Prisoners' Dilemma

Prisoners' Dilemma

A Story by Amanda

A young girl gets a part-time job at a nursing home.


Leisa pulled into the parking lot, cringing as her tires kicked up gravel and barraged her car's undercarriage. The lot was small, empty save for a few cars tucked way at the back, all of which seemed to be teetering on their last legs of usability, patched, rusted, but endowed with an unshakable will to keep sputtering and fuming until the bitter end. She felt a cold prickle of sweat on her brow. The severity of the summer heat was particularly unkind to her. Both her windows and AC unit were broken and refused to help her escape the decidedly oven-like atmosphere her car created as she made the half-hour journey to Falkville Nursing Home.

Leisa parked in the back with the rest, turned the car off. She fiddled with her keys a moment, as if unsure whether or not she actually wanted to go in. She had just been there three days prior to interview. It hadn't been such a big deal then, even considering her history with the place. It was just a job. Just a job, she had told herself. A good job, one of the only good jobs available to a student within a good hour's drive. Never mind that it was way out in God-knows-where. Never mind that it had a petting zoo next door, and then literally nothing but acres and acres of cotton and corn for twenty miles in either direction. It was a job.

She could hear the call of turkeys across the parking lot. As a girl, she had loved the petting zoo, considered it an extra special treat when her parents had dragged her out this way to visit with her grandpa. Grandpa was boring. Animals were not. It was only after she grew a bit older had the appeal of the zoo’s residents (three deer, one sheep, a dozen turkeys, and a couple emu) finally worn off, and the monthly trips out to Falkville became nothing short of unbearable.

Leisa shoved her keys in her purse, crawled out of her vehicle. The building was solid brick, the only embellishments being closer to the front, a few white wooden panels around the doors, shutters framing the front-facing windows, and a community flower garden right smack dab on the side of the highway. All of this was detracted from by the chain-link fence that surrounded it all.

Leisa made her way to the front. No bodies occupied the five or six rockers that were set outside. It was all quiet. Even the windows, striped by rusted metal bars, only added to the illusion that she would, at any moment, step into a scene straight out of a Stephen King novel. She pressed the buzzer at the front door. Just below the buzzer was a key pad for employee and visitor access. She hadn't remembered the combination, but knew that someone would be waiting at the desk just inside to let her in.

As predicted, a long, low tone sounded and the door gave a half-hearted click. Leisa wrenched it open, struggling momentarily with its weight, and let it slam behind her. The nurse at the desk gave her a fleeting glance before turning back to her book. Leisa grabbed one of the slips of paper stacked outside the window, a time log, and scribbled in 3:56.

"Excuse me," she asked the nurse at the desk. The woman hesitated a moment, then flicked her heavily lidded eyes up towards Leisa. "Can you tell me where I need to go?"

"You're the new cleaning girl, right?" the nurse scoffed, yanking down the corner of a page in her book, dog-earing it for later reference. She sighed heavily before dragging her large frame out of the small, metal chair. She waddled to the exit to the office door, reappearing outside with Leisa. She began walking down one of the narrow halls, yanking her head as an indication for Leisa to follow her. They walked, passing door upon door as they made their way towards the far end. "You'll need to find Greyson. He'll help you out today, but you'll need to learn quick, 'cuz he has his own stuff to do."

Leisa nodded. "Should I take notes?"

The nurse stopped, gave her a hard, loathsome look. "Don't be a smartass, now." She turned and continued waddling. Leisa's mouth snapped shut. She scoffed, but continued to follow, giving the nurse a generously large berth.

The reached a circle of desks at the end of the hall, placed strategically in front of the home's side entrance. It was unmanned. The nurse pulled a ring of keys out of her pocket and shoved one in a lock on one of the top desk drawers. Inside, an old cable phone lay. She picked up the phone, listened for a dial tone, and then quickly punched in a series of numbers. "Greyson, North," her voice echoed through the halls. She repeated, "Greyson, North." She hung the phone back up, shoved the drawer closed with a slam. "He'll be here in just a minute," she sighed, locking the drawer back.

"Why do you do that?" Leisa asked, nodding towards the drawer.

The nurse gave her another tired, irritated look before answering. "It's so the residents can't get to them."

"They can't call home?" Leisa asked, distinctly recalling times she had talked to her grandfather on the phone while he had lived there.

