The Woman by Amber Jager

He sat alone in his chair, quiet for now. It is the first time all week that he has kept to himself, the soft slippers given to him when his daughter last visited settled calmly on the grey industrial-style carpet. All around him people mill about; those others that live here easily distinguished by their walking aids, grey hair, and shuffling steps. Slippers to match his own are extremely common, some marching slowly from place to place and others seated in chairs identical to where he now rests. Among the groups is the occasional younger person, the footwear being the comfortable easy walking style common in those that work in the medical profession. Not all are nurses, but all work taking care of those unable to take care of themselves any longer after the sands of time took their toll.

For the most part, everyone leaves him alone. Some smile over at him if they even bothered sparing him a glance, but he does not pay attention to them. His focus lingers on the far wall, waiting. The nurses call him ‘troubled’ and do what they can to keep him settled, but no one dares try to move him to another place with another wall to watch. This was the only place where there was ever a quiet moment. If ever placed somewhere else, he would fight and scream and demand to be placed in his usual chair.

When he had first moved into this place it had been different, of course. He’d had the occasional episode. Moments where his children were frightened by his rage-filled tirades, directed at empty spaces. He never turned on them specifically, but after one day where he had fallen after lunging at a lamp, they’d had no choice but to seek out somewhere that he could be kept safe. Since then, the episodes grew more and more common. The medication had helped in the beginning, but now he instead had straps carefully keeping his pajama-clad arms in place on the chair, which was securely bolted to the floor. Short of constant sedation, there was only so much that could be done for someone in his situation.

“Hello Mister Turner. How are we feeling today?” The voice came from his right but he didn’t turn. The nurse came to check on him every afternoon, and he didn’t dare look at her and away from the wall. He did give her a slight nod though, an acknowledgement of her greeting.

“Didn’t sleep very well last night, did we?” she asked, though he didn’t bother to acknowledge her this time. What kind of a question was that when he’d woken screaming at three am and they’d stuck a syringe in him to get him to settle back down?

They just didn’t understand. He couldn’t understand either, when he really thought about it. How did they not see the women? No one else seemed to, no matter what he said or did. No matter how much he yelled and pointed and even if he tried to go after them, no one saw any of them. They said he was mad, that his mind was gone. His mind wasn’t gone, he knew what was happening, he knew every time he was pulled from his bed into that damned wheelchair and brought down to this sitting room that he was going to be strapped to his chair. Reasoning with them didn’t work, no matter how hard he had worked to make them see his frequent visitors. They instead spoke in hushed voices and told him there was nothing there. Nothing there. He’d hoped back six months ago when he’d first come here that maybe they were right and the women would stop coming to him but no. Instead they came more frequently.

The nurse didn’t say much else as she checked him over and fed him a pill followed up by a straw for his glass of water. A straw pressed to his lips so he could take a pill, was there anything more degrading than not being allowed to pick up your own glass of water? Yes, and it was having people watch you use the toilet for ‘your own safety, Mr. Turner.’

When the nurse left, he was happy to see her go and relaxed a bit into his chair. It was unusual that he hadn’t seen one of them yet. It was approaching lunchtime. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had so many hours of peace. Perhaps that was why when someone dropped a tray of juice with a loud crash on the far side of the room, he actually looked in that direction to see what the cause of the commotion was. Perhaps it was just that it had been a strange noise for was commonplace in this quiet little hell. Usually it was muttering and yelling people, not breaking glass. Whatever the cause though, when he turned back to the wall, one of them was there.

“You!” he bellowed at the figure standing just in front of the wall.

Standing there in her flowing dress covered in flowers, she cocked her head curiously at him. It was the same woman he had seen the first time. Frequently they changed, only ever one at a time visiting him and always in the same springtime dress, but this woman was the one forever imprinted in his memory. Her first visit had been the beginning of his nightmare.

The woman couldn’t have been more than thirty, but her hair was grey from the root all the way to the tips where danced across her shoulders. At being addressed she smiled, but didn’t speak. He never heard any of them speak.

“You aren’t welcomed here!” he tried in his same loud, angry voice, all the more furious for the smile that she wore. Often his voice was hoarse when he yelled at her, so often did he scream at the women no one could see. He hadn’t seen any of them since the middle of the night though, leaving his voice clearer than it had been in months as he got louder and louder.

When he’d first seen her, he hadn’t yelled. He’d spoken to her, wanting to know what this stranger was doing in his home, but she’d ignored him. The fury had grown ever since that day, turning into a blinding rage that was now fed by the fact that she had caused everyone to think him insane. Sometimes he tried to reason with his visitors, ranting on in a one sided conversation. In his more fluid times, he just tried to convince them to leave him be. He was so desperate for these women to just be gone, and so he tried everything. Today, there was just that ball of anger.

She started to walk towards him, and he yelled again at her, starting to tug at his restraints. “You get out of here! Go away! Leave me alone!”

His usual nurse came over, not hurrying as she once had when he’d first arrived. This had become commonplace. Instead she just checked that the restraints weren’t hurting him, attempting the usual futile comment: “There’s no one there Mr. Turner. Please try to calm down.”

Hearing her, he just struggled all the more. The woman was getting closer to him, which wasn’t normal. Usually she kept her distance. Today, she strode across the room as if walking on a cloud. Her hair and dress billowed as if there was a breeze here in the stagnant air of the care center.

“GO AWAY!” he screamed when she was only a few feet away, starting to thrash about in his chair. “Get away from me you bitch! I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you for what you’ve done to me!”

Another step forward and she crouched in front of him. If he hadn’t been tied down, he would’ve been able to hit her, maybe even make good on his threats. Instead all he could do was struggle as she smiled.

“It’s okay,” she whispered. At the sound of her voice, he calmed a little. It was like a fog had been put into his head.

“Leave me alone,” he tried again, more quietly. “Please leave me alone. Please go away, I don’t want you here. Please.”

As if she hadn’t heard a word of his pleas, she instead slowly reached out. There in that room, she wrapped her arms slowly around him in an embrace. His entire body trembled as she did. Somewhere else in the room there was another voice yelling, but he couldn’t hear them. Tears stung at his eyes and then slid down his cheeks as he slowly calmed, then sagged into her arms.

“It’s okay,” she whispered again, holding him a moment longer and then slowly stood. His head fell forward and as she rose, where her arms had been around him there was an infant that she drew in close to her chest. “You’re safe now.”

As she stepped away, the commotion of the room grew as the nurses struggled to remove the restraints and try to revive the old man. Unseen and paying them no mind, the woman slowly strode away, cradling the new life in her arms.

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