Though her hair had long ago matured into a deep maple, she still thought of herself as ‘the blonde’, the bubbly caricature of a bygone era reborn in the new century. It was her favorite character, and she had worn it so long that the mask of behaviors felt settled deep into her bones. She still giggled in response to personal questions, still bobbed her head and batted her eyes as she went about her work in the long hallways of the nursing home. Old Spanish men who held tightly to the spark in their own eyes would make flimsy excuses to flag her down and talk. So too would the wilder vixens still flapping their skirts find a reason to ask for her help, compliment her dresses and smart pant suits, and in doing so dance a little more in their hearts though their legs had long ago grown accustomed to scooting their wheelchair bound bodies inch by inch along the tile floors. Everyone wore the same sensible shoes at Shady Grotto, nurse, volunteer, and resident alike - white, rubbery, easy to clean. Her pair gently polished the cold square tiles, squeaking in a quiet deliberate rhythm that eluded the ancient ears but sounded down the halls all the same. Her given name was Bianca Oda, and as she washed down the corridors of the large hot building she brought a cooling breeze that sent little shivers of awareness that stirred air and minds alike.
Somewhere nearby, very nearby, was her person and her moment. Bianca never thought in such terms. She had moved beyond words in most things. But the sense of it was always there. Always there would be a person, always a moment, and she flowed to that destination with all the inevitability mortality can bring.
Yet the journey was never a straight one.
“Yolanda, the black one with the pink glasses? She’s asking for you again. Wants to sing. Can’t shut up about it.” The short nurse’s eyes darted around one of the small common rooms that sprang up like mushrooms around the Shady Grotto. “If it’s not this, it’s another thing, right? Some of them are just talkers, Bianca. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.”
“Singing’s better than talking.”
A little chuckle darted from the nurse’s lips before she remembered her complaints. “Not always. The voices on some of these. You know? Makes me think of frogs at a pond. ...Then they croak! HA! I’m terrible.”
Bianca smiled her agreement and passed by, throwing over her shoulder “I’ll find Yolanda, later. I have someone to visit first. Please tell her if she asks.”
“Okay, okay, okay. I’m not an answering machine, though! Remember that!”
Further along Bianca paused outside a long room with a large glass door. Inside the far wall was nothing but more glass, recently polished. Many of the residents couldn’t stand nature’s weather, but they needed the sun all the same. Inside the light drenched room a lone woman stood, tall and then, waving her outstretched arms like a windmill. Bianca could hear the breaths inside raspy but strong. Miss Clarke’s moment was far away, and she shook her fists in the sun everyday to push it farther still. There was a joy in that, Bianca knew. Not her kind of joy, but a precious one all the same.
A dozen paces more, and Bianca turned to open the two sets of double doors that separated the Sunset Wing from the rest of Shady Grotto. Four doors on the right, another hallway, three doors on the left, and that last door open to the world. To let in the sound, let out the air.
“Becky, do you mind if I come inside and say hi to Miss Imma?”
“Of course not dear.” The curl of a woman sat in the middle of the far bed, nearest the window. She raised worn fingers clenched by age and gave a little wave to her favorite volunteer. “She’s been very quiet this morning, not a word. And the nurses says she hasn’t eaten since Tuesday.”
Becky paused, not for propriety, but for her lungs to recover. “She hasn’t had a movement in a week or more. Poor girl. Can’t say I’m doing better. Can’t say I am. But still. Poor girl.”
“Do you want me to turn you over?”
“No, no. Big Alan did that this morning. Got a bit of a look, too. I could hear it in his voice. Wish I could have seen his face.” The old woman’s back shook in a hard laugh, pushing bones along the contours of her faded gown. “Probably blushed. All the big boys blush. I know. I remember. The big ones always blush ---” Becky quivered again in her dry, aching laughter as Bianca stepped into the room and up to the first, nearer bed.
“Hush now. Laughter’s good, but you’ll hurt yourself.”
“Worse ways…” She paused for a cough that was more sandpaper than swamp. “Worse ways to go.”
By now, Bianca’s hand had found Imma’s, light youthful fingers twining around the elder dark palm, barely warm despite the heater next to the bed. The sheets were pulled up all the way to the woman’s neck, tucked in on the far side to hide a twisted arm that had healed as much as it was fated to. The hand in Bianca’s was left uncovered for just such holding, the last route left to the old woman’s mind.
Bianca squeezed gently as Imma breathed in. Relaxed again as she breathed out. In and out. Squeeze and release. The pulse of her touch pushing a small message deep, deep past the clouded memories and dulling senses. Till it touched a wiry girl playing with dandelions on a dusty street in the outskirts of Detroit. Somewhere in Bianca’s mind, she could see Imma blow the seeds away from a green stalk and smile as they soared up, up into the sky. Squeeze. The girl smiled and sighed, laying down into the grass. Release.
And like that, the moment was passed...