WHEELCHAIR MEMORIES • by Laura T Praderio Lynn

An old woman perches in the center of a too big wheelchair seat. Between her bony ribs and one steel side is a rolled blanket and the other a shoved-in bathrobe. The makeshift bolsters are kinder to her fragile skin than the unpadded wheelchair straps left knotted behind the chair.

There is no need for a padded backrest as she has a dowager’s hump, a deformed half-moon spine that rolls her forward and down so her back is level with the vinyl arm rests. She has a prime view of her skinny legs under a colorful housecoat. If she rolls her eyes up, she can see her bony knees with the edge of the housecoat modestly tucked between, and she can see the tips of her blue slippers on the wrong feet.

Nurse Bigg rolls the wheelchair encasing the old woman out of the noisy cafeteria past the outer corner of the nursing station down a quieter corridor of the nursing home. They stop midway down the corridor, facing a solid red emergency door. To the certified nursing aide trailing behind, Nurse Bigg says, “Don’t waste good corridor space on this one. Face her anywhere near her room. Set the side brakes. It’ll save time getting her back to her room for afternoon nap, especially on weekends with fewer of us. Old Delores has her eyes mostly closed and can’t see above her knees anyways so she don’t need windows or trees or anything stimulating.”

The newly minted aide gasps.

Delores hears the sympathy in the new voice but keeps her eyes closed. She knows her memories are more exciting. More than the nursing home. And today in her memories she will dance.

In the Grand Ballroom she follows the smooth glide of a Foxtrot with her first love. The parquet floor they dance on surrounds the orchestra on stage playing a big band tune. Delores swirls under the electric candles suspended from the ceiling. On the periphery, table tops blossom with real candles under glass softly lighting the room. She feels beautiful.

Her veined right hand clasps the gray vinyl arm of the wheelchair as her left hand rests on an imaginary shoulder above her lap. “One-two-three-four, one-two-three-four,” she whispers while her heels perch on the steel footrests. The toes of her blue slippers scuff a few inches this way and that against the door.

“You just having a grand old time,” teases Nurse Bigg, resting her bulk against a dingy peach wall.

The trumpet voice makes the old woman jerk and lose a slipper. The left slipper falls from the right exposing a club foot. The toes of her foot bend sideways to the right, lying down on each other like a row of close-set trees bent in a storm. The fuzzy blue shoe lays stranded on the fake-wood linoleum.

“Let me get that for you, Ms Delores. Keep dancing,” she hears. The old woman keeps her eyelids lowered and dances, leaning to one side with her uniformed man as he sweeps up the lost slipper. His aftershave smells of oils, wood, leather. With her right foot she stands on pointe to keep dancing evenly with her left foot that is still in a blue shoe. A remembered shoe. The flattened right toes graze the door as she moves the clump back and right all the while breathlessly humming, “One-two-three-four.”

The aide returns the slipper to the wrong foot and places his hand on Delores’ curved back, correcting the old woman’s lean to one side. She dances her toes against the emergency exit door while his hand radiates heat along her back.

As the warm hand lifts, the dance ends. In the corridor she loses the smell of his aftershave. Her nose smells the mix of disinfectant covering urine. She opens her eyes to see bunches of vibrant yellow daisies decorating the housecoat atop her legs. Wheels whiz by behind her.

Nurse Bigg yells, “Slow down, Evil Knievel!” An old codger buzzes them with his electric wheelchair. He speeds by with a few remaining gray hairs lofting in the wind. He lifts a blue-veined hand and flips the bird. Nurse Bigg takes off after him, squelching down the corridor in big red rubber shoes.

“This is a place full of life,” chuckles the aide. “Ms Delores, I’m smiling with you.”

Delores clasps the aide’s warm hand and closes her eyes. And today in her memories they are going to buy fresh cut daisies and fruit from the farm stand. She rocks forward and back in the wheelchair to hurry them across the dirt road as she already smells the hundreds of peaches wrapped in tissue paper and stacked in wooden crates.

