I was born seven years early, or five years late. Everyone agreed on this. And on most things, save what to do with me. Had I been conceived a day later, or a day earlier, or on any other hour on the day in question, I would not have persisted. But I had, and I did. Generations had been laid out in mathematical precision and I was a rude drawing on the corner of the blackboard. I was mostly ignored, and largely untaught, so when things ended around me it mostly made sense. I had gone to the store and returned to find my family a garden of statues. Well, most of them were scattered around the compound, not in the garden proper, but they had turned to stone and it was a traumatic enough moment that I feel I’m due some artistic liberty.
His name was Leonard. He was the longest tenured resident at Autumn Valley. He’d been dropped off in the mid eighties when luxury assisted living had just become a thing. In the time that I’d worked there Leonard he’d never had a visitor, no flowers, no cards, no calls from skeevy grand-kids sniffing after the will. He had the best room in the place and the bill was always paid, but if there was anyone outside the residence that even knew he existed I’d never met them. He was my easiest patient and most trusted confidant so I tried to spend the extra time with him that my duties allowed.
Occasionally, on night shifts, 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’d do 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 court risk and make aggressive moves. It’s a testament to either my fairness or poor karma that he generally won. Without exception he acquired Baltic avenue 2nd trip round 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 just to screw me.
For the most part we talked. Well, I talked. He’d been comatose for quite some time. I’d never been able to pin down exactly what was wrong with him. He was old, very much so, but his body seemed whole. His eyes were clear if you bothered to pry the lids open, and his heart and lungs did their business without assistance. His charts were filled with vague jargon that I couldn’t parse, 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 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 supposed it to mean: if you ever fully understood something, you’d realize that it was actually nothing. Leonard, I suppose, would have seen this as a self-serving cop out, 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 hear from the commotion it was one of the two end rooms. Harry or Edna then, unless they had a new guest drop off while I was socializing. I stepped out into the hall to see the duty nurse duck into the room across the way. It was Harry. He was a spitter. and on his bad days he claimed I was a Jew bastard sent by his ex-wife to kill him. On his good days, though, he’d slip me the pain pills he’d faked taking and suggested that I marry his granddaughter, who could use the wisdom of God’s chosen people in her life. Complicated guy. I don’t know if I’m actually Jewish.. My name, Isaac, is, but I suspect that was specific to the situation. My Mom definitely wasn’t, so I think that disqualifies me either way, and if my Dad was Jewish my Mom never mentioned it. Still, the pills were strong and Harry’s granddaughter was surprisingly attractive, so I kept quiet and remained open to converting.
There was a flurry of medical staff buzzing in and out the room. I moved down the hallway and got as near as I could without being in the way. I liked Harry and wanted to provide what comfort I could from a distance. The nurses and doctor conferred and pulled a sheet over the body. The doctor, Andrade by his name tag, though I called him Kevin, turned to me and shrugged.
“He was eighty seven, not much to be done really, likely better off than both of us now.”
Kevin gave me a conspiratorial wink that felt out of place. I was unsure if it was a nod to the absurdity of the unneeded platitude, or a veiled shot at my quality of my life. To cover my bases I winked back, gave a reverent nod, pointed to my watch and gave a thumbs up. I continued my rounds feeling guilty that I had hoped it was Edna.
Continued in Part Two