Alone in the long, low hallway, Eula Mae Worthy yanked at the hem of her dress. It had become ensnared in the spokes of her wheelchair again, and no one was nearby to help. Most everyone was already in the community room, where they were throwing a birthday party for Mrs. Cornelia Duron.
Eula Mae hated to be wheeled anywhere and the nurses’ aides knew it, so they had, with their usual reluctance, offered to push her. She wasn’t hard to figure out once she’d yelled at you a time or two. She’d feel slighted if you didn’t offer but insulted if you took to wheeling her somewhere without asking. Eula Mae was a woman who liked to proceed on her own terms, in her own time. So she cursed as she rolled backward and jerked at the dress again, her gold bracelets jangling.
It was her favorite dress, too, the deep purple one with the voluminous bodice and flowing skirt that reached to the floor. The stretched elastic neckline had fallen to her shoulder on one side, revealing a bra strap and part of a slip against her blue-black skin. Around her sinewy neck hung a thick rope of necklaces that were even gaudier than the gold turban she wore to keep her balding head warm. Her emerald-green earrings, reflecting the turban’s dull gold, made her yellowed old eyes glitter in the low overhead light.
As she yanked at the dress, she kept stopping to adjust the thick-lensed eyeglasses she wore. The nose pads clutched the loose skin between her magnified eyes. Although she preferred her own glasses, it thrilled her to wear these because they were not hers. The lenses obscured anything beyond a few feet, so she focused on what little she could see: her entangled dress, the faded lap quilt that covered the stumps of what had once been her legs, and the speckled floor tiles beneath her, which smelled of lemons and urine and bleach.
Eula Mae paused to rest. She adjusted the glasses and ran her fingers over her quilt. “Willie coming today,” she said to no one, her voice wavering. “He gon’ be here soon. Today the day.” She smiled shyly, as if she’d just told a secret to the empty hallway, and patted the quilt with trembling hands.
A soft footfall sounded behind her.
“Willie, that you? Come ’round, let me see you.” Her eyes grew moist as she tried to turn toward the sound. The slight motion, however, brought the familiar sharp pain. It was only a pin-sized speck of fire, but it shot up and down her back and knocked around inside her head, leaving mad throbs in its wake.
“Oh, my nerves.” With a wave of her hand, she mumbled, “Willie, come up here, baby. Let me see you.”
But it was just Cornelia Duron’s new roommate, a petite, frail, snowy-haired spinster people called “Miss Annie.” Eula Mae had been observing her closely and suspected she was wealthy, or had been, once upon a time. No one who lived at Bel Automne was rich. Residents who did come from money were the ones whose every last dollar—saved, invested, and compounded—had dwindled to nothing under the demands of long-term care.
Annie McCorkle was indeed one of those. Her brain shriveled with dementia, she was now just another Medicaid patient at the small nursing facility in North Baton Rouge. Still, since her arrival three days before, she’d been tastefully made up and impeccably dressed, save for her tan orthopedic shoes. Today Eula Mae thought she looked like a pressed spring flower in her pleated light-green skirt and crisp, white blouse buttoned all the way to her neck.
“Miss Annie McCorkle,” Eula Mae barked. “You stop right there. Come back here, look at me.”
The small woman turned as directed. Although the flickering overhead lights reflected in Miss Annie’s glasses, Eula Mae could see her light-blue eyes—filmy, weak, squinting. But something looked wrong: the twisted lower half of Miss Annie’s face seemed about to slide into her small mouth like pale sand into a sinkhole.
“You forgot yo’ teeth,” said Eula Mae. “Go get yo’ teeth. It’s not fittin’ to go without yo’ teeth.”
When she received no response, Eula Mae repeated, enunciating, “Teeth, Miss Annie. Go get yo’ teeth.”
Like a wind-up toy, the old woman turned on her heel and trudged away. Moments later, she returned with a set of dentures and dropped them into Eula Mae’s waiting hands.
“Now you go up front. You gon’ be late for Miz Cornelia’s party.”
Annie McCorkle resumed her plod toward the community room, her bulbous shoes squeaking against the waxed floor.
Holding a plate in each hand, Eula Mae turned the dentures as if they were rare specimens, then she slipped them beneath her lap quilt. “They mine now,” she said with a slow grin. A languid inner heat rose in her chest and warmed her entire body, to the tips of her fingers and even down her phantom legs to her phantom toes.
