By Jenn P.
(Posted on Jenn's behalf by Ambrose)
Mrs. Adams grimaced. "Schooling and some fool health board may have made you a nurse, son, but God made you a boy and I simply won’t have you in here to change my sheets, diapers, or anything else."Lochlin sighed. This had been going on for three weeks now, if he so much as touched a corner of the bed. There was no arguing with this woman and, after each battle, he simply retreated in disgrace. He had called one of the female nurses twice in the last two days, having found no polite words which would sway the old woman’s determination to hang on to her dignity.
"Fine, then, Mrs. Adams. I see that I won’t be changing anything around here, not even your mind. I’ll just be going, then.""Hmph." She sighed herself, a tiny little gale of wind which shook her entire frame, then slid her feet to the floor. Lochlin watched patiently, knowing better than to do so much as twitch. Would this be the day?"What they call you, boy?"
"Lauren? My day, they was calling little girls Lauren."
"Lochlin, Mrs. Adams. Like from Scotland, you know?"
"Oh. Well, Loch, I’m fixin’ to explode here. You’d better get me on that glorified chamber pot in there before something in there busts and both our troubles get over."
And that was the beginning of Lochlin’s strange love affair with Mrs. Adams. Each day he came in it was an exercise in diplomacy, a skillful display of the art of letting someone else get your way. As Lochlin found himself in her room more and more often, he learned a great deal about her. He learned that she was the mother of three boys and a girl. The daughter he heard little about, save that she lived ‘somewhere up north with them damn yankees.’ Mrs. Adams was still fighting the civil war. Loch assumed the daughter was not in good graces, considering she had not visited, called, or written in the entire seven months since Lochlin had first met the old lady. The sons, however, were a different story. ‘Her David, her Andrew, her Robbie’ she forever spoke of with animation and joy. None of them had ever set foot in the nursing home, either.
"I suppose it was fifty-one or fifty-two," she had said, without preface, when he walked into her little cubicle that Saturday morning. Lochlin recognized the beginning of a story and stood still, waiting. He studied the photographs above her head; a woman, alone, four children in the late 1940s; Mrs. Adams with her husband, long deceased. He wondered idly why those pictures were up there on the wall, where she was unable to see them. The only sort of decoration in the room which benefited her was a cracked photo, unframed and unprofessional, of a smiling girl in her early twenties, terribly beautiful, whose arms were wrapped around the shoulders of a young man Loch recognized as one of the three sons. Robbie, he thought to himself, focusing on the two as they grinned deliriously at him from next to the television beside the bed.
"At that point, then, it was just me and Robbie." Lochlin came back with a start, having missed a length of Mrs. Adams’ story. "He didn’t enlist with the other two right away, because he was engaged to be married. Davie and Andy, now, they didn’t have anything holding them to home but momma’s apron strings. Working in a grocery store didn't inspire a lot of sentimental attachment to home, and I told all four of my children I’d be proud to see them make their own way in the world. David and Andrew just considered the whole enlistment as a new adventure, one of the rare ones that I approved of.
"Robbie, on the other hand, he had interests." Mrs. Adams nodded significantly and Lochlin nodded back. It was best to agree. "Robbie was engaged to the sweetest little girl in the world, and they were going to be married in July. But then, when the little boys went off to the army to be Marines, well then he decided that a wedding would have to wait." Off to the army to be Marined...Lochlin laughed again. If only his military-wife sister could hear this, he thought. "Of course, Amanda didn’t like that idea too much, so she suggested that they just move the wedding forward, instead of back, and that’s just what they did. They got married the next week, and all of my boys were gone within a month. It was just me and that big old house, all alone."
Lochlin shifted on his feet, then gingerly sat down in the chair beside the bed. He’d never had the gall to make himself a visitor before–he’d stood stiffly on the office of caretaker, listening being solely part of his job. This was a whole different sort of story, though. This was care giving on a human level he’d not experienced before. It was clear that the things she was telling him had not been shared in many, many years. The details and events were dusty, crusted with time, and he sensed that something was special about his being chosen to hear them.
"Well, anyway, David and Andrew went and got theirselves killed in a truck accident the day they landed in Korea. That about broke my heart at first, because David was my oldest and he reminded me so much of his daddy. Later, though, I decided that it was all right. It was meant to be." She laughed, interrupting herself. "Funny, you know. I sound all high and mighty saying ‘later it was all right.’ I reckon that 'all right' was a long time coming, since 'later' probably works out to be about thirty years, by my counting. Not much time to me, but I figure that’s longer than you’ve been alive, isn’t it, Loch?"
