Thursday, January 3, 2013

Featured Story: Mrs. Fitzpatrick's Grand Adventure

This is the story of one spunky lady, a nursing home at night, and a simple dream that just won't quit!


Mrs. Fitzpatrick's Grand Adventure

The creaking of her old bones had become quite the distraction, Mrs. Fitzpatrick decided, and wondered if she could successfully sneak down the hall and past the nurse on duty without getting caught. The odds were stacked against her. Peering out at the corridor from behind her horn-rimmed glasses, in the shelter of her doorway, Mrs. Fitzpatrick planned her escape.

                “Harold? Is that you?” squeaked a voice from the shadows. “Come in, Harold. Mother isn’t home tonight.” It was Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s roommate, Alice. Poor Alice often suffered nighttime delusions, but tonight there was no time to comfort her, no time at all. If Mrs. Fitzpatrick wanted to see the snow tonight, she would have to ignore Alice’s pleas.

                “Shush, now, Alice!” Mrs. Fitzpatrick whispered, “You don’t want Mother to hear you, do you dear?” The hallway was empty; Gold Haven Nursing Home was always a ghost town during the middle of the overnight shift. From two in the morning to about three-thirty, the few aides that were on duty generally didn’t stray far from the break room, where there was a color television, a microwave, and a coffee pot. Mrs. Fitzpatrick knew this because she had followed Marguerite, a daytime aide, to the break room last Sunday morning. Marguerite had been lazy about answering Alice’s call bell, and it had been up to Mrs. Fitzpatrick to give her a piece of her mind. It certainly wasn’t Alice’s fault that her water  had been too warm, and if Gold Haven had the sense to give residents access to the ice machine, they would have no need to keep bugging Marguerite for such trivial things anyway.

                “Down the hall, take a right. Down that hall, take a left. Get past the nurse’s station, and take another left. Then, open the door, and see the snow.” Mrs. Fitzpatrick muttered to herself. She was more than prepared for the snow. She had on the all-weather parka her daughter had brought her the last time she had visited, and pink fuzzy gloves that matched stuffed into her pocket, just in case. Alice’s knit cap was pulled firmly over her ears. Mrs. Fitzpatrick had lost her own hat a while back, on the day that the dogs had come around to visit. Although she couldn’t prove it, she was certain that the German Shepard had pinched it. The hat had been on her armchair prior to the Shepard’s visit, but was gone when the Basset Hound had come around. Frankie! That was the Basset Hound’s name. Mrs. Fitzpatrick smiled. Her mind was still as sharp as ever, she could still remember everyone’s name, even a dog who had visited only once.

                Her first few steps down the hall were tentative, light, and halting. She was still nervous that her bones and joints were creaking so loudly that the whole Unit would be roused from their slumber. She passed Viola Murphy’s room, 36 B. Mrs. Fitzpatrick and Alice lived in 36 A, Viola Murphy was their immediate neighbor, and she had very acute hearing. Every time that Alice turned up the television, Viola Murphy would have a conniption fit, and Mrs. Fitzpatrick would have to trundle over to 36 B to calm her down. She never seemed to understand that sometimes poor Alice’s hearing wasn’t what it had used to be.

                After successfully passing 36 B without waking up Viola Murphy, Mrs. Fitzpatrick began to feel more confident, and decided she could afford to walk a little more quickly. Glancing about to make sure that no one saw her, she made it to the end of the hallway in no time at all. She needed to take a right. This corridor was a bit longer than the last, and she decided to take a rest before she turned the corner, but just a short one.

 Mrs. Fitzpatrick leaned against the wall, papered with a peach colored floral design. She knew that this whole Unit was papered with that same color, and the other Units were lavender, baby blue, and sage colored, but with the same, boring floral print. Marguerite once told her that they did this so that no one would feel confused or get lost, and that Mrs. Fitzpatrick only had to remember that she lived on the peach colored Unit. As if she would ever forget where she lived, the very idea of it was laughable. Then again, Mrs. Fitzpatrick reasoned, the color-coded Units comforted Alice, who never dared to wander past the peach papered hallways. She was not nearly as daring as Mrs. Fitzpatrick was.

The next hallway was still clear, and Mrs. Fitzpatrick made her right turn. She marveled at what great time she was making, and believed that she would get outside in plenty of time to see the first snowfall of the year. The television had announced it, the first snowfall. Alice seemed disinterested, mumbling about how snow spelled trouble for women of their age, only runny noses and broken hips could come of it, but Mrs. Fitzpatrick had sat up straight and taken notice. By three o clock in the morning, the weatherman had said, the snow would come. Mrs. Fitzpatrick was not content to look out the tiny window of their room, which looked out over a grubby courtyard, and watch the snow from there. She wanted to feel it, see it blanket the lawn of Gold Haven, maybe catch a snowflake or two on her tongue. After all, at eighty-eight years old, this snowfall may well be her very last.

