Saturday, March 3, 2012

"Hospice" by Walt Staples


The old man wheezed in, then out, as he fought for one last gasp, then another, and another…

The RN glanced at the name plate above the bed —“Mr. Richard Green.” A very English name, she thought. She didn’t bother to turn out the light as she left the room; Mr. Green was far beyond noticing. He was just about beyond noticing anything.

The night orderly came bustling in, shaking the last of the snow from his shoulders. “Sorry I’m late.”

She smiled at him. He was young yet, and he still tried. “You’re not all that late. It’s a quiet night.”

He nodded as he set the pasteboard tray, with its two Zip-Gone cups, and a Music Mart bag on the nurses’ station counter. “Anything I should know about?”

“Well,” she thought for a minute, “Sister comes on at six.”

He grinned. “The Flying Nun or Sister Mary Godzilla?”

She laughed. “The big, scaly one.” She turned serious. “Mr. Green is pretty close.”

His expression sobered. He asked, “Do we need to call Father?”

She shook her head. “No, Mr. Green’s Baptist. Morning shift will call 1st Baptist if necessary. That, and admin will notify Social Security and the VA.”

“Is there no one else to call? No family or anything?”

She shook her head again, but more slowly, more sadly. “No, no one. When he was able to speak, he used to joke that that was what came of living a clean life — you out-live everyone you knew.” She smiled sadly. “He was a sweet old man. Told me he expected the meet up with his ‘better half’ – that’s what he called her – on the beach on Assateague.”

“Assateague?”

“Yes, Eastern Shore. Where 'Misty of Chincoteague' was from.”

“Who?”

She chuckled. “Way before your time. Besides, you were never a girl. Though boys liked the movie too,” she admitted.

“You know you’re using past tense speaking of him,” the orderly pointed out.

Her eyebrows rose. “Oh, am I? Occupational hazard, I suppose, when they get to this point.” She looked at the bag as she took the lid off her mocha. “You went into Tolz?”

“Yeah, that’s why I’m late.” He took a sip of his cappuccino. “Had to get something for Mr. Green.”

The RN, incredulous, looked at him. “What? He sent you into town for something? In his condition?”

He shook his head with a half-smile. “Nope. On my own hook.” He took a CD from the bag and handed it to her.

She read the cover of the jewel case and looked back up at him, head tilted and one eye squinted. “‘Ocean Waves: Calming Sounds of the Sea’?”

“Yep.” He nodded. “A while back, when I was bathing him before he got bad, he said the only thing he missed more than his wife and kids was the sea. You know he was a lifeguard when he met her. At Virginia Beach or Ocean City, I forget which. Said they moved here to the Valley after they married.” He grinned. “Told me never to take up with a Shenandoah girl. They’re worse than homing pigeons or shad.”

“Why didn’t he move back after she died?”

The orderly shrugged. “Never said. I don’t know; maybe he didn’t have the money, or just never got around to it.” He opened the bottom drawer and removed a boom-box, and carried it and the CD into Mr. Green’s room. Curious, the RN followed.

He set the boom-box on the bedside table, popped in the disc, and punched a button. The room filled with the ebb and flow of the sea. As they watched, the old man, eyes closed, smiled and seemed to relax. His breathing gentled.

As she reached over and turned off the alarm, the RN said quietly, “I guess that was all he was waiting for.”

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