Lochlin was 26. He nodded again, then stood up and made a pretense of checking Mrs. Adams’ blood pressure. She resumed her story, her head turned on the pillow, facing the photograph beside the television. "Robbie had been over there for two months when Amanda finally came to me and said she was gonna be adding another Adams to the collection. We laughed, we cried, then we sat down and wrote a letter to Robbie from the both of us. She’d done written one on her own, but after ours was finished we walked to the post office like two little girls, hand in hand, and mailed those letters like we was writing to Santa Claus. It was a great week, let me tell you. Her folks came over for dinner and we laughed and talked and planned and just reveled in that joy. There was nothing like it."
Lochlin released her wrist and sat down again. There was a vase of dried flowers on the table nearest his chair. He began to automatically count the flowers, counting up to fifteen and starting over again mechanically. Mrs. Adams coughed lightly and Lochlin made a mental note. The pneumonia was not responding to the drugs she was on, obviously. Ninety six years were a lot to leave on those skinny shoulders of hers, and age was taking its toll at last."Anyhow," she continued, "we were all just as happy as a duck in a June bug nest for three weeks. Then my telephone rang. It was some army big shot, and all he had to tell me was that my son was killed in action and his body was being sent home to my address. ‘Please notify any unlisted next of kin’ he says to me, all official like, and then he just rung off. Amanda didn’t know. I had to tell her, and I did, because there weren't no sense in delaying."
Lochlin made a noncommittal noise that she construed as an agreement. "Amanda took it like the big girl that she was, and we named the baby Judy Ann. That was it. Robbie was buried, and we went on. I had a hole in my heart shaped just like Robbie and I figure Amanda did, too. She came to see me every single month after that, for almost five years, then she moved away to get a new job where she could support herself and that baby girl. I don't think she'd have married again."Mrs. Adams coughed.
Lochlin stood up and moved around the other side of the bed to take her temperature. She muttered as he did so, "Good thing some smart doctor thought up that ear thingermajigger for my temperature. I swear to goodness that I’d die right now if you ever tried to stick something up my fanny like they did in the good old days."
A week later she was worse, so much worse, and it pained Lochlin to see her body wracked with those choking coughs. However, she wasn’t to be daunted. The television was on, and Loch stepped between it and the bed, trying to readjust the sheets and Mrs. Adams smacked at his backside, the only part of him that she could reach, and snapped,"Your parents weren’t glassmakers, boy. I’m trying to watch the idiots on the tube!"
He quickly stepped aside, but no sooner had he ceased to obstruct her view but she reached for the remote and flipped the set off. Lochlin looked at her quizzically, and was shocked to see she was looking at him intently. Usually, Mrs. Adams let those blind grey eyes simply rest on whatever took her fancy and, though he knew full well that her sight was quite good, Lochlin liked to indulge in the fancy that she didn’t see him. Somehow it made the mutually humbling sponge baths and bathroom trips a little less painful. However, now she was looking right at him, through him. Here was a woman with a life behind her."So, Amanda moved away and I haven’t seen her since. I’d like to see her and that little baby again.”
Lochlin calculated absently, gently lifting her into the thick, padded chair and beginning to peel the thin sheets from the bed. That little baby would be over fifty years old now. She probably had children of her own. Her children probably had children of their own."I’d like to see them again, Lochlin. Could you bring them in sometime, for me?"Lochlin paused at the far corner of the bed. If there was one thing Mrs. Adams had never shown symptoms of, it was dementia. She never lost the least little bit of her faculties, ever. Loch looked at her with concern and said cautiously,"Mrs. Adams, how on earth could I do that? I don’t know her name. I don't know anything." He waited, afraid she would go on with the petulant insistence of so many people he cared for on a daily basis—the sort of patients who cried out for a relative long dead, staunchly refusing to understand that they could not be summoned by anyone less than God almighty.
"Look her up on your world wide wait, boy." Lochlin giggled at her, unable to sustain the doomsday feeling his meditations about eyes and God had brought on. The way she picked up phrases from he and the other nurses and regurgitated them back into conversations was so amusing. The words fell oddly from ninety-something year old lips.
"I’ll do that, Mrs. Adams."
Lochlin shook his head as he left work that evening, unable to shake the vision of Mrs. Adams eyes. Normally, he discarded every promise he made to a dying patient as soon as he walked out the door. They didn’t ever remember anyway. This time, though, something told him that Mrs. Adams wouldn’t be forgetting anything.When he got home that night, he sat down in front of the computer and sighed. There was no way he could ever find that woman. He looked around in frustration at the few photos on the walls of the closet he called an apartment. They were sparse, to be sure, and all of his elder sister and her family. He got up from the computer, ignoring the three blinking icons that said "A Friend Has Signed On!" and ambled toward his single bookshelf.
