Right off, Karen noticed the yellow walls were bare and dull, like a dense fog ruining an otherwise bright day, partly because personal photos and magazines were out of sight. There was nothing cherry about the space. A TV hung from the ceiling, a small nightstand stood beside the bed, and a chair, furthest from the window, nuzzled the corner of the room. Karen placed her patient’s lunch tray and linens down on their designated spots. She glanced over at the old woman as she stood in front of the window, aided by her cane. She looked skyward. Karen peered up too.
She cleared her throat before speaking. “Hello, I-I’m Karen. I’m your new CNA.”
Ms. Blout remained motionless as she stared out the window like no one had uttered a word, still showing her back to Karen. She wore a beige scarf and blouse with dark brown slacks, dressed as if she were going to a function. Her short salt and pepper hair was neatly styled. She even wore a large decorative ring on her right pinky finger.
Karen spoke louder, figuring the old woman had a hearing problem like Mr. Hamilton. “I don’t know if you . . .”
“What do you want me to do about it?” The woman snapped, still facing the window.
Karen’s head jerked. “Do about what, ma’am?”
“The fact that you stand in my room in this . . . this moronic fashion . . . making this absurd announcement – It’s obvious who you are.” The old woman turned around in slow increments. She stopped then scowled at Karen as if she’d never seen a young woman before. Or, was she disappointed she was black? Perhaps Ms. Blout didn’t like to deal with anyone who wasn’t white like her, Karen assumed.
She bucked her eyes at the old woman. Ms. Blout had called her a moron without even looking at her first. Not that she would have been justified. Before she knew it, Karen tightened her fist. She thought about kicking the old bat’s cane to the floor and punching her in the kidney.
“I suppose you’re right, Ms. Blout,” Karen said, fuming and feeling the tension return in her shoulders.
“A rose,” was what Jessica had said when Karen asked about the temperament of the old woman. A rose my eye.
“Right about what, child?”
Karen moistened her lips. “What you just said. I guess you would know who I am.”
“Why are you trying to have a conversation with me? I don’t want to talk to you.” The woman fanned an aggravated hand at her.
Karen’s eyebrows sprang up. “Okay, then, I have your medication. Here . . . take these with some orange juice.” Karen extended both items to the old woman.
Ms. Blout shuffled toward her, the cane steadying her steps. Again, she eyed Karen peculiarly, her face distorted as if she were constipated, then she took the two tablets and sipped from the small glass.
Karen hated being looked down upon. And the way Ms. Blout watched her, made her feel small, like the old woman thought she was superior.
As a child, Karen remembered sitting in the lobby of a doctor’s office. She fidgeted and scooted in and out of her oversized chair while Momma sat next to her gritting her teeth and snapping her fingers. “Act right, girl. White folks is watching,” she had whispered.
“Why do you look like that?” Ms. Blout asked.
“Why do you look the way you look?” Karen snapped before she could gather the words back into her mouth. “I’m black. I can’t help how God made me, Ms. Blout, just like you can’t change being white.”
The woman’s eyes glistened. “Hah.” She turned and took her time as she walked to the bluish, paisley chair that hugged the corner of the room and eased herself down, grunting as she settled. “I mean, what is all that? You look ridiculous.” The woman’s arthritic hand circled the air, gesturing toward Karen’s head.
Karen jutted her left hip as she stood in the center of the room. She rolled her eyes then counted to ten. She knew she had a quick temper and could draw words out like a sharpened blade. On top of that, Karen didn’t want to lose her job on her first day because of this old bat.
“Why do you wear your hair like that?” the woman pressed.
“Thought you didn’t want to talk to me?”
“I’m asking a question, child.”
“First of all, I ain’t no child.”
Ms. Blout snorted. “What’s the second thing?”
“W-what? Look, I wear my hair like this cause it’s fly, that’s why.”
Ms. Blout snorted again as she tapped her cane on the floor, eyeing her head, then her feet, then her head. “Admittedly, you do appear as though you’re flying—the top resembles that of a chicken.”
“I said ‘fly’ not flying. In case you ain’t heard, chickens don’t fly.” Karen huffed and proceeded to replace the bed sheets, yanking at every thread. She snatched up the empty glass Ms. Blout had placed on the nightstand, and figured the old woman might top her list of people she couldn’t stand.
“Haven’t heard.” She corrected Karen, after several minutes had lapsed.
“I merely made reference to your poor attempt to speak the English language. You talk as though you’ve come straight from the alley dear,” Ms. Blout stated. “How old are you?” she asked, lifting her chin as if it aided her perception to hear.
“Where do you live?”
Karen tilted her head, and smacked her lips before saying, “Detroit. I live in Detroit.”
“And where did you work before you started working here?”
“Why? What’s that got to do with me caring for you, Ms. Blout?”
“I asked you a question?”
“I worked lots of places.”
“Where? And speak clearly.”
“Bur-ger King, o-kay.”
Ms. Blout shook her head and tapped her cane to the floor. “Humph. Figures.”
“Whatju tryin’ to say? You never ate a burger? Somebody had to fix ‘em you know.”
“I’ll have you know I’ve never eaten fast food in my life.”
Karen parted her tight lips long enough to push out warm, deliberate words, “Do you want your lunch then, Ms. Blout? Or don’t you eat that neither?”
“No, I do not.”
“No, you don’t eat food from the cafeteria?”
“I’m not hungry. I suppose your work here is done then, isn’t it?”
Karen blinked long and hard at the proud-looking woman, thinking she should’ve offered her an enema instead, based on her stuck up manner.
Before Karen left the old woman’s room, her thigh bumped the sharp corner of the nightstand. The pain knotted. She didn’t want the old woman to have the upper hand, so she refused to flinch. Instead, she stormed from the room, closing the door behind her, whether Ms. Blout wanted it that way or not.
She couldn’t make sense of the woman’s hateful attitude. At this rate, she assumed she would be fired within the next day or so for giving an elderly woman a beat-down. She didn’t bear the patience to deal with these folks. Already, she’d had two loony patients back-to-back. What was she thinking when she took this course in school?
This type of work didn’t suit her. Yet, she didn’t know what did or didn’t fit her life. She had avoided such questions when Momma was alive. She did her own thing, and sat back and watched her older sister Val take the heat for most of the crap she had pulled. Back in the day, it made her snicker whenever Momma slapped Val upside her head for neglecting her. After all, it was a big sister’s job to watch after the younger sister as far as Karen was concerned. Now, she couldn’t sneeze without Val hovering around.
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