Another sigh. "They can call home, but only at certain times, and we have to watch them. Else, you get all kinds of crazies calling the cops, calling and bothering strangers just to stir up trouble for us. You'll see. Anyway, that's on Tuesdays, so tomorrow." The nurse turned and started back down the hall, calling back to her. "Wait here. Greyson'll be along in a second."

Leisa took a seat in one of the three chairs at the center of the loop of desks. It was then that she noticed how pale everything around her was, the walls, the ceilings, the floors, all an ugly, dirty shade of what was once white. Only the doors, all wood, offered any contrast to their surroundings. It reminded her of a hospital, all quiet and shiny.

"Hey, there," a cheery voice called. Leisa looked up to see a tall young man striding down the hall. He wore blue scrubs, not unlike her own. His hair was dark, short, betraying the beginnings of a receding hair line. Unfortunate, considering his general features were surprisingly appealing. A broad grin was stretched across his stubbled face. As he approached, he shoved a hand towards her. She rose, shook it. "I'm Greyson," he said. "You're the new girl, huh?"

"Yeah," she smiled. "Leisa."

"Well, Leisa," he began, releasing her hand. "There's plenty ta do 'round here. We've got ourselves one hell of a job."

Leisa cringed. From the description her interviewer had given her, it hadn't seemed like too much work. Make beds, talk to old people, free meals. "We'll be doing the same things?" Leisa asked.

"Oh, yeah," Greyson exclaimed. "But there's plenty to go around," he laughed, giving her a playful nudge in the ribs. Leisa couldn't help but smile. "Come on," he said. "I'll show you around.”

Leisa followed Greyson down the hallway, listening as he spouted off a constant stream of instructions and musings. "This room right here is where the residents get their washings," he said, flicking his head in the direction of a large metal door as they passed. "Each room has a bathroom, but no tub. The CNA's will take care of all the dirty stuff though. Feeding, bathing, changing diapers-"

"Diapers?" Leisa asked.

"Oh, yeah," Greyson said, scratching his fuzzy head. "A lot of the residents can't go on their own no more. Some of them can't even get out of bed." The happy expression momentarily fell from his face. Leisa shuddered, remembering how the last few times she'd come to visit her grandfather here, he hadn't moved from his bed. "But a good number of them are still pretty active," he added, forcing a smile before continuing walking. Leisa struggled to keep pace with his wide, determined stride. "Take Meredith," he said, pointing to a door that stood open, revealing a small room cluttered with books and floral-patterned fabric. "She's always out and about on her walker. Big health freak," he laughed. "I'm sure we'll run into her."

Greyson stopped in front of a large wooden cabinet embedded into a wall. He pulled open the doors to reveal stacks and stacks of linen in blue and white hues. "This'll be your main job," he explained. "Here," he said, picking up a hefty stack of folded contour sheets from the bottom shelf. He handed her the pile, then grabbed a similarly sized stack of top sheets from a different shelf for himself. "Normally, now that there's two of us, I would take one half," he flicked his head further down the hallway, "and you'd take the other. But today, we'll do them together, so you can get the hang of it."

The two made their way back across the building, turning down another, short hall at the end, going all the way to the very last room. "These, we call the Penthouse Suites," he said before nudging the door open. "It's Monday, so Mrs. Carter will be out with her family." True to his prediction, the room, which must have been three times larger than the cramped space that belonged to Meredith, was completely vacant. The decorations were simple and tasteful, and a few pieces of soft, billowy furniture were scattered about. The bed was painstakingly made, about a dozen throw pillows arranged across the top. "We gotta be careful to put them back just so," Greyson warned, "else she raises all kinda hell."

Over the next couple hours, Greyson and Leisa made their way from room to room, stopping where beds were empty to change the sheets, passing by those in which residents napped or tossed threatening stares at them when they opened the door. Leisa quickly got the hang of it.

"Oh," Greyson said, as they were fitting a contour sheet to a bed close to the end of their rounds. "I'm gonna talk to Charles and see if we might can divide the workload such that you don't have to deal with the men."

Leisa shot him a quizzical expression from across the bed. As he reached for a top sheet, Greyson added, "The men round here are nice, for the most part, but some a them got a problem with pretty young women. Like to try to touch things that ought not be touched, ya know." Leisa could see pink rising in Greyson's cheeks.

The two finished the chore without event, then moved onto their next task: collecting water pitchers from all of the rooms and refilling them. "The ones marked with a star," he explained, as he dumped ice into each cup, all lined up on top of a couple rolling carts. "That means they get a spoonful of this stuff," he rested his hand on a small container of what looked like salt. Someone had written, "Jell-O" on the outside in red marker.

