Last night Keith made the mistake of asking me how my day at work was. I proceeded to explain to him how Walter had had diarrhea and the heroic things I had done in the effort of keeping him, his clothing and the general area clean.
"You are a special woman," he said dryly.
"Wanna switch jobs?" I asked, grinning.
"Uh, no," he replied flatly. "I'm good....here, in Iraq."
I was lying on my side of our bed, with Abby sprawled out beside me, getting all excited and chewing on the bedding. I don't know if she can recognize his voice over the phone or if she's just picking up on my happiness, but she gets hyper when he calls.
"What will you do when our kids have diarrhea?" I asked him today. There was a pause.
"You mean, what will you do?" he replied teasingly.
I knew today would be a bad day when my oatmeal refused to congeal in the microwave and stayed instead a thin, gruel-like consistency with an unpleasantly strong cinnamon taste. When I got to work at six in the morning, the lead read out the entries in the Daily Log from the night before.
"Tom reported that he saw two children sitting on his bed when I went up to help him with his ted hose," read one entry.
The elderly often see things, most frequently right before they die, or in the months preceding, or if they have certain forms of dementia. But Tom was not a man who had ever had hallucinations before. In the predawn dark, before we had to go off into our long, empty hallways, it raised goosebumps.
"No way!" exclaimed my coworker, Laura, her voice low. "Bob hallucinated yesterday too! He actually told me! I was kneeling, helping him put on his socks when he just told me, out of the blue that he was hallucinating. I said, "Oh Bob, do you know what that really means?" He replied calmly, "Yes, I do. I see the wheelchair moving back and forth, back and forth."
As Laura told this story, I felt the hair on the back of my neck go up, we were all silent, listening in the small office. She continued, "Then he said, "And there are two people behind you, staring at you."
We all groaned loudly. We all had stories to tell; we had all heard many. Of entering an empty room to see the rocking chair moving in the still, dusty air; of walking down the hallway and seeing a figure in the corner. Of residents who talked to people we could not see.
"Don't let him kill me," Ricky used to plead, in his low voice, as he lay in his room slowly dying. His eyes would roam around the room, dimly lit because he didn't like the curtains open. Slowly, his eyes, sunk deeply into his face, would focus on mine. "Are you going to kill me?" he would ask then.
"No one's going to kill you," I would reply, summoning all the warmth at my disposal.
Once, when I was on the night shift, we opened the door to a bedroom to see the pale, milky shape of the resident in her nightgown, tottering around her room. We rushed to her; she was a very high fall risk.
"What are you doing up?" we asked her, escorting her back to bed.
"The children," she replied. "The children won't stay out of my room."
We hadn't bothered to turn on the lights, suddenly the dark was tingling all around us.
"There are no children here," my coworker said, in her straight forward, it will be alright voice.
"Get them out, get them out!" the elderly lady insisted, but she allowed us to return her to bed.
Two hours later, we did rounds again and found her, again, up and about.
"You stay here," my coworkers said. "I have to call her daughter; she's going to fall and we can't spend the whole night in here. Her daughter will have to come over."
I agreed and sat down on the bed, where we had returned the lady for a second time. She was low, round and softly wrinkled with a pleasant, absent minded face. In a moment, I heard her voice from the dark, from the head of the bed.
"Get that cat out," she said hoarsely.
"Where's the cat?" I asked, trying to ignore my apprehension.
"Crawling across the wall," she whispered. "There."
I made sure my voice would sound calm before I spoke. "I don't see a cat," I replied.
In a moment, she spoke again, into the silence.
"There's someone here," she whispered in a deadened voice. All the hackles on my back went up, I stood as still as stone.
"Where?" I asked, whispering despite myself.
She pointed in the dark to something over my right shoulder as I was leaning toward her.
"There," she whispered hoarsely, "in the chair."
I forced myself to turn my head, I could feel the joints creaking. Indeed, behind me was a high backed, old fashioned chair, with nothing on it, sitting in the absolute dark of the corner.
That was when I gave in, got up and with great focus, forced myself to walk slowly and calmly to the light switch by the door and, finally, flick it on. The room sprang into shape and dimension, but the empty and eerie atmosphere did not go away. It was with great relief when I saw, a good half an hour later, the figure of her daughter crossing the deserted parking lot, on her way into the building.
Well, now that I have thoroughly freaked myself out by remembering all this again, tonight I have to go up and sleep by myself. Well done, me. I'll have to call Keith just to hear his warm, Indiana accented voice.
"Does Abby sleep with you yet?" he asked me last night.
"Of course she does, she always..." I began, and then remembered. "Yes," I said, with a grin, "She sleeps with me still. Farm boy."
"Hey, no teasing allowed," Keith protested.
"I'm allowed," I replied archly, "because I love you."
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