“Another day. Another dollar,” Tori mused, searching her purse for her cigarettes as we rushed down the corridor towards the exit.
“Another penny you mean.” I had imagined something much different when I applied at Kenton Heights. I had looked forward to take care of the elderly. I wanted to spend time with them. I wanted to read to them, listen to stories of their past with fondness and smiles, but as it turned out, there wasn’t much time for that. Nurse’s assistants were underpaid and unappreciated at Kenton. I spent my day running, fetching, and cleaning from the time I stepped inside the door.
My feet throbbed twice as bad that day. Aching so much that I could think of nothing more than sitting down and kicking off my shoes, but I still had a long trip ahead of me.
“Ah, freedom.” And Tori lit the nicotine stick before the doors closed.
“Ugh, how do you smoke those things?” I fanned the puff that floated my way.
“I don’t know what else to do with them.”
“They’re going to kill you.”
“So, I’ll pop a few pills.”
“And what if they don’t work? Huh? Like they didn’t work when you got the flu last year?”
“Then, the coroner’s job will be easy. Geeze!” Tori snapped. She cared more than she let on, but she had her own demons and it seemed self-destruction was her means of coping. “Pick another subject, Hill. I’m not in the mood to hear crap about my bad habits.”
“But there are so many.”
“Awe! How disturbingly … sick. Yeah, this guy is definitely your type.”
Tori, her phone the second thing out of the purse, divided her attention between Chatter, her cigarette, and the Petunia and Dogwood-lined sidewalk that led to the staff quarters.
“Your boy toy finally got a Chatter account.”
“What on Earth are you talking about now?”
“I’m changing the subject. You know you love Ethan Hart.”
“I said he was cute. That’s all. Geez, I make one comment and it comes back to bite me.” I shook my head. “You know I don’t care about that show.”
“Muscular guys walking around in their underwear. What’s not to like?”
“If you say so.” In my opinion, it was nothing but a bunch of overgrown boys who slathered themselves in oil to play fight on a plywood platform.
But Ethan, he was the exception. Oh, he was a beautiful man. The last time I had been stuck watching the weekly Friday night show with Tori, he had commanded my attention strutting down to the ring in tight jeans and a white undershirt with toned biceps and tight buns.
“Look,” Tori recited the post with a snicker.
“I think it’s sweet,” I praised and locked the words away to fuel my dreams later. I was already getting an image of dancing close to him in a light pre-storm rain.
I found myself drifting to fantasy more and more often. Why not? It was better than reality. The man in my mind thought I was perfect. He smiled when I walked into the room after only hours of being apart. He touched gently, took me out on the town, and made me feel like a woman instead of a possession kept in a box.
“I get what he’s saying,” I sighed.
“Oh, really?” Tori swiped my cell from the front pocket of my purse.
“Tori. No!” Half-heartedly, I objected and playfully fought for the device while the woman twisted and turned until she had tapped out her insanity. “Tori, don’t!”
“There you go.” Tori giggled and tossed the phone back.
I rolled my eyes after reading her imposter post.
“Nice. You don’t even post on your own account and you’re gonna type something like that mine? You can be a real …”
“Bitch.” Tori giggled. “You can say it.”
“I think you say it enough for the both of us. Really Tore?”
“Well, that is the only thing you can ever think to do when it’s raining. You need some excitement in your life.”
“I have enough excitement in my life, thank you. You’re the one going home to a cat.”
“That cat’s better company than any man. Come on. He gets thousands of replies. It’s not like he’s going to respond – if he reads it at all.”
“True.” I shuffled my feet at the exit gate.
“You’re not staying with me this weekend, are you?”
“I have to go home.” I shrugged.
“I guess that means its girl’s night at your place. I’ll meet you at the ferry” And she was in her car and gone before I could respond. I took a taxi to the dock, sharing it with a small group that traveled by it each day and sat on a bench. The next boat always arrived an hour after my shift ended.
I worked on a remote island called Beau Reve. A place where the rich and powerful came to escape their oh-so-complicated lives, but that was on the other side of the isolated island. On my half, life was much different. I didn’t witness the privileged in the prime of their lives. I cared for them at the end of their journey.
