The common room was large, roughly the size of a school gymnasium, and had tables and chairs situated with wide avenues between each set, room enough for a wheelchair or walker to glide through comfortably. The walls were eggshell, the floor a grey speckled tile; there were dusty brown blinds opened at each window and landscape paintings decorated the walls.
A single, 42-inch television was anchored high on the wall in the corner, with two sofas arranged facing it. The remote control, attached by a rubber cord, was placed against the wall of a shelf positioned above the television. Three men hovered below it, riveted by the screen; one was perched on an armchair, the other two sitting on the printed couch, clutching their canes. They were watching a black and white movie. The main character, a handsome young man, approached the beautiful woman, sweeping her into his arms as she looked adoringly up at him. The man in the chair grumbled, twitching his engorged nose in annoyance, and huffed, causing the ends of his white mustache to flutter. He moved to get up, and a nurse appeared almost immediately to assist him, and his nose twitched again. The other two men’s eyes did not stray from the television.
Light came in from five industrial style windows, reflecting off the metal legs of the chairs and tables, and colouring the walls an ashen yellow. A woman sat in a quilted armchair near the last window. Her skin was pale, and her veins were blue streaks crisscrossing her skin. The woman’s hair fell lankly onto her face, obscuring her blurry blue eyes. She clutched an iPad in her hands, pudgy fingers spilling out on either side of the multiple rings she wore. She had at least a dozen necklaces strung around her neck, and three watches were strapped to her left wrist. Her robe was unzipped, the hem folded upon itself where it touched the floor; her white cotton nightgown had a lace trim that hung dangerously low on her sunken bosom as she hunched over her tablet. Her finger dragged down-to-up on the screen continuously.
“She’s a widower” stage whispered a woman named Dorie, her voice crackling over the consonants, “Her husband died about ten years back and none of her kids wanted her, so they dumped her here. Poor thing, but a bit batty.”
Dorie was dressed in a green velour tracksuit, identical to the ones the other women at her table wore, except for colour. Her blonde hair had been curled and teased with a comb, and she wore red lipstick, though a bit had smudged onto her chin from her bottom lip. When asked about the matching clothes, she talked about the home’s website, where, as part of their facility fees, they were given credit to buy clothing and other necessities.
“They have everything I could need. I mean, this outfit cost more than the credit is, but that wasn’t any issue for us. The staff delivers it right to our door. It’s terribly convenient.”
“It’s your turn Dorie,” said the woman in the pink tracksuit.
“Oh, right! Do you have any sevens?”
“My favourlite part is dealing with the rlesidents. You get tah brighten up someone’s day! If you go in therle, and just give ‘em a smile and a hug, say ‘hi’, they’rle just always verly happy just tah see anybody. It’s, just, it’s rleally nice tah brlighten up someone’s day.”
The nurse, Jezzie, smiled eagerly as she described her daily duties. She had twin braids in her hair and her plump cheeks were rosy from the warm room. She had an accent, causing her R’s to sound like an L followed the letter each time, and the word ‘to’ came out as a ‘tah’.
“You’rle serlving people. You’rle also helping the helpless. And that’s just extrlemely fulfilling forl, uh, you as a perlson and, uh, and it’s just rleally awesome to, uh, help people who can’t help themselves. It’s all verly fun.
“I mean, sometimes it can be a little sad. You can walk in tah a rloom, and a rlesident will be laying in bed, and they’rle not wearling any clothes.” Her voice raised an octave on the word ‘clothes,’ and she closed her eyes for a brief moment, “Naked rlesidents! It’s awkwarld. It’s weirld. I don’t underlstand why they’rle not wearling any clothes.” She blinked hard again, then smiled.
“The worslt, honestly, arle the mean and anal families. Families who just…” Jezzie made a noise of revulsion, “and they want a rloom a cerltain way. And it’s all verly sad. Families.” She brushed her fingers along the side of her head, grasping any stray hairs that had escaped her braids.
Room 217, like all other personal rooms in the home, was under 200 square feet in size, but was located on the topmost floor. Mr. L., the gentleman who occupied the room, had dark hair, though his side burns had gone grey, and he had the sloping jowls of someone who rarely used their throat muscles. He had turned 79 a few weeks prior and his television stand was covered in birthday cards. Mr. L. preferred to sit in his chair, his favourite recliner from home, and it took two nurses to deposit him there each time. They’d situate him, ask him if he was comfortable, and he’d reply with a grin and a thumbs up. He wiled away the hours by scrolling though his tablet, propped up for him on a stand near the chair, and the nurses would come take him to the bathroom whenever he pressed his call button.
At 5:00 p.m., when the dinner trays were delivered to each room, the nurse walked past room 217 without stopping. By 5:30, a woman in a business suit walked briskly to Mr. L.’s room and entered after two quick knocks. She carried a green thermal bag that left the smell of cheese in her wake.
On a different day, a man dressed in dirty jeans and a bright neon jacket approached the room at 5:22, with two bags dangling in his left hand. Trailing behind him were his children, each with their school bags strapped to their back. One Elsa and one Spiderman followed the neon jacket into the room.
Another time, an elderly woman accompanied the woman in the business suit. Her boots clicked as she walked assuredly to the room, a green bag swaying with each step. She entered without knocking and the woman in the business suit trailed in behind her.
