Pen

The Best of Times Short Story Competition


Spring 2013 Results




Waiting for the Light

Copyright © Yadida Sekel 2013


Twelve months ago you said you’d work only for another year. The year went by, and you told me to put up with it for another few months. You’ve had those few months, and what’s happened? You’re still the cleaner! You’re exhausted. Your looks could grace a horror movie, Agnes, my dear wife. You promised to retire, but you still trudge off to work daily at that dreadful Waiting for the Light ANZAC Retirement Home at Parramatta. I clearly remember you saying “Yes, William. I’ll retire.” Did you lie, or forget? You’re on your feet all bloody day. Those ugly varicose veins on your legs are like the Bangladeshi river system. It’s too much at your age.

“Just a few more weeks,” you said. You claimed you were having too much fun to leave the place. You always accentuate the positive, but fun with incontinent geriatrics? You’re kidding! How could disgusting dribbling inmates be fun? Oh, I forgot, they’re not inmates, they’re patients, aren’t they? Or clients, or residents. Like that Colonel Preston I met, a decent fellow but confused. Admittedly, his dribble was only nasal.

I say you look tired, but you say, “Not like nonagenarians.” Why compare yourself with ancients on their way out? We’ve passed the just-a-few-more-weeks-work stage, Agnes. I’m concerned for your welfare. Stop work! I want you to be at home near me all day.

So what’s this one day at a time business that you muttered last night? How many days? Counting up or down? To or from what?

Can’t talk now, William, I’m busy. Tomorrow can be day one. We’ll chat then.

***

Day One

A hundred-and-fifty-kilo woman falling must have been an ugly sight, and four carers grabbing around her flabby boobs to get her up sounds grotesque. Why put up with that, Agnes?

What, love? OK, I’ll let you finish.

So, they get Beatrice vertical again. Thankfully her excess padding ensured no breaks or scratches. She’s grinning like a Chestershire cat and her cascara-ed eyes sparkle as she breaks into a dance and a song that goes: ‘It’s not over ‘til the fat lady sings and dances.’ She was the original hippo in Disney’s Fantasia – wearing a cardie.

You mean ‘Cheshire’ and ‘mascara’, Agnes.

Oh, you’re so damned pedantic, William.

And you’re a bit simple, my dear wife. OK, you say all the geriatrics joined in the frivolities – unchoreographed jigs accompanied by off-key voices. They all laughed at the hippo cartoon – including you, who always gets involved. So big deal. What stupidity! And not a reason not to retire.

***

Day Two

About Alfred, is it, Agnes? The no-hoper!

Oh, don’t tell me off for that title. Any old codger with Altzheimer’s is really hopeless. He should be on the high-care floor. His crumbling brain disturbs the smooth running of the establishment. Even you’ve said so, many times. So what was Alfred’s drama today? Last time you said that his fart elicited childish exclamations of pooh and yuk, and that a lizard had surely crawled up his bum and died.

You say his trousers around his knees gave you a full view of his backside between your bucket and your mop.

What? He turned around? Well, it’s not as if the sight of male genitals is a first for you, my dear.

An inspiration for a song, you say? Testicles like an old yo-yo on stretched strings swinging like a pendulum. What a revolting sight! Disgusting! That’s it! Finish with the place! How could you claim that vulgarity is entertainment?

I can, Bill, really. Then along came the walking-frame brigade…first Abigail, then Colonel Preston and Major Winston followed by Gertrude and Mary. Voilar – caviar, an instant choir, singing, ‘Do your balls hang low, can you swing them to and fro?’

Enough laughter, Agnes! Enough! It’s no joke! I know you enjoy music while you work, but you must leave the joint. Be with me Agnes. Come home.

Music did make my day. And then a doctor glimpsed the jollity and said “it’s only an antique membrane lacking virility”. I still can’t stop laughing, William.

Thirsty, Bill?

No, luv. Sunday I believe.

***

Day Three

Agnes, how can you call that century-old Abigail Brown woman voluptuous? Surely her sagging breasts, her cheeks on her chin and her waist gone forever couldn’t make her sexy! So…you were vacuuming, trying to avoid the legs of chairs, tables, walkers and geriatrics. What a drag of a chore!

Stop your huffing and raving, Hubby! Listen to what she said. So – I said.

You said “what she said”.

I haven’t said what she said, yet.

Then you said, “So I said”. So you’ve obviously lost it, too.

