She sit there in the same spot near every day, eyes glint’n like glass candies. The sun from that window gonna blind ‘r, star’n at it hour on end the way she do. She so wore out. Po’ ‘ol woman. Jes sit’n on ’r mattress, rock’n an hum’n an wait’n fer some fool thing that ain’t never gonna happen. She a sad case all right. A sad, sad case.
Swear a word now, jes look at ’r wooly head, grey an tangled like a ‘ol mossy, bird’s nest. They be in soon t’ wash it. Yessir, every Tuesday an Saturday ‘fore lunch. They gonna reach on ‘round ‘r droopy shoulder bones an prod ‘r down the hall t’ the toilets t’ stand ‘r in the shower fer a spell. Don’t know why they bother tho’. Tch, that fer sho’. She don’t got no family t’ visit ‘r an she sho’ don’t go nowhere. Sweet Jesus, can’t think when she did last neither. Be better if they jes let ‘r be. Let ‘r sit til she shrivel up t’ dust. The wind’d come ‘long an sweep ‘r on out with them silky white clouds she always be star’n at, til she turns t’ vapors herownself. Then she be okay. With all that fine sky t’ keep ‘r company, she be jes fine then.
Well, well - here they come fer ‘r wash, clomp’n down the hall with them bit ‘ol steps. Now what they need those loud, clomp’n steps fer anyway. They ain’t march’n in a parade is they?
Yessir, she ready fer ‘em. Look at ‘r sit’n straight up like a royal ‘ol dame. They bound t’ recognize it an treat ‘r nice an respectful today.
Oh-oh. It be that fat, blondie nurse strut’n out in front. That fat one gots a bad case a po’ breed’n, always curs’n at people an belch’n an shov’n that po’ ‘ol woman too fast. The li’l nursie girl with ‘r be okay, tho’. She look like a sad case herownself. Big, brown bug-eyes star’n wide as moons at ‘ol Maudie when they stand ‘r necked in the shower. That li’l nurse damn near bust out in tears every time. She soap Maudie down right gentle tho’ an pats ‘r dry. She don’t near rub ‘r skin off like some a t’ others do.
“Well, if it ain’t Miss Maudie.”
That fat, cherry-blond Nurse Letha gots a way ‘bout ‘r t’ make the other li’l nursie girl drag ‘r feet real slow an drop ‘r head til ‘r eyes seem like they be drag’n round near low as ‘r feet.
“Ready for your shower, I hope Maude. You are one dirty old cow. Come on, Ester, give me a hand here. I haven’t got all day, you know. Lord, Ester, what are you standing over there for? Get your scrawny butt on in here and help me with Miss Maudie.”
Maudie starts t’ stiff’n up watch’n Nurse Letha. She wrap ‘r skinny bone fingers tight ‘round the seat of ‘r chair fer extra support. She keep ‘r chin jut out proud tho’, like she don’t notice noth’n. Jes watch’n the clouds pass’n ‘r way, like Nurse Letha don’t scare ‘r in the leas’. No sir, like she ain’t even notice she there.
“Okay, granny, let’s go. I don’t plan on wasting the whole day on you. Ugh. She’s like a sack of old potatoes.”
Cherry Nurse Letha belch out loud, jes by ‘r ear. Maude act like she don’t hear it tho’, like she too busy watch’n them clouds go by.
“Come on sister. I said, let’s go.”
Nurse Letha’s voice go sour when she ain’t paid no mind.
“Ester, help me get Madam Maude up from this Goddamn chair before I scream. Lord I hope I die before I ever get so old and crazy as you, Maudie girl.”
Maude shrink inside. That cut ‘r alright, but she sho’ don’t let on t’ Cherry Nurse Letha.
They think she don’t know what’s go’n on ‘round ‘r. Ain’t that way tho’. Nope ain’t like that a’tall. Jes ain’t nobody left that she care t’ let ont’ no mo’. Ain’t none t’ ‘preciate the particular ways she gots. Her bizness ain’t nobody else’s.
Johnny use t’ know ‘r , an Johnny knowed all ‘bout ‘r special ways. Oh Johnny, Johnny. If he was here, he’d take ‘r straight home from this place an he take good care a Maudie, that fer sho’. Johnny knowed all them li’l things ‘bout ‘r t’ make ‘r feel jes right.
