Dani paused as she entered the nursing home, no, assisted living facility. She knew there had to be a difference, not just a longer name. It occurred to her it was ironic that six years before, she had dropped out of nursing school, well not really nursing school since she was only in her second semester and was only taking her first anatomy class, and Algebra Two. Why the hell did she have to take Algebra Two, and how did Algebra Two make someone a better nurse? Now her first job as a detective, if she got the job, was in a nursing home. Whatever. Doing what, she didn’t know. The phone message just said come to room 11B at Shady Rest Assisted Care at ten AM. Dani wondered if there was a Shady Rest Continued Care and finally a Shady Rest Cemetery. Maybe this was a Shady Rest We Don’t Care at All.
She hoped the woman, at least the voice sounded like a woman, was not old, really old and wrinkled and maybe drooling and one of those tube things they stick up old people’s noses. She didn’t think she’d be able to look at her if she were like that. Once she saw a guy with an oxygen tank smoking through his tracheotomy, and she felt like vomiting. The guy was right next to the in-door of Target, where everyone had to pass. How could she seem sincere if she couldn’t look at her? But it would be even worse if the lady was young, like cut down from a car accident and paralyzed with a bedpan and maybe no hair on one side of her head or something. She didn’t know why she thought of no hair. That was kind of a cancer thing and she knew she wouldn’t be comfortable with that either. And burns. She refused to even let her mind go there. She also knew she would have made a lousy nurse even if she had been good at Algebra Two. Dani held her hand on the button but the hand wasn’t pushing.
If she wasn’t overdue on her share of the rent and losing ground on her Visa bill, she might have turned and left. She had to make at least enough to pay for the classes with the crazy Professor from the detective school, or she suspected Whitney Paige was right. She was a quitter. Course, she’d only roomed with Whit for the last two years and maybe those were the worse two, since she’d had maybe six jobs counting the last one as a telemarketer begging for donations to a police charity event involving country bands she’d never heard of and the job only lasted one night, five to nine. It seemed like five to nine weeks, but she smiled and called goodbye, saying she’d see them tomorrow, but never went back. She only quit Wal-Mart because they were going to fire her for signing the petition not to work on Thanksgiving. How bad of an employee do you have to be to get fired from Wal-Mart? Although she knew Jon got fired for twice wearing his smile pin upside down? Twice. They fired him the second time. And he was a good worker. Dani was willing to bet she could find at least two residents at this facility who could move faster than some of the Wal-Mart associates. Associates my ass. That implied a friendly atmosphere and camaraderie. She didn’t even want to think about the Mattress Factory job, which wasn’t even a factory but a store that was supposed to make you think the mattresses were new and cheap. The things she did on those mattresses after hours were just wrong. A lot of mistakes. And she’s been a way better person since Whitney Paige. She doesn’t like to think of Pre-Paige. The Factory was the worst job she ever had, not because of the job, but because of what she had become. The SLUT. But she had previously thought that out and knew it was maybe even a good thing. She would never enter old age thinking ‘what did I miss out on?’ Nothing, she smiled inside. The real error there was the quality of the guys. How could they call her the SLUT when they were doing the same thing? No that wasn’t right. The real error was in herself and she knew it. She became a different person for each guy she dated, a chameleon, and in the process, lost herself.
She knew she was stalling, not going in. This detective thing had to work. She couldn’t go back to the whole fast food thing. Everybody on a management track and no one getting there. Even the shift managers only made an extra dollar an hour and couldn’t get full time. If her mom and friends hadn’t helped her out, she would have starved. And taking money from her mom was tough, like being judged on judgment day tough. Not actually starved because she ate every loose fry she could get her hands on back then, but she bet she would have frozen to death as she never could quite meet the bills and that was living in a dump which was still better than trying to live with her mom. It wasn’t like her mom was some worthy judgment angel. She’d asked her a thousand times who her real dad was ’cause the guy who called himself dad until he was gone, just couldn’t have been. She got every answer ranging from Tom Petty, Tom Cruise, Bill Clinton, to a drunken one night stand when she was drunk enough herself to tell the truth. She knew that when she turned eighteen, she hadn’t reached adulthood but rather she had escaped childhood.
