Called in this late at night was not a problem, working last minute didn’t cramp Sam’s style. Her bosses might have wanted to think that one over before hiring her. Sam didn’t change clothes, just grabbed her keys and left. It was handy bringing work home with her when she was on call.
Sam pulled into a near empty parking lot under a blue moon, a black cat sat in the middle going through its cleansing ritual. The cat didn’t acknowledge as she drove past to back into the darkest space far from the building. The cat continued grooming, the engine silenced without notice.
From the driver’s seat, reaching down for the button she popped the trunk from inside. The cat was still oblivious. Opening the car door, her heels hit the pavement, “click, click” as she moved towards the open trunk. That the cat noticed. Sam stopped and watched in mid movement, while the cat’s ears perked up, and its back began to rise in slow motion. Then it crouched low to the pavement ready to spring. Sam walked around behind her car, hidden from the cat by the trunk lid. A smile crept across her face, ‘The cat won’t move until it knows where I am going to walk.”
Sam removed the gear from the trunk as slowly as she could. From the cat’s vantage point a hand appeared on the edge of the lid, her fingers flickered and shone from the the artificial lights peeking through overgrown tree branches from glossy painted nails and rings as she drummed them on the metal lid making time. Bam! The lid slammed down. Looking over to the cat which hadn’t moved.
The cat and Sam stared at each other. Sam looked towards the employee entrance, and debated, ‘Should I go out of my way to walk into the cat’s path, or should I walk straight ahead to work? A quick check of her watch, showed a couple of minutes to midnight. ‘Straight.’
Walking past the empty spaces full of building supply pallets and nearest to the only open enhance sat a construction office trailer hogging four spaces near the building. At the last second she walking towards the cat in only two emergency visitors only parking spaces left open for ER patients she walked towards the cat.. The cat scooted backwards. Then sat up. Brave. Sam walked straight to her destination, cutting across diagonally the two spaces and into the awning projected from the building for ambulance unloading. Sam stopped before ducking into the sheltered walk, turned her head to look directly back at the cat. The cat stood up on al fours, back arched ready to leap. Sam bent at the waist, leaned towards the minion, and hissed. The cat sprang, running towards the pallets, never looking back disappearing into the dark shadows. Laughter echoed in the night air off the building and mostly vacant lot. Sam checked her watch, midnight.
Sam was at the doors when a shiny black hearse pulled up. The driver easing slowly into one of ”No Parking- Loading“ zones by the entrance like it owned it. It does she thought, realizing that was the only vehicle she has ever seen parked there. Sam walked back towards the vehicle, as she approached click of the driver door latch could be heard. The door swung open revealing the driver. The man unfolded his tall frame and stood straight. It made her smile.
“Hello Sam!” came the rolling deep thunder disguised as a voice in greeting, and returned the smile. “Ready to work?”
“Ready as always.”
The man walked to the back and opened the door, then walked the door with his long strides to stand fully open. Sam stepped in slinging the bag straps over her shoulder and pulled the gurney out, rolling legs dropped to the ground. The man waited until she had the gurney rolled out of the way of the door, then walked the door forward and shut it securely. An action he has now completed for 17 years. He clicked the hearse key fob to lock the vehicle. Sam placed the bag on the gurney. The two glide the gurney in unison up the ramp and through the twist and turn maze of halls. They moved as if apart of the wheeled bed, smooth and near silent, to stop smoothly at the nurses station.
Sam hadn’t taken long to fit in, awkward though it had been at first. Now she worked or assisted in most all jobs at the home. The greatest compliment is for no one to notice them, or realize they are there doing their job. Quiet, smooth, it could be considered an elegant dance. As TJ had told her on the first shift she worked, this job was a privilege. They were taking care of a loved one, “Loss is heard enough on the soul, we don’t want to wear on the raw nerves of the loved ones left behind” he had said.
TJ shortened his stride and bent to accommodate his coworkers making the movements seem smooth and crisp. She couldn’t remember when she went from feeling awkward with the movements and when it had become polished habit. It had been taken time for Sam’s thoughts became unconscious about this job. She wondered why tonight she was so conscious of the actions. A question that would persist.
TJ stepped up to the counter at the nurse’s station, her back to them a nurse sat at a computer across from the counter.. She moved little scraps of paper around transferring the scribbles to the computer, talking to herself.
“Excuse me?” TJ spoke softly. Barely above a whisper but his deep voice rumbled across the air causing the nurse to visibly jump. From a doorway beside the shocked nurse came a male in scrubs.
“Hey, TJ. Your rider is in room 130. Hang on a minute and I’ll go down with you. I am not sure the patient is ready to go yet.”
Sam and TJ glanced at each other quick with no sign of reaction. It wasn’t unusual to wait for the nurses to complete the release details, especially when they were busy. It was odd, however, for this nurse. He was the supervisor here and known for his diligence and detail. He also didn’t work a night shift. Ever.
Leo returned with a chart and led them down a corridor they were both familiar with, offset from the nurse’s station and down a row of rooms that formerly had been apart of the emergency room in younger days of the hospital, they now served as hospice and long term care. Leo turned and put a hand up to halt them when they were out of ear shot of the station.
“There are only two families here this weekend. Both requested complete privacy. Pickup is in the last room on the right. The other patient is in the room before. Be as quiet as you can. It was difficult to get that family quieted down,” Leo’s hushed and stern tone was met with grim faces and short nods from both Sam and TJ. Nothing unusual about the request. Dying is hard business.
