His name was Leonard. I used to plan my visits around odd hours, Tuesday mornings, Friday nights, off times for decent folk. I didn’t want to chance an encounter with his family proper. Even then I’d walk around the ward a few times to make sure a burst of sentiment hadn’t spurred a distant cousin to make an appearance. There was no one. After a few months the ward clerk confided in me I’d been the only visitor in years. After that I came as needed, plus Sunday afternoon on principle.
Occasionally I’d play a sort of Power of Attorney monopoly with him. I’d roll and move the pieces for us both, but when it came time to buy things or build motels I’d try to intuit what he would have done in that situation. Given the indifference of his deadbeat family, and the high quality of his single room and medical care, I figured he’d been successful and ambitious in life, the type to make aggressive moves. It was a testament to either my fairness or poor karma that he generally won. Without exception he’d acquired Baltic avenue 2nd trip around the board and Mediterranean on the 3rd. I couldn’t stay out of his goddamn slums! The smug bastard wouldn’t even bother buying Boardwalk because he knew no one would land there, but he’d still buy Park Place to screw me. Sometimes the night nurse played with us. We both liked her.
For the most part Leonard and I talked. Well, I talked. Leonard had been comatose for quite some time. I had never been able to pin down exactly what was wrong with him. He was old, very much so, and thin, but his complexion lacked the yellow fade of proper sickness. His eyes, if you bothered to pry them open, were clear, and twitched beneath the lids on rare occasions. His heart and lungs did their business without assistance. Given my situation I couldn’t ask the exact nature of his condition, and his charts seemed more restroom cleaning schedule than diagnosis, so I decided that one day he’d just become very bored and disengaged entirely. That might have been a projection, but I’d been raised (to the extent that I’d been raised) to believe that the world was a misunderstanding borne by experience until ineffably reduced by clarity. I’m not paraphrasing there, that’s how things were explained to me… as a small child. I think I was asking for a dog. For years I thought ineffably reduced by clarity was a euphemism for getting hit by a car because you weren’t paying attention. As an adult I understood it to mean that if you looked too closely thing disappeared. Leonard, I suppose, would have seen this as a self serving copout, but Leonard pissed in a bag and almost certainly cheated at monopoly, so I took his critiques in stride.
I felt the flutter in my stomach just a bit before the ward alarm went off. I could never tell if it was a real sound or something just I heard. I stepped out in time to see the duty nurse duck into a room towards the end of the hall. I walked to a water fountain adjacent to it, took a drink, and then crossed and leaned against the wall of the dying mans room. I could hear the concerned buzzing of the staff mingled with the machines long beep of surrender. I pushed it aside, pressed my hands flat against the wall, fingers spread, and felt the thin pop of him slipping. It was hardly anything, a bubble bursting in the dark. After a time the door opened to reveal staff conferring around a sheet covered body. A bored looking doctor excused himself and joined me in the hall. I nodded and mentioned
“That’s a shame”.
The doctor, Evans by his name tag, shrugged.
“He was eighty seven, not much to be done really. Likely better off than both of us now.”
I don’t know if it was his general indifference or the specific absurdity of the platitude but I felt the need the respond.
“Are thing going that bad for you then?”
Dr. Evans took a moment to absorb the comment and then assumed an air of detached professional hostility.
“I meant that he’s in a better place now.”
I patted my stomach guiltily then gave conspiratorial wink.
“Don’t be so sure.”
Dr. Evans professional hostility lapsed into personal confusion and private discomfort. He broke eye contact and hurried down the ward, unsettled but already having pushed the exchange aside. This close to the edge things were forgotten with ease.
I gathered my stuff from Leonard’s room and left to catch the bus. It was date night.
To be continued in Part 2: Date Night