Maude use t’ like sit’n out on the porch aft’a supper. She like t’ look at the moon and watch the stars wink’n at ‘r. ‘Ol Johnny’d come out time t’ time an sit there too. He jes watch ‘r watch’n the moon, swing’n real slow back an fro in they ‘ol cedar porch swing. Maybe he say someth’n like:
“What secrets that ‘ol man tell’n you tonight, Maudie?”
An maybe he lean over t’ brush a few wisps a hair off’n ‘r forehead.
He knowed she never gonna answer ’m tho’, ‘cept maybe t’ say someth’n peculiar ‘bout the way the moonlight shine directly t’ ‘r own eyes.
Aft’a a spell he might go inside an make ‘m some sweet jasmine tea; or, maybe he put on a ‘ol scratchy record. Sometimes they go the whole night never speak’n a word t’ one ‘nother.
She ain’t had no jasmine tea fer such a long time now.
Cherry Nurse Letha got ‘r mov’n. She gots ‘r fist balled up an push’n ‘gainst ‘r back. Nurse Letha be on one side an Ester on t’ other, mak’n sho’ Maudie don’t go down. Maude feel’n kinda weak tho’ from think’n ‘bout Johnny. She have t’ stop an stand still fer a spell. She sho’ don’t want no shower jes now.
Nurse Letha smirk an let off ‘nother loud belch. She give Maudie a shove to get ‘r mov’n on down the hall. Ester’s eyes flit back ‘n forth ‘tween Maude an Nurse Letha, nervous as a ‘ol jay. She lean in closer t’ give Maudie mo’ support.
This ain’t no proper shower. Can’t they see that? This shower ain’t noth’n mo’ than a steel pipe stuck in the wall an a nasty hole smack center a t’ floor with other people hair clogg’n up the grate. Bet they home shower ain’t made outta dingy, green concrete. Tch. There ain’t no tub a’tall.
Maudie use t’ love that deep ‘ol soak’n tub. It set up high on feet that look like lion paws. She sit in there fer long as the water stay jes above a chill. An when she come out t’ dry ‘rself off, she sink int’ that soft rug ‘r Mama made ‘r from strips a wore out clothes.
She close ‘r eyes now an try t’ recall the exact way that room use t’ be. It all warm an quiet an filled up with them strong smell’n eucalyptus boughs. When she go t’ take ‘r a bath, she run that water long an hot til the steam build up thick as soup. Then she sink down, way down low, in the tub an breath in them cool leaves. She stare at all the colors in that ‘ol rag rug – ‘member’n patterns a outgrowed dresses an find’n pieces of ‘r daddy’s ‘ol work shirts weav’n all through.
Maude’s eyes pop wide open. Cherry Nurse Letha done turn off that water without a word a caution. She jes leave ‘r stand’n there, in bold view, shiver’n like she a skinned chicken, necked as a newest born baby.
Leas’ how li’l Ester be gentle with ‘r. She pats ‘r dry with soft dabs like Maudie might jes break int’ pieces. Still, ain’t much comfort. Even Ester wear them plastic dish gloves whenever she touch ‘r. No way ‘round it - that jes feel humiliat’n. When they dry ‘r off, they use some kinda skimpy paper an pretend it be a towel. Noth’n ‘bout it be warm or cozy. No ‘mount a pretend’n gonna make it so.
When she mostly dry, they wrap a bitsy blue gown ‘round that ‘ol woman’s necked, shak’n bones.
Letha shuffle ‘round t’ ‘r other side so they kin cart ‘ol Maudie back t’ ‘r room. She snort an let out a vulgar grunt whilst they shuffl’n back down the corridor – they be go’n too slow for Cherry Nurse Letha. It still be too fast fer ‘ol Maude.
Maude feel ‘r breath slow’n down now she gots back in ‘r room. With ‘r breath, she find ‘r thoughts. The sun be warm’n up ‘r shoulder so’s ‘r teeth stop the chatters at leas’. She sit quiet as dust on ‘r bed an watch them clouds break up int’ silky cotton bits.
Maybe they let ‘r sit outside today. It look warm ‘nough alright. Once winter settles ont’ this place, Maude gots t’ stay locked indoors way int’ spring thaw. That be at leas’ six months straight that Maudie gots t’ breathe the same air an pass through the same green hallways without no change.
“She prefers t’ sits outside today if’n that kin be arranged.”
