“I have to start dinner soon.”

Lucy’s eyes are soft as she contemplates her menu. It is mid-afternoon, and her internal time clock is still in sync. She has prepared thousands of dinners in her lifetime, the habit deeply anchored in her mind. Her lady companions nod their agreement. They share the same vacant stare. They are my mother’s neighbors on Wing B, also known as the dementia care unit. At 4:45 p.m., their dinners will be wheeled in on a metal dolly stacked high with trays, like all their meals are.

For someone so interested in preparing dinner, Lucy is painfully thin. Left to her own volition, she rarely chooses to eat. A staff member coaxes her to the table and encourages her to sit a while. She picks at her food, silent.

Lucy spends part of each day walking the halls. Sometimes she carries a baby, the soft-in-the-middle kind, with a plastic head, hands and feet. When I ask her if the baby is hers, she is quick to say no, that she is merely watching the baby for someone else. Shortly thereafter, baby is transferred to the outstretched arms of Wheelchair Tony. Wheelchair Tony is the baby’s handler. He places the baby upright on his shoulder, tenderly patting her on the back.

Some days I find Lucy with her arm linked together with her girlfriend’s. They seem so youthful when they stroll together, like two children out for an adventure. The ladies try to open a locked door leading to another part of the nursing home. Puzzled, they loop back and try the knob again. They’ve tried opening this same door repeatedly for days, always with the same result. Yet, this time they hope the door will open and they will find a magical unicorn standing on the other side. Or maybe just a way out. Their faces are innocent and bewildered. Lucy’s friend recognizes me and gesticulates her scrambled thoughts. I nod, affirming the gibberish.

I observe Lucy’s daily routine, while my listless mother vegetates next to me. She is a corpse of sorts, no longer interested in what is going on around her. Her lids are closed, yet she’s not asleep. She opens her eyes, fixes them on me, and then closes them tightly. Maybe she’d rather keep her mind fixed on the magical unicorn.

I guess I’ll just come back tomorrow.


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