Karen Williams had her butt raised in the air as she bent down under Momma’s
sleigh bed, sifting through the clutter of crumpled receipts, dated lottery
tickets, and worn out pantyhose. Earlier in the week, she’d clawed her way
through the grimy attic with boxes and bagged items, all of which were now a
resting place for forgotten treasures. Giving in to defeat, she sucked her
teeth hard, plopping down on the wooden floor next to the bed before releasing a
set of twin cuss words.
She closed her eyes to calm her racing heart and thought about Momma saying, “Baby, just make somethin’ of ya’ life. Cut out all this silliness and act ya’ age. That’s all I ask.”
But Momma was about as subtle as a derelict dropping his pants and peeing in the middle of a first-rate restaurant. She would take aim at the wall then throw a spoon or some other nearby object before spewing out a string of expletives. The scolding came when Karen strolled in late at night after hanging out with friends and hurling rocks off the overpass of the Davison Freeway. Unsuspecting motorists swerved their cars toward other vehicles with near misses. Nonetheless, she joked and high-fived cronies, saying the way she saw it, she too contributed to the history of Detroit’s oldest freeway.
Karen opened her eyes and gazed down at her clasped hands, dust covering her fingertips and palms. Her hardheaded ways, she knew, frazzled Momma’s nerves, especially when she acted like she was deaf. That’s when Momma started in, bunching her housecoat into her fist. “You betta’ get right and stop all this foolishness,” she complained, her chapped, bottom lip quivering. “You need to be in somebody’s church, girl.” Karen backed up like she smelled stinky feet and rolled her eyes so hard her closed lids fluttered. It didn’t matter if it were Easter or Mother’s Day. She wasn’t about to get out of her warm bed. She also ignored Momma’s beseeching hands and claims of nice young men being present because, up till now, the only “nice man” she wanted to get with was, Hershel Cummings, her best friend since childhood. But that required a whole other strategy altogether. Now that Momma was dead, Karen wished she could have taken it all back; the years of smarting off and stomping around the house like she was killing jumbo sized roaches. Even so, all she needed to do now was stick to the plan . . . and find that doggone letter Momma was so secretive about.
Do it for Momma. You need to keep this job at Golden Walk Nursing Home, Karen told herself as she held her breath against the stench of Mr. Hamilton’s armpit, which seemed a daunting task. She struggled to lift him off the checkered bathroom tile while his arm cradled her shoulder in a bear-hug. His feeble legs flailed about, but his hands managed just fine in finding security in grasping her breasts.
At the time, it seemed like a brilliant idea taking this second-shift job and proving to Momma she wasn’t wasting her breath during all those talks. But now, starting work a month after her death in March, seemed a stupid thing to do, especially while she huffed at the weight of Mr. Hamilton’s weak, wrinkled body against her small frame. They were both helpless on the floor.
“Mr. Hamilton, take your hands off my breasts, sir.” Her upper lip arched with the request. What she wanted to do was drop the old fart on his wrinkly rump.
“What?” he asked. His voice was raspy. Then he had the nerve to look at her with a blank expression. His thin white hair stood straight up as if he’d stuck his finger in a socket and got a quick jolt.
She knew that he knew what he was doing, even if he pretended his hearing aid malfunctioned. Again, he latched on good to her breasts in attempts to stay lifted off the floor.
“Can someone help me, please?” Karen twisted her head and called out for another Certified Nurses’ Assistant, hoping she didn’t look as foolish as she felt. Still, she gazed out toward the opened door, awaiting someone to come rescue the both of them.
A few moments later, the head nurse came into the room with fists connected to wide, wobbly hips. She appeared stern with an aura of dark clouds.
“Okay, Mr. Hamilton,” Margaret Thornton said. “Let’s get you up.” She pulled him up with one swoop and positioned him in a wheelchair and dressed him.
Karen curved her bottom lip to one side as she interpreted Margaret’s glance as a failing grade. There was nothing she could do at this point, so she turned to clean up the remaining mess Mr. Hamilton made in the bathroom, but not before she countered Margaret’s narrowed eyes with a courteous smile.
“Thanks Margaret.” Karen regretted the fact she needed help with one of her patients and from Margaret of all people. But when Margaret left, she hurried to clean up pieces of toilet paper and droplets of urine that spotted the floor, which proved visually challenging as the pattern of the mustard colored tiles provided a camouflage.
After she’d scrubbed up behind Mr. Hamilton, she washed her hands and positioned his lunch on its tray.
“Where’s that remote? I’m sure you’d like a little TV,” she mumbled, as she lifted fishing magazines and glanced beneath the folds of the quilt lying across the edge of his bed.