“Ain’t nobody gonna sit outside today, Maudie girl. It’s too damn cold. Any fool can see it’s still the dead of winter.”
Nurse Letha snap ‘round an turn ’r mouth aside t’ Ester.
“My God, they don’t come here for flat feet, do they Ester? Haw, haw. Sit outside, that’s a good one. They’d have my job for sure.”
She snort a ugly laugh through ‘r nose on ‘r way out the room.
Now what kinda sense it be t’ keep ‘r lock inside? ‘Ol Maude live in cold weather all ‘r life up in them mountains. They make like she don’t know what’s best fer herownself.
Maude an Johnny use t’ take long moon walks down them icy wood roads. They walk an listen t’ they footsteps crunch, the way frozen sounds do in the dark night air. They breaths’d hang lazy in the crisp snow air. Now that’d been cold! They’d walk real close together, pick’n up kindl’n fer the fire they’d build when they gots home. That fire’d thaw ‘m out an dry they wet britches. Ain’t neither of ‘m never pull up sick from it. Never one time.
Maude shake ‘r head, try’n not t’ think ‘bout the knot ris’n up in ‘r throat. She know better than t’ think ‘bout Johnny so much. Think’n ‘bout home don’t do noth’n ‘cept maybe bring on one of ‘r spells. Maudie swallow hard an watch the sun scoot in an out, like it be play’n tag with them clouds.
Maude always been quiet like. Even when she was young she have fits a silence. Leas’ that be what ‘r Mama call ’m. Maude was 10, maybe 11, the first time she fall inside herself too far. Yessir, that the first real hard time. It seem like it’d been build’n ever since she was born tho’.
Her mama weren’t scared by it none a’tall. She’d put Maudie straight t’ bed an stay right next t’ r’ sip’n tea an hum’n them ‘ol gospel tunes, jes wait’n fer the spell t’ pass. Maude wonder if maybe ‘r Mama got lost sometimes herownself.
Maude never seem able t’ help ‘rself ‘bout them spells. She start t’ feel like a wax doll get’n hard in a cool spot. She notice ‘rself outta step with things that be go’n on ‘round ‘r. Then she start t’ fall, real slow. She drop down deeper an deeper where they ain’t no sidecatches t’ grab ont’, til she be stuck way on down at the bottom a that deep, dark pit, mired down like she done sat in tar.
The worse part t’ Maudie tho’ ain’t be the fall’n. The worse part be what be in the pit with ‘r. In that hole there be all kinds a dead things. They smell, an ooze, an she be stuck there with ’m while they all be rot’n away. It be like that ‘ol coon under the porch she crawl belly on top of one day when she was look’n fer ‘r ball. That coon was all sunk in t’ the bones an full a bugs. Them bones be brittle - thin as Mama’s catalogue vase.
Oh sweet Lord, them bones. It always start off with ‘r see’n them bones. Maybe she be at the market with ‘r Mama an see the cashier girl’s face turn t’ death right in front of ‘r. Or she be sit’n in the pew at church service – Maudie’d see them bones so close t’ the surface a people’s faces that it seem indecent. Sometime that po’ woman watch ‘r own skin pull away so she don’t feel like noth’n but a pile a bones herownself. Maude be hypnotize by them bones. They always seem t’ be laugh’n at ‘r. Empty as it be, somehow a skull always gots itself a grin.
Time seems t’ take care of the spells mostly. She jes need time t’ pull back out. Tch. Ain’t like it be a crime. Maudie never hurt nobody in ‘r whole life. Don’t matter tho’. Once ‘r people passed, they lock ‘r up like she was crazy fer it.
Maude ain’t crazy. Maude jes inclined t’ keep quiet til she got someth’n t’ say, that’s all. What they ‘spect of ‘r when the sky go all black, like the sun ain’t never gonna find ‘r again. What she gonna say t’ these sassy nursie girls? She gonna tell ‘em ‘bout the dreams she have, full awake, when ‘r own Mama an Daddy turn t’ noth’n but empty suits a bones? She gonna tell ‘em how she watch ‘r sweet Johnny’s soft body be lowered down int’ the cold ground, int’ a hole that turn right int’ that same pit that swallow ‘r up? Oh sweet Jesus, jes ain’t none a they bizness. They don’t care ‘bout it noway.
