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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