Her euphoria was fleeting, though, as a dull ache began to churn in her left stump, where the old infection had been. She laid her hand on the quilt above it, but didn’t press too hard. She knew not to press too hard. The quilt’s softness helped.
Oh, how she loved that quilt. She’d won it years back in a talent show. First prize, too. Purple, gold, and green, it was a crazy quilt that featured a frenzy of Mardi Gras symbols: masks and crowns and beads; curly fleurs-de-lis and doubloons; faded gold walnuts and a once-glittering lamé coconut on a green background. Smack in the middle was a round stitching of a Mardi Gras king cake, and in the middle of that was a tiny king-cake baby made of some silky fabric and no bigger than a fingernail. How she loved that baby. It reminded Eula Mae of her own young Willie.
The quilt was thick and warm, too, perfect for Bel Automne, where the air conditioner’s ice-cold blasts in summer drove all but the kitchen staff to wear sweaters. And it was under this quilt that Eula Mae stored her treasures—her Bible, some jewelry, sometimes a hearing aid or a clean pair of panties. Sometimes a Sunday hat, or an empty wallet, or even a candy bar.
And now Annie McCorkle’s teeth, still moist from the soaking. Eula Mae started to wheel herself in the direction of the community room, only to find that her dress was still caught. She jerked at it again, impatient to resume her crawl forward before some aide had to help her.
At the end of the hallway was a window. On sunny days, the light coming in made warm squares on the tiles. Because visitors passed that window on their way in, residents liked to sit in those warm squares and look out. On rainy days, the same window brought a dreariness to the hallway, so the residents wandered elsewhere.
Today Eula Mae could just see a smudge of sunlight marking the panes. And then, right before her eyes, that warm glow flickered like a candle as someone outside walked past it.
“Willie,” she murmured. “That my boy who comin’ today.” She pictured him in her mind: broad-shouldered and light-skinned like his daddy, but good-looking and sweet-faced like her own.
And then he was there, rounding the hallway, making that bit of sunlight flicker again, walking his walk she could recognize from a mile away.
“Willie,” she said as his sturdy figure approached her. “You didn’t tell me you was comin’.”
“I wanted to surprise you, Mama.” His grin seemed too big even for his broad face. He stooped to her open arms and hugged her.
“Well, I knew anyway,” she said. “I had that feeling.” She leaned into his shoulder and laughed. His skin had that familiar smell of baby powder and vegetable oil; she would know that smell anywhere.
She asked with mock sternness, “Where have you been all this time, young man?”
“I ain’t so young anymore, Mama.” Willie squatted to her level. “But I been working hard. Traveling. I had to come here to Baton Rouge for a conference at the Bellemont. In fact, I have a meeting there in just a few minutes. But I wanted to stop here first and see you. Here, let me free your pretty dress from that old wheel.”
Her boy. Always working, always traveling, always helping when he could. Even so, the years hadn’t aged him. How old must he be now? She was barely a woman herself when she’d birthed him, oh, too long ago to remember. But her Willie would always be young. He took after her people, not his daddy’s, and she was glad of that.
“Mama, can I take you to the front? Sounds like a big time up there.”
“It’s just a birthday party.” She looked at him slyly. “Before you go to that meeting…won’t you go get me some cake?”
“No time now, but I’ll come back later. We can visit some before I go back to Chicago.”
Eula Mae thought she would burst with pride. She’d never been to Chicago, not once. And her very own son ran a big company up there, like he’d always said he would. And he was going to a conference at the Bellemont. That fine hotel! Who would have imagined it, all those years ago, when she herself was a maid at that very same establishment, cleaning up after the likes of Clark Gable and Bette Davis!
“And if there’s time,” Willie said with a playful smile, “I’ll take you out to dinner. To the Piccadilly.”
“The Piccadilly.” Eula Mae’s voice was breathy with wonder, and her old eyes teared up. “Ain’t been to the Piccadilly Cafeteria since…I can’t even remember.”
She closed her eyes. She’d known Willie would come; she’d felt it. And now here he was, untangling her dress, steering her to the community room.
“Miz Worthy, you asleep?” Someone gently shook her shoulder, and Eula Mae opened her eyes to see Tuesday, Bel Automne’s activity director, looking down at her. They were near the dilapidated piano at the edge of the small, wood-paneled community room. Cramped into the room were more than a dozen residents, a few visitors, some aides, Tuesday, and now Eula Mae. There was hardly space for anyone to move.
Eula Mae smiled. “Willie come, jus’ like I said he would. And he comin’ back tonight.”
