Copyright© 2006, 2007
It was almost five in the morning. Albert stirred. A shaft of sunlight pierced the curtain and consciousness crept into his brain once again. He dismissed it, searching for the nothingness of sleep. There was a hissing monotone sound in the background that made the search easier. He found what he was looking for, at least for a few minutes.
"Good Morning! This is the Early Morning Show and I'm your host..." The sound assaulted his eardrums. It was loud—so much so that the fact of the offensive noise overwhelmed its attempt at communication. He knew that he wouldn't get back to sleep after this. Despite the sound of the man speaking to him, he didn't open his eyes. This was a routine played out time after time in Albert's existence. He had fallen asleep in his easy chair watching the late movie and never made it to bed. The din penetrating every corner of the living room was the television with the sound turned up too loud, the station signing on in the early morning. What else was new?
Albert didn't open his eyes right away. Over the scores—perhaps hundreds—of times this had happened he never looked at the offensive Early Show host, or even learned his name. He only knew that he disliked him. He finally opened his eyes just wide enough to find the remote and gave the television set a rest. He closed his eyes again, even though he knew that he would not sleep.
"What day is it?" he asked himself. What had he done yesterday? That would be a clue. Doctor's appointment! That was it. Today was Friday, his favorite day. It wasn't his favorite because it was the start of the weekend. Workdays, holidays, weekdays, weekends all were the same. Friday was special. "Every man needs something special," he reminded himself.
There had been a time when Albert had many special things going on, but the years had stolen most of them. He retired—his job died; Martha died; his friends died; his strength and stamina did, too.
"Everything dies," he muttered to himself. He had a few special things left. There were grandchildren away at college. He would see them once in a while at holidays and summers. When they visited him he passed out money to them like candy at Halloween. Their parents told him that it was too much for the trivial chores that they performed. He knew it was true; he didn't care. He hoped that he could see at least one of them graduate. He wouldn't actually 'see' them graduate, of course. His knees were shot and he wasn't going to ride in those ridiculous scooters like an invalid. He was a wreck, but he still had some pride.
On Sundays he would get visits from his children. His sons would come over and watch football games with him, drink up his beer and bring him up to date on family news. They would inquire about his health. He would lie about it, or tell a half-truth. They might discuss politics, if he knew in advance they agreed with him. If they didn't agree he put that distant look on his face, and soon they would cease talking. They were middle aged, themselves. He got two hours of them per week. Some guys in his circumstances didn't get that.
There were Fridays.
The call of nature urged him to struggle out of his chair. Standing up the first time in the morning was always the toughest. Sleeping in the chair all night wouldn't do his hips any good, to boot. He hoisted himself up on his walker with great effort and made his way to the bathroom.
"I've got to stop sleeping in my chair like this," he scolded himself as he finished his task in the bathroom. "If they put some decent movies on earlier, I wouldn't have to." He tried to remember what movie he had been watching. He gave up—it would come to him later.
"At least I'm dressed," he said out loud. "Now I've got to take my medicine."
He shuffled to the kitchen where his pills were waiting for him, stopping to get a glass of water on the way. It was important to take his medicine in the morning. Then, he could show the Nurse's Aid during her visit later and she would see that he was on top of things. It was important to do that. If they thought that he wasn't on top of things, he would end up in a nursing home. That would be a death sentence, so he made sure to take his medicine every day.
The pills were in a contraption with fourteen plastic boxes connected together. He found the box with 'Fri.-AM' etched in the lid. There were half-dozen pills of all shapes and colors in the little box. He swallowed them all and then half the glass of water. The 'Thur.-PM' box was still full. He had forgotten again. He emptied the offending box and threw the telltale pills away. He had to cover his tracks before the nurse found him out.
"I bet half of those are placebos," he said dismissively. He never trusted doctors, but didn't dare not trust them.
"Friday!" he reminded himself. He hobbled over to his desk, and opened the top drawer where no one ever looked. He took out another pill and swallowed it to join the others.
