George watches Murial slurp pea soup. Murial’s wheelchair faces him from across the nursing home cafeteria filled with residents eating their lunch. Murial’s gray hair shines, but her brown eyes are vacant, and her thin lips hang open. The soup dribbles down her chin, and Charlotte, her nurse, wipes it away. George wants to be the one to tend to her, but she is afraid of him. This new stage of dementia has rewired her brain; she thinks he’s the devil, not her husband of forty-five years.
Charlotte mouths a sentence to George. “Why don’t you try again?”
He shakes his head; he can’t bear Murial’s terror whenever she sees him.
Charlotte shrugs and spoons more soup into Murial’s mouth. Murial clamps her lips around the spoon. Charlotte signals for an orderly to take her place. He sits on the other side of Murial and coaxes the spoon out of her mouth.
Charlotte approaches George. “I have an idea,” she says. “Come with me.” She leads him down a maze of drab hallways to the employees’ locker room. They go inside, where she hands him light blue scrubs.
George gets it.
“I don’t know what to say.” He chokes out the words. He exchanges sweatpants for the scrub pants. A gray “I’m a Veteran” sweatshirt for the short-sleeved shirt. “Fred” is sewn onto the left breast pocket.
“There’s nothing to say.”
He follows her into the hallway, down a corridor, to the kitchen. They enter to the noise of clanging pots and pans, and the aroma of spaghetti sauce. She stops next to a long metal counter. A single chocolate cupcake waits on a red plastic dessert plate in the corner of the counter.
She plants one red unlit candle in the center of the chocolate confection smothered in buttercream frosting, Muriel’s favorite. George had ordered it for her eighty-second birthday.
“Good luck, George,” Charlotte says.
The plate shakes in George’s hands as he crosses the cafeteria. Murial’s back is to him. The orderly stands up and turns Murial’s wheelchair. Her eyes come to life when she sees the cupcake. The residents sing “Happy Birthday.”
George sits next to her, uses a spoon to scoop out a piece of cake, and holds his breath as he holds the spoon in front of her pale lips.
She leans forward and sucks the cake into her mouth. She grins. Bits of brown cake cling to her teeth. Her eyes grow wide when she stares into his eyes. Here it comes, the screaming, the terror. How could he think this would work? She opens her mouth and a small gasp escapes her lips.
“You look like my George, only older.”
He is so surprised he wants to laugh and cry at the same time. “Happy birthday, Murial.”
“Oh, thank you. My George, he always remembered my birthday.”
He spoons another bite of cake into her mouth. “Yes, I’m sure he does.”
Susan Sabia is a Pushcart Prize nominee. She had an honorable mention in Writers of the Future, and a runner-up in the Binnacle Ultra Short Fiction Competition. Her fiction has been published in Every Day Fiction, Havok, and SpinningS Magazine among others. She is a former editor for 101 Words. She lives in Connecticut where she writes, horror, fantasy and literary fiction.