She was a little over halfway down the hallway when a door creaked open, the door to Room 22 B. Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s heart skipped a beat, and she felt rather out of sorts until she saw that it wasn’t an aide or the duty nurse, but the resident who lived in that Room, Alfred Hickey, a balding septuagenarian who shuffled along with the assistance of a walker with tennis balls stuck on its feet. He was clad in a maroon bathrobe, and looked just as surprised to see Mrs. Fitzpatrick as she was to see him.

“What are you doing out of bed, Alfred?” she demanded, “You gave me quite a start!”

Alfred stared right back at her “I didn’t think I’d run into anyone else this time of night. Who are you going to visit? Ralph Goldstein in 20 A? He fancies you.”

“No. I’m not.” Mrs. Fitzpatrick looked shocked, “Why would you suggest such a thing? I may be old, but I am still a lady.”

“Oh, don’t be offended.” Alfred waved a wrinkled hand at her. “You old ladies are so uptight sometimes. Is it because old Ralphie is a Jew?”

“Of course not.” Mrs. Fitzpatrick told him. “I’m not sneaking into anyone’s room. I have my morals.”

“This is a new age.” Alfred winked, “A little fun will keep you young. I’m sure glad that my Mabel doesn’t get this uptight when I visit at night. You ought to live a little, you really should.” With that, he shuffled off in the direction that Mrs. Fitzpatrick had come from, leaving her free to move forward.

This next left was where things got tricky. Part way down that hallway, was the little enclave that housed the nurses’ station, the lair of the duty nurse, the only person who could foil Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s well-laid plan. Past the nurses’ station was a short corridor that led to an emergency exit door and freedom. Mrs. Fitzpatrick crept up slowly until she could peer around the hallway into the enclave. She took off her glasses and gave them a good rub-down with a fuzzy glove from her pocket. She needed to make sure she could see every detail if she wanted her plan to work.

The nurse on duty sat in a wheeled desk chair, her back turned to where Mrs. Fitzpatrick was waiting. She held the phone against her ear with her shoulder, eating a bagel as she chatted. Mrs. Fitzpatrick was relieved to see that it was Yolanda on duty, she could spend hours on the phone with her sister at night, and would never notice one wily resident make her way outside.

“Yeah.” Yolanda said, mouth half full of bagel and cream cheese, “It is real slow tonight, girl. Let me tell you it is boring!”

Mrs. Fitzpatrick began the final stretch, eyes on that last left turn up ahead. She took comfort in Yolanda’s loud yammering about the weather and her boyfriend and how much she hated her job. It covered the creak of her old bones, and before she knew it, she was around the last bend, the emergency exit right in front of her. The red exit sign shone like a beacon of hope, and as she approached it, Mrs. Fitzpatrick felt a happy glow settle over her body, and bracing for the cold, she pushed it open, and stepped out into the snow.

The snowflakes fell so slowly, so gracefully, like tiny dancers in a great ballet. Mrs. Fitzpatrick laughed, and clapped her hands. She didn’t need her gloves, she decided, she wanted to feel the snow, taste the cold, and rejoice in it. “I wish you could see this, Alice.” She whispered, thinking of her roommate, alone in 36 A. Out here, there were no color-coded hallways, no call bells, no aides and nurses. There was only a flat expanse of lawn, blanketed in the purest white, and a black sky that went on forever. Mrs. Fitzpatrick took in a deep breath, and exhaled, delighting in warm cloud it made in the frosty air. She smiled, closed her eyes, and felt perfectly happy.

“What are you doing out here?”

Mrs. Fitzpatrick broke out of her reverie. A man she had never seen before was standing in front of her, cigarette in hand. “You know, young man, you shouldn’t smoke.” She told him, “Francis Crane from 33 A died that way. He was in a lot of pain, right up to the end. I’m glad that I never smoked.”

“You should be inside, in bed.” The young man told her, extinguishing his cigarette and raising his radio to call for help. “How did you get out here? What is your name? I’ll walk you back to your Unit.”

A look of panic crossed Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s face. She had been found out. Noticing the young man’s shiny black boots, flashlight, and ball cap emblazoned with the word “Security” in bright yellow letters, she panicked. She had nowhere else to go but back. Suddenly, the door behind them burst open, and Yolanda stepped out, a worried look on her face.

“There you are, Alice.” She said. “I thought it might be you. Come on; let’s go back to your room.”

Mrs. Fitzpatrick took one last look at the delicately falling snow, and smiled, realizing she had seen what she had come to see, and if they were going to put her back in bed, she could at least be satisfied with the crisp memory of winter’s first snowfall.

Copyright 2012, Billijean E. Martiello

Theft of this Work will be Prosecuted to the Fullest Extent of the Law


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