The night noises on the ward never fully receded to a level that allowed fitful sleep, Ben decided as he looked toward the clock on the nightstand. The bright L.E.D. read four-thirty A.M. The day nurses would arrive soon to make sure the residents of the ward were awake, and that none had passed away in their sleep during the hours of darkness. The former would receive their daily medications and breakfast, the latter would be whisked away like the leaves of autumn. At seventy-five years old, Ben sometimes watched the sheet-covered gurney that occasionally trundled down the hallways with more than a bit of envy. This fact he never shared with the nurses or the young social worker at his weekly appointment. They already thought he was depressed and angry. He didn’t want to be under constant watch and medication like Mr. Chaise who lived a few rooms down. His soporific plodding pace down the hallway holding onto the safety rails seemed to Ben to be the most pathetic existence imaginable. Better the gurney ride to Shady Valley Cemetery than the slow shuffling death of semi-consciousness afforded by the staff of Willow Manor Retirement and Convalescence Home.
Ben listened to the crepe soled shoes of the day shift echoing dull squeaks in the hallway as they arrived for work. The ticking of the baseboard heater behind him seemed to mark time on some mysterious genealogical clock, reminding him he didn’t have much left. He pulled the thin covers up to his neck. He always felt cold, unable to stay warm regardless how many shirts and sweaters he wore. He felt especially cold at night, as if the darkness brought its own special chill in remembrance of those who passed. He rolled over and looked out the window into the lightening sky. There was a time before ‘The Home’ when he’d liked sunrises. He’d looked forward to each day’s beginning, but that seemed so long ago now that it may as well have belonged to someone else’s life. Now, each new day did little more than shed the grayish light of commemoration on an existence of regret.
He watched the skeletal branches of the small tree outside his window rustle in the cold October wind. He hated the fall, it heralded the coming of winter which he despised even more than fall. The festivities and silly holidays so many looked forward to were little more than an irritation to him. The nurses had decorated the ward with cardboard pumpkins and scarecrows, as well as a banner announcing the end of month Halloween Dance that would be held in the day room. That was going to be one grand old time, he thought. A community of somatically fossilized and unwanted people shuffling around the day room in their slippers and housecoats. He’d made a note on his calendar for that date; he sure didn’t want to miss it.
The soft snores of his roommate, Mr. Curtis, deepened to a baritone rumble, and not for the first time since they began sharing a room did Ben consider a pillow-over-the-face nightcap as a good idea.
“Turn over William,” he said loudly.
Mr. Curtis snorted once, then did as requested, the quiet of the room resuming as the ticking heater finally clicked on. Ben’s stomach grumbled its agitation at being empty as he lay in the semi-dark waiting for the day to begin. He passed a hand over his head, pushing back the few strands of white hair that still covered the top of it. He gripped the blanket tight as he closed his eyes and tried to doze. Another new day struggled to arrive outside Ben’s window as the small tree waved its limbs around in a parody of the Halloween dance The Home had scheduled. Ben drifted off into a light but troubled sleep, dreaming of his dead wife.