked any more than she’d tell me. This was sometimes her screaming at me about how successfully she managed a staff of over 50 people.  Incomparable to my inability to even hang a cardigan properly.

There was never any doubt that she was a strong minded woman. Of course, she had to be. Maybe to adapt and repel pity, she had developed this rude, obsessive behaviour. But I couldn’t help thinking, Where are those 50 people now? Surely none of them could be asked to wipe her ass and listen to methodical directions for doing so.

It finally climaxed on week three. She asked me to do what she usually has a nurse do, which involved lifting her out of bed. I refused because I don’t have the professional training, and offered to call a nurse or other staff. Ivy insulted me for the last time with a few choice words and a, “Don’t bother coming back tomorrow.”

Honestly, I was relieved, but also disheartened to end things this way. Though Ivy treated me like a piece of uneducated shit, it had been a comedic and strengthening experience. She signed the cheque, I changed the garbage, left her lunch and turned the washer off. A cease to the control of her power, or at least I thought.

Two days after, Ivy sent me a message saying she had cancelled the cheque. She knew I was leaving the country in a few days, so this money was basically the only cash I had for my next trip. A week had passed, my bags were packed and I was $500 out of pocket. With no other choice than to settled my losses, I hung my first story in the Gumtree Hall of Shame.

It wasn’t until the day I left that she electronically deposited the money into my account, 50 dollars less than the original pay. I was so angry and so happy, and I think she made me shed one last tear, just in time for my next adventure.

After it all, I still love and use the same salad recipe she had me to make for her – sliced and diced:

  • Beetroot (cooked/pickled)
  • Oranges (with the skin peeled but leave the pith (the white part between the skin and fruit)
  • Pickled onions
  • Apple
  • Tomato
  • Cheese (whichever you prefer, or don’t, because it could be a great vegan salad!)
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • I also put coconut, just because I’m tropical like that.

Cover by Jim DiGritz