Odie Layman watched the Gentle Care Wing door, trying to make his grilled cheese sandwich last another few minutes.
“You look like a damn fool, ya know,” his friend Oscar said.
“Hush. Lettie loves these.” He carefully wrapped a macadamia nut cookie in two napkins and swallowed the last bite of his sandwich.
Just then he saw her making her way toward him. She was such an elegant woman, white hair, still soft and curling around her face. Always smiling. She never wore the standard sweats and bathrobes favored here. Oh no. Lettie always dressed as if she were heading out for dinner and a dance.
She smiled as she approached him and he thrilled to those old butterflies he’d known as a very young man.
“I saved you a cookie,” he said. “I know you love these.” Oscar hurrumpfed and walked away.
Odie stood to help Lettie with her tray. Her usual salad and hot tea.
They talked until the nurses came and led them back to their rooms a little after one, Lettie to the Gentle Care wing and Odie to the men’s section. How he hated the stringent visiting hours in her section. He’d been there once or twice, of course. Soft muted paints and walls that were lined with hooks where purses, jewelry and jackets hung, available to women whose grasp on time and possessions had begun to fade.
It was true Lettie’s mind could wander these days. But she never forgot to save him a seat at Bingo or a place beside her whenever the home offered entertainment. Once or twice he had held her hand. Never had they kissed. Yet the thought of Lettie could take his breath away.
The next Saturday morning music played softly through the dining room and he heard the strains of I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen. That was Lettie’s favorite. He watched for more than two hours before panic began to set in. Where was she?
Odie stood, determined to go to the Gentle Care Wing and find her. Nurses and aides scurried about their business. No one stopped him. Hurrying to Lettie’s room, he peeked inside. The bed was stripped, her pictures and things stuffed carelessly into a box.
Nursing home residents knew those terrible signs all too well.
The song ended. He stumbled back to the dining room where Oscar waved from the cribbage corner.
He nodded. Why not?
As he walked, he prayed, “Please God, please, don’t let them serve macadamia nut cookies today.”