Taylor and Lucille Wingate sat down to breakfast long before the day began for the residents and the day shift staff at Heritage Village. With the unpredictability of both their jobs, it was the one meal they guarded for themselves. Even if they did not join hands and return thanks, the ritual would have been described as sacred by each of them. Other meals could be eaten on the run, or in Lucille’s case with the kitchen staff or as it happened often missed entirely by Taylor who moved from one urgent task to the next.
Breakfast provided the Wingate’s the togetherness that prepped them for whatever the day brought. Like a bookend their evening decaf coffee sipped in their small living room and the shared crossword and cryptogram from the daily paper allowed the couple the opportunity to unwind the coils of the day before slipping into bed to coil as one.
“Quite a storm last night,” Taylor remarked between bites, “good preparation for the boarding of the animals.”
“Comparing the likes of the animals coming on board at Heritage Village to the ark, may border on sacrilegious,” Lucille responded with an amused smile and without a hint of malice.
Taylor returned the smile, merely grunting his mouth now filled with Lucille’s pecan pancakes, one of his favorites. A verbal response was unnecessary; he knew Lucille sided as did he with Mavis. Pets, even the questionable chickens, would undoubtedly provide therapeutic companionship to a community of people in need of companionship. Even the extra work the menagerie threw his way would be worth the trouble if the residents with pets benefited.
By 7:30 the kitchen staff had breakfast near completion; they had set the tables in the dining hall and some residents began assembling. The majority gathered around the movie sized television set and watched the national morning news programs and the local weather rather than taking their appointed places.
Darin Murphy, former student of Agnes Webster, now a meteorologist reported that the evening storm had produced two inches of precipitation. Agnes paused, leaned on her walker and watched her former student with a thankful heart. She remembered Darin as a boy, always fixed on the sky outside her fifth grade classroom. Her thankfulness surfaced as a silent amen for Darin was now putting his cloud gathering to work. Another observation told her that the cowlick he’d battled as a boy still struggled to be free even with an ample application of hair spray.
Agnes studied her former student—now, become expert, boy become man—and that moment of reflection, impeded her deliberate progress toward her chair at the table on the other side of the room. The walker had yet to become an extension of her legs, requiring her constant cognizance to keep both it and her legs moving in the same direction at the same speed. Twice, Agnes had gotten her feet tangled in the aluminum legs and had narrowly avoided falling.
Glancing across the room, Agnes saw, Thelma Louise and the Reverend were already seated at the breakfast table and approaching found them chatting brightly about the sunshine after the storm and the expected arrival of their “pets” when she approached. She noticed Ruth chatting with Lucille, who was busy setting baskets of hot biscuits on each of the tables. Hot they were when Lucille set them out, but Agnes knew by the time breakfast officially started they’d be warm at best. With only a bit of effort, she lowered her bottom into her chair, cheered by the animated faces of her new business partners.
Call them “pets”, if they wanted, but Agnes didn’t believe that wild tale anymore than Mavis Purcell had. She wasn’t sure how many eggs three hens could lay, but they’d need a market. Aside from that, with a rooster they’d be sure to go to brood and with any luck they’d have more—maybe even some baby chicks around Easter, although the memory of Thelma Louise’s sad story tended to cloud that possibility.
“The brooder should arrive this morning,” Agnes announced, reaching for a biscuit, the moment Lucille placed the basket on the table. She’d at least get the Promise spread on it while it was still hot. She continued, “good thing, because it will give Otto time to get it all set up in the furnace room. The chicks should arrive this afternoon and they’ll need a home. I checked on the computer to see where they were and found they were at the main post office in town scheduled to be delivered just in time for the little ceremony Mavis has planned.”
Ruth wheeled into place, butting into the table and the conversation. “Can you guess who is getting a toy poodle?” she asked leaning forward as Agnes had to grab a hot biscuit.
Before anyone could venture a guess, Pauline bounced into her place, leaving only the Colonel’s chair empty. The Reverend Henry Porter looked up at the clock. The Colonel was late. He started to comment, but not quick enough. Pauline had taken the floor.
“You will never guess what my dear sweet Celeste has gotten me.”
Ruth sent sideways knowing glances to the other Early Birds, and was opening her mouth to respond but Pauline babbled on, “She has gotten me a genuine pedigree toy poodle!”
Before anyone could respond, Colonel Henderson Wilcox arrived. All eyes turned to greet him, including Pauline, who gasped. The normally impeccable Colonel looked as if he’d slept in his clothes, if he had slept at all. His face sported evidence of a hasty shave complete with a piece of tissue that clung to a razor nick. A tiny bird’s nest of hair that his comb had missed, if indeed a comb had been used at all rested toward the rear of his head near the crown.
“Good Morning,” he said, taking his seat and flipping his napkin into his lap. For a split second his table companions gaped at him. Pauline continued to sit as if in suspended animation, her mouth pursed to speak. The Colonel furrowed his brow, as he glanced from one to the other.
“Are you alright, Colonel?” Ruth inquired quietly.
“Of course, I’m alright!” He retorted.
“We were getting a little worried,” Pauline tittered, and then ventured, “It isn’t like you to be late.”
“Late?” He sputtered, extending his back and raising his chin, so that he peered down at the lot of them. Crazy old fools, he thought. “Nonsense! I am never late.”