"What does that do?" Leisa asked, as she grabbed one of the ice-filled cups and filled it with water from the sink.

"It makes the water thick, easier for some of them to swallow without choking," he explained. Out of the eighty or so cups, about twelve were marked with stars, three with more than one star. "The number of stars just indicates how many spoonfuls they need."

Leisa couldn't help but gag a little at the notion of thick, gelatinous water. She offered a silent prayer that her life would never come to that, a state of ill health so severe that she could only drink liquids that had the consistency of syrup.

The next hour, they passed all of the cups back out, matching the number on each cup to the room bearing the same. Leisa began to notice, the more times they passed and entered the rooms, the unique pattern that the building was laid out in. The rooms at the end, close to the entrance, were always the largest, the most carefully adorned. As you made your way down the hall, however, the rooms became smaller and smaller, the smallest all grouped towards the very center.

After the cups were all distributed, Greyson checked his watch. "We get one break an evening," he said, marching once more towards the center of the building. He made a turn down yet another hall, where a modest common area was located. Leisa remembered meeting her grandpa in that room more often than not during the early days of his term there. It had wood paneling on the walls, a single tube T.V. perched atop a table at the far end, and a six rows of cafeteria tables lined the small space. On the far end, towards the kitchen, there was a window through which they could see an older woman wearing a black apron, hosing down some trays. Greyson approached her. "Well, hey there, Miss Shirley," he cooed.

Shirley, smiled, grunted. She set down the trey, wiped her hands across her colorfully stained apron. "What'll it be today?"

"I'll have the steak," he said, then turned to Leisa. "You?"

"Same," she answered.

Shirley disappeared behind a swinging metal door, then reappeared a moment later with two trays full of food. She placed them on the counter for Leisa and Greyson to take, then wordlessly went back to hosing down trays. "Much obliged, Shirley," Greyson called. Shirley nodded.

The two ate in relative silence, casting the occasional glance at the snow-tainted football game on the tube. "So what do you think so far?" Greyson ventured, keeping his eye on his tray.

Leisa shrugged. She did not want to say that she was feeling overwhelmingly creeped-out. Maybe it was just the fact that her grandfather had passed in a room no more than fifty feet away from them. Something about the building kept her nerves piqued. "It's not so bad," she eventually answered, picking at her rubbery steak with the tip of her knife.

"Well, I hate to say," Greyson began, "but we got the worst part a the job to take care of next."

Leisa's eyebrows flew up. "What's that?"

Greyson frowned, stared at his food. "Not while we're eating. I'll explain after."

A feeling of dread settled in Leisa's stomach, accented by other uncomfortable feelings added by her questionable meal.

After dinner, Leisa quickly learned why Greyson had been vague. He led her outside, where the moon had risen and darkness settled into every corner of the parking lot. She followed him all the way to the back of the building, where they found a metal door. Greyson paused before reaching for the handle. "Do you get sick, easily?" he ventured.

Leisa shook her head.

"Okay," he said. "Because this might turn your stomach."

"What's in there?" she asked.

Greyson shrugged, paused a second. "S**t."

He pulled open the door, revealing three trash cans, each full to the top with oversized diapers. Greyson did not invite her to join him as he set to work tying up each bag of balled-up diapers, then setting them outside. When all three cans were empty, the full trash bags placed outside the door, he asked her to help put new bags in the cans. As she did, he motioned towards a metal flap imbedded in the brick wall. "That's where they come from. It opens up about mid-way down the South Wing. There's also one on Southwest, North, and Northwest. Three more."

"We have to do this three more times?"

Greyson nodded. "Yep. I did the first one, so then I'll do another, and you'll do the other two."

Leisa cringed, but it wasn't as though she actually had to touch them. The smell was quite overwhelming, however, even with the full bags safely outside. "After a while, you'll be able to tie up all three in one breath," Greyson chuckled.


That night, Leisa fell into her bed. Her clothes smelled of sweat and excrement. Her feet throbbed, and pressure mounted behind her eyes until eventually, she erupted into rasping, shaking sobs.


"Didn't quit, I see," Greyson called to her across the parking lot. Leisa shut her car door, locked it from the outside.

