The ocean goes unseen. Water scares her, she chokes as she sips it.
She stays in her room while new people load in. It happens every few days. The room doesn’t have a window. The feeling of waves make her sick; she can’t stand to look at them in motion. A tiny pastel painting of a palm tree reminds her of one she saw in a doctor’s office as a child.
Coiled on her bed, the silence strains her ears until horns and fireworks make tiny explosions. They sound small. They sound far. She steps into the hallway for some boxed cranberry juice. Frozen rats fill the ice machine, their cold blood dripping onto the floor. “It’s not what you think,” a man whispers behind her.
Guests are brought to the bingo room just before dinner. She’s the only one who actively plays. No one else even cares to win. Hardly any of them move their pieces. They don’t finish.
In the dining hall, no one sits next to her. “You smell gross,” says an older man.
“Your hair looks like a moldy spider’s nest,” says another.
“I’m lovely,” she says to them.
As she stands in line for a tray of food, she realizes it’s not the buffet she imagined. Employees in tan uniforms hand her applesauce for dessert. She doesn’t like applesauce, but that’s all they serve her. It’s free, so she takes it, but she doesn’t like it.
The other guests get mad at the ones in uniforms. They throw their applesauce, dumping their meals onto the dull floor. She grabs another man’s cheesecake right off of his tray. “You don’t want this cheesecake with your motion sickness, do you, sir? Surely you can’t hold it down with these rough waters.” The man doesn’t respond; he’s slouched over in his chair, his emesis bucket tilted over on his lap.
A man in his late thirties, with hair not thinning at all, rushes down the hallway. His finger lacks a wedding ring. He wants me, she thinks.
An employee in a tan uniform removes her empty food tray and leads her into a small office. The man without a wedding ring tells her to undress. She screams. The employees in tan carry her to her room.
She sits on her bed, watching the pastel painting. The palm leaves sway. They fall to the ground, becoming waves. Confident in the patch behind her ear, she walks up the painting and removes it from the wall. Behind it, a porthole, waves crashing against it. She falls to the ground and begins to wretch. Thawing rats roll into her room.
“Your last pill, dear. It’s time for you to leave,” the man without a wedding ring tells her. He hands her a small blue pill. She notices his badge for the first time. The pill dissolves in her warm hand.
“I’ve been wanting to switch rooms for a while now,” she replies. “But please, nothing with a window. I’m scared of water. No paintings, either.”
“You’ve run out of financial assistance,” he says.
“I don’t want any more applesauce,” she says. “My daughter needs to come pick me up. There’s a rat problem. Let me call her.”
He looks at an employee in tan clothes. “I thought her chart said she has no kids?” he says.
“She doesn’t,” the employee replies.
The man without a ring bends down to the woman’s level. “You have no kids,” he says.
“When my daughter was seven, I told her to put me on a cruise instead of a nursing home,” she says. “But this isn’t the right cruise. I don’t like the paintings here.”
“This is a senior behavioral health unit at the community hospital. You have run out of government assistance. We have to discharge you. I hope you find somewhere to stay.”
The employee in tan walks the woman through a lobby she doesn’t remember seeing on the way in. A reflection in the mirrored wall stares at her. Small, wrinkled, dreadlocks to her breasts. Gross, she thinks. That woman is disgusting. The reflection dances alongside her until she reaches the sliding doors.
The employee in tan walks her outside and lets go of her hand.
“The corner of 68th and Havenway is mine,” says a lady sitting on the curb.