Maude hear lunch be’n brought int’ the kitchen. Them lunches ain’t even cook here, they jes heated through in the microwave. That real dark skin girl roll ’m in once they get ‘m warm. All three meals come in a great big tray hold’n cabinet.
Every once in a while some ‘ol gal try t’ sneak inside that cart fer a ride outta here. They never do get out them doors tho’. Never that Maudie seen anyhow.
Lunch don’t hold much interest fer Maude. She don’t eat too much a what they serve in here. Once ate, food gets t’ be a part of a person, now don’t it? But this food don’t got no resemblance t’ no food she plans on get’n use t’. Swear a word now. Every day they serve up the same ‘ol thing. They say it be pork, an beef, an lamb, an turkey, like giv’n it a differ’nt name gonna give it a differ’nt taste. But no matter what they call it it’s only gots one look, an one smell, an one taste, an it ain’t never no good. That smell sometime make ‘r gag. It sho’ never make ‘r appetite curious.
Maude ‘member all them sharp spices like garlic, an mint, an rosemary an cinnamon – the way ‘r daddy growed them spices in patches ‘round the garden. An she recall cook’n with them spices, the way them smells’d hang round in the cabin fer hours, like they got snagged up in the cupboards.
Oh, an the smell a fresh baked bread. That be a smell she ain’t likely t’ ferget. Maude use t’ bake mos’ every day in the winter, jes like ‘r mama had. Them loaves’d be half a meal all by themselves, with butter slather’n rich down them warm, sweet wedges
Each piece a bread in here gots its own wrap’n. It be sealed up flat an stale in clear plastic, like it come from a vend’n machine down t’ the bus station, with a li’l pat a oleo t’ go with it.
Some a the other people in here gots folks. Sometimes they folks brings ‘m food in. Maudie mainly jes eat fruit an then wash it down with a can a Ensure t’ make sho’ she don’t get too weak.
“Maude? That’s the lunch bell ringing. Are you ready for a little bite? Come on hon, time for lunch?”
“She ain’t feel’n too hungry right now, Miz Ida. She rather jes sit by the window here, if that be okay.”
“Come on into the dining room with me, Maude, and just try to eat a little something. I think they’ve got apples on the trays today. Come on along – I’ll set with you for a spell if you’d like.”
“She go, Miz Ida, since it be you who be do’n the ask’n.”
Miz Ida got eyes like ‘r Mama’s, look’n like they ‘bout t’ spill over wet with love fer every liv’n creature. She ain’t even a real nurse neither. Swear a word she ain’t. Miz Ida jes a aide. But ain’t no nurs’n school nowhere t’ teach a person what Miz Ida got.
Maude take up Miz Ida’s plenty arm an stroll out t’ the din’n area. She close ‘r eyes flutter soft so the main thing she kin feel be Miz Ida’s talced skin next t’ hers. Miz Ida skin feel so soft.
Amaz’n how much she miss be’n touched. Only times she ever feel ‘nother human be’n now be in matters a general upkeep. It ain’t the same, be’n prod or cleaned up or dried off. It seem like they get so busy with the finish’n of it, they don’t pay no mind t’ the human side of it. That be what Maudie really need tho’.
Sometime, when somebody do touch ‘r, it make Maude flinch back. That be someth’n so deep an so long ago as ‘t leave ‘r shak’n, ‘r breath near pulled away. It truly amaz’n how deep a touch kin go, like a heart kin take in nourishment through the skin.
Sometime she dream ‘bout other kinds a touch’n too, even tho’ she know better. Her nasty ‘ol skin be dry as a snake. Who’d ever think a ‘r like that now? She can’t help herself when she sleep’n tho’. Oh sweet Jesus, t’ be held up close by ‘nother human be’n til it feel like you jes might expire if they ever have t’ let go. T’ be held by someone who might think t’ whisper, “Maude”, soft against ‘r ear. This one lonely thought, it almost be ‘nough t’ take ‘r down .
Miz Ida pats ‘r hand an ‘r eyes pop open wide. She find herself back t’ the dinner line. They call’n out ‘r name real loud an shov’n a tray at ‘r. Everybody star’n at Maudie, an they expressions ain’t friendly a’tall. She jes been off think’n ‘bout things. Ain’t been no crime.
