I want to tell you about the crazy lady and the monster that came for her in her hospital bed. I want to describe what I saw that night and what I will always carry with me. I want to, but I’m afraid I won’t do it justice.
It’s hard to wrap my brain around what happened that night and even more difficult to figure out when it all started.
I was recovering from a broken leg in Room 320 at Benevolence Hospital, the recent victim of my idiot friend Jerome’s drunk driving and desire to show a concrete median who was boss. Fortunately, the car swerved at the last instant, forcing the driver to take the brunt of impact.
Fortunately for me, anyway.
Jerome, on the other hand, was on the sixth floor in a coma, the prognosis discouraging. It was difficult for me to feel bad for him when I thought how that could have been me up there.
Maybe I’d visit him when I could walk again, maybe I wouldn’t.
It was during my last few weeks of convalescing that I first heard her. She’d been brought in from some nearby nursing home; seizures or a stroke or something.
Her voice announced her presence before she was rolled past my room. It was the voice of pure confusion, of raw, unfocused age. It was also the voice of a woman who had taken no shit in her younger years, before time and dementia took their toll. Her words were garbled nonsense, but her tone was undeniable.
“She hit me!” an orderly yelled. “I asked you to tie her down!”
“Sorry, man,” came the sheepish reply. “She looked harmless.”
“Nobody is harmless!”
Just what I needed. A troublemaker to distract the nurses from anything I might need. The gurney squeaked past my room and I sat up as far as I could without causing myself to see the new arrival. At first I saw her gray mop moving from left to right, turning in time to lock eyes with me for what was probably only an instant but felt like hours.
I froze. There was emptiness in those eyes that enveloped me, a pervasive sadness that seemed to possess its own life force. Then she was gone and I was released. I collapsed back onto my propped up pillow, exhausted for no reason that made any sense.
I tried to place the aggressive old lady out of sight and out of mind, but she had other ideas.
The night nurse was in my room administering my pain meds the first time she started. It was such a loud, sudden intrusion, the nurse nearly dropped the tiny paper cup she’d been holding.
“Jesus,” I said. “What was that?”
Visibly shaken, she told me it sounded like someone was having a nightmare. She advised me this was a rather common occurrence, especially when dealing with heavy doses of medication and patients suffering from dementia.
“Nothing to worry about, Ron,” she said. “I just wasn’t expecting---“
This time she did jump at the even louder wailing. It came out in a long, rising and falling flat note born of despair and misery. The pain in that wail filled me up and my arms broke out in gooseflesh.
“What’s wrong with her?” I asked.
The nurse didn’t respond. She was even more freaked out than I was. Slowly, she set the cup down on my tray and excused herself.
I watched her go and sighed saddened by the sight of someone who was able to do normal things like walk and go where they pleased.
The sound of the nurse’s voice drifted into my room from the hallway, her tone indicating concern and no small amount of trepidation.
“Can I get you anything?” she said. “The doctor said you can have water now.”
The old woman responded with a single guttural and drawn out word .
“I’m not sure what you’re---“
“Meds?” The nurse’s tone turned hopeful. “Sorry, sweetie, it’s not time yet.”
Then the old woman said it. The name. The word she would say over and over until that night when the monster…I’ll get to that. The first time she said it, I snickered, thinking she was bat-shit crazy, delusional, all the things that go along with age and dementia.
“There’s nobody by that name on this floor, hon,” the nurse said.
The nurse reappeared in my room a moment later looking frazzled and slightly amused. “She’s asking for someone named Marge.”
“I heard.” Shifting as much as I could while she administered my pain pills.
“Poor old thing,” I said.
“Yeah.” She didn’t sound all that sympathetic to me.
I glanced at the hallway and sighed. “So, what time does she take her meds?”
The nurse chuckled. “In about ninety minutes.”
I grinned. “I think I can survive that long.”
She returned the smile and, for the first time, I got the impression she was attracted to me. Of course, it could have just been the medication kicking in and combining with wishful thinking. She was most likely on some doctor’s radar anyway. Doubtful she’d want to date a customer service call center supervisor when she could have some generously paid God complex possessing quack.
I drifted off to sleep with lovely thoughts like that filling my head until everything stopped.
My eyes popped open and I gasped, feeling my heart beat increase by about a thousand beats per second. I felt adrenalin surge its way throughout my body, insisting on movement that was currently impossible.
For Christ’s sake, she was still doing it! How long had I slept?
I craned my neck to the left and saw the first rays of sunlight peeking in through the chintzy blinds. Apparently, I’d slept through the night.
“That’s some seriously strong shit,” I muttered just in time to be heard by a male orderly.
“What is?” he asked.
“The pain meds. Knocked me out all night and then some.”
