The woman sits. Pant legs are chewed. A blue parka soiled with what looks like oatmeal.
It’s the Waiting Room. Institutional seat cushions, easily cleaned in case of vomit, spit, coffee, or feces.
I pretend to read.
The woman’s tongue stabs the air. She has no teeth.
"It’s 11:30," she insists, speaking to the receptionist. "Where’s Dr. Forrester?"
She’s told the doctor will be right out.
She sits for about a minute and asks again. Her tongue is long and pink. It reminds me of a sea creature.
A young doctor comes to get her. I imagine he’s been dreading her all afternoon.
Back on the job. I enter the psychiatric ward. I must visit Virgil. We sit in the day room. Old, squawking people line the institutional couches.
"Can I open your mail for you?" I ask Virgil.
He giggles. He’s incoherent. A middle-aged man. Overweight. He has three teeth. He looks at the Reader’s Digest I brought him, along with his bills and a newsletter. He rips the Reader’s Digest in half.
"I have a red rabbit," he tells me. His eyes are drunk. He laughs and laughs. "I have a red rabbit that eats corn."
Home. One of our cats has been missing for several days. He must’ve jumped from our balcony. We live on the twentieth floor. I checked the closets, under the bed, and the kitchen cabinets. He had from six to seven toes on each paw. He must’ve jumped, right? Where else could he have gone?
Going back to the Waiting Room today. It’s damp outside. The middle of spring. A man in a motorcycle jacket stares at me the whole way up on the elevator. He wears a poorly chosen brown tie. These are dangerous times.»
At work again, Virgil has been released back to the residence. Having spent nearly four months in the psychiatric ward, life should be much better for him, but it’s not. He has resumed shuffling around in his bare feet. I can hear his dry skin rake against the linoleum. His ankles are badly swollen
I have begun working full time. I do the graveyard shift again. Nights at the residence are usually quiet, stifling, and long.
So now I must make my rounds. A place like this turns you philosophical. Couches made so they can be spray-cleaned, a kitchen with a lock, keys attached to a wooden block. Everyone is asleep. Or, at least I'd like to think they are. Perhaps they’re all watching me, listening each time I pace around the office, aware of my thoughts. When the fan swivels its head, papers on the bulletin board waft upward. There's the notion that someone is at the doorway peeking in. Will it be tonight that something happens?
In a million years, will sadness have evolved away?
Grown men here shit and piss their pants. It’s our job to care. We must. We must. But reciprocity is never a given.
Virgil, a man older than his 50-something years, almost weeping every minute. People love him because he is nearly a lamb. But he’s deeply sad. So sad, he is old. He’s happiest when totally nuts: his eyes full of life. At those times, whole new words burst from his three-toothed mouth as he boils freakish soups of onion, mustard, and oatmeal. But he must come down. Elation is poison for his body.
They think caregivers don’t weep.
And no, sadness won’t evolve away. It’s here forever. It’ll out last us. It’ll out last everything.