The Professor said to charge forty an hour to begin, but she was going to ask for twenty and if that was too much, she’d take whatever this lady could afford. Maybe she had friends and could give her some referrals. This lady could be like her grandmother who once told her she’d pay her to clean the whole house, top to bottom, and it took her three days and her grandma paid her twenty dollars and told her to go buy herself something nice. She had smiled and thanked her but it hurt a little. She had probably spent that much getting there. Old people live in a different reality. If this lady gave her a referral it needed to be with friends who were not in the nursing home. Young friends. Oh sorry, assisted living. The Professor said that’s how they would get most of their work. Do a good job. Get more jobs. But how many detective jobs could there be in a nursing home? Even at twenty dollars an hour, how many hours would she have to work a week to average thirty hours at McDonald’s, minimum wage. She wondered if that was Algebra Two. She knew she could figure it out if she sat down with paper. And a calculator.
Dani pushed the button and the two doors slid open and the smell leaked out. It was unquestionably old people smell. Sick, old people. And antiseptic soap. It smelled like a freshly, partially cleaned bathroom in a bus station. And Dani knew buses. Gawd, some of those trips were awful. It was the only way she could visit her old high school friends. She never took her car more than ten miles outside the city limits. Any further and she couldn’t afford the tow to get it to Rick who swore he’d never fix it again, but he always did. Her friends were spread all over the country, having left for college, gotten married, had babies or dropped out. Dani doubted she still had three high school friends left in town. And is there a rule some place that once your friends start getting married or pregnant, you are supposed to marry and get pregnant? Or get pregnant and married?
And her friends started at twenty-one. Even her smart friends did. Having dated mostly losers, she had no urge to join them. Jo was already divorced and when she spent the weekend with Trish, Trish should be. Dani knew she had dumped guys way better than Trish married. Way better. Of her four closest friends, she wasn’t sure any of them were happy though two were way better off financially.
There was nobody at the desk, but a big book laid open there and she could see she was supposed to sign in. She looked at her watch and signed the time and the room, but she had no idea who she was meeting, so she left that blank. She thought of writing ‘grandma’ and thought of turning around and leaving, but did neither. She wondered if this place paid better than Wal-Mart if the detective thing didn’t work out, but she remembered she paid a lot or at least owed a lot for the classes. And truthfully, sick people kind of creeped her out a little.
The hall opened up into a big room with wings and a circular central nurse’s station. A lot of people wearing drab turquoise pajama type uniforms surrounded the station drinking coffee. One girl wore a brighter uniform with flowers, and Dani could see she was the alpha dog. Someone to avoid. School had been full of alphas and none of them probably knew she was alive.
There were carts of foods and medicines cluttering the walkway, but Dani clearly saw the B in a large, orange block letter above one of the wings. Below and left of that was a faded weekly activities poster announcing seemingly the same card games, music and art classes held on the same days at least since the turn of the century. She thought if the building were older, it could be the previous century and carved in stone. An old lady sat on a bench chewing on her shawl and a man in a walker was racing somewhere for something, clattering that thing and getting nowhere.
She was glad she didn’t need to ask for directions as they might have asked her what she was doing there, and she’d have felt stupid saying she was a detective and didn’t even know why she was there. Nobody, not even the alpha, said a word as she walked past them but several turned to watch, and the conversations perked back up behind her. Totally junior high.
Again there were carts partially blocking the halls. Towels and the remainders of breakfasts past. Each room had a cork board outside the door and each resident got to put in a little personal touch. Some had flowers and one had a big paper Lion as in Detroit Lion. She didn’t understand the game or the fanaticism. All she knew was Andy, who she habitated with for maybe six months, okay less than three, lived and died with them every Sunday, and more often than not, he was pissed until Tuesday or Wednesday, when the hope was reborn. That might have been why they broke up. Even Andy was better than Trish’s husband, but he had no ambition beyond the next case of beer. Was that what broke them up? She really didn’t remember. He had to be four or five boyfriends ago if you call each second date a boyfriend. Was she a quitter? Or did she just meet deeply flawed boys?
Dani worked her way down to room 11B and there was no decoration whatsoever. Nothing. Just the name. But what a name. Sprawled in black marker, with childlike block letters, was the name, KEVORKIAN. It stopped her short. “DR. DEATH,” she whispered aloud. But it didn’t say that on the door.