“Ol’ Willie here again? Why he in town this time?” Tuesday didn’t wait for an answer. She leaned toward Eula Mae and said in a hushed voice, “Now you don’t trouble Miz Duron none, hear? Let her enjoy her birthday party.”
“She the one who trouble me,” Eula Mae mumbled. But she held tight to her armrests and set her chin. No one would cloud out the brief sunshine of Willie’s visit today.
“Tuesday. Look at that. Eula Mae’s wearin’ Mary Joseph’s glasses.” From across the room, Cornelia Duron pointed a manicured finger at Eula Mae. Her voice was gruff, her words indistinct, as if she had been drinking. Eula Mae pursed her lips and said nothing.
“Tuesday,” Cornelia repeated, “I know them glasses. Remember when they went missing? Eula Mae stole ’em, just like I said.”
Eula Mae removed the eyeglasses and could suddenly see the fat and florid Cornelia Duron, who was parked in her usual spot across the room. A stroke had left Cornelia slurring and wheelchair-bound, with one arm permanently twisted into a narrow “V,” the ruddy, bulging knuckles forever tucked into her neck and chin, as if she were sheltering something delicate and sweet.
Eula Mae scowled briefly at Cornelia then looked up at the water-stained ceiling. She spoke, softly at first, but her wavering voice rose to something steady and authoritative. “But I say unto you, resist not evil: whoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to her the other also.”
The hum of the room had quieted. “Maybe you oughta go back an’ read the Ten Commandments,” Cornelia slurred. “Specially the one say, ‘Do not steal Mary Joseph’s glasses.’”
Tuesday cackled. The activity director, who had worked in nursing homes for almost twenty years, was quick to see the humor in any situation and her raucous laughter nearly always made the rest of them laugh. The residents loved her.
“I did not steal those glasses,” Eula Mae said. “I found them. Cornelia Duron. You just a mean, ugly-headed old—”
“Here we go again, Hapfield and McCoy!” Tuesday held her arms out like a referee. “This a party, remember? And Miz Worthy, you showed up in time for peanuts.”
Peanuts. That’s what the diabetics got while everyone else ate chocolate cake with frosting an inch thick. But Eula Mae would get herself some cake. She didn’t know how yet, but she would.
Tuesday lit the candles on Cornelia’s cake and gestured to a tiny black woman at the piano. “Mary Joseph, you ready to play? Let’s go, happy birthday to you.”
With the first chord, something in Eula Mae’s chest flowered and grew and rose up, up…and she burst into song. A soprano all her life, she still had a respectable range. She’d sung in church choirs for years and had performed more audience-arresting, spur-of-the-moment solos than she could remember. Now, sometimes, she could still hit those high notes.
Now the song was over and the candles were out, but a voice was still going strong. All eyes turned to Eula Mae as she belted out a melismatic finale, eyes gleaming and green earrings glimmering.
“Tuesday, you tell Eula Mae she cain’t do that on my birthday song,” Cornelia cried.
“Oh, Miz Duron, she all done now.” A few admiring visitors clapped in the silence that followed, and the party resumed. Eula Mae looked at Cornelia without smiling, then shifted her gaze to see that a new aide, a sallow-skinned young man, was starting to hand out those despicable peanuts. Then she watched Tuesday cut the cake, which, as she had expected, was chocolate and heavily frosted. Her body tensed, and her mouth watered. She hardly noticed when the aide dropped a thin bag of peanuts onto her lap quilt.
The first piece, a corner piece, went to Cornelia. Eula Mae wet her lips. As she watched the cake grow smaller with each square cut, she wondered how she might trick the new aide into getting her a corner piece of her own.
“Here, Miz Annie…whoops!” Tuesday was looking down at Annie McCorkle. “Now where are your teeth, Miz Annie?” The activity director set the cake on a small table nearby.
Eyes grinning, Eula Mae stroked the stitching of the Mardi Gras baby on her quilt. She shut out the room’s voices and thought about her own baby boy. She almost thought she saw him. Was that Willie, smiling in the doorway near the cake? Maybe he was waiting to sneak her a good-sized corner piece like Cornelia’s. Oh, she hoped so.
An aide set some cake on the piano bench beside the shriveled old pianist, Mary Joseph. Eula Mae spied the tan frosted top and, more swiftly than one would expect, snatched the cake and slipped it under her quilt. Mary Joseph would never miss it; most likely she’d forgotten it already.
“I saw ’at!” cawed Cornelia. “Eula Mae Worthy, you stole Mary Joseph’s cake.”