Maude drop ‘r natty head down an take good hold the tray. There be an apple all right, jes like Miz Ida say. It sit’n ‘longside a piece a that grey meat an a slice a bus station bread. Miz Ida smile over at ‘r an nod t’ the tables. She don’t see no empty spot tho’. She look back over t’ Miz Ida an see ‘r point’n t’ a table in the corner where Carol Dean be set up. That be fine. Carol Dean mainly jes like t’ sit an rock an talk nonsense ‘bout the Lord. Don’t matter whether nobody listen or not. Maybe Miz Ida think this be a match made in heaven. Carol Dean gots ‘nough t’ say fer both ‘r an Maude.
Maudie move real graceful when she walk, like she stole some a them clouds right outta the sky an slip ’m on ‘r feet. She stand by the side of the table an look down t’ Carol Dean. Carol Dean don’t seem t’ notice Maudie be stand’n there a’tall.
“May we sit down here with you, Miss Dean?”
Miz Ida always be polite ‘nough t’ ask whether a person mind some company, even when the person she be ask’n seem t’ be closer t’ the moon then they is t’ the earth.
“…the holy Lord Jesus Christ blesses and keeps us safe…”
Maudie take that t’ be a yes an settle down with ‘r tray across a Carol Dean. She look over ‘r shoulder fer Miz Ida but she be over help’n t’ get the others situated. Miz Ida always keep ‘r word tho’, that fer sho’. She be back over t’ sit with ‘r when she kin.
Maude pick up ‘r apple an sets t’ polish’n it on ‘r daygown. She cock up an eyebrow an look ‘cross the table at Carol Dean. She be rock’n t’ an fro, all the time mutter’n ‘bout God. Maybe she chant like she do so she gots a regular rhythm t’ move t’. She real peculiar t’ look at. She ain’t so much a ‘ol gal as she be hard weathered - her hair stand’n out wild in every direction on ‘r head an ‘r green eyes glaze like a Sunday ham. She jes sway, back an fro, preach’n t’ ‘r self as she move. Sometime, fer no reason a body kin see, Carol Dean all a sudden like start t’ shout out vulgarities. Then she laugh real low in ‘r throat an go back t’ rock’n an chant’n the scriptures.
Here be a woman who need a rock’n chair in the worse way. Sho never gonna happen tho’. Seems like the state don’t take notice a what particulars that people might need.
Maude flit ’r eyes t’ the window an take a bite out ‘r measly apple. She let ‘r eyes close half way an conjure up a vision a Carol Dean an ‘r way up in the mountains, rock’n back an fro in a couple a high back pine rockers they gots set out on the porch. Yessir now, wouldn’t that be a site.
Maybe she an Carol Dean’d go out fer walks aft’a they have they supper. Carol Dean’d be preach’n loud an long t’ the ferns an trees. There they‘d be, stroll’n ‘long a path when they spy some wild rabbits ‘longside the road, when Carol Dean have a sudden notion t’ shout out the loudest cus she ever let off. Them rabbits’d take off fer sho’ with a big puff a dirt kick up behind ’m. An maybe that start’m both t’ laugh’n. That’d be real nice, t’ see Carol Dean laugh so hard ‘r sides start t’ stitch.
Carol Dean might well bring the hellfire a God t’ the whole damn forest, an maybe she scandalize a few furry creatures but she ain’t do no mo’ harm than that. What good it do t’ keep ‘r lock up in here? All the money it cost. All ‘r opportunities, whatever they might be. What it be fer?
Course, she ain’t likely t’ make a go at it jes let out on the street neither. No sir, she’d get beat up an rob fer sho’ the way she act. Still, don’t make no sense t’ lock ‘r up. What she need is a warm cabin; an a deep, soft feather bed; an a rock’n chair set out on a porch. That what Carol Dean need all right. That what ‘ol Maudie need too.
Miz Ida pull up a chair next t’ Maude an set down t’ drink ‘r a cup a coffee. Maude breathe in that coffee steam like it be some kinda perfume, com’n as it do from a pot fresh brewed in the nurses’ station. She take a sip of ‘r own tepid Sanka. Even the coffee here jes a smell mix up with water. Noth’n got no character ‘round this place.
“How’s that apple, Maude? I know how you like apples.”
“She don’t like apples that particular, Miz Ida, she jes don’t like noth’n else they gots here. But, it okay. Thanks fer ask’n. “She look at ‘r apple an nod t’ it.
“She still rather be sit’n in ‘r room – outside’d be even better if’n that kin be arranged.”
