I know I don’t usually do this…I normally don’t like people to read my stuff until it’s finished. But these days I’m spending more time working on writing, and less time out in the world, so I don’t have much to blog about.
This is a very rough draft of a piece of a short story I’m working on…
“I like your shoes,” he said thoughtfully as I walked around his bed to water the plant sitting on his nightstand. “They look new. Are they?”
I smiled down at him briefly before returning my attention to the fern,
“They sure are, Bert. I just got ‘em yesterday.”
“There are a lot of miles left there.” He reclined back onto his pillow and closed his eyes. I knew that was the end of our conversation.
I had been volunteering at Ridge Manor since last December, and after applying for the Activity Director position and pestering the HR Manager daily for weeks, I was offered the job. It wasn’t something I saw myself doing permanently; I was a college student. Part-time jobs came and went like boyfriends and pimples. But, I was drawn to the people that lived there like finding a family photo and realizing that you resemble the person in it but don’t know who they are, and I couldn’t imagine not having conversations like this one every morning. It was comforting to be part of someone else’s photograph.
The first time I met Bert, he was standing at his window looking out at the rain. “A storm in on the way; I can feel it in my elbow,” he told me. “Guess I won’t get very far today,” he muttered almost under his breath. Bert looked down at his shoes. They were worn and brown, ripped at the soles and the laces were missing.
“It looks like we need to buy you some new shoes,” I bent down to get a closer look.
“Nah. There are a lot of miles left there.” He turned away from the window and walked away.
After that first day, I asked one of the nurses about Bert’s shoes. She told me that he didn’t like to take them off, he even slept in them. He would allow them to be removed for his bath, but when the nurses dried and dressed him, his shoes went right back on. One night they had removed them in his sleep, and when they returned the next morning to help him up for breakfast, his shoes were on his feet.
“Why doesn’t he want new ones? They can’t possibly be comfortable!” The nurse just shrugged her shoulders,
“We tried to buy him a new pair once. He gave them to his roommate.”
I took one last look at the fern, checking for fallen leaves, grabbed my watering can and walked towards the door. When I looked up, my eyes landed on Sadie. I found her here every morning after I left Bert’s room, making her way down the hall. Sadie leaned against her walker as she shuffled quietly. She was focused intently on the floor in front of her, concentrating on her feet as they kissed the floor beneath her. Her slippers were pink terrycloth with white daisies embroidered near the toes. She had a diagnosis of Dementia, and I often marveled at her memory of the route to this hallway, her morning coffee, and how she wanted it.
“Coffee!” she screamed with a phlegm-induced shrill.
“Alright, Sadie! Let’s go!” I yelled with a smile. I could never figure out why she troubled herself to walk all the way to this side of the Manor, when the Lounge was near her room. Then again, why did Sadie do most of the things she did? She refused to glue her dentures in, which left them always grinding against her gums as she talked, sometimes falling out altogether. She kept a bag packed and tucked away in her closet “just in case”, and she slept with her slippers under her pillow. I wondered if I would lose my hearing when I reached 87 years old; if I would be reduced to wearing adult briefs and surrendering to morning enemas; if my dentures would fit into my mouth like a broken drawer fits into a bureau.
As I poured Sadie’s coffee into a Styrofoam cup, she not so gently reminded me, “SUGAR!” I nodded and smiled, lifted the pink package of Sweet-N-Low to show her I was obedient, and poured it into her cup. She stirred her morning routine with a smile, lifted the cup to her lips and watched her teeth fall in.