by Roy Dorman
“So, do you want to go out tonight?” Mel asked. “We could go downtown and walk up and down State Street for awhile.”
“No,” Ethel replied quietly, “I just want to stay home tonight. I was busy today, maybe overdid it, and I’m a bit tired.”
Mel and Ethel Fred and Ethel I Love Lucy I Love Mel
“But that’s what you said last night and the night before,” Mel complained. “You’re getting to be an old stick in the mud. What did you do today that could’ve wore you out so?”
“Don’t you take that tone with me, Melvin Barton. I was being nice and humoring you about going out,” Ethel replied. “I didn’t do anything at all today to make me tired. Everything is done for us here. You’re ninety-one and I’m eighty-nine and we’re both in wheelchairs. We can’t just “go downtown” if we feel like it. This place is security locked. What I want to do is ring and ask for a couple of those new books on CD they got in for us today.”
“Does this mean you won’t want to be going out tomorrow night, either?” Mel asked shyly.
Ethel felt a little sorry for Mel then. She supposed pretty soon he may have to be moved to the Alzheimer’s unit. That unit was in the other building and she would miss being with him. She would be able to visit him, but that wouldn’t be the same as living with him.
She turned to say something kind to him and found that he was gone. Probably went to the restroom or back to their room. But she hadn’t heard a nurse come to wheel him away. That’s odd, she thought to herself. I hope he didn’t try to get out and go downtown by himself.
She saw the nursing supervisor, Betty, and the new nurse, Marla, at the front desk. She called to them and they both came over to where she was parked.
“Did either of you two see who came and picked up my husband?” she asked. Marla looked at Betty with a question in her eyes.
“Carla, I want you to stay here for a minute and listen in on the conversation I’m going to have with Mrs. Barton,” Betty said in an aside to Marla. Then to Ethel, “Now, Mrs. Barton, you know that your husband is not with us anymore. He died two years ago, remember?”
“No, I don’t remember that,” said Ethel, tearing up a little. “Did we get to say good-bye?”
“No,” said Betty, “Mr. Barton died in his sleep. It was a very peaceful way to go. You didn’t get to say good-bye then, but you two were very close. I’m sure you talked about one or the other going, and in a way, that was as good as a last good-bye.”
“Did I go to the funeral?” asked Ethel, smiling a little now as if she was being told a story.
“Yes, you did and it was a very nice funeral. All of your children were there,” Betty said, getting into the story telling mode. “There was a nice little reception after the service.”
“Could you hook me up with one of the new CD books, please?” Ethel asked, now finished with the issue of Mel’s whereabouts.
“Of course, dear,” Betty said. “Carla, please get Mrs. Barton settled in with a CD book and then come back to the front desk.”
Marla found a book from the new selection and left Ethel sitting listening with her eyes closed.
“And that, Carla, is how we handle things on the Alzheimer’s unit. We answer their questions with the truth, but with patience and gentleness,” said Betty. “Ethel and I have had that conversation quite a number of times in the last two years.”
Marla thought to herself, I’m never going to be able to do this.
Reading the expression on the face of her new nurse, Betty said, “Don’t worry, hon, I think you’re going to do just fine. Really, the best part of the job is the storytelling. I’ve watched you interact with the staff and patients and I’m impressed with the way you handle things. I’m hoping to train you to be my replacement when I’m ready to retire. With my family history, it’s quite possible that I’ll be on the listening end of your storytelling some day.”
Damn, thought Marla. I should have corrected her right away when she got my name wrong; now it’s going to be awkward.
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Roy Dorman is retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Benefits Office and has been a voracious reader for over 60 years. At the prompting of an old high school friend, himself a retired English teacher, Roy is now a voracious writer. He has had flash fiction and poetry published in Black Petals, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Yellow Mama, Theme of Absence, Mulberry Fork Review, The Flash Fiction Press, Cease Cows, One Sentence Poems, and a number of other online and print journals. Roy is currently the submissions editor at Yahara Prairie Lights.