"Nope," she called back. As uncomfortable as her new line of work felt, she couldn't give up a job that paid nine bucks an hour, not when minimum wage was six and many of her friends were lucky to be making even that. She had to treat it like a new pair of ugly shoes, stiff, uncomfortable, embarrassing, but would maybe fit a little better over time.

Greyson wandered over to her car, leaned against the hood. "I was worried you'd been scared off," Greyson sighed. "Last two girls that got hired jumped ship second day on the job."

"Well," Leisa said, "it's a tough job."

"Nah," Greyson laughed. "It's a hellofa lot of fun, if ya got the stomach for it."

Leisa shrugged.

Greyson gave her a calculating, sideways glance. "You don't like ta talk a lot, do ya?"

Leisa shrugged, blushed.

"See, that's what I'm talkin' bout," Greyson laughed. "You gotta loosen up," Greyson nudged her hard in the shoulder. She toppled a couple steps sideways, but laughed. "Otherwise, these old timers'll eat you alive."

Greyson pulled a cigarette and lighter out of his shirt pocket. "Want one?" he asked. "We've still got a few minutes."

Leisa took one, thanked him. They sat and puffed their cigarettes for a moment without speaking. It was Greyson who broke the silence. "I hate those damn things," he whispered.

Leisa followed his gaze across the lot, to the gated-in petting zoo. One of the emu was staring at them intently, his head craned over the top of the fence. Behind it, a stickly buck sat under the shade of a pine tree. "Don't nobody hardly ever feed any one a them. All look half dead. I stopped parking on that side cause I made the mistake of sliding some crackers to one a the emus early on. Started honking and screeching at me every day, begging."

"Is it even legal to keep all of them in such a small space?"

Greyson shrugged. "Good luck finding a cop in this town who cares."

He flicked his cigarette butt to the ground, stomped it out. "Well," he sighed. "Another day, another dollar, right? Let's get on in."

The first few hours of chores went smoother than the day before. Greyson and Leisa were able to split up the chores between them, get it all done a little faster. Dinner that night was boiled potatoes and sausages. Leisa quickly discovered that the only food she found to be particularly edible was the soup, served in a clunky plastic bowl designed for a toddler. As they left the cafeteria and walked down the main hall, they passed another adjacent hallway that was barred a short way down by a set of metal double doors. "Hey," Leisa asked, "what's through there?"

Greyson glanced at the door, cleared his throat. "That's Northwest," he explained. "Crazy ward."

Leisa gave him a confused look. "So people live down that hall, too?"

Greyson nodded, "But we don't really have much to do with them. The CNA's usually take care of all their business."

Leisa nodded, her brow furrowed, as they passed Northwest and made their way towards the Penthouse Suites. "I just want to stop in on Tamara for a sec," he explained, knocking lightly on one of the residents’ room. A young woman, black, wearing a CNA uniform answered the door. "How's the General doing?" Greyson asked her.

Tamara laughed, scoffed. "Same as always, I guess. Who’s this?" She flicked her head to Leisa.

"New girl, Leisa," Greyson explained.

"Well, come in," Tamara said, disappearing inside the room. Greyson and Leisa followed her. Leisa recognized the room from the day before, and the occupant. He was about ninety, skeletal, dead asleep in his bed. Beside him, a series of machines and monitors hummed quietly. She recognized the pitcher of water resting on his nightstand, marked with three small stars.

"Meet Larry," Tamara grumbled, throwing herself into a cushiony chair near the window. The shades were drawn. The only light that illuminated the room came from a lamp set atop a vacant table in the corner, and the silent images that flashed across the television. Leisa and Greyson took a seat on a small, dusty sofa. The air felt stale, soiled.

"So," Tamara said, reaching into her handbag, "what news do you bring me from the outside?" Tamara withdrew a cell phone, checked the time.

"Whole lotta nothin'," Greyson answered.

"I heard Parker was released," she said, settling a little further into her seat.

"Nah." Greyson shook his head, a concerned look creeping into his eye. "Relocated."

"What?" Leisa asked, noting the knowing look that flashed across Tamara's eyes. "Relocated? Like, to another home?"

Greyson shook his head. "Northwest," he said simply. "It happens every time someone makes an escape attempt. They have to be moved."

Tamara chuckled. "How far'd he get?"

Greyson scratched his head a moment. "Not far. He made it out the North entrance. Snuck out behind a family come to visit. Never made it past the parking lot though. Got turned around. Bill found him trying to get into the laundry building."

Tamara shook her head. "Can't blame him. I'd be clawing my way outta here if my kids done tried to lock my a*s up with these idiots."

