by Winnie Kay
A retired veterinarian ponders the rightful heirs of Youth.
They squeezed between two residents walking their wheelchairs with their shuffling feet. Both seemed to be fixated on the brick wall directly in front of them. He stared at the drooling women and wondered what pictures the grout offered in the dusty corridors of their damaged minds. They need a shot of the Pink Juice, the retired veterinarian thought as he gripped the arms of his chair and brought his elbows in, fearful they were contagious.
Amanda Anderson bent down to the left side of Norman’s head as she continued to propel her charge toward the central hub of Shady Maple Care Center. “We’ve got to get you cleaned up, Doc. It’s Wednesday.” The aid pronounced each word slowly into his good ear. They circled the nurse’s station and took a hard right into the south wing of the facility.
“I’m well aware of what day of the week it is, Nurse Ratched, and I don’t need to be ‘cleaned up’ like some infant who’s messed his pants.” Norman grabbed the outside doorjambs with gnarled hands as they approached the threshold to his room, preventing further mobility. “I’m not some colt who wandered from the herd, and I’ll go in the coral when I’m damn good and . . .”
“I’ll take it from here, Amanda. God knows you must need a break from Granddad’s glowing demeanor.”
Amanda released the wheelchair’s hand grips and brushed a stray strand of red hair from her forehead. Her eyes followed the jovial voice and fell upon the tall figure standing by the window. “Hello, Mr. Baker. I was hoping to get him freshened up a bit before your weekly visit, but he didn’t want to leave the dining room.”
“It’s alright. And, Amanda, I’ve told you before; please call me Luke.” The early afternoon light exposed a tidy sitting area; fresh flowers centered the polished table. A flat-screened TV was affixed to the wall above the chest-of-drawers opposite the neatly made, single bed.
Norman let go of the edges of the door and spun the narrow wheels forward, lurching himself into his room. He skillfully turned the left wheel and faced Amanda. Then he jerked the right wheel and looked at his grandson. “You two are talking about me like I’m dead. Hell, I’m right here in front of you.”
Amanda offered an apologetic smile. “I’ll be back later with your meds, Doc,” she yelled across the room and disappeared down the hall.
Norman looked over at his grandson. “What’d she say? She’ll bring back a letter when I’m dead? What the hell is that suppose to mean?”
“That’s not what she said, Granddad,” Luke shouted as he laughed and motioned for Norman to come closer. “I brought you something.” Luke lifted a small Wal-Mart bag from one of the chairs and set it on the table as he took a seat and waited for Norman to make it across the room.
Norman wheeled his chair under the table. “Did you bring me some cigarettes, boy? A bottle of Wild Turkey maybe?” He licked his lips and grinned at Luke with hope in his eyes. “You got a lighter? Bastards took mine away. I got some glasses in the bathroom.” Norman reached for the bag and looked inside. “What’s this crap? I can’t smoke this.”
“They’re wireless headphones so you can hear the TV, Granddad. I’ll hook them up for you, if you want.”
Norman slumped in his wheelchair. He knew his smoking and drinking days were over, but it didn’t hurt to dream. He was proud of Luke. The boy was following in his footsteps and had just graduated from Duke with a degree in veterinary medicine. He was opening his own clinic soon. It was a hard life, one that required a kind and determined heart. Norman once had that same look of wonderment he now saw in his grandson’s eyes. But at eighty-five, after losing a wife to cancer, facing his own numerous health issues, and witnessing the cruelty man can inflict on animals, Norman’s heart had hardened and his own enchantment with the world had died along with his youth.
“No smokes, huh?” He studied the strange looking headphones. “You think these would bring Animal Planet in loud and clear? And maybe I can finally hear what that sarcastic Doctor House is saying to his tortured colleagues. Now that’s my kind of doctor.”
“Sure. These will help you hear all of your favorite shows again.”
“What, boy? They’ll help me fear all urologists’ toes again?”
“Oh God, Granddad!” Luke pulled some tools out of the Wal-Mart bag and began to install the hardware needed for the headphones.
Norman watched his grandson’s agile movements and wondered what Luke would be like in another fifty or sixty years. He searched for his own youth in the recesses of his mind and failed to find that excitement, joy, and surprise that only the anticipation of an unexpected future could bring. Youth. Is it wasted on the young, or is there a reason why it’s gifted, exclusively, to the young?
“Dammit, boy! Don’t you scratch that new flat-screen!”