Susie Jenkins wakes up with that goddamned perpetual smile on her face every goddamned day, I swear. I shouldn’t swear to that because I’ve never spent the night with Susie, nor have I had the opportunity to see her eyes open widely at the beginning of another glorious day. I’d bet a week’s pay on it though.
Susie is one of those ruby-cheeked, cherub-faced, strawberry blonde candy-striper types who managed to stomach her way through four years of college only to end up cleaning up after old farts dying in the Sacred Heart Retirement Home. I can’t imagine anyone aspiring to our lowly position of nurse’s aide, but she acts as though this were the greatest job anyone could ever have. What the hell, she’s new here. That’s just it. They say we were all like that when we were green.
Franklin and I have been on Susie’s case ever since she picked up her freshly-starched lab coat two months ago. Franklin and I aren’t friends, we just have a curiosity for this new strain of human life. Actually, I’m not sure Franklin has the capability to be curious. He stands about six-four, sports an army-regulated crewcut, and lacks all human emotion. He is a runner for the morgue located on the bottom floor of the home.
They say a person who has a pet eventually comes to resemble that pet. Well, the same goes for Franklin and the morgue. He is the morgue. He picks up a body like it was a sack of grain, tosses it onto a gurney, and pushes it like a grocery cart to the lab for an autopsy. His cold, sterile ways are even a shock to me sometimes.
Last week, Susie was in tidying Mr. Fletcher’s room. As she was throwing away the crushed Dixie cups and the soiled tissues, she was ranting on to Mr. Fletcher about the beautiful weather we were experiencing, and how she would take him outside for some sun later if he was feeling up to it. I stood at the door like a fly on the wall witnessing the scene first hand. She must have gone on for a good ten minutes until I just could not take it any longer. I burst out laughing, ran to the bed and pulled back the sheets. Good old Fletch was as stiff as a board, resting permanently in a bed full of excrement. I had finally managed to wipe the smile from her face. As I finished up the rest of the room for Susie, Franklin came to claim his next passenger. I didn’t tell him about Susie.
I’ve seen ’em come, I’ve seen ’em go. When I first started this job, I thought I could make a difference. I mean, cleaning deadly toxic waste out of geriatric rectums is a life or death job. Okay, it isn’t as exciting as an emergency medical technician, and it’s not an intricate brain surgery, but we save lives in our own way.
This new fart, Mr. Revell, was dropped off by his nephew last week. I was watching this nephew-guy from the door way of room 105, and he was acting all sad but never cried once. He put up a big fuss about us looking after the old geezer properly, then left, all in a matter of five minutes. I mean, hell, Susie put more energy into talking to a dead Fletcher than this guy put into his own flesh and blood. I never said anything to him though.
Mr. Revell is an old-fashioned gentleman. The kind that takes his hat off for ladies and never swears. He oozes pride from every pore of his aged body. He was probably a real looker in his day. At eighty nine, he still has a full head of hair, thick and silver. The loose skin on his face is tan and wrinkled, like a dried apple slice. The old maids in this place will flip in their walkers when they see this stud of a man.
Revell is the closest thing to human that we house in this ‘facility’. He can walk on his own, talk coherently, and go to the bathroom by himself. Maybe that’s why I kind of like this fart. He’s got soul.
A few nights ago, before making my rounds to prepare my patients for peaceful slumber, I started with Mr. Revell.
“You got any kids, old man?” I asked casually, not really caring if he responded. I was too busy to care. I still had sixteen bowels to empty after his injection.
“Nope.” Revell answered without looking up from his newspaper once. “I was afraid I’d have some insolent beasts such as yourself!”
“Oh ho! So you have an attitude. I like that.” I stuck a bandage on his butt, and as I left the room, I turned to see the paper shaking from laughter he was trying so desperately to conceal.