"Idiots?" Leisa squeaked.

"The nurses," Tamara sighed. "CNA's. Everyone a them shoulda never got they liscenses, else had them revoked long time back."

"But," said Leisa, licking her lips, "aren't you a CNA?"

Tamara looked shocked, and then glanced down at her uniform. "Oh," she laughed. "Nah, not me. I don't do any a that. Mr. Larry over there," she nodded towards the man in the bed, "his folks don't have the time to be popping in on him all that often. They got money though. They hired me to keep the old man company, so he don't wake up and get all freaked out he's alone. That's what they told me used ta happen, when he was first admitted. But between you an' me," she added, "Larry don't never wake up no-how. All he do is sleep. Easy money, baby." Tamara laughed.


"Gracie," Greyson cooed. Leisa stood on the far end of the room, her back pressed against the door, eyes wide.

The old woman in the bed, hair white as Christmas snow, skin so thin it was practically transparent, leaned over the bar that trapped her inside her bed. She hissed at Greyson. Greyson laughed. In his hand, he held a partially unwrapped fig Newton bar.

"Now that's not very polite, Miss Gracie," Greyson chuckled. "Ask me nicely."

Miss Gracie, by Greyson's explanation, was the oldest resident in the home. One-hundred-and-two years old, and had a birthday coming up in just two weeks. He had explained how she couldn't talk anymore, only hiss and wheeze through her toothless scowl. Had a temper unlike any other resident.

Greyson waved the fig Newton bar just beyond Gracie's bed, then yanked it back when she tried to snatch it from him. He laughed.

"Just give it to her," Leisa said from the doorway. She didn't want to be in that room anymore. It, like some of the more neglected resident's rooms, had almost no adornments, no pictures, no decorations. Greyson had said that was because she had gone crazy when she'd first arrived and smashed everything her family had left her with. That was nearly thirty years back. Now, from what he said, her kids were dead, her small brood of grandkids moved to Huntsville with their children and grandchildren, only the money her dead husband had left her to keep her company and pay her lodging at the home.

"Alright," Greyson sighed, smiling. "Here you go Gracie." He held the snack bar out for Gracie to take. She eyed him suspiciously, snapped at him with her useless gums, and snatched it from his hands. Then, she shoved the whole thing in her mouth, as though Greyson would try to take it back from her, allowed the metallic wrapper to fall to the floor. Greyson stooped, picked it up, and tossed it in the dust bin on their way out.

"That wasn't very nice," Leisa said, once they'd left the room.

"Hey," said Greyson. "If you can't find humor in this job, it'll drive you crazy before long."

Leisa didn't stop to analyze what he had meant. Sure, changing sheets and bagging diapers was a little tedious and uncomfortable, but Leisa didn't yet feel that she would suffer mental anguish from the monotonous tasks she performed at her job.

On her fourth night, Greyson was off. She was forced to try to remember everything that had to be done and perform it in as little time as possible, all on her own. The chores were easy, but tended to take longer than they had when Greyson had been present, if not for the simple fact that there were two less hands, for the more time-consuming annoyance of having to interact with and shoo-off some of the more alert male residents, who didn't waste a moment not-begging for sex. Leisa ignored them.

About half-way through passing out the re-filled water pitchers, she noticed a middle-aged man in scrubs running down the hall. "Hey!" he called.

Leisa looked behind her, to see if he could be talking to someone else.

"Yeah?" she called back, once she determined that he could mean no one else but her.

"Are you one of the cleaning people?" he asked, slowing to a quick walk as he neared her. Leisa nodded. "Okay," he began. "I need a favor. Follow me."

Leisa was slightly taken aback. She looked from the cart still full of water pitchers, to the CNA, who had already begun a brisk trot in the opposite direction. Sighing, she wheeled the cart off to one side of the hall, away from any doors, and began jogging in the wake of the CNA.

He led her to the intimidating, locked-down entrance of the Northwest Wing, then began punching a string of numbers into the keypad. He looked through a small window in one of the doors. A loud, low buzzer sounded, and he yanked the door open.

"What's going on?" Leisa asked, as she followed the CNA through the doors.

The CNA didn't immediately respond. Leisa looked around, a little surprised to see that the hall she had stepped into was strikingly identical to every other hall in the home. The only obvious difference was the level of activity. Where on any normal evening, most residents either stayed close inside their rooms or gathered in the common area for social time, Northwest was abuzz with movement. Residents wandered around the hall, no one speaking, all seeming to float slowly from one place to the next. A shiver ran up Leisa's spine.

