The walls of the hallway were festooned with brightly colored artwork. Some done by expert hands, some obviously drawn or painted by children. On the wall beside the door of each residents room was a photograph of the occupant, with their name printed in large black letters below. The portrait of every resident were from days long past, when they were in mid-life or younger. None of them now were close to the happy days when their photo would have been taken, but every one boasted a smiling face.
“Mr. Magnusson would like some bathroom tissue,” Walden said. He looked over the counter of the nursing station at a middle aged woman, carefully entering notes into a stack of patient charts.
“One moment please.” She smiled quickly and returned to her paperwork. “Just doing end of shift charts for last night.”
She was short and quite stout. Her salt and pepper shoulder length hair appeared pressed flat to her head with hair gel.
“Can I help you,” she said, looking up from her finished work.
“Mr. Magnusson, from down the hall, would like some of the good toilet paper.” Walden leaned forward and whispered. “He thinks you might keep a secret stash here.”
She sniggered. “We ran out of the good stuff last week. I think they might have some on two. Let me call down.”
She held the phone in one hand and flipped through another chart with the other as she spoke.
“Bruce will bring some,” she said to Walden. “Wait here for him. I’m just finishing and will be on my way. Usually gone hours ago but I’ve got this paperwork. Another sad time last night and it always makes extra paperwork.” She tilted her head sideways with a forlorn crook on her mouth. Her eyes were a pair of bloodshot pools resting above puffy sacks beneath. She took a pill bottle from her pocket and slipped a small orange tablet into her mouth.
“I heard. Always a sad thing. My grandfather thinks there is something dubious going on. You know, people get ideas, make things up.”
She shrugged. “It is harder for them, they’re here night and day watching people leave us one by one. Imagine what goes through their mind. It’s not surprising that they might think something odd might be going on.” She closed the chart and rose. “That’s it for me, I’m off. Bruce won’t be long. You’ll know it’s him by the dangling chain of keys hanging from his belt.”
“And he’s big and real black. He won’t hurt you, he’s a teddy bear.”
“And he’ll be bringing the toilet tissue,” Walden added.
“Maybe,” she smirked.
“Are you Nurse Clara? I think my Grandfather talked about you.”
She pulled her name tag forward to show him.
“He’s the new guy, he doesn’t know me yet. Shirley,” she said. “They all call me Nurse Shirley. I do nights mostly, Clara does days. Kind of like the Good Witch and the Bad Witch,” she cackled a high pitched laugh that caused Walden to wince.
The photo on her name tag barely resembled her.
“That’s Clara,” she pointed to a tall woman in flowery scrubs speaking to Mrs. Branbury in the Sunroom.
Walden nodded as Nurse Shirley rose and made her way. She was even shorter when standing and walked with a slight penguin waddle. As she passed Walden it appeared to him that her greying hair wasn’t jelled, just unwashed and he thought he detected an odor of alcohol.
‘Probably medicine,’ he dismissed it as.
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