Three guys with the same name live in this place created for the terminally old. Me, Charlie Werner, and Charlie Morgenscheimer. Werner probably doesn't know the difference between bland processed vanilla pudding and the inside of his own skull. I pass by his Geri-chair sometimes. He stares at the ceiling. A blink is the only sign that he exists inside a body slightly more colorful than a skeleton.
Some of the residents on the inside of this facility for the severely limited, are afraid Werner's condition is contagious, at least on some level. I talk to him when only he and I are in the common day room -- as a kind repellent. If you let the beast think you aren't afraid, it may not attack. A beast already lives inside me. It grew and moved in, and I decided the long and gruesome chemo treatment isn't worth the few miserable months I could get in return.
"Hey, Charlie Werner! This is Charlie Cale. Look. The tree in the front yard's bare now. My wife and I had maples, oaks, sweet gum all over our back yard. Our kids would climb them. 'Course the kids are grown now, more than grown. Live farther away than most of my memory cells. You would have liked my wife." I stop. Not only because my voice can break any second, but because a nurse aide is leading Charlie Morgenscheimer into the room.
His voice is easy to identify, if not by tone, by attitude, thicker than his ample waistline, loud enough to awaken the long-ago deaf ear.
"I told you I wanted to stay in my room. You don't listen. None of you do. It's a beautiful, cloudless day. So what? I see one tree in a brown-grass yard. The tree's bare as my butt in the shower. You don't really want to see that, do you? Never mind my withered front branch ..."
"That will be quite enough," the aide interrupts.
Charlie Morgenscheimer is a 90-year-old guy with the longest surname and shortest temper.
"Hello, Mr. Cale," the aide says to me. She leaves Mr. Negative Personality in a wheelchair by the window while he continues to mumble, "Need rain, but it looks like snow ... dull everything ... another damn ambulance in the circle."
"Hello, Sherry," I say.
"You remember my name."
"Reminds me of wine."
"I'll bring you some if you would like."
I nod, but don't answer. Alcohol doesn't mix with my pain meds. Under the circumstances, the doc may let me have some anyway. I get out of bed as an act of will. The staff say I'm a living symbol for determination. Doesn't matter anymore. I mentioned the wine only as something to say.
"If you really want to go back to your room, Mr. Morgenscheimer, I will gladly tuck you into bed, and then leave you there, until your son arrives from Arizona. In the afternoon."
"The kid is really coming, huh?"
"That's the word." She pushes him toward the hallway.
"Would you believe he's got an attitude?"
Sherry's laugh is enough of an answer.
I turn toward Werner. His head is aimed toward me. Unusual. I smile. He blinks twice. I pull my wheelchair closer to him and then look back out the window. At the same scene. As a sunburst embraces it in a way that feels like more than serendipity.
* * *
I'm asleep in the middle of the day. A dream. One I won't remember ... never do. I'm seven years old, the curvature in my spine and botched back surgery ... gone.
And I'm running away from home. Again. Away from the beatings, the screaming, mine and my sister's. I cover the welts on my back with a gray sweater. Everything is gray in this part of my life. I don't get far. Winter chill, fear ... I didn't bring Margaret, my little sister. Go back. Now. Get her.
Father could come home any second. He'll be ugly drunk.
I run. Yet my feet can't get anywhere. My shoes disappear. A wall, a fence, and an angry bull appear out of nowhere. Then I see a body. My sister's, stomped by the bull who turns into my father. He staggers away. I'm too late.
The guilty secret wants to slip out of my mind. Somehow. It's grown heavy, like a mountain breaking, hurling rocks below.
Too late. Too late. Too late.
I haven't counted the TIA's, one stroke after another. No point to it; my body and brain no longer connect. My spirit will slip away, eventually. For now, my spirit celebrates a gift it never knew before I, Charlie Werner, became crudely known as a human vegetable.
Maybe I can't speak or control more than an occasional eye blink, but I see dimensions on the other side of the window, inside people here, and on the other side of time.
Morgenscheimer's son? He's got a surprise coming when he arrives. If Mother Nature, the angels, and I get our rays set properly, that gentleman will be much more understanding when he returns to Arizona.
Old Dad Morgenscheimer? Mother Nature, the angels, and the entire divine world can't change him. He needs to do it. He can. Late. When he meets his wife on the other side and forgives her for leaving him for other men when he lashed out at her in hate. When he stops cherishing anger as a right. Not that he hasn't known the devil on a first-name basis. Won't be for a while, though. Not in nursing home terms. Another year at least.
For now, all Morgenscheimer needs to do is release a secret or two, and give his son enough heart understanding to forgive him. His son can then go home, accept the job promotion, maybe reconcile with his ex ...
Yeah, I know. A lot of information passes through this wrinkled green bean of a human. I'm not sure I could handle it if I had all my faculties. I'd be too busy.
Sherry is coming. The sound of her footsteps is unmistakable. She pulls a chair next to me and sips a cup of coffee during her break. She'd rather be here than in the employee's room with the complainers. They have reason for it. Plenty. The pay here maintains humility, but not much of anything else.
She sighs, long and hard, and then whispers. "Hospice is here. For Charlie Cale. He's going to leave us today, isn't he? The poor guy's been on this floor for four years. Arrived the day after I got this job."
I close my eyes. An answer she psychically understands. The first snowfall of the year begins. A fresh white silently touches the ground.
Sherry empties the last of her coffee and stands, the cup pressed against her belly.
Two cardinals land on the whitened maple, one male, one female. "It's a sign, isn't it?" Sherry asks.
No need to answer even if I could.
"Best visit between a resident and guest I've ever watched," she says.
Yet, she doesn't stay to see the two birds fly away. Together. I'm darn sure she's going to say goodbye to the Charlie Cale she's known since she put on a name badge reading Sherry, CNA, in what only looks like any ordinary nursing home.