Before Gram could force her mind on to a more pleasant memory than the Wickwester Disaster which, after all, happened 71 years ago, she heard voices outside her door.
“So, Dr. Johnson, what’s your expert diagnosis?”
“You don’t have to be sarcastic. All I’m saying is I don’t think 16A is an amnesiac.”
“He has a gash on his forehead, Minnie.”
“I know. But he can hardly talk. I’d say drugs.”
Gram pulled back the stiff cotton sheets and slowly swung her legs around. Then, leaning on the bed stand, she righted herself and slipped a terry-cloth robe over her shoulders. Her head spun from standing up too soon. She waited a few moments and then lunged forward across the linoleum floor, dragging her oxygen tank behind her.
“Mrs. Hansen! What are you doing out of bed?” The nurse’s aide called Minnie wore hot pink scrubs and her long, brown hair flowed in an unsanitary manner around her shoulders. “It’s five thirty in the morning. Breakfast isn’t for another two hours.”
“Discussing a patient in the hospital corridor is what got me out of bed. This would have never been tolerated in my day, no siree!”
“Bess, Mrs. Hansen was head nurse over at Vail for decades,” said Winnie. Bess wore large hoop earrings. Neither of the gals looked much older than twenty-five. “My mother worked for her.”
“Nurses are never supposed to discuss a patient’s condition out in the open. Patients have a right to privacy, you know.”
“We should get you back into bed…”
“Check his blood work-ups! He’s probably a diabetic….”
They exchanged glances as they guided her back toward the bed.
“You tell the doctor of the patient in 16A to check his blood sugar levels. Diabetic amnesia can be triggered by a head injury, even a minor one.” It was Gram’s firm belief that head trauma led to everything bad, including her son’s alcoholism and her daughter’s nymphomania.
“Well, Mrs. Hansen, we’ll make sure that the doctor checks 16A’s blood work-ups, as you call them. Meanwhile you should be trying to get some rest. From what I heard, you had a pretty rough night last night.”
“16A, as you call him, is a patient and not a number!”
“Yes, ma’am. We know that. Now let’s get you back to bed.”
“But I don’t want to go back to sleep!”
“Just rest then.”
After escorting her back to bed they insisted she have some juice.
“I know good and well when I’m thirsty!”
But they didn’t listen. “Just one little sip. We don’t want you to dehydrate.”
She knew what they were up to. They’d put some sort of sedative in her drink but she took a sip anyway just to get rid of them. Then they closed the curtains and turned off the lights. Darn it all. She didn’t wanted to go back to sleep but as soon as the drug took effect, off she drifted.
For a time – perhaps a moment or a century or some undiscovered duration known throughout the galaxy but not to humans – she floated just beneath the glitch-filled surface in full awareness of where she was and what was happening around her, certain that, if she could force her eyes open, she would be fully conscious in the here and now. Hence, when she finally breeched the surface she believed she was in the here and now. However it was spring; she remembered winter. She remembered the drive through the snow to Dottie’s grave. Wasn’t that yesterday? Perhaps not; the windows were open and she felt soft breezes on her face. Outside the lilacs were in bloom and forests were green. A figure stood at the end of her bed, at first indistinguishable from the gauzy drapes and then slowly emerging as it slid forward toward Gram.
It was her daughter-in-law, standing hand on hip with lopsided grin. She’d squeezed herself into the skin-tight, emerald-green cocktail dress she knew Gram hated. “Lordy Dottie. This is a hospital; not a bordello!”
“Hey Gram, aren’t cha happy to see me?” Dottie asked with a laugh loud enough to wake the dead.
“Dottie Hansen. Shame on you. You worked in a hospital for 15 years. You know better than to come before visiting hours. I haven’t even had my breakfast.”
“Alright Gram, alright. Don’t work yourself into a snit. I brought you a present!” She pulled forth a small square box wrapped neatly in crisp white paper and set it on the nightstand. Her energy sizzled and threatened to electrify everything in the room.
“Why do you insist on wasting money you don’t have on presents for people when it’s not even their birthday?”
“Come on. Open your present, Gram. It won’t kill you.”
“I will not! Damn foolishness buying gifts for people for no reason.”
“Still as pig-headed as ever,” Dottie chuckled, setting the gift down on the nightstand and then sending Gram back to the deep where dreams are suffocated.
Her next awakening was abrupt. There was no smooth cutting through the mists of consciousness like a whale rising from the deep for breath. Her eyes popped open and again it was winter. She heard the familiar rattle of metal trays scurrying back and forth in the halls outside her room and turned to the nightstand where there was no present wrapped in crisp white paper.
“I always have a powdered sugar donut and coffee for my breakfast,” she instructed the girl who brought her breakfast. “And I don’t like to have my breakfast in bed. I’d like have it in the dining room.”
“We’ll take you down to dining room after the doctor approves it,” the girl promised plopping the tray in front of Gram and turning on the TV.
“I don’t watch TV in the morning.”
The girl looked Gram in the eye. She has a steady, confident gaze, Gram marveled, especially for such a young woman. She has her job to do and isn’t about to get flustered by a fussy old woman. Good for her.
“Well, here’s your remote control in case you change your mind.” Gram set the gizmo on the metal tray. “Do you need anything else?”
“You can run along now. I’m sure you have other patients to attend to.”
After the girl left she lifted the silver dome. There was no powdered sugar donut; there was no cup of coffee. There was a small pot of weak tea, a bowl of syrupy mixed fruit and oatmeal.