The CNA paused in front of one of the doors. "Have you ever done PM watch?" he quietly asked, busying himself with his key ring.

Leisa licked her lips. "I've only been here a couple days," she explained. "I don't know what that is."

"PM stands for post-mortem." I need you to sit just inside the door and wait. We've contacted the family, so they should be here shortly. But until they arrive, someone has to stay with the body and make sure none of the other residents tries to come in."

“There’s a,” she paused, gulped, “dead person in there?” She stared nervously at the door.

The CNA nodded a little sadly.

Leisa's eyes went wide. "I-," she stammered. "I don't know if I can do that."

The CNA gave her a reassuring smile, rested a heavy hand on her shoulder. "It'll only be for a little bit. If the wait goes on more than a half hour, we'll have someone else come take your spot."

"Can't you just lock the door?" she asked.

The CNA shook his head. "We don't lock any of the resident's doors, and they can't lock us out either. Policy," he shrugged.

"Can someone else do it with me?" Leisa squeaked, a very real sense of terror working its way up her spine.

"Unfortunately, we're a little understaffed tonight. I'm the only CNA assigned to this hall, and the others are busying themselves with the evening medication dispersal. Don't have many options at this point. It won't be long. Don't worry."

A resident wandered past at that moment, her eyes wide and vacant, like a zombie. "What are they doing?" Leisa asked, motioning to the eight or nine residents silently puttering around the hall.

"Creepy, ain't it?" the CNA shuddered. "We don't have to say nothing, and they know. They can always tell when one of their own has passed. It's like they can sense it, like they can feel death wandering the halls. It'll give you the heebie jeebies, sure enough."

Leisa gulped. She shook her head, a few hot tears prickling her eyes.

"I hate to say this, kid," the CNA huffed. "But since you work here, stuff like this is in your job description. And I don't want to be the bad guy, but either you can sit for a few minutes inside that door, or you can leave now and find a new job." All of the friendliness had drained from his face, replaced by a deep, wary expression.

Leisa sniffed, straightened up. "Fine," she spat. She could handle this. As long as she didn't have to see it, the body, she could handle it.

The CNA opened the door. A small metal chair was already sitting close to the door on the inside. He let Leisa pass and take a seat. "If you have a cell phone," he said, "don't make any calls, but if you wanna distract yourself by texting or playing a game, I'll look the other way." He forced a smile. Leisa did not.

The door clicked shut and Leisa was left all alone. Both lamps were on, but the dim lighting only added to the heightened sense of panic that was sweeping over her. She took long, steadying breaths, in through her nose, out through her mouth. She refused to look down the hall, towards the bed. She knew it would be there, sitting idle, and she did not want to see it. The last time she had seen a body, it had belonged to her grandfather, all powdered up and angry-looking, as if he had been having a bad dream.

Leisa's hand itched for a cigarette. She suppressed the urge and, at the CNA's suggestion, pulled her cell phone out of her pocket. She had no messages, not one. For the next ten minutes, she calmed and busied herself by reading the headlines on Yahoo! news.

Despite having achieved a more level state of calmness, when the knock at the door came, she jumped almost a foot out of her chair. "Leisa?" the CNA's voice called. "You can move. The family's here." Leisa let escape a sigh of relief that shook her entire body. She moved the chair away and allowed the door to open, revealing the CNA, a middle-aged man, and a grief-stricken older woman with thick streaks of mascara running down her slightly wrinkled cheeks.

The two strangers passed Leisa by, and only then did she steal a glance at the bed. A wall was in the way, so all that was visible of the former resident were his or her feet, stiff and lifeless beneath a thin blanket.

The CNA jerked his head, motioning for her to step outside with him. "I need another favor," he said. Leisa's heart sank. It wasn't over. "I have to stay here with the family, answer their questions, take care of the paperwork. There's a nurse distributing medication on this hall, but I need you to stay and kind of keep an eye on the residents while those two finish up. If there are any problems, come get me or the nurse."

"But," Leisa interjected softly, "is it safe? I mean, are any of them dangerous?"

The CNA chuckled. "They've all got some problems, but I don't think you have anything to worry about. They won't bite." Leisa had a brief memory of Gracie, snapping at Greyson with her unintimidating gums, like a guppy.