“It’s a beautiful day all right, Maudie. Lord knows a little fresh air would do us all some good. But, it’s still too early in the season for that to happen. You know how things work around here.”
She knowed Miz Ida be right ‘bout the work’n a this place. Everything got t’ be weighed out by they own skin. They scared a get’n sued fer one thing. They should be too, the way they runs they bizness. It all be ‘bout how much dollar earnings they gonna make from a situation. Don’t ‘spect no changes either. Not fer a bunch a crazies an ‘ol folks. That fer sho’. Won’t do no good t’ fight ‘bout it neither. Jes means mo’ medication. Maude bite down hard int’ ‘r apple an suck on it fer awhile ‘fo she chew it up.
Miz Ida sets t’ hum’n real soft. I sound like she be provid’n Carol Dean the rhythm she been look’n fer.
“Maude recollects that song. That an ‘ol church song, now ain’t it Miz Ida?”
“That’s right, honey, that’s right.”
She knowed it all right. She ‘member hear’n ‘r Mama sing’n that hymn in church. Oh sweet Jesus, Maudie ‘member church mos’ particular. She go there every week since she was jes a li’l thing. She’d lay out long in the pew an set ‘r head t’ rest in ‘r Mama’s lap whilst the preacher be speak’n. Her mama’d lay ‘r arm ‘cross Maudie’s organdy dress an stroke ‘r hair while she listen. Her Mama wore silver charms on ‘r bracelet an them charms’d dangle down, shin’n from ‘r wrist.
That charm bracelet be pass down by ‘r Mama’s mama. Maudie believe that bracelet be ‘bout the mos’ beautiful collection a charms in the world. She give some a them charms t’ ‘r Mama herownself, fer Christmas an what not. She ‘member lay’n in ‘r Mama’s lap, hold’n ont’ ‘r Mama’s white gloved hand an listen’n t’ them charms tinkle up against one t’ other.
One charm be a tiny mustard seed. It set inside the center of a clear glass marble. That mustard seed be jes like the one she heard that preacher tell ‘bout.
“If ye have but the faith of a single mustard seed, ye kin move mountains.”
An ‘r own Mama gots one dangl’n right there from ‘r wrist. That seems mos’ amaz’n t’ Maude. Like ‘r Mama must be a angle or close t’ it, an able t’ move mountains herownself.
Maude’s favorite charm tho’ be a dainty silver church-house. It look jes like ‘r own church, with a steeple an a cross perch high on top. An there, smack in the middle a the building, be a li’l peephole t’ spy through. She hold that charm up close t’ one eye an close the other - an there, big as life, be the twenty-third Psalm in plain view fer ‘r t’ read:
“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…”
She bets Miz Ida know that verse by heart.
Uh-oh. Here come that Cherry Nurse Letha, clomp’n straight in ‘r direction. Maude look ‘round ‘r. Mos’ the patient’s be gone already. Miz Ida be help’n Carol Dean t’ put ‘r tray ont’ the cart. Maudie sit real still like she be a tinkl’n silver charm herownself, like she not even there.
“Let’s go, Maude. Move it! Pick up that tray. Lunch is over. I got better things to do than to chase you around like some Goddamn sheep herder. It’s time for your pills. Every day you get your pills after lunch – it never changes. You’d think you could remember a simple thing like that. Well, come on, get up. You look like a Goddamn statue. You need that pill to grease up them bones a little bit.”
Fat Nurse Letha cackle, think’n she real funny – then she let go a nasty belch.
Maudie sets ‘r tray ont’ the conveyer, watch’n it move away til it slide behind them black fringe rubber curtains. It make ‘r recollect the river jes down the hill from ‘r cabin. The current a that river move real swift. Branches an such’d get pushed ‘long in that current. They’d float peaceful fer a spell, but then they’d hit them white waters. When that happen, they snap ‘round hard an beat up against the rocks til they finally wash clear out a sight, over them falls. Them falls make a thunderous noise alright. God’s own power churns in them waters.
Maude look down t’ the floor an sigh. She watch ‘r feet shuffle over t’ get ‘r medication. Lord, ever Maudie’s feet look a sight. That po’ ‘ol woman can’t pick ‘r own feet up mo’ than an inch off the ground. Swear a word now, when Maude be a li’l girl she use t’ jump from river stone t’ river stone. Tch! Lord, jes look at ‘r now. All cripple an bent. She bets that jes soak’n in that river’d make ‘r feel mo’ spry. If she could jes dangle ‘r feet in the water fer awhile, them cool run’n mountain currents’d get some a the kinks out.