“I most certainly did not.” Eula Mae’s words were distinct and her voice steady, suggesting real conviction. She glared at Cornelia but thought again about Willie. Yes, he would get her a corner piece. And then maybe pie at the Piccadilly.
An aide returned to the community room. “Miz McCorkle teeth ain’t in her rinse cup.”
“Oh, Lord,” said another. “I’ll go check the lunch trays.”
“And make sure Manny check the kitchen trash,” Tuesday called out. She turned toward Eula Mae. “Oh, Miz Worthy, them glasses.” She snatched the spectacles from Eula Mae’s lap and placed them gently on little Mary Joseph’s shrunken face, but not before giving Eula Mae a meaningful, drawn-out look.
Eula Mae’s smile was barely perceptible. Weeks ago, Bel Automne’s staff had hunted all over for those glasses when she’d had them the whole time. She had never planned to keep them. Once all the fuss was over, she would leave them somewhere in the facility, maybe even back on Mary Joseph’s own dresser where she’d found them. Some aide or nurse would see them and everyone would wonder how they’d missed them in the first place. Oh, she loved all the fluster and confusion she could set off, just like that.
And now Miss Annie’s teeth were “missing.” All of Bel Automne’s bustle would come to a momentary standstill as housekeepers, aides, laundry staff, kitchen staff, and even Tuesday herself would stop and look for those teeth, or at least pause to wonder where they were. Even some of the residents would look. Maybe even Annie McCorkle would look. That jumble-headed old thing.
Now Eula Mae looked up to see the toothless woman trying to eat the piece of cake Tuesday had set down. Her face, usually so elegantly made up, looked as if it had been splashed with mud: brown drool dribbled from her sinkhole of a mouth, and she wore a lopsided goatee of tan frosting. Bits of cake and frosting were scattered like dirt all over her white blouse and pastel skirt. Her fingers were grubby with crumbs.
Then Eula Mae noticed that Miss Annie’s eyes were red-rimmed with tears. Although an aide would wipe Miss Annie’s face soon enough, a miserly sense of pity began to eat at Eula Mae.
Quietly, she started to back up her wheelchair so as to slip out unnoticed. She’d go put the teeth somewhere now, maybe just drop them in the hallway, or throw them in with the dirty linens—no, the clean ones. Yes, she’d hide them in the clean linens, so someone could find them soon.
“You leavin’ already, Eula Mae?” Cornelia’s voice pierced through the chatter of the community room, and Eula Mae’s whole body tensed. That brought the old pain back, and she took a few seconds to catch her breath.
“I have to get ready,” she said, her voice even and calm. “My son is taking me to the Piccadilly tonight.”
“Y’ain’t got no son.”
“I most certainly do.”
“No y’ain’t,” Cornelia slurred. “Even if you did, you wouldn’t know ’im if you saw ’im. Or maybe he’s a ghost. Wooooooo!” She slapped her leg and snorted.
A hot rage stirred in Eula Mae’s chest. Lord, how she despised that woman, talking about her Willie like that. Her balding head had broken into a sweat under the turban, and her whole body began to quiver with a fury that spread hotly to her fingers and phantom toes and then, seeing no exit, turned back and rose up from deep within her. She wanted to fly across the room and slap that fleshy pink face as hard as she could.
“He ain’t dead,” Eula Mae said, “and I certainly would know him. He my own son, ain’t he?”
People quieted, cowed by the sharpness of her anguished voice. Seeing that she had listeners, Eula Mae looked around the room slowly, addressing each bewildered face, speaking with the authority of a prophetess: “Be sober, y’all. Be vigilant. Be vigilant and sober, because your adversary the devil”—here she pointed a crooked finger at Cornelia—“walketh about as a roaring lioness, seeking who he may desire.”
“There we go, Hapfield and McCoy,” Tuesday burst out, rolling her eyes to the heavens. The tense moment ended with relieved sighs and someone’s awkward giggle. “We got a few minutes before the First Baptist ladies get here for Bible study, so let’s sing while we wait.” Grinning, she added, “Miz Joseph, you know ‘Amazin’ Grace’?”
Mary Joseph nodded and put her hands on the keys. She had once known many more hymns, but they had been sucked into the vacuum of her dementia. It was her hands, not her mind, that remembered how to play. “Amazing Grace” was one of the few hymns that stubbornly remained in her repertoire, and she played it often. Now she began to play it again.
The first out-of-tune notes lured Eula Mae back toward the piano. Her voice wavered badly, but she felt powerful, strengthened by her fury.