Thelma Louise started to respond, but Agnes poked her before the words of protest crossed her laryngeal folds.
“Senility,” Agnes hinted softly, lowering her head so the Colonel couldn’t hear her. Unfortunately, Agnes’s attempt at discretion failed. Speaking so that the Colonel could not hear also meant that neither could Thelma Louise, who whispered back while covering her mouth with a napkin and dabbing at nonexistent crumbs at the corners.
“I don’t think humility ever crossed his mind.”
Helen Marcum considered with pride her practiced lack of vanity, no primping and preening wormed their insidious delays into her day. Neither self admiration of a shapely nose, which she did not possess, nor self debasement of the aquiline one she did slowed her one whit. A quick shower, an application of deodorant followed by combing still damp hair straight back from her face and clasping it into a tight chignon at the base of her skull, facial moisturizer—slapped carelessly on her cheeks—brushing and flossing her teeth composed her total daily beauty regiment.
On occasion she would use mouthwash or eye drops, but those occasions were rare.
She dodged her mirror image. Thus she avoided the pitfalls of nose laments and other issues most women encountered when preparing for the day. Helen could be up and out the door in less than hour and for as long as she could remember she had managed to eat breakfast and at least glance at the headlines in the morning paper within that same time frame. Helen had no tolerance for people who dilly dallied in front of mirrors.
Half the staff she supervised in the hospice section couldn’t pass a chrome pitcher without checking their hair or make-up and the other half were slovenly. Thirty minutes before her shift, Helen slipped a jacket over her uniform and headed out for a brisk walk around the lake. Rain or shine, every single morning, Helen completed one lap or maybe two. Discipline had never failed her.
With a determined steeling of her spine, Helen decided that it would not fail her today either. Today the animals would be arriving. Well, no amount of dirty animals would change her patterns. Nor would she allow even one in the hospice unit. She tucked a small notebook into her uniform pocket. She planned to record every infraction, every unattended poop pile, and every wandering beast. Yes, indeed she planned to detail every incident, even the mildest, that represented animal or animal owner misconduct. “Residents with Pets” ranked as public enemy number one in Helen’s book. She’d bring them down or die trying.
Amy Davidson’s morning regime resembled her neighbor’s in at least one way. Mirrors were useless. Her mirror image had faded years before, but her attention to detail in her morning grooming matched Helen’s, except for the greater time required.
Even with careful planning, she could not complete all the tasks required to get up dressed, and groomed in less than two hours. She’d heard her neighbors across the hall leave before she’d managed to sit on the side of her bed. Not that Amy hadn’t tried to swing her legs off the bed and rise to an upright position—she had been trying for nearly twenty minutes. Another ten minutes passed after she’d listened to the crisp retreating footsteps before her wooden feeling legs obeyed with her torso and head following in one continuous if not graceful movement.
Once sitting, a few more minutes passed as the swirling in her head subsided. Now bracing herself against the bathroom sink, Amy listened to Helen Marcum as she left.
Having been blinded at eight years of age, Amy found working in the fog that surrounded her natural. At thirty eight years old her compensatory skills and her other senses had been honed to the point that she hardly noticed her blindness. Of course she’d been lucky or blessed as her mother would say, because her blindness was not the blackness others imagine. Amy’s visual deficit had not robbed her, at least not yet—who knew what the multiple sclerosis would do—it had not robbed her of light and dark. Amy’s visual environment varied with the light she encountered, with objects in her path, producing at times a kaleidoscope of gray tones.
Some days if the light around her was bright, she could almost distinguish lines and shapes, patterns, but no matter how she strained no color emerged, only shades of gray. Her fiddle, as she lovingly called her violin brought color into her world.
Blindness no longer threatened her, if it ever had. Her memory of the accident, followed by the months after as her vision declined, were incomplete—an act of repression, according to one therapist her parents had insisted on when she entered eighth grade. Amy remembered at the time wondering why on earth Dr. Babbitt thought remembering bad stuff was so important. At age thirteen, it wasn’t her blindness that depressed her, it was her flat chest. Now clinging to the sink, the enemy was the multiple sclerosis, because she knew it could eventually take the color from her world, her music.
Today she battled not only the heaviness in both legs but also a spasm in her right thigh. Amy grimaced, wondering what diminished function this exacerbation would leave behind. Typically, her MS kicked in when her resistance dropped especially during stressful times. Her greatest exacerbation came following her mother’s death and had swept her from dependence on a cane to increasing dependence on her scooter. Smaller episodes dotted the last several months as she made decisions that added to the stress of grief.
With tenacity she edged her body away from the sink, reaching for her cane, fumbling a bit before finding the familiar curve of metal. Amy pulled it closer to her, turned loose of the sink, and leaned momentarily on the three footed stabilizer. She had agreed to taking the music therapist position at Heritage and living within the facility after an awful row with her father. Only in a semi-protected environment would he even consider letting her move out of the only home she’d known since the accident. There was no convincing him that she could take a position with more autonomy and manage to live, work, breathe on her own.
So, she relented, but in her plan Amy determined she would not remain one moment longer than required to soothe Wyatt Davidson’s doubts. It would require a perfect performance, but Amy planned to give one.