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Holiday Sad

The center was quiet for a seasonal afternoon. Usually, the residents sat around playing bingo, cards, or dominos. The other residents plopped themselves in front of the television for entertainment. But today, everyone seemed to be in their rooms, patiently waiting for the day to end, so the cycle continued. Nothing out of the ordinary ever happened; some staff remarked that every day was groundhog’s day. Nothing ever changed, just the visitors that came and went.

Although the residents would never know if anything did happen, and when things did happen, the residents forgot everything by the following day.

Except for one man, Mr. Charlie Ray Carlson, he remembered something no one else could recall. When he asked for his old nurse, Nurse Sandy, no one could tell him where she went or when she would be back. The other absentminded nurses promised him she would be back tomorrow, but she never was. That was fine; Mr. Carlson would continue to ask for her until she returned.

Mr. Carlson may have forgotten what he ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But he never forgot about Nurse Sandy. Even if everyone else did, he couldn’t remember what year he saw her last, but Mr. Carlson could remember the day he’d last seen her. It was a holiday. All Hallow’s Eve, Nurse Sandy always brought him a small pumpkin full of candy. When Christmas came along, she baked him homemade gingerbread, and for his birthday, she baked him an Italian Creme cake.

Mr. Carlson missed when Nurse Sandy stopped by; he liked when she was the one who wheeled him down to the cafeteria or when they visited the side gardens. She was his only caretaker that’s name stuck with him.

“Good morning Mr. Carlson; how are you doing?” The nurse that walks in is Philippine, she is thin, short, and her hair is blacker than oil. She looks nothing like his usual nurse, and he frowns with a grunt.

Nurse Sandy is a petite but tall woman, with blondish-brown curls down to her shoulders, a light spray of freckles across her cheeks, and she sports a tan all year long.

His morning would be better if Nurse Sandy quit horsing around and got her tardy behind here. For a few moments, he does not say anything. Instead, Mr. Carlson stares at the woman with an expression that he hopes tells her to go to hell. He didn’t like when Sandy sent others. He only wanted Sandy’s assistance; everyone else could forget bothering.

“Where is Nurse Sandy? I don’t want anyone else helping me unless Sandy told them too,” That was the only way the other nurses could help him. But, first, they had to convince him that Sandy had already set him up with a nurse she trusted.

“Nurse Sandy took the day off; she told me you’d be asking for her,” The young nurse swiftly carries on with Mr. Carlson. She eases through their conversation without a single pause to think; she is used to dealing with their reluctance.

“And who are you to, Nurse Sandy? I ain’t ever heard of you before,” He growls at the nurse; indeed, Sandy would have told him about her friends.

“I am Nurse Tina; I will do my best to do half the job Nurse Sandy does to take care of you,” She smiles, reassuring him, grabbing his shoes from the end of his bed and gently placing them in front of his toes.

“You have your work cut out for you,” He gripes again, breathing deeply. His hunched back bars his movement, and the nurse assists him with his house shoes.

Nurse Tina knew that sometimes the patients she worked with here would have various perceptions of how the patients process their environment.

Some patients remember people that never existed; others do not remember the last sentence spoken to them; each case was different. Nevertheless, Nurse Tina took personal fulfillment from helping these people, even if they never appreciated her.

She did not mind their hatred. However, she didn’t shoulder their negativity; they had every right to be pissed off when they spent eighteen years growing into an adult, just to be dumped by their adult children after they reach seventy.

Some of these people had family members who never missed a weekend; others were dropped off and never saw their family again. The spectrum varied, and each patient was different. They all had their individualistic backstories that cultivated the person they are today.

Tina liked to bring the patients that tended to spend most of the time by themselves little gifts. She’d buy crosswords for the puzzlers, cards for the dealers, and books for the readers. Their reactions always justified the cost, but Tina never added up the receipts anyways. She enjoyed helping others feel better.

Her heart was too big, but Tina herself went home to no one. She didn’t know her parents, she grew up in a shelter, and when she turned eighteen, the shelter threw her out. The world ate her alive for months until Tina eventually turned things around. Everything that Tina had today she had herself to thank for, and maybe she felt more empathy for these people because she would end up just like them one day. Cold, lonely, miserable, forgotten, and forgetful.

“Let’s get some food in your system, Mr. Carlson,” The young nurse suggests, but Mr. Carlson belligerently shakes his head. Tina just smiles; her time is Mr. Carlson’s today.

“Nurse Sandy always takes me on a walk first. She even brings her dogs sometimes.” She smiles at the older man’s sassy tone, and she ponders about this Sandy person. She’d never heard of any of the other nurses bringing their pets to work.

“We can walk first; we can sit out in the garden; how does that sound?” Tina wondered if Sandy was a nurse here way before her time, but she knew she could not ask how long ago she’d been here. Mr. Carlson would not be able to tell her.

