By Leslie Lindsay
The baby woke James McCullough. He struggled to a sitting position, kicking the pilled institution-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. That was one thing he still had—his sense of hearing, unlike so many of the other old folks around River’s Bluff 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. 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. Arthritis had misshapen his spotted, yellow hands, making it impossible to reach for anything. 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, adjusting her starched pinafore. “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.
“Don’t you hear it?”
She cocked her head, “It must have just been a dream,” her eyes conveyed concern, if not disbelief. Perhaps she felt he was just suffering from dementia, but that wasn’t the case. Memories are locked in tight. Too tight. “Now, why don’t you try to get some sleep? You’ve got a big day ahead of you.”
[Please remember this is an original work of fiction and not to be taken as your own. Comments welcome. Thanks for reading.]