Oscar the Merry Devil

Oscar wears Hawaiian shirts. A happy Alfred Hitchcock who sits in the parlor of the assisted living facility and farts.

He doesn’t remember he’s not at home. He doesn’t know this isn’t his den. And he doesn’t see us when he lets loose.

I’m used to it, but Martha isn’t. She mouths “Should we leave?”

Well, we can’t. Oscar would see us. He might realize we’d heard the long, slow blow-out. It would hurt his feelings. Or scare him to find intruders in the living room.

So we stay quietly seated at the table behind him. Trying not to inhale.

When it’s safe- When we're sure he’s forgotten, we leave, tiptoeing out into the lobby.

Tonight I sit alone in the parlor, talking on my cell phone to a friend back home.

Oscar leaves his room at the end of the hallway, walking toward me with a purposeful shuffle. He's wearing a black shirt. A border of large orange and red flames lick its hem, making Oscar a merry devil.

He is always smiling. He will walk past the table, not seeing me there in the dim, half-lit room. He will turn on the T.V, sit down on the right side of the sofa and stare at the screen for hours.

Oscar is tall and balding. Thin tufts of silver-white hair cover his freckled skin. A chunky, fragile man with the smile of a five-year-old boy in love with his kindergarten teacher.

Tonight he doesn’t go to the sofa. Instead he hones in on my table and only stops when his feet bump the back legs of the chair beside me. He gazes down into my eyes and I fall in love.

“My T.V’s not working,” he says, flashing his toothy grin. “When you finish what you’re doing, will you come fix it?” He has seen my cell phone and knows I’m talking…It’s familiar to him. As familiar as night shift aides mumbling into receivers- ignoring the lights, the bells and the patients who wait like leftovers.

His eyes dance blue

“I’ll be right there,” I say.

“Do you know where my room is?” I am thinking Oscar is someone’s long-ago little boy, anxious to please and wanting so very badly to be loved.

“I do,” I reassure him.

He vanishes back down the lonely, darkened hallway, past my sleeping father’s room.

“I have to go,” I tell the friend on the other end of the line. “I’m an aide tonight.”

“You don’t work there!” she says. "Call one of the attendants!"

But I am already walking after Oscar into the darkness.

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