“What is today?” Mr. Carlson asks with a long face. His bushy eyebrows are wiry and long. Thick hairs come off his face in all directions, and his face is wrinkled like an oatmeal cookie. He frowns, and it makes his ancient features all the harsher. His skin looks dry and feels like sandpaper. His hair is paper-thin and covers his scalp in patches.

“It is Halloween today,” Tina replies, wheeling him out of his room. He shared the space with another man, Mr. Zane, but Mr. Zane passed away many years ago. Although the facility never filled the bed up with another person, Mr. Carlson did better when bunked by himself.

“Nurse Sandy never misses Halloween. Where are you hiding her? Why are you keeping me from Nurse Sandy? SHE IS MY NURSE.” Mr. Carlson is indignant. He clutches the arms of his chair, and he tries to push himself off so he can stand.

He loses his balance, but Tina helps him safely slip into his chair. Sometimes, her job is nerve-racking, at times too strenuous on the soul. She took a few deep breaths, keeping her face blank.

“The day isn’t over; Nurse Sandy will come back, Mr. Carlson.”

“I want my nurse back!” Mr. Carlson is hollering now, and the other orderlies are starting to send her weary glances.

The last thing Tina wants is for one of the other contentious nurses to stick their noses in; she has to find a way to soothe him quickly. Or they will sedate him and stick him back in his room.

“The garden isn’t too far now,” She’s at a loss for words.

Mr. Carlson doesn’t reply, he grunts with frustration, and he impatiently taps his feet against the footrest of his chair.

They turn down the last corridor, the wheels of his chair squeak and creak like a haunted house.

The Assisted Living Center for Memory Impairment is outdated. The building needed renovations decades ago, so naturally, the building required some work. The walls were no longer cloud white but a rather off-butter yellow that made the place appear scuzzy. In addition, the warped wooden floors are ruined from water damage, and broken tiles litter the kitchen and bathrooms.

Tina brought this up to management, but they never handled the issue with priority.

“Tell Nurse Sandy when she gets here that I am firing her and that I will have a new nurse. One that shows up. One like- what’s your name again?” He gently requests a reminder, even though his tone is as spiteful as a crossed snake.

“I am Tina,” She almost repeats his name, but she stops.

“Tina! Pretty name. Yes, tell Nurse Sandy I found someone reliable,” He compliments her with a backhanded remark, but Tina laughs with a grateful smile. As long as he is not boisterously griping, Tina could handle it.

So she brought him out to the garden and parked him on the terrace next to a white bench. The garden was lovely; that was one thing that management never let go of. Their bushes and hedges were all meticulously trimmed, not a leaf or stem out of place. The sprinkler system kept the plants and flowerbeds hydrated.

“Nurse Sandy liked to read to me. Won’t you read to me?” His voice is soft; his expression is callous.

“What would you like to read, Mr. Carlson?” Tina shelved hundreds of books in her office; if only he would have told her this before they’d made it all this way.

Tina watches with careful eyes as her patient struggles to get a grip; he frowns. His angry eyebrows slant upwards, and his mouth makes half of a frown on the left side of his face.

The gears are gradually turning, but his memory does not work as fast as it should. The frustration that scrawls across his face is heartbreaking, and Tina can’t stand to see him suffer.

“I have a small copy of the newspaper; I clipped the poem for today. I will read that,”

“Good,” His quick answer is abrupt. Tina fumbles through each pocket of her scrubs before she finally finds the short poem that touched her this morning.

“In autumn, the leaves metaphor and the animals prepare,

In winter, snow frosts the grass, and bears hibernate in caves,

In spring, squirrels climb trees and birds sing,

In summer, the sun shines, and the blue sky looms above,

As the seasons change,

So do people,

As time passes,

The world moves on,

So remember to stop every once in a while,

And listen to the breeze of the wind passing you by,” Tina finishes, not sure what she likes about the poem just that she likes it. Mr. Carlson’s beady eyes are focused on her face, he seems to disapprove of the poem, but the older gentleman doesn’t say anything. Tina listens to the engines of cars that pass by on the road in front of the facility.

“That had nothing to do with Valentine’s day; Nurse Sandy would have read something that related to the holiday. So, Save that poem for spring Nurse-” He stops rambling, the octaves of his voice stretch, and he tries to fumble through his memory like he is searching his wife’s purse for a missing object.

“I am Tina. And I thought the poem was fit for any occasion. Especially a nice afternoon outside, under the shade.” She’s finally starting to wear down. Her willpower to be excellent was strong, but after too many chinks in her armor. Tina’s bark could be just as powerful as her bite.

“Well, read me something else,” Tina chuckles, feeling the stress nesting between her shoulder blades tingle.

Mr. Carlson wasn’t the most challenging patient, and he never could compare to Mrs. Winston. That lady was about as pleasant as a thumbtack to the heel.

“We will have to go back inside,”

“That’s fine. It is hot out here anyways,” Tina knew for a fact that the weather was not hot; in fact, the temperature outside was cooler than the thermostat stuck at seventy-five degrees inside.

“I’ll take you inside then,” Their walk was short if one could consider it a walk at all.

