It’s Friday afternoon. The October sun is shining, while the faint chill of fall swirls the parking lot dust around my bare ankles. I enter the building through the sliding doors. There is something about those doors and the strange feeling when they close behind you. Again the little voice inside my head asking, “What are you doing here?” I am used to it now, so I just ignore it. This place is supposed to be like home. Oh, this is just like home! Here comes my crazy neighbor now, the one that pushes himself backwards in his wheelchair, all day through the hallways. He has his usual hand towel hanging from his mouth as he sucks on the end. I give him my usual hello neighbor smile. Today his head nods slightly as I pass. I am elated. I usually just get a low growl.
The bleach smell is stronger at the end of the hall. The floor washing machine must have just gone past on one of its endless rotations. The last door on the right is open. I pause, as I always do before I enter. Stopping to read the little biography on the door, “loves sweets and caring for her grandchildren” I know the rest by heart. She is motionless in her bed. The tiny room is warm and her little bay window looks out into a courtyard. I have never seen anyone in this courtyard; the planters are now full of dying summer flowers, looking brittle and dry. I open her fist and gently slide my hand around her fingers. Leaning close to her, I rub her forehead, “Hello dear, you’re doing so well. I love you.” Her eyes barely open, her breathing becomes more rapid and she squeezes my hand. Still holding her hand, I reach over and turn on her favorite CD, the sound of the ocean fills the room. Then I reach and slide over a chair, I make myself comfortable and rest my feet on the bottom rail of her bed. “I’ll be right here,” I tell her. On the wall, the institutional clock ticks the minutes by. Time seems to pass both slowly and quickly at the same time. Outside the sky is darkening, evening has come. A nurse comes in and turns on a small table lamp. “How is she?” she asks. “I’ll bring her something for pain,” she says. “No, I don’t think she needs anything,” I tell her. Then I ask, “Are they coming? Is anyone coming?” Slowly shaking her head she tells me, “No, they aren’t, her family won’t be able to get here.” The room feels even smaller now. I tell the nurse, “I’ll stay then.” She rests her hand on my shoulder, “Thank you; I’ll bring you back some tea.” The CD player, on repeat begins playing again.