“It’s in the drawer of the nightstand.” The loose skin under his chin jiggled as he spoke.
Humph. Hearing problem my behind. Karen nodded as she obliged him and placed the remote on the tray. “Okay, you’re all set, Mr. Hamilton. I’ll check on you later.”
She left the room shaking her head, ready to grab her coat and purse and smack her own behind then Cabbage Patch her way right through the exit doors of the building. Instead, she turned left down the long corridor, passing the fine dining area and lounge. While this was her first full day at work, she still had to learn her way around.
It didn’t take long before she spied the nurses at the main station talking behind opened hands, their eyes darting in her direction.
“I heard you and Mr. Hamilton were doing a li’l floor dancing, huh?” One of the smirking CNAs asked as Karen walked up. The others joined in the laughter.
Karen took their grinning faces in the same fashion as coming out of a restroom with tissue stuck to the bottom of your shoe and your friends getting wind of it. In an instant, she thought of a way to wipe the smirk off their mugs and it involved ramming a thermometer up a hole on each of them.
A serious-looking young woman came from behind the station and introduced herself. “Hi, I’m Jessica.”
“I’m Keekee,” Karen replied, aware that she and Jessica were the only two with brown skin.
“What kind of name is that?” Jessica asked.
“The kind I like to be called.” Karen rolled her neck left and right with each word after tolerating being laughed at, even though Jessica wasn’t one of them.
“Fair enough. Keekee it is,” Jessica replied, reaching for a clipboard on the counter. “Okay, Margaret wanted me to go over some basic procedures with you and then I’ll show you your next patient. This is standard for all new employees.”
Karen tried to listen as the young lady ran off a series of procedures: taking vitals, feedings, cleaning, obtaining specimens, admission documents and regulations, all the while watching Jessica’s acrylic nails as she gestured with her hands while talking.
“Of course we expect you to recognize S&S of possible physical problems, be prepared in the areas of CPR and first aid, and stay abreast of diseases from this list.” She pointed to the paper on her clipboard. “Also, here are the names of your patients. You’ll start out with six . . . eventually you’ll work your way up to ten. Maybe twelve.”
Karen’s head started spinning. Ten, maybe twelve patients? Was she crazy?
Jessica flipped the papers to Karen before rattling off the lunch and coffee break schedules and the lowdown on Margaret. Then her voice waned from its rhythmic pattern when she said, “You don’t ever want to be late for work or get on her bad side,” Jessica concluded. Karen looked dead-center into her coworker’s bright, hazel eyes.
Too late for that, she thought. She folded her arms under her breasts and pretended to understand the instructions. She didn’t. Half the information went over her head because the ordeal with Mr. Hamilton had her reeling. Still, she watched Jessica as she multi-tasked her way around the station with ringing phones, visitors and managing a new employee with no incident. This impressed her. Jessica looked about twenty two or twenty three, which made her younger than Karen, who had just turned twenty four, a month before her mother died. It never mattered that her birthday fell the day before Valentine’s Day. She didn’t celebrate either date, which took on a whole new meaning of sadness. Flowers now reminded her of death and funerals.
On the whole, her mother’s death had been the reason she took the job at Golden Walk Nursing Home in the first place. She’d done nothing with her life and now her momma was dead in the ground, never seeing one iota of success emanating from her. For starters, Momma wanted her to land a good paying job, settle down and get married. Karen wanted that too, but she had her own agenda. Yet, she felt unsure of herself and all the steps it took to get to those dreams.
Around her buddies she came off as fearless, but without Momma, she felt like a two-year old hiding behind a parent’s knees. And forget going to Daddy. Momma and her big sister Val were mum on the subject every time Karen asked about the mystery man’s whereabouts. Val didn’t know her daddy either. Not that Momma was loose or anything, but she sure had her secrets.
When Jessica returned after answering a call, she guided Karen to her next patient’s room, giving her a background of the patient’s history and the medications she took.
“How is she?” Karen asked, walking alongside Jessica back down the long corridor with bulletin boards on both sides.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, how is she to deal with? What’s she like?” Karen wondered if she should’ve refrained from asking the question.
“She’s like a rose. Now, another thing,” Jessica continued, not missing a beat. “Ms. Blout has Alzheimer’s, so she may talk normal one day, and the next, not even know who you are. So, don’t take it personally.”
The tension that had settled between her shoulders earlier now seemed to ease.
“Right in there,” Jessica gestured with her arm extended. “If you need anything just call.”
Karen nodded a “thanks” and watched Jessica walk away before she entered into Ms. Blout’s room.