While my dad was alive, he and I were pretty tight. I mean, he never hit me or anything. It wasn’t like playing catch in the park on Sundays either, but we were tight. I remember when my mom died. I was seven and my dad sat me down to tell me that my mom was somewhere ‘up there’. I can still see him pointing to the stars. I started to sob but before a tear could fall, Dad told me I wasn’t supposed to cry; men didn’t cry. I trusted him on this, but late at night when he thought I was asleep, I could hear him crying, saying my mother’s name into his pillow. I heard him often. I never said anything to him though.
“Rise and shine, Mr. Revell! It’s time to start your day,” Susie said with enough enthusiasm to kill any other old timer in this place.
“Thanks, Susie. You can leave us now that he’s up.” I smiled at Susie, but she hasn’t spoken to me since the incident. I proceeded to tell Revell the story, and he laughed so hard I had to change his bedding.
“I wondered why that young sprite was so standoffish to you. I can’t blame her though,” he chuckled as he sat down on the edge of the newly-made bed. “Promise me the courtesy of not revealing my cold, naked body to anyone when I pass, okay?”
“You know the rules. No talking about death Revell,” I said facetiously. “No one dies here. They just pay a visit to Franklin.” I laughed all the way to the next room.
Although I never wanted it to be this way, my job is my life. I live in this concrete home just like these old farts I take care of. I eat the same slop, I sleep in the same mechanical bed, and I drink the same watered down juices. Only difference is I always wake up. This morning I got a call to room 109. Cardiac arrest. Some guy who has only been here a couple of months. We did everything we possibly could, but sometimes it is just not enough. So, I went to visit Revell again.
“You busy?” I asked as I opened the door. By the time he could answer I was sitting on the edge of his bed. Revell just shrugged with his already hunched shoulders and continued struggling with his clothes.
The human body is an amazing thing, even dead. At what point does it start to break down? Did Revell wake up one day, only to find folds of skin where his throat once was? Couldn’t he see the resemblance between his breasts and the widow in the next room over?
“When did all of this happen to you?” I finally blurted out. “I mean, why does this shit have to happen? Couldn’t you have exercised, or used nicer soap, or something?”
“What’s wrong with you today?” Revell queried. He just stared at me for a moment with a smartass look on his face. “Somebody die this morning?” he smiled. He had the nerve to smile at me!
“What’s that got to do with anything? I don’t give a damn about these old kooks. They check in; I work. They die; I work.” I was almost shouting. “I see you guys die day after day. Just when you think you’ve got it made, you go ahead and die. You think I’m going to sit up at night worrying about who’s next?” I yanked the door open and went outside for some air.
I finished my shift around ten o’clock and decided to stick my head into Revell’s room and apologize for this morning’s outburst. I haven’t had one of those since I was first starting. It felt pretty good just the same.
As I neared his room, I heard a strange noise. Not a wailing sort of cry given by most old guys here, but more of a muffled sob. I peered through the door just enough to see the old man wiping the fallen tears off of the brass framed picture. I walked away. I wasn’t going to say anything.
Half way down the hall I turned back, and tapped lightly on Revell’s door.
“Go away. I’m not accepting visitors,” he said feebly.
“Yeah, well you ain’t got no visitors anyway.” I sat down on the yellow vinyl chair next to his bed. I pointed at the picture. “Can I see it?”
“She’s my wife, Anna.” He handed me the heavy piece. “She passed away just a few months before I came here. Not a minute goes by that I don’t think of her.”
“She’s beautiful. I see what you mean.”
“I don’t think you do. Getting old is a mystery to you still. You want to know how to prevent it.” Tears welled up in his eyes but refused to fall. “Slowly, your body deteriorates but your mind is always as it was. It feels like yesterday when I took my Anna’s hand in marriage. Like yesterday that I played basketball in college. Like yesterday I was invincible. It wasn’t yesterday. Yesterday I wet the bed. Yesterday I couldn’t get my damned slipper from under the bed.” His voice trailed off, and the silence became painful.
I placed the photograph on the nightstand and on his gnarled purplish hand I laid my own. How did I let this one in? Maybe the Susies and the Franklins of this world are on to something after all.
Brianna O’Connell’s major is undecided. She wrote her story for her creative writing class.