Laura T Praderio Lynn writes in Colorado.


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Every Day Fiction

  • “The toes of her foot bend sideways to the right, laying down on each other like a row of close-set trees bent in a storm”.

    Laying what down on each other?

  • A basically good premise about life in an old style care facility. An understanding of the dynamics between the older “nurse” and the new care aide.
    However….all is lost with the “BIG red rubber shoes.
    Where did that come from?? Not even close to reality in a care home.
    Care homes as described here are definitely not about life……I’ve worked in them.At best one can only make the residents stay a little more comfortable, unfortunately they are there to be forgotten ,slowly, to die away from family with an overworked staff.
    2 ** barely

  • Sweet and sad. “Don’t waste good corrider space on this one” pretty much sums up the way we treat our olders.

    Delores is a different kind of hero.

  • Margie

    Sad! 🙁

    I hope that she can die dancing.

  • Jen

    Sad, but very sweet indeed.

  • Mostly well written, but it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. Basically a slice-of-life. Is it a true representation? I don’t know, I’m not that familiar with old-age care homes, so I can’t judge if it was realistic or not.

    One problem I noted, the second sentence doesn’t seem to parse very well, I think it needs to be rewritten. There were a couple of other awkward spots, too, where I felt maybe a little work would help.

  • Joe Prentis

    I loved this story and found it shockingly accurate of what goes on in the nursing homes I have visited. In all of my experience in visiting elderly friends and neighbors in these facilities, I have never encountered deliberate cruelty, but there is a lot of indifference.
    If you want to categorize this story, label it, ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’

  • I love this story. I’m so glad that Delores has her rich inner life to escape to. How very sad and how very poignant.

    As for the “big red rubber shoes”, I immediately pictured Nurse Bigg wearing a pair of those ghastly crocs. I’m glad Delores has blue dancing shoes on her in world. 🙂

  • ‘Gather ye rosebuds while ye may…” Delores did, and now she has her memories, even in this awful place.

    Sure, lie instead of lay and a little line editing (couldn’t we all use that:), but overall a beautiful mood, nicely written.

  • David

    I agree that some little things need fixing, but I thought this was a great story. Dialogue felt real and Delores was fully-imagined. Good job.

  • J.C. Towler

    I’m with Richard (9) and Debi (8) on the sentiments and the Crocs.

    It is easy to lift the reader’s heart with great tales of human spirit where the heroes cure disease, rush into burning buildings, or stand between loved ones and sure death. It is quite another to take the used up shell of a woman and reveal that despite outward appearances she retains a quiet dignity that is humbling to behold.



  • Mathew Matheson

    I liked it…well done…

  • I remember looking around at the place when I would visit my mom thinking. I sure up I check out before I get to one of these places.

    For the most part she was well cared for, but the same routine day in and day out would be the worst without some kind of escape. In that sense Delores had an out.

    Nice write. 🙂

  • Mathew Matheson

    Well done…I liked it…

  • D. Clayfield

    Loved this little oh-so-accurate excerpt of a moment in the life of a nursing home patient. On my many visits there, I’ve encountered people repeating things to themselves over and over and now I can guess about the wonderful memory that may be playing over in their head instead of just dismissing it to mindless banter. Love how the aide returns the shoe still to the wrong foot! Nice piece!

  • Rivkah Levis

    I liked the story. I would have liked more development of the relationship between the aide and Delores. That is what was so refreshing, someone who is not calloused and jaded by the world.

  • Dee

    I loved this and found myself praying that it was true, that people are lost in good memories. Wonderful mood.

  • Sam

    short and sweet, just like life….

  • Laura,

    Sean told me about your posting. Congrats! I enjoyed your piece. Your use of languague was wonderful and your ability to capture the emotion of being in the home and living through memories was strong. Good luck with future writings!

  • Tina

    Laura, what a beautiful story! Terrible, what age does to our bodies. Being told about the seven stages of man by Shakespeare is NOT enough warning for what is about to befall the human body. But Dolores is lucky, she has good memories.

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