Mr. Corvus’ wheelchair squeaked the entire way down the hall. Its eardrum bleeding squeal echoed, catching the attention of displeased visitors and chuckles from the residents. While they might not be able to hear the horrible high pitched noise it made, they could see the discomfort contort the faces of those who left them in Undercliff. And that was all the joy the retirement home’s residents needed.
Mr. Corvus’ antics were hardly unknown in the establishment; pranks weren’t uncommon. Somehow he always found a way to make his wheelchair’s wheels squeak, even after the orderlies took the entire thing apart and greased every piece it had.
Today it was thanks to the penny jammed in the right spoke.
“What shall we do today, Mr. Corvus?” Janet asked, strolling behind his wheelchair with a perky smile. She was the orderly assigned to Mr. Corvus, and best understood how to brush off his brash comments. And his especially infamous wandering hand. “It seems like a lovely day to go outside. Maybe enjoy the fresh morning air?” She waited for the usual delayed response.
“Why don’t you just try and suffocate me with all that tissue paper you’ve got stuffed in that bra of yours,” he scoffed. His body was slouched like a gremlin; his eyes were cold and dark. “It’s only sixty degrees outside!” He coughed into his handkerchief. “Damned woman, hoping a cold will do your dirty work for you?”
A laugh slipped from Janet’s glossy lips. Her speed increased just a bit faster. “Who would I get to talk to every morning then?” Her hand rubbed his bony shoulder. “I do so enjoy our talks, you know that don’t you? You’re the most lively of the residents.”
Mr. Corvus rolled his eyes and gagged.
“We could go to the cards room if you like? A change of scenery might be exactly what you need,” Janet suggested.
“And lose my sweets to Blue?” He made sure his voice carried through the halls. “No way. That loon is even more senile than I am.” Mr. Corvus crossed his arms and pouted.
“Jay is not!” Janet giggled. “He’s a sweet, lovely man. His grandchildren visit him almost daily; I think you two would make great friends!”
“God you’re daft…” Mr. Corvus sighed.
Janet waved to the passing residents who could still stroll on their own, with or without their walking canes and walkers. Mr. Corvus growled in response to their prying smiles. Even in a retirement home, secrets thrived. Whispers were never uncommon, and Mr. Corvus wanted as far away from the gossip as possible
“Janet, you dumb blond,” Mr. Corvus started. “Take me to the birdwatching room. We’re already late and I’m in a hurry.”
“The usual spot?” She asked.
“Of course the usual spot, where else!”
Janet stopped at the intersection of the sprawling, golden hallway. It was maze-like inside of the Victorian styled home, and was part of the allure of the prestigious retirement home--Undercliff never stopped growing. That and the cliff which it sat beside overlooking the sea. Location was everything--Undercliff was an hours drive from any nearby town and its isolation won the hearts of families who visited. It was also where only the most special residents thrived.
“What are you waiting for?” Mr. Corvus shook his chair. “Take the bloody left! I must get there.”
Janet obliged and the two made the left turn into another connecting hallway, this one filled with lavish paintings of the previous noble family which occupied the mansion. Mr. Corvus averted his sight from the paintings, choosing to watch the red rug over their following eyes.
“You seem to be in a rush today, Mr. Corvus. Afraid the birds will soar away?” Janet asked.
He adjusted his posture to something more respectable and less gremlin-like as the great wooden doors came into view. They were massive, nearly double the size of Janet with a golden knob on either door. They appeared to be built for giants.
“Just one…” Mr. Corvus whispered.
Janet stopped a foot from the door and left the wheelchair handles. She moved like a ballerina, joy and energy bursting from each step. She pushed her full body weight, which wasn’t much given her gaunt shape, into one of the doors and it cracked open just enough for the wheelchair to make it through.
She then skipped back to Mr. Corvus, their eyes locking as she studied his newly adjusted demeanor. The few black strands of hair he had left had been swept back and his bushy eyebrows flattened. His jaw was raised, hiding some of his jowls where he adjusted his coal tie; he appeared to look like a new man.
A cockeyed grin surfaced, one quickly admonished with a sullen glare by Mr. Corvus’ dry eyes. “Mr. Corvus--”
“Inside damnit!” He shouted.
Janet wheeled him inside without question. She only stopped when she saw a humanoid shape sitting elegantly in an antique chair.
“Mrs. Falco!” Janet exclaimed. “I didn’t know you liked to bird watch,” she pushed Mr. Corvus to the table at Mrs. Falco’s side. It was a small thing, large enough for the single teacup already occupying it and nothing else.
Mrs. Falco turned her attention from the wall of windows to face her and Janet froze in her gorgon gaze. She studied the drab blue of Janet’s uniform from head to toe, sighing and shifting her attention back to ocean waves crashing outside.
