Every day he arrives, hooks his cane over the end of her bed, and settles into the chair beside her. He always brings her treats– candy, flowers, cupcakes, cards written in shaky handwriting she feels obligated to recognize.
Some days she sits in a chair by the window; other days her frail limbs are wrapped in layers of blankets on the narrow bed.
“Well, how are you today?” he asks, like a CD on repeat.
“As good as can be expected– Have you come to sit with me?” Her astonishment crinkles the corners of her eyes, lifts the drooping lines of her face. Her eyes sparkle, and she bounces the baby doll she’s holding on her lap. “Isn’t he a nice young man?” she says to the baby.
He spends a few hours each day letting her regale him with stories, often the same stories over again, as if her mind runs in a manicured groove.
“Have I told you about my boys?” she says. “They’re both Marines– like their daddy. I raised them right, you know. Kept them outta that junk on the street.”
Her visitor nods and smiles. Nods and smiles.
“Kenny– he hurt himself in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He’s got a limp, but that don’t slow him down… He was always runnin when he was little. Beatin up on his brother. Do you have any boys?”
Her visitor nods. “I have three.”
Her eyes drift away to the babydoll on her lap. She smiles and murmurs to it for a few minutes and then looks up with a dreamy smile. “Have I told you about my boys?”
Some days spiral into an even narrower groove. Her boys, she says, are back on tour in the Middle East (her visitor doesn’t remind her of Kenny’s injury); they’re going to take her out of this place when they get home, she assures him.
“Or maybe I’ll just escape,” her brown eyes sparkle. “That lady out there–” a nurse walks past the open door– “she thinks she can keep me in, but I’m no dummy…”
“No.” She shakes her head. “I’m just restin my bones, that’s all.”
He has never seen her out of bed or out of her chair in all the days he’s come.
“Are you gonna sit with me?” she says, eyes dancing in her cobwebbed face. “He’s a nice young man,” she whispers to the babydoll.
“You remind me of my Leroy… You look just like him. He’s been gone– oh– seven years now.”
Seventeen. But her visitor smiles and nods.
“Are you gonna sit with me?!”
Some days, she raises her questioning eyes when he walks in and says: “Oh, hello! Who are you?”
He hooks his cane onto the end of her bed and smiles. “It’s me, Mom. Your son. Your Kenny.”
Her brows shoot wide over her eyes, and confusion creeps along her papery skin. “Oh… that’s nice.” She looks out the window, still smiling, and he knows in a few minutes she won’t even recall what he’s said. She will call him Leroy or ask him if he knows her boys.
But he sits down in the old chair just like every other day and stretches out his legs. It’s lonely in that meandering groove of broken memory. She likes the company, and he likes to hold her hand.