A few visitors, there to see a parent or grandparent, stepped closer to listen, smiling. What a thrill this gave her. Oh yes, she could still command an audience, couldn’t she, just as she always had. It was a young, strong voice that poured forth from her—a mighty voice. Even if she couldn’t shut Cornelia up, she could surely drown her out with the power of song. Eula Mae savored her victory and sang with even greater fervor.
She and Mary Joseph performed verse after verse. When someone turned on the television, the piano grew louder and Eula Mae’s voice shriller. When someone turned up the volume and people started talking, Mary Joseph banged out the notes with all her strength, and Eula Mae all but screeched the words, eyes glassy and glittering. How she loved demented old Mary Joseph at that moment. She crept closer to the tiny pianist and shrieked, “Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail…”
Startled, Mary Joseph turned to Eula Mae and then back to the piano, not missing a beat. Her hands, however, shifted an inch on the keyboard, and a hellish cacophony burst forth, mid-measure, silencing Eula Mae. The pianist, oblivious, kept playing.
“Stop. Stop.” Tuesday bounded over to them, yelling over both the TV and the piano. “Miz Joseph, you stop that right now. You hear me? I give you some more cake if you stop that banging right now.”
Mary Joseph stopped. The television blared.
Now Cornelia Duron bellowed, “Speakin’ of cake, you might want to look under that fine lap quilt of Eula Mae’s.”
“Can someone turn down that booby tube?” Tuesday said. She frowned at Eula Mae. “Now, Miz Worthy, you got cake again?”
“I do not.” Eula Mae enunciated each word. She began backing away once more and looked at Cornelia. “And Cornelia Duron, you even uglier on the inside than you are on the outside.”
“Whoop. Hapfield and McCoy, at it again,” Tuesday said, and laughter followed.
“Tuesday, you almost as mean,” Eula Mae said. “Rollin’ those damn eyes of yours and saying ‘Hapfield and McCoy,’ ‘Hapfield and McCoy,’ like it some kinda magic word. I ain’t no Hapfield, and Cornelia ain’t no McCoy.”
Someone, a visitor, laughed aloud and said, “It’s Hat-field.”
“You shut up,” Eula Mae snapped. “Now.” She set her hand on her chair’s wheels. “I am going to get ready for my son.”
“Y’ain’t got no son,” Cornelia said. “She ain’t got no son, do she, Tuesday? But she got some cake. You look under that quilt, see what you find.”
“I got nothing in here, Tuesday. Nothing but my Bible and some jewelry, like always. So if you ladies will please excuse me, I am going back to my room.”
Eula Mae’s voice was steady, but her heart pounded. She wanted to leave, now; if she didn’t, she feared she would be trapped in that cursed community room, jammed among the wheelchairs, walkers, and Geri chairs forever. She inched her chair backward again.
“Miz Worthy.” Tuesday gently stopped the wheelchair. “Be honest. You sneak some cake?”
Eula Mae stared straight ahead for a long, silent moment with her jaw set, her body rigid. Then the words rumbled from deep within her: “Oh, Lord, have mercy on them who hate me. Let me take pleasure in my persecution, for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
“Lord, have mercy, indeed,” Tuesday repeated. “Let’s have it, Miz Worthy.” She went to lift up the quilt.
“Don’t you touch that,” Eula Mae said. “This my private property.”
Eula Mae felt around under her quilt and produced a piece of costume jewelry and a tattered Bible.
“I got a earbob here. And my Bible—my sword and my shield.”
“She got cake in there too,” said Cornelia.
Eula Mae grimaced. Oh, to just go back to her room and eat that cake in peace.
“Eula Mae,” said Cornelia. “You a diabetic. You cain’t eat cake.”
“I hate to say it, but Miz Duron right,” said Tuesday. “That diabetes is the devil for you. It done took both your legs. You need to stay away from them sweets.”
Eula Mae looked from Tuesday to Cornelia and back. Her heart seemed ready to beat out of her chest, and her head was throbbing again. “Y’all ganging up on me,” she said. Then she glowered at Tuesday and her whimpering turned low and mean. “I’ll call the state on you, Tuesday. I’ll tell them how bad you treat us here.”
Threats to report the facility to the state authorities could stop the staff in their tracks, and Eula Mae knew it.
“Miz Annie still tryin’ to eat that cake,” someone said.
“Oh, Lord. I forgot all about them teeth.” Tuesday looked up at the low ceiling. “Have mercy. It must be a full moon tonight.”