She was an elderly woman, but in no way looked hindered by age. In fact, the only indication of it were the strips of white nested in her chestnut, curled to perfection hair. Her eyes were as sharp as knives, and her pointed nose and frowning demeanor gave her an almost hawk-like appearance.
“Occasionally I pop by and see if there’s anything interesting around,” she sighed and adjusted her fur coat to better conceal the lacy, red dress beneath it. “It appears today there is.
Mr. Corvus licked the prune stain from the corner of his lower lip; his bony fingers squeezed the metal armrests in anticipation.
"Say, do you happen to know where my mousy assistant might be?” Her talons reached for the porcelain teacup. “Don’t tell me he’s off sticking his head where it doesn’t belong again?”
Janet blushed. “No… I uh, I haven’t seen him around. I’ll make sure to ask the coordinator if they’ve seen him.” She turned her attention to Mr. Corvus, who was busy peaking beyond her behind. Mrs. Falco was teasing the lace through a crack of her fur coat, watching the back of Janet's head in case she should turn around. Like a child caught red handed, his head snapped to the sprawling wall of windows in front of them.
“Oh, how rude of me. You know Mr. Corvus, don’t you?”
“No,” they both remarked without looking at the other.
“Alright…” Janet twiddled her fingers. “Well… Mr.Corvus. I can--”
“I’m quite fine here,” he protested. “Put me where I may see my seagulls and the finer things of this life. And hand me my binoculars. I can hardly see a damned thing through these foggy windows. They make everything so hazy.”
Mrs. Falco snickered at the comment. She sipped her tea as Mr. Corvus shot her a look of bewilderment.
Janet grabbed the pair hanging on a nail embedded in the side of a wall of books. Most were dedicated to birdwatching, though some from the library had been carelessly left and never returned. Janet knelt beside Mr.Corvo’s wheelchair and held them out with a smile.
He snatched them and pressed them to his face.
“And what are you looking for?” Mrs. Falco spoke up. “What out there could be so… alluring that you can’t find in here?”
The comment pulled Mr. Corvus’ face from the binoculars. Two large circular indents were pressed into his skin like cookie cutters in putty. Mrs. Falco hid her smirk with a carefully placed hand. A giggle slipped through anyway.
“I’m looking for--” Janet failed to hide her giggles as tactfully. “What?” His face shook and ripples moved through the sagging skin. He turned to Janet, then Mrs. Falco. “What are you gawking at? I can see you’re snickering underneath your wrinkly hand!”
“Who? Me?” Mrs. Falco looked around the room, as if there was an invisible audience watching them. “I’m not gawking at anything. I’m only watching the sea. It’s picturesque today, wouldn’t you agree?” Her act riled a raised, pale lip from Mr. Corvus and a quickly silenced laugh from Janet. “It’s clear as crystal, as is the rest of my view. Perfect and lovely. In fact… the view is driving me wild at the moment.”
Mr. Corvus’ shoulders raised into shivering mountain tops; he leaned forward and pointed an accusatory finger.
“You know something…”
“I know many things,” Mrs. Corvus interjected. She wagged her painted, wine colored nail back at him. “I know there’s more than seagulls those ancient binoculars of yours are looking at. The birds know it, too.”
He was taken aback by the comment as his eyes fell to Janet; he didn't know whether to grin or let his mouth hang in disbelief. Splotches of red dotted his cheeks. His neck hung sunk into his chest like a turtle, and he mouthed something quietly. Something that went unheard by either woman.
Janet stepped between the two. “So, what brings you to this room?” Janet asked. “Up until now, I thought Mr. Corvus was the only one who used this room. Before him, I wonder if it was used at all!”
“I have a fondness for visiting new rooms in Undercliff,” she smirked. “I yearn to learn the hobbies that rest in each room. Cards… Gardening… Dancing… I always meet such enchanting people hiding in them. Bird watching is a recent development of mine… a new hobby I’m learning to enjoy,” she eyed Mr. Corvus playfully.
“It’s a wonder you two haven’t met already then!” Janet exclaimed. “Mr. Corvus comes here daily, don’t you Mr. Corvus?” His wandering eyes quickly shot back to the glass as she turned to him. “He loves his seagulls.”
“I do, and typically you leave me be when you drop me here,” he growled.
“Dear…” Mrs. Falco interrupted. She held out her hand for Janet to take, to which she did and held it like it was made of ice. “You seem like a sweet little thing… To handle him for so long… I couldn’t imagine,” her gaze moved back to Mr. Corvus from across the table. A shady smirk made her appear five years younger. She pulled Janet closer and whispered, watching with one eye as Mr. Corvus climbed over his armrest, desperate to hear. “But perhaps you wouldn't mind doing an old woman a favor and find my assistant."