Albert started feeling less grumpy. Even the familiar thump outside his front door didn't bother him as much as usual. It was the newspaper delivery. By the sound he knew that it had bounced off the porch when the deliveryman tossed it. It would mean going out to retrieve it; an extra set of steps; longer time in the cold air; back up the steps again. Sometimes, when it happened in winter, he would just leave the paper out there, afraid of the ice. Today, he would take care of it.
"I've got to eat something. I need some breakfast," he said. He decided on orange juice and coffee. Anything more would be too much a bother. He shuffled to the kitchen to make it. He was a good cook.
At ten-thirty Albert heard the sharp rap on the door that he was expecting.
"Hello, Albert, it's Cindy!" a young, female voice called, and then Albert heard the door close. It was a lilting, pleasant, singing kind of voice that was neither shy nor tired. Albert liked that. Cindy never waited for him to come to the door. She knew that he expected her and she didn't want him to waste the energy getting up.
"Hello, Cindy! C'mon in," Albert called back, even though he knew that she was already inside. It was a formality that he refused to dispense with. It was still his house. He could grant or deny access as he chose. In Cindy's case, he would give it. "You're always right on time."
"I see that you're just finishing breakfast," she said as she saw him still seated at the kitchen table, newspaper stretched out in front of him. "Did you eat a good one?"
"Yes, bacon and eggs!" Albert fibbed. "I already washed the dishes and put them away," he added quickly.
Cindy glanced back with a knowing look. "I see that you had some coffee and orange juice, too."
Albert said nothing, sensing his deception was unsuccessful. He knew that he hadn't fooled her on his breakfast menu. He knew, too, that she wouldn't press it if he kept silent. That was one of the things that made Cindy different. The other nurses felt an obligation to react to his shortcomings. They would scold and cajole him like a naughty child, or 'tut-tut' him in a patronizing way. The worst was when they would lean over and bleed sympathy all over him. Cindy didn't. She just went along. She knew that he knew that she knew. No more needed to be said. That was just one reason why he liked her.
Cindy was in her mid thirties, a divorced mother of two teenagers. She nursed patients by day and her adolescents by night. She was short—about five-two—with a stocky build that came in handy when her elderly charges couldn't move by themselves. She wasn't fat; however, her white nurse's fatigues were far from flattering. She had a round dimpled face with straight blonde hair that fell to just below her ear. She was neither pretty nor homely, at least in the classic sense. A cheerful, woman always takes on a prettiness, even if her bone structure isn't quite right. Cindy always wore an unabashed smile, at least anytime that Albert ever saw her. He wondered how she could be so happy all the time.
"Did you go out on any dates this week?" Albert pried. It was a question that he asked her on each visit. At his age, he reasoned, he was entitled to ask.
"No," she answered with a sigh. "I don't have any time. Those monsters of mine take up all of my time."
"You should make them help out around the house!" he growled. "When our kids were that age, Martha would..."
"I know!" she interrupted. "And you used to walk barefoot through the snow to a one- room school house when you were a boy. The nuns would beat you until you memorized the multiplication tables."
"You're right!" he countered. "Father Brophy gave them a special blessing if they drew blood."
They were quiet for a minute. They had been through the banter countless times. It was a Friday morning ritual. Cindy carefully took out her charts and checked to make sure that they were ready.
"Where do you want to start?" she asked.
"The usual, I guess." Albert answered.
"Then let's check your meds." she began in her sing-song voice. She picked up the plastic organizer. She checked every box and recorded the pills in the full ones. She compared it to a list from her briefcase. "Good!" she exclaimed. "The boxes are empty right from Monday through this morning and the rest of the boxes have all the right pills in them."
Albert beamed like a schoolboy who had just won a spelling bee.
"There is a little problem, though." Cindy looked down into the waste paper basket where Albert knew that she saw last night's doses that he had thrown away.
"Busted!" he mumbled and became downcast. "I fell asleep before I remembered to take them last night." He hoped that his excuse would earn him a reprieve.
"You shouldn't toss them out," she said, bending over to retrieve the abandoned pills. "They cost too much." Cindy put each rescued pill in its proper container.
"You're not going to tattle-tale on me, are you?" Albert pleaded.
"I should, you know, especially after that fib about your breakfast," she said with a grin. "I'll pretend that I didn't see it this time if you promise not to throw them away if you forget them again."
