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The clock above this table ticks too slow. I know because I’m trying to forget I’m even here. It’s high up on the dirt yellow wall mocking me. The walls aren’t even that high. Fucking clock.
“Got any threes?” Mary asks.
“No, Anna,” I say, firmly. I’m going for firm this time.
The four of us still slap our cards down on the wobbling table. Well, Gladys slaps down a card for herself and Brody who is quietly snoring. She also slaps him up upside the head in Spanish. You know what I mean. Brody barely reacts and the sound of his snores slowly resume; the soundtrack to our comfortable routine.
“How’s Lilly, Gladys?” I mutter, gathering the four cards, none of which are threes, and hand them to Mary who is Anna today. I know I shouldn’t indulge her, but if I say something she’ll lose her shit and start thrashing. I want her to be healthy, but I’ll settle for Anna for now.
“She’s good. She’s with Chico,” Gladys declares, nodding emphatically.
“He’s a cute dog.”
“Yeah!” Sterling yells, too, leering at us from his table across the room and I don’t even hide it when I roll my eyes. “That dog is sexy just like you!”
“I’m not your bitch, Sterling,” I answer back, but my eyes are on Mary who's slowly sliding our cards onto her lap absentmindedly. Many take up new residence on the floor.
“Yeah!” Gladys yells back.
“Got any threes?”
“No, Anna,” I answer with a gentle smile. Gentle.
Rosie is still sucking on her Diet Coke from lunch as she crochets something the looks vaguely like a winter accessory at the table nearest the TV. She shouldn't get too close. Seizures.
“I don’t think she ever passed the Oral Stage,” Brett declares as he wheels himself over to her.
“You calling me crazy?” Rosie barks back.
“None of you are crazy,” I groan. “You’re just old.”
“I’m crazy for you, baby girl!”
“Got any threes?” Anna asks again, her voice tentative and small, like she’s more afraid of the asking than the answer.
“Have you been on the bike today, Mr. Knight?” Martha snaps as she stomps into the room, her orthopedics squealing with every step. I stick my tongue out at Sterling as she ushers him into the exercise room/copy room/place where we keep the spare diapers, but I think he likes it, the pervert.
“Hmph,” Brett says with a nod. He wheels over to our wobbling table and pilfers Brody’s deck of cards. Brody is drooling and Rosie and I yawn our mild disapproval. Nothing is more tiring than doing nothing, especially when there's nothing to do.
“I thought we were gonna play checkers,” Jan yells as she reclaims her corner seat near Rosie. She’s back early from physical therapy and I’m up and placing a board in front of her before she can suck another breath down the tube in her esophagus. Jan is a little bit of a ring leader around here. Neither of us wants any trouble. This is a lie.
“Got any fours?”
We all turn to Anna who is Mary tomorrow.
“Mary?” I ask and she smiles, but there's no recognition in her eyes. She isn’t even playing anymore. Go figure. Or fish.
The hours slide into each other once Dream Girls comes on at one. Mr. Charleston stays seated the whole time. I think he thinks he’s home. That works for me.
Pauline comes back around 2:45 to meet the bus drivers who’ll come around 2:50. Don’t ask me where she’s coming from, but I think she’s got it in for the receptionist. You won’t hear me complaining about it. Until Rosie starts seizing and almost chokes on that straw and my volunteer training almost fails her. Other than that it’s just cutting and coloring and cards and characters. No one escapes. I’m a natural.
I'm watching Jan's wheelchair be loaded into the back of the bus when my eyes catch Pauline lighting a cigarette a few steps from the hospital entrance. Her mouth is a firm line.
"They don't bite," I observe as the bus pulls out of the parking lot, the hands raised in its windows marking the end of a long day.
"Most don't have teeth."
I squint at the cars driving by so fast in the street and Pauline hardly moving next to me. "The stories aren't so bad. When they remember them."
"They all end the same," Pauline sighs and crushes the cig with the toe of her white sneakers. "Don't hold it against them."