“I’m hungry,” Mr. Carlson scratches his head with long fingernails; he doesn’t let anyone touch his nails.

“They are serving steak and eggs for breakfast this morning; tonight’s dessert is pumpkin pie,”

“Pumpkin pie is my favorite. Must be Thanksgiving,”

“Do you take whip cream?” Nurse Tina navigates to the dining room, where most of the residents have already left. Breakfast was over an hour ago, so hopefully, there was food left for Mr. Carlson. If not, she would have to make him a snack.

“I do; Sandy used to make the best turkey and cranberry sauce sandwiches. My mouth waters just thinking about them.”

“Let me go get you something to eat, Mr. Carlson,”

“Maybe you’ll find Sandy in there,” He sends her the first smile he has in a very long time. His lips are just a few shades of pink darker than his white skin. His happy expression makes his face appear so fragile, as his skull may fracture at the slightest touch. He is weak and old. His body is tired, and his eyes are secretive.

Tina walks into the kitchen, where there are cooks busy preparing lunch. Loaves of bread, stacks of tomatoes, lettuce, bacon, and cheese linger on the counter.

“Do you know if there is any cranberry sauce?” She asks Debra, the older woman that runs the kitchen. Although, most people call her Deb; she’s been here longer than anyone else.

“Haha, baby doll, you are in luck. I just made some fresh cranberry sauce this weekend. It’s in the fridge. Who do you need it for?”

“Mr. Carlson,”

“You mean to say, Charlie Ray?” The older woman pauses to glance at Tina; a perplexed scrunch of her nose makes her look like a pig.

“The very one,” Tina replies with a soft tone.

“Oh, Charlie Ray! He’ll love a turkey and cranberry sauce sandwich. Just like she used to make. For the sake of Halloween, I’ll make him his favorite.”

“You know Mr. Carlson?”

“Of course, not many people around her know about him or his wife anymore. Such a sweet woman, she came to see him every day,” Her voice is sticky with sweetness, and she’s already popping the roasted turkey back in the fridge.

“That was nice of her,”

“Has he asked you where she is? It breaks my heart every time someone complains about him. He can’t help his memory,” The older woman babbles and gossips.

“Not that I know of,” Her reply is absentminded as she stares at the time on her watch.

“I am sure he will; she was his favorite.” The woman slides the plate over to Tina; her lips stretch into a rueful smile.

Tina thanks her for her time, still staring at her watch. She grabs the plate, paying little attention to the context of their conversation. She is just about to walk out the door when she pauses.

Could Nurse Sandy be his wife?

“Did you know her name by chance?”

“Yes, Sandy Mable Carlson. She was a doctor.” Tina almost dropped the plate of food. Her heart tumbled into her stomach, and she swallowed the large lump in her throat.

“Thanks a-again, Debra.” Tina stammers, swearing the temperature just dropped twenty degrees.

As she left the kitchen, her eyes immediately sought out Mr. Carlson. He was sitting alone at a table with a pumpkin centerpiece, his frail hands are outstretched across the surface. His palms are faces the ceiling as if he were holding another person’s hand. She could tell that he was talking, his lips moved quickly, and his mouth opened and closed as he finished speaking.

Pity flooded her stomach and muddled together with the breakfast she’d eaten this morning. She felt sorry for Mr. Carlson, he’d spent a lifetime knowing someone, and now his brain confused him and tricked him. His brain made it increasingly more difficult to comprehend her absence.

She took her time, doing her best to exaggerate her steps so she did not startle him.

Once she reached the table, Mr. Carlson beamed at her with such a joyous expression; Tina couldn’t help but wonder if somebody had ransacked him for his personality.

“Oh, Nurse Tina, I found Sandy! She brought us some little cakes. Why don’t you pull up a chair and take a seat?” The chair across from Mr. Carlson is entirely empty, although he gestures for her to grab another chair. She does, without really comprehending what she is doing, too worried about the empty room, to care what chair she was grabbing.

Tina glances around the room with chaotic eyes, but there is no one here but Mr. Carlson. Her heart hammers as she tries to play off her concern. There is no one here, but Mr. Carlson seems to be content.

“Nurse Tina, we sure are glad you could join us,” Mr. Carlson places a hand over hers and smiles with watery eyes. Then he turns his head to the apparition only he can see and strikes up a full-blown conversation.

Tina sits in silence, as she listens to Mr. Carlson chat up his dead wife.

October 29, 2021 13:28

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3 comments

Graham Kinross
00:05 Nov 18, 2021

Oh dear. Losing your memory is terrifying. You can have your health but without your mind it’s not worth much. Scary.

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Kaylee Aleece
02:35 Nov 18, 2021

I think losing your memory is just as scary as losing your sight, or your ability to hear. It's also sad, to live all those years, just to lose your ability to recall it.

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Graham Kinross
12:53 Nov 18, 2021

Exactly, when you lose senses you can compensate but not if you’re losing your mind. The idea of it freaks me out.

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