She nodded. The CNA disappeared inside the room with the bereaved, leaving Leisa alone with the residents of the Northwest Wing wandering aimlessly through the halls.

At the end of the hall, a large table was set up, with enough chairs for about twenty people. Leisa navigated her way around the zombie-like residents, giving each as much berth as the narrow hall would allow. She met none of their eyes, not that they were paying any attention to her. In one room she passed, the nurse was sitting by the bed of an elderly gentleman, watching as he lifted a paper cup full of brightly colored pills to his lips. She did not stop to bother her, but kept on until she reached the common area. She took a seat facing the hallway, a brick wall to her back. She jumped slightly when she realized that she was not alone. Sitting by himself in a recliner facing a small T.V., an older gentleman in blue pajamas waved and smiled at her.

He chuckled. "You look like you've seen a ghost," he laughed.

Leisa forced a smile, despite the tones of morbidity she detected in his statement.

Leisa watched as the man struggled to pull himself up from the recliner, reached for a cane propped against the wall. "Don't mind if I take a seat, do you?"

Leisa shrugged. The man hobbled to the table, pulled out a chair a few away from hers, so he was watching the commotion in the hall as well.

"Let me guess," he sighed. "Someone's gone and died, am I right?"

Leisa looked at him, but he wasn't looking at her. His gaze was fixed on something far down the hall, his brow furrowed in thought as if he was deeply bothered by something. Wordlessly, Leisa nodded.

"Figures," he sighed, hanging his cane on the chair next to him. "Lucky b*****d."

Leisa gave him a confused, troubled look. She had to force herself to remember that everyone on that hall was there for a reason. It was, after all, the crazy ward.

The man seemed to notice her unrest at his statement. "What I mean is, that guy in there, name's Jeff. He ain't been in here but maybe a month or so. Some of us, me included, have wasted years in this miserable piss-pot. So that guy, Mr. Jeff, he's been on lockdown for about thirty days of his eighty-something year life. I'm only sixty nine, and I haven't seen the outside of these walls in five and a half years."

Leisa was somewhat taken aback by this admission. If he was only sixty-nine years old, then he'd been in the home since he was sixty four, maybe younger. That wasn't even retirement age.

"Why are you here?" Leisa asked.

"Oh, look! It talks!" the gentleman laughed. Leisa gave him a side-ways smile. "Well, the easy answer to that would be that I got sick. Used to farm. Farming's good, hard, work, but doesn't pay all that much. Wife's been dead a good fifteen years now. Very sweet lady. Miss her. But that son of mine," the gentleman seemed to bristle for a moment, biting back words he didn't have the indecency to utter in the presence of a lady. "Real busy," was all he would say. "Always had been. Figured I'd be able to get back on my feet easier here, with all the fine, top-quality staff to tend to my every care than I would at home. Then, even after I was better, he decided that maybe it would be a little easier on him if I just stayed put. 'Oh, no, sir,' I told him. And that," he said, turning to Leisa and flashing her a sad smile, "was the day I ran."

A moment of silence passed between them. "Is that why you're in this wing?" Leisa cautiously asked. “You tried to escape?”

"Yes, ma'am," he said. "I busted out with nothing but my cane and a bathrobe to cover my naked hide. It was dark, cold, but I walked. Yes, ma'am, I marched myself the full four miles up to my farm, rang the doorbell, and looked my boy in the eye. Told him I was home and I was staying." He laughed. "Damn kid could have pissed himself. Had some little floozy fixing him supper in the kitchen, started yelling for her to leave the room. Never thought I would see the day when my own little spit of a son raised his voice to me, but man did he give me a piece of his narrow little mind. He called the cops, and they hauled me back here. Gave me a fancy new room and everything." He threw his hand wide to indicate the whole of the hall. "And the neighbors, they're an improvement. Lively, as you can tell."

Leisa did not know what to say to his story, just listened.

“But that’s boring stuff,” he laughed. “Hey, you wanna see something really cool?”

Leisa looked a little nervous as the old man began reaching around in his pants pocket. Finally, he withdrew a heavy hunk of square metal. He scooted his chair a little closer to Leisa, held the object between them. Leisa saw that it was a lighter, a nice, expensive looking one with some sort of medallion raised on the front of it. “That,” he said, tapping the medallion, “is a genuine purple heart. Got it during my tour in ‘Nam.” He paused while Leisa’s expression changed from curiosity to one of astonishment. “Here, you can hold it,” he said, holding it out for her to take.