Near the top was a book called "Winter’s Come," which a friend had bought him while the two were in medical school. It was about a young intern in a nursing home who befriends an older man dying of cancer. They read poetry together, they talk, and the man’s dying days have meaning because of this young intern. Lochlin snorted politely at the author and replaced the book. Mrs. Adams didn’t need him to give her dying days meaning. They had plenty of meaning. The day Mrs. Adams patted his hand after they closed the book of Robert Frost poems was the day he became administrator of the home. Things just didn’t happen in real life the way they did in the books. He sat down at the computer again and clicked on Google.
Two more weeks passed and Lochlin arrived at work on Saturday morning with a bounce in his step. There was a woman in South Carolina who answered his somewhat random and flustered email. She was looking into her family history and thought she could help him. In fact, she thought Mrs. Adams was her aunt. Things were good. He felt a sort of fulfillment in having made that connection, and he couldn’t wait to share his news with Mrs. Adams. She had asked him every day about his search for her family, and it had become a sort of obsession with her. Lochlin couldn’t explain why this had suddenly become so very important, but something about that little lady drove him to work for her as he did for no patient. No, this was for a friend. He was so proud as he walked in that door. He glowed.
He stopped glowing. She was lying on her side in the dark, with the curtains drawn, television off, radio off. The room was dead. There was no life in it, no cranky personality that he had come to love and look forward to. He looked over her anxiously, feeling for a pulse. It wasn’t there. He dropped her limp, cold hand in momentary disgust and stepped back from the bed. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be! He was supposed to tell her he had found a family member, and some sweet great-grandson who looked just like Robbie was going to come and visit her with his siblings and she would die with her family all around her, happy and peaceful. Lochlin kicked out at the chair and stubbed his toe painfully. He almost swore, but then stopped himself because he knew Mrs. Adams would scold. No, wait, she wouldn’t, would she? The walls of the room seemed to be a million miles away. He was floating in space.
Lochlin called the desk and the immediate, mechanical process of dealing with a deceased patient began. He was gently pushed aside as the team came in, he was given a form to sign. He signed it absently and walked up to the desk. He would notify the next of kin, he told the receptionist in a haze. Then he walked to the break room and looked through the folder. He called the daughter, who coolly accepted the news, asked the final balance for her mother’s healthcare, and informed him that she intended to have her mother buried there in Davidson beside Mr. Adams. Would he please see to the details, as the home is accustomed to do for patients with no family? Lochlin hung up with a sick feeling in his stomach.This was getting depressing. He continued to go over that dreamy scenario he had planned, the one with the touching family reunion. That’s what happens when you let your imagination get formed by stupid authors who wouldn’t know reality if it hit them with a baseball bat.
At home he sat at the computer again and checked his email. There was an email from a name he didn’t recognize, which he promptly deleted. Stupid spam mail.Wait. He pulled up the trash folder and looked at the email again. It was from her great-granddaughter. The first three pages worth were typical girlish ramblings about how amazing this all was, and how many times her grandmother had talked of this Mrs. Adams, and how she was so excited to maybe be able to connect with that part of her past. She went on and on until Lochlin thought he was going to be sick again, but then the tone of the note became abruptly businesslike and he paid attention once more. She wanted to know where to find Mrs. Adams. He told her the news of her great-grandmother's death as professionally and kindly as possible, and gave her his phone number.
She called the next day, asking where and when any sort of funeral would be, because she intended to be present. It had been a long day at work, and a Sunday at that, and he answered in clipped, rude tones that there were no arrangements. Well, then, she wanted to meet him and talk with him, then. There was a gentle persistence in this girl which exasperated him. He just wanted to let the whole thing drop. This is what happens when you got close to a patient. This is why they say never to do it. He wanted nothing to do with remembering Mrs. Adams, much less sharing her with someone. It was a dead topic, about a dead person, and he wanted only to push it under the tattered rugs and forget it all happened.
The girl pressed him again, repeating a question, and he returned to the phone conversation with annoyance. "Sure, whenever," he said. In five minutes he hung up and looked down at the little pad of paper in front of him. There was a time, date, and place written on it, with the name "Bethany" at the top.All that week he brooded. This was going to be a difficult trial, he thought. He was going to have to feign interest and concern with this girl, telling her all about the stories that he had been graced with over the last several months. He sat in the car in front of the little restaurant and reviewed all the stories Mrs. Adams had told her. Each was a treasure, he thought, a tiny little gem from a necklace that made up one woman’s life.
A white jeep pulled up next to him and a girl about his own age got out and walked toward the door. He got out and said, tentatively, "Bethany?"
She turned and he involuntarily sucked in his breath. It was Amanda. The same smile, the same hair, the same sweet and loving nature that had looked at him from that photograph so many days.
She put her head on one side and answered, "Yes?"
Lochlin thought once more of Mrs. Adams and her ear thermometers and her television. "I’d like to tell you about a woman I fell in love with."
She smiled. “I’d like that.”