He smiled. It was a genuine smile, probably the kind he only used with people who seemed “normal” and didn’t remind him how he would most likely wind up one day. How we all wound up eventually. Like the old lady in the room next door.
The orderly grunted. “Sorry. We would move you but we’ll all full up at the moment.”
I shrugged, tried to look unconcerned. The orderly helped me sit up and glanced at my suspended broken leg. He told me he’d be back in a minute with a bedpan and I told him I’d just give him a cup of coffee if he was thirsty. Laughing and shaking his head, he left my room and me alone with…
Who the hell was Marge anyway? Was she real or some conjured version of reality originating deep within the mind of a so-called demented woman?
Once, when my grandmother was still alive and in a nursing home, I entered her floor in time to hear an elderly man named Tom telling someone they were fired and to “Get the hell out of here and go some other place!” He wasn’t talking to anybody I could see and I often wondered if the person being “fired” had been real or just some bit of beef Tom consumed. I felt the same way about the old lady in the room next to mine.
I had to know.
There was too much emotion in her voice, too much meaning in the way she dragged out the name. I was convinced the old lady was calling for someone real, someone she needed or had known. Maybe somebody who would make everything better.
As if on cue, the word was joined by more.
“Mmmmmaaaaarrrrrrggggggge! I’m sorry, Marge! I’m so sorry!”
I felt a tear forming in the corner of my eye and blinked it away. So much anguish and pain trapped inside a failing mind. I wanted to go to her, to tell her Marge wasn’t available but I was, and if she needed anything at all, she just needed to…
But God help me, she needed to shut up!
The old lady didn’t shut up. She kept going, day and night, diminished less and less by whatever meds were administered. The nursing staff grew weary of her, making inappropriate and unprofessional comments about the customer they’d begun calling “The Wailing Wall.” I wanted to admonish them for this behavior, but having seen what happens when nurses and aids and orderlies decide they dislike a patient, I kept my fucking mouth shut.
But when I got out…
One of the nurses snickered from the hallway. “I think she wants Marge.”
“I’m sorry, Marge! I’m so sorry!”
“Don’t you wonder what happened?” I said.
The nurse looked up as if remembering I was a human being and blinked. “What?”
“Aren’t you even slightly curious about who Marge is or was?”
She laughed. “Sweetie, there is no Marge. That lady is mentally ill and the sooner she’s back where she belongs, the better.”
I think my jaw dropped because I remember getting really thirsty and having to close my mouth. What a bitch. Did these nurses think they were immune to the ravages of time because they worked here? How could they be so goddam callous?
“I’m sorry, Marge!”
Okay, maybe it wasn’t so hard to see how.
It was on either the fourth or fifth night of the old lady sharing the floor with me that things became a little strange. By this time, she’d graduated to simply telling Marge she was sorry to actually imploring her for forgiveness. She also said something about not meaning to “do it,” whatever “it” was.
I used my newfound increased mobility to turn over enough to pick up the hospital phone and call my brother Ned. In case you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned that anyone came to visit me, it’s because I neglected to mention I’d recently moved to this state within the past few months and hadn’t know anybody except Jerome the Vegetable. Ned wanted to come see me but was too busy looking after our cancer-stricken dad.
“Leaping off tall buildings yet?” he said.
I closed my eyes and absorbed the familiarity of his voice in this strange place where everyone was like some extra in a late-night movie. “I am the proverbial one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. How’s Dad?”
Ned sniffed. “In remission.”
It was as if the room decided to leave me behind. I felt removed, set aside, preserved for a special, gleeful moment. Sadly, I did the fist pumping thing a bit too hard and paid the price deep inside the cast enshrouding my leg. I cried out.
“No dancing!” Ned said through laughs.
“Thank God,” I said. “Thank God, thank God.”
“You might wanna thank Doctor Bashir, too.”
I let the moment last a bit longer. We’d lost Mom a couple years ago to childhood Diabetes and the last thing we needed was to lose…
“Godammit!” I yelled.
“That’s an interesting way to celebrate,” Ned replied.
“I need a small favor and your research skills will come in very handy.” Ned worked in the research department at the local community college and could find out anything about, well…anything.
Ned, now all business, asked me what I needed. I told him. He asked me if I was sure. I told him I was. He said okay, he would see what he could dig up. He just needed the old lady’s name.
“I’ll get that,” I said.
We hung up. I stared at the white walls of my prison, gaze passing the silent yet running TV, and wondered if I was doing the right thing.
“Mmmmmaaaaarrrrrrggggggge! I didn’t mean it! I was scared. Do you forgive me?”
I nodded; I was definitely doing the right thing.
(To Be Concluded)
Note: This is a copyrighted story that appeared in The "Hospital" anthology in 2012
(To Be Concluded)
Note: This is a copyrighted story that appeared in The "Hospital" anthology in 2012