Elsie was awake well before the dawn’s avian chorus. As she swung her legs onto the floor, the plastic under sheet squelched beneath her bottom. Perched on the edge of the skinny bed, she waited for signs of life from under the door. Despite the loneliness, Elsie savoured this moment of calm before the shrieks and moans of the day emerged. Her fellow inmates were a rowdy bunch, prone to random outbursts that were a rackety interruption to the already too-quiet television. She called them inmates because that’s how she felt, free will a distant memory.
There was a radio on her bedside desk and she fumbled to find the on switch. The news tune blared out and she was quick to swivel the volume knob. The nurses had complained once and she didn’t want to push her luck. Floods and fires were the talk of the day and she shook her head with a solemn knowing. It had all been foretold, but no-one was listening.
Elsie settled back on her crinkly berth, but she was a traveller stuck in no-man’s land.
As Elsie’s eyes flickered open from her state of half-sleep, a groaning noise seeped from her dreams into reality, signalling the corridor’s morning burst of activity. She struggled to sit up and pondered the shuffle to the shower. Casting off her nightie she kept a watchful eye on the door. Its lack of a lock left her permanently waiting for an untimely intrusion and she moved as quickly as she could into the privacy of the bathroom.
The ritual of washing gave her a daily dose of refreshment and she momentarily forgot the dismal prospects of the day ahead. Elsie imagined she was washing her hair for a grander occasion, perhaps in preparation for a night of dancing. The thought of sashaying around a ballroom put a spring in her step and she scrubbed her head with extra vigour.
Dressed and ready to face the day, she sat once again on the bed and waited. Although her eyesight was poor, she could make out the nursing staff by the shadows of their efficient strides beneath the door and she watched as they contrasted with the wobbly ambles of the inmates. One of the strides ended at her door and a knock was followed by the friendly fat face of Joy – by name and by nature.
“Good morning Elsie, ready for breakfast?”
“Oh yes, shall we dance?”
Joy had proved herself a good mover and they often skipped and swayed their way to the dining room. Well, as much as a legally blind 91-year-old woman and her overweight companion could manage.
The dining room was abuzz with the sounds of breakfast and Elsie headed to her usual table. Kevin was already there and he grunted as she sat down.
“What would you like Elsie? Cereal?” Joy enquired.
“Yes please, that would be lovely dear.”
But it wasn’t lovely. She couldn’t see what was in the bowl so getting the spoon to her mouth ended in a splashed mess down her front. She felt a fool, but put on a brave face and persisted because they seemed to want her to eat. Kevin spluttered and Elsie felt spits of milk land on her face. She didn’t say anything, just groped for her hankie to surreptitiously wipe herself clean. But despite her muteness, Kevin burst forth with one of his accusatory rants.
“You say another word and I’ll get my knife and I’ll cut your throat.”
Elsie didn’t flinch, just continued struggling with her cereal as one of the nurses berated her deranged comrade.
A cold round of toast finished off an entirely uninspiring breakfast and Elsie moved to depart. Joy found her side again and they made their way to the lounge.
The armchair hugged Elsie’s ample rear and she shook her head at the memory of the lithe proportions of her past. She wondered if today would see her prayers answered as a wave of weariness turned her thoughts to mash. Her head nodded into a post-breakfast slumber and she let its peace carry her away.