“By serlving otherls, you’rle serlving God. And by serlving these people, God gets a big smile on his face”, she smiled big, “It’s really cool to just, um, be able tah serlve God while also serlving these people, and, uh, it’s prletty awesome”
Jezzie had worked at the home for eight months, filling in for a woman on maternity leave. Her term would be over after another two, but she was hopeful that they could find a position for her.
“I love this job. I’ll be verly sad tah leave. I just don’t know if I’ll be able tah deal without seeing these rlesidents everly single day.” Jezzie cracked her fingers as she spoke, “And I know that, some of them arle gonna be sad when I go, and it’s just all verly upsetting.”
Mrs. L. came every day to visit her husband. She arrived before 10:00 a.m. each morning and stayed until visiting hours were over.
Mrs. L. was a robust woman, who smiled pleasantly whenever she spoke. In quiet moments, though, her face would forget the gesture and the blue rimming her eyes would seem darker. A catholic cross dangled from her neck, tucking itself in and out of her simple blouse. Whenever Mr. L. would garble out strings of noises, she would understand and act accordingly. She had lessened the nurses’ workload immensely.
Mrs. L. smiled as the nurse helped prop her husband more comfortably in his chair. She was removing Mr. L.’s clothing from the small wardrobe in the corner and folding them diligently. She stepped out of the room to speak to the Supervising Nurse and Mr. L. gazed after her, before resuming his game of Bejewled.
Room 217 was vacant a week later.
“It’s rleally sad tah see a rlesident leave who you made a frliendship with, or a carling rlelationship with. And it’s verly sad because you know you won’t see them again.” Jezzie frowned, “But the harldest is when a rlesident wants tah leave, but they can’t.
“You get many rlesidents who go up tah, like, doorways and yell and scream” She mimed a tantrum with her hands, waving her fists back and forth. She stopped suddenly, and began fiddling with her wedding ring.
“It’s verly sad. Or they’ll come up and say ‘Can I go home?’”, the voice she uses is childlike when speaking as the resident, “and you’rle like, ‘No honey, you can’t go home’. It’s verly upsetting, makes me want to crly a lot.” Jezzie sniffed hard.
The common room closed at 8:00 p.m. every night. Most of the residents had meandered off to the privacy of their rooms before then, but the woman with the jewelry always had to be prompted to return to hers. She had a habit of falling, so a nurse often escorted her to her room on the second floor. The right wheel of her walker squeaked as it rolled over the tiled floor, mixing with the slow scrape of the jeweled woman’s slippered feet shuffling forward.
She almost walked past her door, but the nurse gently directed her to the correct one, helping her to open it with her key. Once inside, the jeweled woman reached into her cotton nightgown and removed her brassier, shoving it into her pillowcase.
“For safe keeping.” She said with a grin. Her room was sparse; there was a bed with a purple blanket, a tiny night stand, and a small dresser against the wall, with a plastic cup and pitcher placed on it. It was devoid of knickknacks or personal mementos except for a framed picture of a young couple on her night stand. The couple was wrapped in each other’s arms, the girl looking at the camera with startling blue eyes and the boy staring adoringly at the girl.
“Isn’t he handsome?” The jeweled woman picked up the picture and held it so the nurse could see, her finger brushing lovingly across the boy’s figure.
“Yes, very handsome.” Replied the nurse with a smile before helping the jeweled woman prop the picture back on the nightstand. She sat the woman on the edge of the bed and removed her slippers as the jeweled woman reminisced.
“Oh, it was so long ago. We were only 16 when that picture was taken, so you can only imagine how long ago that was.”
“Well looking at you, I’d guess it was only about ten years ago!” The nurse’s answer had the feeling of routine, but the jeweled woman blushed happily. The nurse removed her coat and changed her into a new nightgown before tucking her into the twin bed. She placed the call button on the nightstand next to the picture, and offered to turn off the lights. The jeweled woman shook her head. The nurse wished her good night and left.
Dorie hosted Bingo Night every Wednesday. From 6:00 to 7:30 p.m., the common room would be filled with residents poised ready over their cards, their hearing aids cranked on high. Dorie’s hair was teased to new heights, and she wore a sparkling blazer over her tracksuit. Her friends were seated at the table closest to her, and one of them was dabbing frantically at both their bingo card and Dorie’s.
Dorie stood upon a small platform, plucking the balls from the hands of another resident who was rotating the bin. The constant revolution of the bingo balls sounded like hail was hammering on the windows, the plastic bouncing off of each other as they tumbled round and round.
“G-48! That’s gee-fortay-eight!” Dorie’s voice reverberated across the room, aided by a microphone in her hand. Her smile stretched wide as she waited until her friends had stopped dabbing before continuing.
The gentleman with the engorged nose sat at a table close to the windows, his dabber fisted in his right hand. He hadn’t been able to keep up with Dorie’s pace and was trying to remember the ones he missed. His bingo dabber leaked red ink onto his card as he scanned the columns for the numbers called.
His companion tried to lean over and point out the correct square on Mr. Engorged Nose’s card, but almost had his finger dabbed when Mr. EN brought the dabber viscously down on the spot. The resounding thud was lost amongst the noise from the cascading plastic.
“G-54! That’s gee-fiftay-four!”
“Bingo!” The resulting groan caused a few nurses to chuckle. Jezzie approached the winning resident to inspect her bingo card, and affirmed the win with a nod. The nurses went to each table to help the residents up from their chairs. The tables were a mess of ink stains and discarded papers, and the majority of the participants had colour smeared across their fingers and hands.
Walkers were dispersed, canes found their owners, and the residents began the slow shuffle back to their rooms.