There was a greasy thumbprint on the menu card, right where it said to tick the boxes to get the lunch you fancied. Dinah didn’t want to tick any ruddy boxes. She eyed the list. “Chicken Cobbler,” she mumbled, missing her dentures, “what’s that when it’s at home?”
At home, she’d have poached a nice bit of fish with a bay leaf from the garden, or grilled a lamb chop with a sprig of rosemary. Her herb garden was dying, bound to be, with no-one to mind to the watering or the slugs. They’d gardens here at the Treetops Rest Home — bed after bed of waxy-looking roses with no scent to them. When Dinah was a girl, her mother would trim her hair and put the trimmings on the rose-beds, “To keep the deer away,” she said. There were no deer at Treetops.
“Courgettes,” Dinah read on the menu card. They didn’t have courgettes when she was a girl. Bloody silly vegetable: looking like a cucumber; tasting of nothing.
She shoved the menu card away, struggling to sit upright in the bed. They’d given her so many pillows she kept sinking and slipping all over the place. She’d told them; she’d said, “I only need one pillow and I like a hard mattress.” Her spine was turning to jelly in this bed. That was another option on the menu card: Jelly. Without her dentures, jelly was about all Dinah was fit for. She certainly couldn’t eat chicken. “Cobblers,” she muttered, glaring at the menu.
She wasn’t about to tell Laila she’d mislaid her teeth, no matter what. Laila wasn’t even a nurse; just a glorified orderly who talked to Dinah as if it was her brain broke in half when she fell down those steps, instead of her hip. “Now, Dinah, don’t make a fuss. You know you need to get dressed.”
“It’s not mine!” she wanted to say, meaning the nasty nylon half-slip the woman was trying to make her put on; only she couldn’t speak, could she, with no teeth. “I never wore a half-slip in my life,” she wanted to say, “long slips — always long slips — can’t stand elastic at my waist, biting at me.”
“There’s Mrs Webster waiting to play backgammon with you in the dayroom.” Laila snapped the elastic into place, patting the place where Dinah had flinched.
Megan Webster was a simpering old fool. Dinah had heard her telling Laila, “We’re birds and Treetops is our nest!” She reminded Dinah of the social worker who brought her to Treetops, pushing her around in the wheelchair, saying, “Look, there’s a garden — you love gardens, Dinah! And the food is scrumptious!”
Dinah eyed the menu card unkindly, its column of tick boxes still demanding her attention. If she didn’t tick something, Laila would choose the luncheon for her and she’d end up with Chicken bloody Cobbler and only her gums to eat it with.
She reached out a hand and fumbled for the pen. It leaked ink, although it was hard to see the black stains in amongst the liver spots that spoiled Dinah’s hands. She’d had lovely hands, as a girl. “Healing hands,” the RAF boys had called them, when she worked as a nurse (a proper nurse, mind, not a glorified orderly), washing and dressing their burns, hardening her heart against the sights and smells because otherwise she’d have been no use to anyone, stuck in the nurses’ station, weeping, when as Matron said there were better things to be doing.
She put a smudgy tick in the box next to Vegetable Curry. With her luck, it’d have courgettes in it. She’d have to find her dentures around here somewhere, in that hard little red box that rattled…
She looked at the bedside cabinet. Maybe the teeth were in the chocolate box with the violets on the lid, along with her photos and the spiky metal brooch with the enamel flowers. Only she was sure Laila had mixed up the boxes somewhere along the line, because Dinah kept finding photos of people she didn’t recognise. Who was the tall girl with the straw hat and the serious smile? Dinah didn’t know. And the kiddies, sitting in pairs on a patterned rug, dribbling? No-one she knew had kiddies.
Someone else’s photos, just like someone else’s slip. If she ever found her teeth, chances were they’d be someone else’s too. Without them, she whistled like one of Megan Webster’s birds.
Because she’d nothing better to do, Dinah started to weep.
Sarah Hilary’s stories have been published in The Beat, Neon, SHINE, Bewildering Stories, Every Day Fiction, LitBits, MYTHOLOG, HeavyGlow, Twisted Tongue, Kaleidotrope and the Boston Literary Magazine. Her short story, “On the line”, was published in the Daunt 2006 anthology. The Subatomic 2007 anthology features her story, “LoveFM”. She won the Litopia Contest in 2007 with “The Chaperon”. Sarah lives in the Cotswolds with her husband and young daughter.