It was a basis for a truce.
"Let's get your vitals!" she resumed her routine. Cindy unzipped a black leather pouch and took out her blood pressure cuff and a stand with a little tube of mercury. She wrapped it around his right arm and pumped it full of air.
"I don't know why you don't find a boyfriend." Albert resumed his earlier interrogation.
"Shhh!" Cindy hushed him, and held up a digit to tell him to stay quiet while she listened to her stethoscope.
"One thirty-five over ninety!" she announced. "Did you take every one of this morning's pills?" she interrogated him. He nodded 'yes'.
She wrote the number on a chart. "Open wide!" she ordered. Albert obeyed and Cindy placed a thermometer under his tongue. "At my age boyfriends are hard to find," she explained while they waited for the tone on the digital thermometer. "Most men my age are married or attached. Those who aren't run for cover when they hear that two kids come with the package. With a twelve and a fourteen year old in the house, I just can't bring someone home for the evening."
Albert nodded that he understood and the tone on the thermometer went off. Cindy read it and recorded the number. Finally it was time for her to record his pulse. It was one of Albert's favorite parts. Cindy placed a chair alongside his and sat down in it next to him. She took hold of his arm and turned it with the palm facing up so that she could place her fingers on proper place on his wrist. Then, she tucked his arm under her own to hold it in place.
This wasn't Albert's favorite part because he was eager to know what his pulse was. His enjoyment was provided by Cindy's buxom figure. As her arm closed over his, and pressed against it from one side, her generous breast pressed against it from the other. Cindy always stared at her watch for a full sixty seconds while Albert sat silently, even though the nurses at his doctor's office needed only fifteen seconds. Albert dared not press back for fear that Cindy would withdraw the privilege. It was a passive pleasure that he was convinced was bestowed on him by Cindy because she liked him.
"Your pulse is a little elevated today!" Cindy told him with a wry smile.
"How could it not be with a cutie like you sitting here next to me?" he retorted.
"I don't feel very cute today," she answered. "I put on a few last week. My rear end is getting pretty chunky."
"Bah!" Albert grunted. "That's nonsense. If I were a younger man..."
"It's too bad that you aren't," Cindy said with a laugh. "I wouldn't let my rear end get so chunky."
Albert shook his head, not agreeing with the point, but accepting the compliment.
"Are we ready to go upstairs?" Cindy asked.
"I guess so." Albert responded. He hoisted himself to his feet. Cindy helped him, but she had learned not to help him too much.
"I should move to a ranch house so that everything would be on one floor." Albert declared as he hoisted himself from step to step. "I would, but I can't stand the thought of cleaning out all my stuff before I move."
Cindy said nothing. She had heard it all before. We are all creatures of routine.
"You can brush your teeth and shave while I run the bath," Cindy laid out the usual plan.
Albert complied. Every Friday he bathed in hot water and Epsom Salts. It would loosen the muscles in his calves. Then Cindy massaged them to improve the circulation in his legs.
Albert undressed and put on a terrycloth robe. The water was running in the tub. Cindy would run it extra hot. By the time Albert finished shaving it would be cooled down to just right. Albert shuffled into the bathroom. He sat on a stool for his daily ablutions. His knees and hips didn't allow him to stand long enough. His daughter-in-law bought him a makeup mirror for shaving. It was their secret. Cindy was in on it, too.
"How are we doing for time?" Albert called to Cindy over the sound of the water running in the tub.
"We're doing fine." she answered. This is my last stop before lunch, anyway." She explained. "So, if we go a little over I can catch up."
"I'm ready to get in the tub, now." Albert informed her.
Cindy checked the water to make sure that it wasn't too hot. Albert slipped off his robe and hung it on the hook on the door. He put one foot in the tub and Cindy held his arm under the elbow to keep him from slipping. Albert could negotiate a shower on his own, but sitting in a bathtub was another story.
"You sure are strong!" Albert remarked to her. "It's a good thing—you having to hoist an old lard bucket like me." He didn't bother to mention his nakedness anymore, but he felt a need to apologize for his sagging physique. The procedure was old hat. It was strictly nurse and patient.