There’s always an insistence that staff members dress up for the holidays. Managerial staff
wanted them to appear festive—celebratory, even. Something about maintaining morale for the patients in order to distract them from their loss of typical annual traditions.
St. Patrick’s Day was just two days away, meaning that the employees had been donning
egregious green scrubs for a week straight. A few had gone the extra mile and taken to sporting shamrock headbands or golden beads, some took it as far as ironing small cartoon rainbows and pots of gold to their front pockets.
Amy’s scrubs were not decorated in such a way. She had opted for a dark emerald rather
than the offensively bright lime worn by her coworkers. Her pockets remained plain, her neck free of any tacky beads. Her superiors didn’t mention it to her, but it was clear her coworkers found it lazy.
“I told him I’d pick the kids up from now on, I don’t trust him to get there on time
anyways.” A wide-framed woman with leprechaun earrings leaned on the brick wall next to Amy. A nicotine patch was secured on her pale arm, a charming juxtaposition to the Marlboro clenched gingerly between her fingers.
“Yeah, I don’t blame you.” Amy replied absentmindedly, taking a puff of her own cigarette.
She didn’t find any pleasure in smoking. The pack of Camels in her car lasted her longer than they would any other smoker, but taking a smoke-break was one of the only ways to have a moment of peace at work.
“He left Bennett waiting outside in the parent pick-up line for half an hour. Marissa said he
was bawling his eyes out by the time he actually got there. I called him that night and told him to piss off.” The leprechaun earrings seemed to sneer in the sun at Amy, who was beginning to realize she had been speaking to this new nurse for nearly a week now without knowing her name. She didn’t plan on asking.
The nurse took a hefty drag of her cigarette, and one of the party-store necklaces she had
attempted to fashion as wallet-chain fell to the gravel. The green plastic of the small clover reflected the light in a way that momentarily distracted Amy from the complaining of the nurse sharing the bricks.
Suddenly, the idea of preparing the evening medications sounded like a relief, and Amy
put her cigarette out under her sneaker, swiftly pocketing the fallen necklace when she leaned down to collect the butt. Without speaking another word to the woman next to her, she went back inside.
Amy crinkled her nose as she walked back towards her workstation, the bottoms of her
shoes sticking every-so-slightly to the linoleum tiles. After a year of employment, she had gotten used to nearly every aspect of her job—apart from the stench. The automatic air fresheners did little to mask the perpetual odor of stale urine, boiled eggs, and bleach. She often scrubbed her skin raw in the shower at home to remove what was left of the unwanted perfume.
Every few hallways she would have to dodge an abandoned wheelchair, some of them
accompanied by displaced patients. They drifted around the nursing home like ghosts, the images of the homes they left behind haunting what remained of their brains. Their eyes stayed glued to their shriveled palms, and Amy often wondered if they were lost in thought, or if all thoughts had been lost. The trickle of piss trailing behind the chair suggested the ladder.
Amy unlocked the door of the medical storage room and was pleased to find it vacant. She
had been prepping her patients’ medications early for quite some time now. Velcroed to the medicine cabinets were the dosage charts for each hallway, neatly arranged by room number and covered in childish stickers.
Mr. Alan Howard, 313B: 15mg Razadyne twice daily w/ food
Mrs. Eileen King, 314B: 5mg Donepezil one daily w/ food
Ms. Harper Chen, 315B: 20mg Lisinopril, once daily w/ 8oz water
Amy hardly needed to finish reading the rest of her clipboard, she had the dosages
memorized for every one of her patients. Each hallway was named after a street in town—Maple Boulevard, Jennings Parkway, Naples Drive—it seemed cruel, though she hardly understood the word. She imagined the patients looking at the names of familiar streets and being confused as to why they weren’t seated at their favorite diner or pulling into a local park to pick up their grandkids. It almost made her feel sad at times.
For a couple months, Amy’s rotation had landed her on Vermillion Trace. In town, it was
lined with expensive colonial homes draped in kudzu and private offices inhabited by people like financial advisors, or lawyers, or psychiatrists. Here, it was inhabited by those who could hardly remember how to spell the names of their parents.
The pills—mostly cognition-enhancing drugs or cholinesterase inhibitors—made tiny
rattling noises as they landed in their respective plastic cups. The impacts seemed to echo against the tastelessly decorated walls of the medical storage room and reverberated in the front of Amy’s skull. To a nurse, the orchestra of pill bottles and heart monitors becomes the background to a life once promised to be full of purpose. Purpose. Amy tried not to dwell on it most days.
The symphony of modern medicine came to an abrupt close when Amy reached the final
name on her list.
Ms. Cheryl Jules, 323 B: 20mg Namenda once daily w/ food
After checking her surroundings, Amy gathered a single 20mg tablet of the medication
from the bottle on the top shelf. Her movements didn’t slow for a moment as she tossed the tablet into the garbage can by her desk and located a bottle of ibuprofen instead. To an untrained eye, the two tablets would be identical. Like the closing crash of a symbol, the pain-reliever ricocheted into the final plastic cup.
Amy closed the door behind her, and casually made her way towards Vermillion Trace. She
repeated the same routine—knocking before entering, brief small talk, ensuring the patient took their medication, and leaving as soon as possible. She wasn’t paid for hospitality, and it was likely that any falter of manners would be forgotten by the inhabitants of Vermillion Trace before their neighbor could swallow a pill.
As the numbers on the frames climbed, the cups on Amy’s medical cart fell until only a
single one remained—Ms. Jules.