As she held the lighter, ran her fingers over the familiar emblem, she recalled where she had seen one before. “My grandfather had one of these,” she whispered. “Purple heart.” It was the gentleman’s turn to look pleasantly surprised. “We buried it with him.”

“Ahhh,” said the gentleman, a smile playing around his lips. “Hey!” he said, growing excited. “You wouldn’t happen to have a plain old lighter, would you?”

Leisa gave him a puzzled look, but set the relic down as she fumbled in her shirt pocket for her small, plastic lighter.

“How about a trade?” the man asked. “Mine for yours?”

Leisa’s jaw dropped as she looked from the man and his eager expression, to the priceless heirloom that sat on the table between them. “I couldn’t, sir,” she finally answered. She slid the man’s lighter gently towards him.

“Call me David,” he laughed. “And why the hell not? My son wouldn’t appreciate it, and hell, it’s empty now so I’m not getting much use out of it.”

Leisa bit her lip. “I think I would get in trouble,” she argued.

“Nobody has to know,” he laughed. “I ain’t gonna tell nobody, are you?”

“Isn’t it against the rules for residents to smoke?”

“Maybe for those geezers,” he flicked his fingers towards the other residents, still ambling down the hall. “But I’m still young, and I’ve got a whole box of cigarettes under my bed those damn nurses don’t know about. Come on,” he laughed. “Help a young man out, willya?”

Again, Leisa looked from David, to the lighter, and found herself reaching for it. She laid the blue plastic lighter down between them, which David happily snatched up. He shoved it in his pocket. “Pleasure doing business with you-“

“Leisa,” she finished. David held out his hand. Leisa smiled, shook it. “Thank you, sir.”

Down the hall, she heard a door open and saw the CNA and former-Jeff’s relations emerge from within. She looked at David, still beaming. “I need to go now,” she sighed, getting up. She helped David to his feet.

“Come visit me sometime, Miss Leisa. None of these medical types are worth talking to,” he motioned towards the CNA at the end of the hall.

“I will, sir,” she smiled. He waved to her as she half-walked, half-floated down the hall, the heavy metal doors slamming behind her.


The next afternoon, Leisa’s car screeched to a halt on the narrow highway. A horrified gasp caught in her throat. With trembling fingers, she turned the volume on her car radio all the way down, heard sirens in the distance.

From over the vast fields of cotton seedlings, smoke was rising in thick, black plumes. Her heart began to thump wildly. There was only one building in the thick of those fields, only one thing big enough to cause smoke to unfurl that high into the heavens. She tapped the gas, propelling her car forward.

As her car slowly neared her place of work, the outlines of the emergency vehicles, over a dozen by her count, came into focus. The smoke billowed thicker and thicker. Two cop cars blocked the road ahead, keeping a few familiar cars at bay. Leisa parked, her mouth hanging open in disbelief. Greyson sat outside his car a short distance ahead, holding his head between his knees.

The home was in embers, almost completely leveled. The fire, however powerful it must have been to level a structure as broad as two football fields, was dead. A group of sweaty fireman lingered outside one of three bright red trucks parked close-by. The rest of the vehicles were ambulances.

“What happened?” Leisa squeaked to a nearby police officer. All he could do was shrug.

“Something must have started a fire. Maybe something in the kitchen. No one’s had a chance to evaluate the scene, yet.”

Leisa could barely even form the next words that forced themselves from her lips, “Was anyone hurt?”

The cop tore his eyes from the wreckage and caught a glimpse of Leisa’s uniform. As if to appear consoling, he rested his hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry for your loss,” he whispered. “A lot of people didn’t make it out. A whole wing was trapped, and by the time a unit was dispatched from Hartselle…”

Leisa didn’t even need to ask which wing the cop had meant. There was only one wing with a set of heavy metal doors as the only route of escape.

As the embers cooled, Leisa sat with Greyson, watching the smoke dissipate, the ambulances roll away. Before long, all they could hear was the annoyed bleating of the sheep, still penned up across the parking lot.


© 2011 Amanda

Author's Note

Congratulations and Thank You for reading this far! lol

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This is fantastic, very realistic (I worked in a nursing home for the better part of year and saw stuff like this all the time)

Posted 11 Years Ago

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Added on October 31, 2011
Last Updated on October 31, 2011



I'm a small-town business student who loves to write. I have just recently completed the final draft of my first-ever manuscript, most of which can be found on my page under "The Race of Kings: The Dr.. more..

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