By Leslie Lindsay
Curious what the next novel brings? I’ve been working on the first few chapters the last week. Bringing life to an urban legend in St. Louis County is creepy fun!
The baby woke James McCullough. He struggled to a sitting position, kicking the pilled institutional-issued blanket from his pale, knobby feet and then twisted his frame and sat on the edge of the bed, listening.
That goddamned baby wasn’t crying anymore.
He rubbed his eyes and blew out a breath of air. His chest wheezed and rattled. Death’s cough, the nurses around here called it. He wasn’t supposed to have heard them murmuring at the nurse’s station, but his suite was so close, he couldn’t not hear them. That was one thing he still had—his sense of hearing, unlike so many of the other old folks around Bluff View Retirement Home. In spite of the nightlights plugged into every outlet, he couldn’t see the hand in front of his face, thanks to glaucoma and cataracts; but sometimes he’d see others watching him, casting a glance of sympathy or a soft smile of pity.
When he’d pass by the mirror on the way to take a leak, he’d peer at the image—sometimes just in passing, and other times more keenly. He knew that man; the face taut and tanned, gray-green eyes twinkled back, and hair as dark as coal and thick, so unlike the wisps that remained on his spotted-balding head. He wanted that younger man back. Instead, he was stuck here, in this hell-hole waiting.
Waiting for death.
On cue, the baby cried again.
James’s hand scrambled over the covers searching out the call button. The arthritis made it impossible to reach for anything, his hands misshapen, they too, spotted and yellowed. Instead, he called out, “Help…nurse!” His voice came out in long thin shrieks, nothing like the booming quality it once commanded.
A moment later, the night nurse rustled in, “Mr. McCullough,” she said. “What’s the matter?”
“The baby’s crying. Aren’t you going to take care of him?”
The nurse fussed behind him, turning pillows and gathering miscellaneous items—paper straw wrappers, plastic cups, and Kleenex. “There are no babies here, Mr. McCullough, you know that.” She looked down at him, her frosted pink lipstick shimmered in the night glow of the room, her hair feathered along the side of her face and a starched white cap sat atop of the hairsprayed nest.
She cocked her head, “It must have just been a dream,” her eyes conveyed concern, if not disbelief. Perhaps she felt Mr. McCullough was just suffering from dementia, like so many of the old folks at River’s Bluff. “Now, why don’t you try to get some sleep? You’ve got a big day ahead of you.”
James mumbled something, a smacking sound from his mouth that sounded nothing like what he had intended. It wasn’t a dream, he wanted to say. And he knew what the big day entailed. His grandson, Kevin would be visiting, an event that pleased and stunned James. It wasn’t everyday a teenage boy visited his dying grandfather in an old folks home, if he was indeed dying.
Who, James wondered was this beauty who resigned herself to the graveyard shift? Did she have a family sleeping in a nearby home, their bellies full of chicken-and-dumplings left in a Crock-Pot? Instead, James nodded and laid his head on the pillow that gave way to a plastic crunch, and allowed the nurse to pull the covers back up to his whiskered chin. A memory swelled at the base of his throat, something that struck him as real and tangible, but nothing would come forth from the miasma that was his brain.
Yet his eyes were clouded over with wetness. He knew if he blinked, a tear or two would course down his pocked cheeks.
“Do you need something, Mr. McCullough? Tylenol?” the nurse asked kindly.
James shook his head and offered a faint smile. “I just need that baby to stop crying.”
[this is original fiction. please do not take or share as your own].