It is now two twenty six in the afternoon on a Sunday in early June. Clouds are billowing up from over the mountains, awaiting mass and force before unleashing their harbored energies. Already the wind is racing, laying flat the long grasses of the park and buffing the surface of the river.
Red, white and blue bunting was put up this morning and the wind has caused the swags to lift up and to sail away on a moment’s notice. Several visitors have made their entrance with stray bunting in hand.
The lazy, repetitive strains of Lorraine’s Olde Time Piano social can be clearly heard all the way from the parlor. One resident sings gamely along; the fact that he can no longer remember the words no deterrent at all from his enthusiastic enjoyment of the tunes. This musical performance has the ability to stretch the afternoon out indefinitely.
The house dog stretches over onto his back, leaning into my desk and spreading his limbs. His tongue and eyelids go lolling, presenting a strange and unnerving sight to unsuspecting visitors.
La Madam Resident is roaming the halls, cane in hand. Her patrician features have long ago frozen into a scowl worthy of Balzac. When the closed circuit of her pacing takes her to my desk, her scowl bursts into a cry of horror at the music. Her cane stabs at the air for emphasis.
“She is suppose to play for one hour!” La Madam declares. “Instead she plays now for one hour an’ a half!”
“It is very tedious,” I say, with great empathy.
“It is an horror!”
The residents of the down stairs floor have recently come back from a soft ball game. They returned happy, gently waving their straw hats and went meandering off down the halls while one of their number was being assisted in a wheelchair.
I retrieved the wandering from imminent misplacement by taking a hold of one moist and half curled hand. She whispered to me in the hallway, but by now she speaks a language no one but she can understand.
One resident now sits monumental in his wheelchair, opposite my desk, and drawls on about the decorating. Each word he speaks is a clear illustration of Ohio, his native state.
“What they should do, see, is store it for the winter,” he declares, one foot up on a foot rest. “She’s getting’ ready for the car show, see.” He rolls on into the bistro to prepare for Bingo.
I sit and share a popsicle with an afternoon care manager. It is an orange twin pop and shatters under my teeth into stinging splinters of cold sweetness. It is the kind of popsicle that always ends up falling off the stick toward the end, smearing sticky orange on the desk and the back of my hand.
While we eat the sun comes out from the clouds, a bunting I had jerry rigged with elastic flies loose and Lorraine continues her piano playing indefatigably, switching keys seamlessly between each and every repeat of the five songs in her repertoire.
“She doesn’t stop,” declares La Madam in a voice imbued with fatalism. “She is a pain in the neck.” She says the last four words in a rush, as though they were one word and furtively, as though not sure of the Americanism.
Bingo is begun regardless, it being the heart and soul of Sunday’s activities. The residents have been gathered from the far corners of the building; from quiet, shadowy rooms and from wing chairs where they were dozing off the cheese chowder from lunch.
Now they peer earnestly forward over their cards, listen to the drone of numbers.
“Gee fifty one,” the care manager intones. “G-5-1. Gee fifty one.”
This rhythm appears to be deeply soothing to the residents. They are marooned at the far and solitary banks of life and the numbers give them a feeling of certainty. There, before them, is unmistakably G-51.
They are often dreaming of the forgotten corners of their life, their fickle memories lifting and shutting like a window blind in a breeze. Sometimes they do not know if what they see is their memory, or their children’s, or a dream they had long ago.
It does not matter; either way they are pulled down a long, narrow corridor in their mind until someone calls out “Bingo!” and the numbers are reset.
All the while the warm scent of baking cookies comes curling around the corner to where I sit, looking busy and wishing that like countless receptionists before me, I could at least be doing my nails.
By the time Bingo is finished, the afternoon will have been gathered irretrievably into evening, a long summer evening with the leaves outside the wide windows silvering in the wind.
After dinner, while I am shuffling cards for Skip bo, perhaps the storm will pour out rain, releasing the scent of wet tarmac and the lamp lights will streak across the parking lot.
The members of the Skip bo club and I will sit at the little table in the empty bistro, I will stretch my aching legs out under the table and sigh. La Madam will contentedly shuffle the discard pile when it is not her turn and Ohio will chuckle silently over his latest run of good luck.
Quiet Emma with the lovely eyes will turn her head and look out the windows to the storm, the rain striking the ground and leaping back up again, the air full of spray, everything glistening.
“It’s a quiet evening,” she will say, her voice will be full of peace.
And we will all agree.
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