“Too”? You’ve lost it?

No, hardly me, the old buggers at your work, Agnes. Haven’t you realized that yet?

Shut up and listen. Let me get it out. So…I said, ‘Legs up, Mother Brown’ and the whole row of oldies obeyed…except Abigail. Her leg muscles have gone, so she has to lift her legs Spanish Man-u-el-like. One hand tugs her woolly sock and the other lifts her knee. Eventually her legs reached from her chair to her walker, like a bridge, so I could vacuum under her. I’m smiling at her and not looking at the vacuum nozzle, and it bumps the walker and bounces up under her skirt. Abigail shouts at me over the roar, “Don’t stop, don’t stop, love. Turns me on. Gives me a splendid monstrous orgasm!” William, she could’a had a colonial conclusion.

You mean ‘coronary occlusion’.

Don’t put words in my mouth. It’s my story.

How crude, Agnes. There’s no intelligence, wit or morality there at that place. Shame on you. Get out of that hell-hole you call work. Be at home with me. Let’s watch ‘Number 96’ on telly tonight.

That series finished long ago, luv.

***

Day Four

Why do you have to suffer that modern workplace crap? What did they call it, Agnes? A Health & Safety and Sexual Harassment Seminar. No-one in the whole joint would be able to get it up. So what’s the point?

What’s that, Agnes?

For the staff’s benefit?

And you asked the lecturer a question? After you’ve had six buns in the oven you shouldn’t need to ask questions about sex.

About the chef? Young handsome Robert?

You asked if you could sing? You’re the original bloody cicada, Agnes. Since when did you ask permission? Sing to the chef?

William, I asked if I would get into trouble if I sang, “Hey, good looking, what ya got cooking. How about cooking something up with me?” to the chef. The adolescent chef’s a bit innocent I’d say. Face as red as - all the carers cracked-up. What a giggle-fest. The lecturer said we should be able to see the fine line between humour and harassment, but geez William, whose eyes can see fine lines these days?

***

Day Five

Agnes, the world knows that the Parramatta dump you work in should be razed to the ground.

You raise from the ground up, Hubby dear.

You’re daft, woman. Razed, as in made lower, demolished. Asbestos is a real problem, and I can certainly understand the need for that lockdown while the plumbers were chopping away at walls to install new pipes. You pushing the batty inmates back into their rooms with your mop every time they did a Jack-in-the-Box impersonation, or rather, out-of-their-boxy-room, could have been in a Loony-Tunes cartoon.

Yeah, you’re right. The Home’s like an ongoing comedy show. Remember Theodore? A chain-smoker - can’t help himself. Abigail once asked how he lit a chain, but she wouldn’t know nothing from a bar of salt.

Soap, Agnes. Soap, as in shower.

What? You shower later, Bill. Anyway, Theodore lights-up a fag in his room. The in-house sprinklers burst into a full-on downpour, Theo throws his cigarette onto his bed in fright. Sets it alight. So I’m using my anti-asbestos-contamination-mop technique on his Jack-out-of-the-Box attempt to escape his room because my nose was on delay for smoke detection. Along come the firemen. Young lads scrumptious enough to make the earth slide and for us working women to crave a cuddle.

Agnes, the earth revolves, it doesn’t slide! Did anyone need to go to the Recovery Room for burns?

There’s no upholstery shop within coo-ee of the Home. Anyway, only the blankets burnt.

So, my dear Agnes, with the not-full-Monty brain, all these tales of people puking, men molesters and women wags are nothing but cover-ups for nefarious nursing home neglect. That’s my educated guess.

Educated at the Rugby League School of Thought!

Not Rugby, Ivy-League Uni, Agnes! Where was I? Yes…Monty who?...um, no, neglected wife. Forty years working for them. For what? To gather up used incontinence pants. A personal-care assistant because you clean up shit after it’s missed the toilet bowl? Aged care means medicate them. They must’a drugged you, too. Because you’ve lost your common sense, hanging on to that job.

***

“Get off my bed Colonel Preston, you f-cking ANZAC. Get out of my room! Now!”

William’s agitated, shouting at top pitch.

Preston sits up in his bed. “It’s not your room! It’s mine! I’m calling Agnes. She’ll take you back to the locked ward, to your own room.”

***

Agnes tucks William into his bed.

Bill, I wonder if you’ll ever realize why I still work at the Home…