To Eula Mae, still frozen in place, it seemed that everyone in the room began chattering at once, tones of condemnation, amusement, curiosity, indifference. Voices danced wickedly, weaving themselves in circles among each other, and the noise grew louder, drowning out the afternoon talk show that no one but the hard of hearing was watching anymore.
“Where Miz Annie’s teeth? They find her teeth?”
“They’s cake under that lap quilt.”
“Where she get that old lap quilt anyway?”
“I want a quilt like that, I do.”
“Where’s her boy? What’s his name?”
“Do she really have a son?”
Nearby, Tuesday spoke to the new aide softly, but not so softly that Eula Mae couldn’t hear. “She talks about him. Willie supposably visits every day, five minutes here, ten minutes there. But ain’t nobody ever seen him.”
Eula Mae’s face went ashen.
“Now, Miz Worthy.” Tuesday turned to her. “If you don’t give me that lap quilt, I’ll have to take it from you, and I don’t want to do that. So please.” The activity director offered a waiting hand.
Eula Mae jerked back and stared at that hand as if it held an angry rattler. She looked behind Tuesday to see an army of wrinkled, bespectacled eyes, all peering and curious. All accusing. Even muddled old Annie McCorkle was watching her—Miss Annie with her blank mind and childlike face, still a mess of frosting and cake bits.
Oh, how she loathed those people. Looking at her like she was some kind of sideshow, saying her Willie was dead or not even real. Why, the very thought of either sent the old pain screaming up and down her body. She shuddered with agony, anger, pity, hatred, grief. She wailed as if struck, her cry as unintelligible to her as her own knotted-up thoughts. In the silence that followed, Annie McCorkle chewed audibly, smacking her gums as she watched, waiting, at the spectacle before her.
Damn that wretched Annie McCorkle. Eula Mae reached under the lap quilt, grasped the dentures in trembling hands, and threw them, one plate at a time, at the old woman, barely missing the coiffed white hair.
“Take yo’ damn teeth,” she spat. “Take yo’ damn teeth so you can eat yo’ damn cake. Eat mine, too. Eat all the damn cake you want.” She threw her own cake. It hit Annie McCorkle’s shoulder and stuck for a couple of seconds before falling to her lap.
“She’s a thief! I told you she’s a thief!” Cornelia crowed. “What else she got in there?”
Meanwhile, Tuesday and others erupted in wild laughter. Eula Mae’s head throbbed so violently that she barely heard them.
“This…too…much,” Tuesday finally cried, catching her breath. “Full moon tonight, y’all. I ain’t checked the calendar, but I know it.”
Again Eula Mae tried to back up, to escape, but she ran into something and the room blurred into a jumble of sounds and colors and red-hot pain.
“I’ll get you, Miz Worthy.” A soft voice. A man’s voice.
She didn’t protest as the new aide maneuvered her forward through the morass of metal walkers and oversized Geri chairs and wheeled her away from the crowd, around the corner, past the sunlit window, and down the long hallway. The speckled tiles raced, then slowed beneath the wheels as the thin fluorescent lights, one after the other, reflected dully on the floor.
“Leave me here in the hall, please. And turn me so I can see the window.” Eula Mae’s voice was weak. “And tell the charge nurse I need some pain medicine.”
“Okay, Miz Worthy. I’m sorry about the cake.”
Alone again, she gazed down the hallway. The light in the window was more orange than yellow now; it was getting on to late afternoon. She looked in vain for a familiar flickering silhouette in the dying day, but her eyes were drawn instead to a ragged scrap of dull purple fabric on the floor several yards in front of her.
Eula Mae waited. She strained her ears for the sound of Willie’s voice: “Ready, Mama? Time for pie and ice cream at the Piccadilly.”
But all she saw, all she heard, were the usual sights and sounds of life at Bel Automne: the familiar charge nurse rounding the corner, the clinking noises of dinner, the lively trash talk at shift change, residents wheeling themselves down the hall. She spoke to no one.
Later into the night, she slept, slumped in her wheelchair. She was awakened several times by staff but refused to sleep in her own bed, determined to wait outside her room.
A dull gray crept into the blackness of the window at the end of the hallway. Eula Mae gazed down at her once beautiful lap quilt and touched the stitched little baby, grown dull from her rubbing. She had just closed her eyes again and was trying to imagine Willie’s face when the sound of his footsteps slipped lightly into her consciousness. Her heart began to sing. She would know that walk anywhere!