Tuesdays at the Nursing Home- Missing Alice

Alice, my favorite nurse at the nursing home, is out on medical leave for a month and no one misses her more than Neva.

Neva's family has abandoned her.  They live across town, but they don't come to see her...not unless the social worker calls to say they're about to owe the facility money.  That gets the daughter in every time.

But on Mother's Day, on Neva's birthday, even on Christmas...Alice is the only one who shows up. 

I suppose Neva's not easy to love.  She's a crabby, sour, foul-mouthed, unsympathetic character.  If she were my mother, I suppose I might've written her off too.  She's the type who probably beat her kids, brawled drunk in the front yard and never forgave her beloved, alcoholic father for dying.

I walk in to her room and she's lying in bed, a shrunken, crippled figure in huge, oversized glasses.  Her tongue protrudes from her mouth, grotesquely thrusting a side-effect of the psychiatric meds she's been taking for years.

"Hey, Neva," I say.  "What's up?"

"Same shit, different day," she answers. "You bring me a donut?"

Every week she says the same thing.  But this week I say, "Bet you miss, Alice, huh?"

Neva's eyes give her away.

"Nah, she's coming back tomorrow. She was supposed to be here today, but she wasn't.  I told 'em get me up so I could be up there waiting on her when she came in, but she didn't.  Where is she?"

She is a little girl, her nose pressed against the glass, her eyes bright with longing and I have to break her heart.

I tell her it's going to be awhile longer.

Neva disappears inside herself.  She won't allow me to see her pain.  "I'm stubborn that way," she says.  She won't let me tell them when her arm hurts either.  "I want them to come down the hall and ask me if I need anything.  I don't want to ask them."

"So, do they?" I ask.

Neva never looks away. She meets my eye with an honesty that cuts through to my heart.

"Not hardly ever," she says.

I touch her shoulder but Neva's not the type to allow sympathy. It's too close to pity.

She pulls back a couple of inches so she can take in my whole face.

"I'd give my right tit for a donut," she says.

"Now, Neva. What would I do with a third tit?"

We laugh at the idea and for a fraction of a second, I'm allowed in.

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