by Amelia Rinaldi '23
He walks into the room and finds her sitting next to a rumpled bed. The rocking chair swallows her. Its blue flowers devour her gray sweater and shaking hands. Her hands are always shaking; arthritic fingertips that can barely hold a cup of coffee. Hair braided behind her shallow shoulders starts to slip into strands. Her chapped lips move, murmuring to herself as she looks out the window. The man clears his throat. She turns slowly. Her green eyes are startling; they peer out of masses of wrinkles to smile up at him. He smiles in return.
“Look at how the wind is blowing.”
A soft voice. He humors her and gazes into the sun. The pines branches sway slightly.
“Too cold for a summer day.”
“Isn’t it? But I wouldn’t know, I’m always cold anyway.”
“Would you like a blanket Mrs. Davis?”
She pulls the sweater tight around her. “I think I’m alright. Thank you”
“Then shall we?”
He holds out an arm, and her bird hands grasp it. They’re pale and veiny, their feather grip fleeting. He supports her, and they hobble away from the room. The hallway is bright. No shadows follow the heavy figure towering over the woman with wrists and ankles that almost disappear into the tile below. Empty wheelchairs sit outside closed doors decorated with pairs of empty rectangles. The spare space on the walls is covered with anything from pictures of smiling families to massive afghans. Some have artwork: splattered flowers and painted children. The woman lets one hand leave the man’s thick forearm to point.
“That one is beautiful”
A picture of a colorless man draped with tubing staring into a mirror. A boy staring back, hand against the glass, painted in pink and green with strokes so thick they almost come off the page. Mrs. Davis leans towards them, hand starting to shake but still reaching for the protruding paint. The man guides her hand back to his arm and helps her forward, his eyes on the other wall.
“I like that one”
A picture of a golden retriever.
“I had a dog once. A tiny thing, nothing but fur. But he would sit in my lap and keep me warm on the coldest nights. Have you ever had a dog?”
They turn a corner in the hall, making no noise, sneakers and slippers both silent. Mrs. Davis’s smile is gone but her green gaze isn’t. She studies everything they pass. Then the man stops, and she stumbles. He catches her. Then he turns to the door in front of them, pulling it open delicately. It creaks, sending echoes down the empty hallway. They step into the room together, the man stooping under the door.
The doorway’s light gleams in a dozen pairs of eyes. Men bulging out of wheelchairs holding half-eaten hamburgers and women knitting endless scarves, all glaring at the newcomers. Some murmur complaints or ask for a drink of water, but the man ignores them. He lowers Mrs. Davis into a rocking chair with the same pattern as her own but a faded pink instead of blue. She sinks into it, her braid disappearing into the deep cushion. The man hands her a book. It bounces in her hands as she squints at the cover.
“Would you by any chance...?”
He pulls out a pair of reading glasses.
Her wrinkles pull up into a gentle smile. She opens the book and places it carefully onto her lap, leaning crookedly to see the pages. The man takes a long glance at the wisp of a woman sinking deeper and deeper into her flowered chair. Then he tries to leave. His feet walk towards the door but then his head turns back. One final stare. The whole room has returned to their individual tasks, some sketching, others sitting over jigsaw puzzles. They have no need for the man. They are content, even happy. And he believes that once he leaves, maybe they’ll stay that way. A frozen moment. With that thought, he manages to look away. The man walks out, closing the door behind him. He pulls a key from deep within his scrubs. It clicks twice in the knob. With the door soundly locked, the man stalks down the hall, step after silent step. He disappears around the corner, past the paintings and pictures. The lights click off.