“What for? Is it an emergency?” Janet pulled away.
“No--no,” Mrs. Falco dismissed the idea with a loving wave. Even the little gestures she made felt ready for the stage. “I need a letter written for my dear son… bless his sweet little heart. It’s been over a year since I’ve seen him.”
“No…” Janet’s jaw dropped.
Mrs. Falco nodded along playfully. “The little bastard probably is hoping I’ll die here and leave him all the money,” she cackled at the thought. “I need to send him a letter reminding him I’m still very much alive and breathing…” Her sapphire eyes fell to Mr. Corvus. “... and dreadfully bored.”
“I see…” Janet fell deep in thought. Even while thinking, her face beamed radiantly; she was simple that way.
“Run along now, blondy,” Mr. Corvus groaned. “Go be a good helper and find this…” he scanned her dress with longing eyes. “Lovely creature her aid. And maybe feed yourself, too. You need some meat on those hips!” He coughed.
Mrs. Falco’s eyebrows raised, silently challenging his claim. Her hand slid up the fur of her coat, tracing her hip. His eyes dragged behind them, lingering on the spot they circled.
Her tongue licked her upper lip and Mr. Corvus mimicked the gesture.
“Well… I don’t know where I would find your assistant...” A light flickered in her head. Her eyes lit up. “What if Mr. Corvus and I keep you company? I love his company… maybe you might, too?
“Believe me, I’m sure I would… but there isn’t anything for you to do here my dear but listen to two ancients bitch about their children and grandchildren,” Mrs. Falco replied.
Janet turned to Mr. Corvo. “I didn’t know you had children?”
His face turned sour. “You wouldn’t know if you had children.” He brushed her comment away with a series of mumbles and grunts. “Don’t you have a job to do somewhere else here?”
“We can watch birds together!”
A crimson, reluctant grin slowly widened over Mrs. Falco’s face.
“That’s… oh how sweet you are, dear…”
“It’s really no problem at all!” Janet declared. She turned to Mr. Corvus, who by now, had his head buried in his hands. “Doesn’t that sound like a good time, Mr. Corvus? You can teach us both about birds!”
“Mhhhm…” Mrs. Falco moaned. “I would absolutely adore a private tutoring.” Her nails bit into the velvet cushioning.
“So would I!” Janet professed.
“Janet you dolt!” Mr. Corvus leaned forward in his chair, tossing the binoculars to his side. “What, I wonder, goes on in that empty head of yours? Go and find Mrs. Falco’s assistant! I’m not dead yet and don’t require a babysitter every minute of my life! Be useful!”
“I don’t even know what he looks--”
“Dear… I’m certain he’s mighty lost,” Mrs. Falco batted her eyes. Her unspoken command was audible. “Probably wandering the halls now. He’s devilishly handsome, though… not my type. You however…” she winked. “I’m sure he wouldn’t be able to keep his paws off of you.”
“Mr. Corvus…” Janet started. She twiddled her thumbs nervously. “Will you be alright with your new friend?”
“We will be more than alright, dear,” Mrs. Falco assured with a single wink.
“Run along now!” Mr. Corvus growled. “Go! Your presence is frightening the birds away. Do you know how little I get to enjoy this time in my life?”
Janet nodded. She marched over to the gigantic doors and, once she reached them, a squeak caught her attention. Hand resting on the knob of the door, she turned to see both staring at her like a hawk; Mr. Corvus was suddenly next to Mrs. Falco’s table. He glared at her grimly, as if shouting at her to leave.
Janet’s nervous smile rattled her lips.
“Mr. Corvus?” She waited. “Was there something else you needed?”
“No!” He squawked.
Janet bowed her head and vanished behind the door.
“Dear?” Mrs. Falco called out.
An eager face popped back in from the crack between the doors.
“Do shut the door, dear.” Mrs. Falco waved from her seat. Her talons were gripping Mr. Corvo’s wheelchair. “It’s a bit drafty in here. You wouldn’t want to say goodbye to us so soon, would you?” A leer of delight permeated her being; her eyes were locked with his black gaze.
Janet pulled the door nearly shut, leaving just a crack. She had every intention of closing it fully, but something stopped her from doing so. A whisper.
“...no, no," Mrs. Falco's voice slipped through the crack. "There isn't an assistant to find." Another giggle followed. "We have all the time in the world, George."
Before Janet could interrupt, she froze. She saw it, for the first time since she was appointed Mr. Corvus’ personal caretaker. Whispers said it was impossible--warnings declared it rarer than witnessing a white peacock.