Assisted Living | by Adam Kenworthy

3 mins read

Back then, I worked the graveyard shift.

I liked to smoke to pass the time.

Back then, people still smoked.

One night I caught Nadine – Rm. 24C – shuffling down the hallway in her walker with the tennis balls capped on the end. “Running away?” I asked her. She ignored me and kept on. So I said it again, real loud this time. She turned and shushed me, said to mind my own business. “You gotta stay in your room hon, you know the rules.” I said, and she came over to my little counter area and smirked with her ragged yellow teeth.

“They’re your rules,” she said. “Not mine.” Then she took off.

I got up and placed one sneakered foot on a tennis ball to stop her.  “Back to bed,” I said.  “Or I’ll call Roger.”

“Go ahead, call Roger,” she said. “Roger is irrelevant here. As far as I’m concerned, you’re all Roger!”

I was not Roger.

This I knew.

“Where you going anyway at this hour?” I said. “Rec room is closed up.”

“I’m going to Merv’s place,” she said, and smacked her lips that looked like two shriveled carrots.

Merv lived in 24H.

“What for?” I said.

“To sixty-nine,” she said, and tried to un-wedge her tennis ball.

“Sixty-nine?” I said.

“You heard me,” she said. “You ever done it?”

“What?” I said.

“Buried your face in your lover’s loins while he buries his in yours. Given and received pleasure simultaneously, tasted the most basic elements of our haphazard designs.” Her breath smelled of menthol lozenges. The buzz of the neon lights above hummed deep like locusts in the unbearable August.

I took my foot off her tennis ball. “I can’t say I have.” I said, somehow ashamed by the look of disgust on her face.

“You should,” she said.

“Okay,” I said, suddenly wanting a cigarette desperately.

“Don’t let Roger, or the sadness of these walls ever take that from you,” she said. She shuffled past me and I watched her stop and tap a bony index finger on the door to 24H.

I let her go.

I let her go many times after that.

Back then, I didn’t yet know how lonely a room can be.

Adam Kenworthy is an attorney in Iowa.

Photo by Alex Boyd on Unsplash