The line fer pills be mov’n kinda slow today on account a Mr. Greer get’n int’ a argument over whether or not he’s be’n poisoned by them tablets. The nurse try t’ pay ’m no mind t’ keep things mov’n ‘long but this jes set ’m off mo’. Now they gots ’m over t’ one side, but he still be go’n on ‘bout it. He a nasty li’l man, that be true ‘nough; but, a person wants t’ be heard when they gots someth’n t’ say.
‘Ol Maudie be next in line. The nurse hand ‘r a li’l plastic cup with three pills an some juice t’ wash ’m down with. She been tak’n pills every day fer as long as she kin ‘member. Sometime she wonder why. Oh, it ain’t like Maude don’t know what ‘r pills is fer. No sir. She make it ‘r bizness t’ keep close track a what pills they give ‘r. She know fer a fact that they mess ‘round with the mix a pills try’n t’ get a particular effect, the main effort be’n t’ make everybody easy t’ manage.
Maudie takes three pills: one t’ keep ‘r heart pump’n; one t’ help ‘r pressure stay down; an that last pill be so Maudie don’t get so low that she stop tak’n the first two. She know the purpose each a them pills serve, she jes don’t know what purpose she serve no mo’.
Maude swallow hard an set the cup back down on the tray. Swear a word now, that nurse don’t even see ‘r. She only see the tray an that the tray gots a half a dozen mo’ doses a medicine t’ give out. An all she hear be that clock tick’n snail like on the back wall. That li’l nurse jes wait’n fer ‘r work t’ get done an wait’n fer the day t’ get don so’s she kin go home. Can’t blame ‘r none. Maudie sho’ would like t’ go home too. Even so, that nurse gots a way ‘bout ‘r t’ make Maudie feel like she ain’t noth’n.
Maude walk a few steps away from the line an then stop still in ‘r tacks. She gots the rest a the afternoon stretch’n out long an empty an dull. Tch. Ain’t right that time have t’ be so empty when God done go outta his way t’ creates so much wondrous splendor t’ pass the days with.
Maude make ‘r way on int’ the day room an sit down. She know better’n t’ try t’ go down t’ ‘r room fer a nap. Cherry Nurse Letha wouldn’t take t’ that, no Sir. She’d come in no time flat, curs’n at ‘r t’ get outta bed. Nurse Letha act like Maude be lazy or someth’n’ cuz she prefer tak’n a nap t’ watch’n ‘Wheel a Fortune’. At home, Maude’s regular habit was t’ take a nap aft’a ‘r dinner. But here they gots a schedule t’ be followed. Ain’t that someth’n’? One schedule fer all these differ’nt people. Don’t matter how many peculiarities a person gots, nobody merits they own way a do’n things. Somehow they gots it set in they minds that it be mo’ fit’n an right t’ be propped up in front a the t.v. set then t’ dream on the pictures that God hisownself put in our heads.
Maude’s eyes close flutter soft. The medication make ‘r head feel light as a June day cloud. It gets Maude t’ think’n ‘bout that blue, blue sky out the door. She ‘member lay’n under that sky fer half the day with the sun mak’n ‘r squint an the grass tickl’n ‘r bare feet. Maude’d lie on the hill an watch them clouds turn from dogs t’ dragons t’ wind-up toys. Sometime she sit star’n like that fer so long that ‘r Mama’d get t’ worry’n that Maude be hav’n one a ‘r spells an she come out t’ check on ‘r. Her Mama’d lie down next t’ ‘r an then they watch them clouds shift together. Sometime the breeze an the late day sun seem sad an Maude an ‘r Mama’d go real quiet. Other times the pictures they’d find would hit ‘m real silly an they’d end up get’n the giggles til they couldn’t laugh no mo’ fer the stitch in they sides. Maudie’d sho’ like t’ rest ‘r head on ‘r Mama’s shoulder now. She’d nuzzle up close so she could smell the morn’n bak’n that be linger’n in ‘r Mama’s hair.
A sigh escape from Maudie’s chest ‘bout as wide as the very sky she been think’n on. She wish she could figure how this ever happen t’ ‘r. How’d it come t’ pass fer ‘r t’ end up in a place like this? Maude’d like t’ get ‘rself up an jes walk on out that door. It seem like that ought t’ be someth’n’ that be within ‘r rights.