Beau Reve and its agenda didn’t confuse me at all. I knew its game. Luring the young to splash and play behind the gates of Diamond Cove, unaware of the harsh hammer of age that lurked too close and crashed down too soon. Showing them such a good time that they fell in love with the island enough to purchase a luxury condo when they reached the age of retirement. They spent their golden years in a place very similar to the vacation villas, with a maid and room service until they could no longer care for themselves. At that time, a contract forced them to relinquish the property and many moved to the lavish nursing home until their dying moment, their homes recycled and sold to the next highest bidder. And it’s legal! Typed nice and neat in the fine print.
It was depressing if I allowed myself to think about the politics of it all. It was hard enough staring into the tired eyes of my residents, hearing them sigh about days gone by. Centuries flew by as easily as a decade, or so many had told me. Sometimes, it was hard to remember that I had so much more time than my ancestors did.
How many times did they say that this place, Jenithiyah, was a hidden paradise? How my generation was fortunate to be born there? We weren’t plagued with the diseases and trials of the outside world. In this place that the rest of the world knew as the Bermuda Triangle, lived an advanced society. Well, advanced in health and technology, but human nature was something no one could control.
Ugh! It all gave me a headache. Honestly, I always had a hard time believing there was a world outside of my own.
I’d seen the maps, studied the history of the so-called founders in school, but I knew that my world was much bigger than that triangle they had marked off on that old map. How the hell could anyone miss that?
Ocean waters surrounded my home and tall mountains, that no one could ever reach the top of, surrounded that. It was absurd to think that lost souls washed upon the shores centuries before my time. There was nothing beyond those mountains. No way in, no way out, and I never trusted people who claimed to be from the outside.
“You barely made it,” I said as Tori rushed to catch up to me. We boarded the ferry together and it was nice to have company for a change. “You’re not bringing your car?”
“No way. Last time that group of idiots that stand in front of your building thought it was a bench. I’ll take a taxi back, if I decide to go home tonight. ”
There were few people on the evening ferry, so it was easy to find an empty seat inside the cabin. We chose one near the exit, so we didn’t have to wait in line when we neared the shore.
Some days I wondered what the hell I was thinking of taking that job. I had to take that two-hour ride before and after work every day, making the days longer and more exhausting.
And it wasn’t great for my anxiety. Although the ocean was harmless on the shore, it was toxic a few miles out. It did something to a person’s brain. Drug dealers used it to lace their products, but I don’t know much about the effects. I usually avoided those kinds of things and I constantly worried that one day the tainted fog would find its way into the cabin through a broken or open window, causing me to end up wandering the streets of Coeur de’ Lile in an intoxicated trance.
The engine slowed and I settled in, laying my head on Tori’s shoulder for the long trip across the water and the thick, pinkish fog that plagued its path. It was the only way in and out of Beau Reve. Only a gentle strip of water slightly bigger than the ferry itself was safe to travel. If we deviated in either direction, we would capsize and become another list of lost souls in the record books.
In other words, I risked my life every day. Sure, there hadn’t been a single incident in my lifetime, but the possibility was still there.
I hated what I had to do to make a living. I was used to a short commute and sitting behind a desk answering phones with my favorite alternate universe game on the computer.
I’d loved my old job and I had lost it thanks to Brad. And after weeks of looking, I found nothing but a long list of companies that knew all about my boyfriend and his jealous, drunken ways of starting trouble on company time.
There was no money, no food and the electric was about to be turned off. I took the position out of pure desperation. Not that I wasn’t a caring person. I truly loved all the people I cared for, but I just couldn’t make a difference.
I barely had time to say good morning to my more independent wards. If only I could help them in some other way. Like a social worker or a dietician. Yes, the kitchen. Now there was my true passion. Cooking all day and quenching the residents’ need for salivating nourishment instead of baths, feeding and a whole list of bottom rung responsibilities. That would be heaven to me. I had tried to switch positions a few times, but once someone became an aide at Kenton, they were stuck because assistants came and went so often that there was rarely a full staff.
I left everyday feeling nasty. That day, I felt particularly dirty. Half my residents had contracted a stomach virus and my scrubs had absorbed the splatters of their vomit.
The ferry docked and my old Sedan sat waiting in the front row of the parking lot. The prime morning spot wasn’t close enough in the evenings when I had to walk on tender feet. All I wanted to do was get home, climb into the shower and wash the day away. The tension melted away just thinking about that and the night of vegging out on the couch with Tori and I had planned.
“Ugh, the pig is home.” Tori pointed out Brad’s truck parked in front of the apartment complex and my relief vanished. Once going home to him had filled my heart with anticipation, but somewhere down the line, that feeling turned to nausea. Why did things always have to change?