Their silent glide down the hall commenced, Sam’s breath was held as she passed the door of caution on her right walking backward down the hall. In the front of the door in the middle of the hall Sam stood when the door of dread popped open. A woman reached up and grabbed the doorframe blocking the doorway. “He’s not dead yet!” shrieked out from a pain filled tear streaked face.
Sam’s heart fell to her feet, confronted with the dread she knew so well. Leo stepped in-between blocked Sam’s view. Sam looked down at the empty gurney and felt rather than saw it push her backward, TJ moved her to leave the woman onto the their destination. Sam raised her head and nodded silently through tear-filled eyes as she stepped backward continuing down to the next door.
Inside the appointed room Alma sat quietly. Tears running down the old woman’s cheeks as they entered the room. On either side of her chair, Alma’s two son’s knelt, each one holding a hand , rubbing her back with the other. Trying their best, in their minds, to comfort their mother, neither ready to face the reality of the loss of their father.
Looking up to see the two enter solemnly, Alma smiled. She took a sharp breath. Surely the boys would let go of her hands and stop rubbing her back. She just wanted to be alone.
“Well, Harlan will be in good hands I see. I suppose you would like for us to leave?” Alma felt her voice was a little too bright, and looked down at her boys, men now, to check their reaction. They were looking up to Sam and TJ. The eldest rose to stand and shake hands with TJ.
“Well, now, Miss Alma, we are going to do this however you want,” TJ said to her over her son’s shoulder. TJ shut the door and nodded to Sam. They weren’t in any hurry to rush this. Harlan had been mayor for many years before he retired to just preaching. His last term, when he announced he was not seeking re-election was a disappointment. Harlan had explained the decision, “Saving souls is more important than running a town.” Though people still went to him for advice, politically and spiritually, as always even before he had held office or pastured a church, now that would no longer.
Alma and Harlan had decided when his first diagnosis of cancer was given to keep that to themselves. His first term had just begun. The reaction created by his diagnosis would have stirred up an already tumultuous time for city government. Harlan feared then that his time would be short in politics. In his eyes, while the decision was a personal one, it was morally a lie of omission — one he made more than once. His biggest war had been with cancer, winning more than one battle before cancer beat him.
The treatments had been hard on both of them, Alma looked at the lifeless body of the man she had been a partner with for sixty years. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t considered losing him; first the cancer, then the treatments that weakened him taunted her more than once. Leaving office had initially lifted his spirits and health. Six months ago the cancer came back. They had done this before, and truth be told, it was both easier and harder than the first, second or third time. The first time no one other than the doctors and themselves knew locally, same the second time. This time, being a charm, they had help which was good for Harlan, and bad for Alma.
The bad was the looks and the voices. They hadn’t had to listen to stories about how this or that had happened to this person or that. Those stories got on Alma’s nerves. She knew it wasn’t how people expected her to be. Alma, a sweet woman all her life, found that this time, she got mean, ugly even. How dare this cancer come threaten her again. Torment her heart, make her watch as it destroyed the man she loved so much. It was not fair. It had won.
“TJ, I think I want to go home. I know you and Sam will take good care of my Harlan. I want to go home, I would rather he was going home with me, but he’s not is he?”
TJ walked over, dropping down to kneel in front of Alma. Neither of her grown boys moved. TJ took her hands into his, “Miss Alma, can we pray?”
Alma could only nod her head. One more prayer wasn’t going to hurt. She didn’t believe it would help anymore. She had prayed herself out, but the last person she had said that to was Harlan. He had been shocked and tried to convince her otherwise. She realized it didn’t matter what she thought, others really felt they needed it. So she had stop saying her own truth and just listened while others prayed.
“Lord, you have placed a mighty burden on a good woman. Not just today, but for the last four years. I do not believe that she done anything warranting such a punishment. You may not have your hand in this, as some say. I don’t know about that. I do know she is hurting. There are gonna be a lot of people hurting over this. These two men here have lost their Daddy. The man they went to for advice. This family now has a hole, a big hole. Lord, fill it. Fill that hole. Console them as only you can. Please somehow, ease them through this change. You know their need better than me, probably better than them. Help them with that. I trust in you God, Amen”
Alma watched the top of TJ’s head move, shake. His face expressing his will, eyes closed. He meant what he was saying. Almost with detached mind, and heart, Alma watched, yet still hearing and reacting to this heart felt prayer. This was going to be the first of many prayers she feared, like this. She couldn’t live up to them. She didn’t know if she could hold her tongue anymore. Harlan had kept her in check. HE let her rant privately, rant until she’d dried up. He knew how judgmental she was deep down. The only other person in the world that knew her heart was gone. She had no one to be herself with anymore. So many people expected the quiet, angelic Alma who was always by Harlan’s side. Little did they know the her deep down. Now, she had to be perfect all the time.
When TJ finished his prayer and rose, Alma stood up and began gathering belongings. She had been biding her time to go home. His body to her lay there like a shell. She wanted to be home. Where everything around her made her feel his presence. His clothes in the closet; his after shave on the bathroom counter. Even the dent in his pillow where he had laid his head. Since the ambulance had brought him here at his request a few days ago, Alma had refused to make the bed and disturb the impression of her beloved husband from his side of the bed.