Maudie’s eyes snap open. What that noise? She look ‘round ‘r. Some commotion go’n on that gots everybody’s attention. Uh oh. Mr. Greer gots hisself all wound up now. He’s mak’n a real fuss, stomp’n ‘round the room an wav’n his bony ‘ol fist at some girl on the t.v. He better get hisself calm down or theys gonna do it fer ‘m. Swear a word now, he ‘bouts t’ get a extra dose a medication an some unasked fer alone time.
Maude seen this happen a million times. Not jes with Mr. Greer neither. It ain’t jes spiteful ways that gets a person t’ go wild. Maybe it come from feel’n trapped; or, maybe the hurt a los’n near everythin’ important get t’ be overwhelm’n. Whatever it be tho’, it build up so much in a person that they feel sho’ they gonna split. It feels like a storm boil’n up under the skin. An when it breaks through, it brings thunder an lightning bolts an howl’n winds ‘bout scare a person t’ death. It feel strong ‘nough t’ end the world. An it feel like it ain’t never gonna stop neither. That be too much t’ well up inside a person, so they gots t’ let it out.
Mr. Greer gone headlong now. Them nurses an aides done dropped theys work an run t’ help. Um hmm. He gots the strength a his young days come up in ’m. His arms be swing’n an his voice shout’n loud ‘bout how they ain’t never gonna take ’m down. It gonna take that po’ fool three days a sleep t’ get past this.
Well Lord lookie there. That lunch girl done left ‘r cart so’s she kin go t’ have a look at Mr. Greer’s fit. She’s gone an left ‘r key right in the door lock too. Maude look ‘round the room real slow t’ see who else might notice it. Ain’t nobody else notice’n it tho’. Maudie reckon everybody be too interested in Mr. Greer’s bizness.
Maudie gots herself a situation all right. Yessir, seem like Maudie done got ‘r wish. That key be available fer the tak’n. That be the key t’ ‘r freedom. What’s t’ stop ‘r from walk’n straight out them doors? What’s t’ keep ‘r from walk’n til the sun shine warm on ‘r skin an the fresh air fill up ‘r lungs? Sweet Jesus, then she kin keep on walk’n til she finds herself a mountain. She kin jes keep on go’n til she gets all the ways up inside them clouds.
Maudie stands up. She scratch ‘r head an move a step forward so ‘r heart starts skip’n beats. Carol Dean be over near the door. Maude’d like t’ take ‘r ‘long. This make Maude smile a bit. She move over t’ where Carol Dean be stand’n. Nobody even take notice.
Ain’t no two ways ‘bout it. Maudie gots it made.
Well, what she wait’n fer then? Lord, why that ‘ol girl jes stand’n there? She look stiff as a scarecrow on a fence post.
Maudie don’t move a single inch. She look like she try’n t’ move but she don’t. Maudie feel a fog get’n thick inside ‘r head. Her hand reach up t’ touch ‘r face. Tch. It all wet. Maudie be cry’n like a li’l baby.
Maudie feel tired. She sho’ feel tired. She don’t never ‘member feel’n so tired an heavy in all ‘r life. She make one foot move, then the other. All the time she keep ‘r eyes star’n at the floor. She don’t look up. She don’t look ‘round. She don’t look back.
Maudie walk real slow an straight til she get back t’ r’ room.
Reckon she don’t care what that Cherry Nurse Letha got t’ say this time. She gots t’ lie down. Her body feel like it be made a lead; an, it feel brittle as glass at the same time. Maudie think she’s gone all dry, like dust, on ‘r insides. She don’t feel no life in ‘r a’tall.
Maude sit down on ‘r bed an look out the window. Them clouds be as light an silky as ever but now they be at the far end of a long tunnel an Maudie be at the other. She can’t get t’ them clouds now.
Maudie close ‘r eyes an lie down. She kin feel ‘r self start t’ fall’n. She fall an fall – she go’n down deep. She let it take ‘r. No reason t’ fight it. It all ‘round ‘r an ain’t noth’n gonna make it back off.
Maudie say ’r prayers as she fall:
Now I lay me down t’ sleep
I pray the Lord my soul t’ keep;
If I should die ‘fore I wake
I pray the Lord my soul t’ take.