Amy pushed past the purple beads that draped over the doorframe of 323 B and was
greeted by gawdy tendrils of purple beads, outdated lamps, silk sheets, and stacks of dusty Better Homes & Gardens magazines. Amy could never tell if she found it more ironic or unfortunate that Ms. Jules no longer had a home, nor garden. Today, she settled on ironic.
A broad smile plastered itself to Amy’s face and her cheeks twitched from the unfamiliar
“Good afternoon, Ms. Jules.” A sing-song voice that was hardly her own emerged. The body
on the bed shifted, causing the silk sheets to fall and reveal the patient, who could best be akin to a knockoff Blanche Devereaux.
When Ms. Jules first arrived two months ago, she would wake up every morning to do her
makeup and hair. She would adorn her sunken skin with lotions and perfumes that smelled like baby powder, and occasionally slide on a pair of heels. Several weeks ago, she had convinced herself that her late husband was taking her out for an anniversary dinner and insisted that Amy help her shave her legs. Out of character for Amy, she obliged.
Most of the other nurses weren’t fond of Ms. Jules. They said her reluctance to admit she
was ill made her a stubborn patient—a rude one, too. They weren’t as keen as Amy on being in Ms. Jules’s good graces. Although she had never asked, she heard the rumors when Ms. Jules first arrived.
“I heard she’s lived in that big ol’ house by herself ever since her husband passed.”
“No kids, just a pack of Pekingese the neighbor took.”
“Said he called the cops after he found her trying to uproot his garden. Said she was getting
her chrysanthemums ready for a competition that happened six years ago.”
Rumors aside, Amy was aware that Ms. Jules had never received a visitor. Every weekend,
event, or holiday, Ms. Jules sat alone in her room while other patients were hugged by grandchildren and gifted foods that didn’t begin as powders. On New Year’s, she didn’t seem too bothered—chatting with Amy about what the holiday was like thirty years ago, reminiscing on the silver cocktail dress she sported to the Times Square ceremony—by Valentine’s Day, she had taken to staring out of her window. Amy watched her from the door and couldn’t discern if the change in her behavior was a symptom of reality or dementia.
“Abby? Oh, Abby.” Ms. Jules feebly attempted to pull herself to a seated position.
“How are we feeling today?” Amy placed the medication on a tray by Ms. Jules’s bed and
began filling one of the woman’s floral mugs with cool water from the tap.
“I just, you know, you’re welcome. Hey, you, yes...” Her words trailed off into a slurred
sentence of gibberish. Amy, unphased, returned from the sink.
The old woman’s face neared closer to the color of her plastered walls every day. Only the
purple of the varicose veins lacing around the perimeters of her jaw produced any hue. Her permed hair had grown out, producing grey roots and a rough transition into kinky spirals that reminded Amy of broom bristles. The whites of her eyes yellowed as they neared closer to her irises, allowing Amy to see the reflection of her own clownish grin against a backdrop of crimson thread and white eyelashes.
As Ms. Jules drifted back into her usual comatose state, Amy wandered around 323 B as
though she was visiting a museum. A few portraits of Ms. Jules and her husband lined the dresser—as well as a photo of her infamous pack of purse-dogs—but there wasn’t a single photo to indicate that the woman ever had a family. No one to leave her name to. Her stories of New Year’s in Times Square. Her riches.
In the pictures, Ms. Jules was adorned in expensive diamonds and lavish emeralds. She
stood in the front yard with her husband, posing like a figurine in a fountain. Behind them was the mansion they had infamously shared for decades. Amy drove past it on her way home from work occasionally and last week she noticed a sign for an estate sale erected in the Bermuda.
Pots of fake peonies and orchids were perched on the windowsill, placed meticulously as
though they still needed the sunlight. Ms. Jules had brought her own curtains and they suffocated the room with heavy beading and mauve glitter. In her earlier days at the center, Ms. Jules would insist that Amy open the curtains every morning. Requests, and words of any kind, had decreased exponentially. The doctors were surprised that Ms. Jules wasn’t responding better to such a high dosage of Namenda, but they seemed unmotivated to try much else. Unbeknownst to them, Ms. Jules’s dosage of the drug had been meticulously decreased to 0mg for nearly two months.
Finally, Amy turned to the large jewelry box in the corner. It was a finely polished wood,
perhaps a mahogany. The edges of it were carved into ornate swirls, each crevice packed with a months-worth of dust. They made shadows on the walls that mimicked creeping vines of ivy, crawling further towards the ceiling at the night crept closer. Small panes of frosted glass decorated the front drawers, failing to conceal what Amy already knew to be behind them.
“Ms. Jules? Can I get you anything?” Amy nonchalantly called, her eyes glued to the
entrance of the room. She already knew Ms. Jules was perfectly unresponsive at this stage of illness.
A few moments, and nobody passed through the hallway. Amy’s hands delicately opened
the golden knobs of the jewelry box, revealing every diamond, ruby, emerald, or sapphire Ms. Jules had ever decorated herself with.
A dancing mirage of thousands of dollars hypnotized Amy for a moment. From the
collection of jewels, the sparkles of the boldest diamond necklace drifted across her skin. Gingerly, she slipped the necklace from its loop—likely the first time it had been moved since Ms. Jules began forgetting to put her jewelry on in the morning—and placed it into her back pocket. It was swiftly replaced by the stolen party-store chain. Amy stared blankly as the four-leafed clover adhered to the plastic beads appeared to wither.
She shut the door to the jewelry box and was faced again with the frosted glass on the
outside. Through the fog, she could make out her own reflection. It smiled back at her—genuine this time.