MYRTLE AND THE BRIDGE
“Shannon. I’m sorry to wake you but could you come in. Myrtle Thomson has disappeared.” I shook the feathers of sleep from my mind. Myrtle, disappeared? Details filtered into focus as Jo continued to speak. 1:31am. I had finished my shift at 7pm. “We’ve searched all the usual places. Places where we’ve found her in the past.” I could hear the tremor in her voice.
“I’m on my way. Keep searching and I’ll try and think where she might be.”
I shrugged on sweat suit pants and a hoody, praying all the while. “Father, protect Myrtle. Keep her safe wherever she may be. Help us to find her, Lord, Help me to understand what she’s thinking right now.”
It was a short drive to Elmwood Rest Home and I pressed the intercom button at the gate. Glossy hedges lined the driveway like soldiers, their leaves gleaming dimly in the moonlight. Beyond them, torches bobbed like fireflies in the gardens and voices called for Myrtle. Dear soft Myrtle with creased parchment skin and faded hazel eyes. Alzheimer’s was stealing her mind, little by little, and she drifted between dreams and reality. Mostly dreams these days. She spoke continually of her husband, Ned, and her son, Simon. In her mind they were both still alive. Her most treasured possession was a nursery rhyme book that had indeed been Simon’s. She would page through it day after day, her fingers caressing the yellowed pages and her mouth murmuring the familiar rhymes.
Jo came running to greet me, her words puffs of steam in the frigid air. “Thank goodness you’re here. She’s been missing at least two hours. We’ve let the police know in case she’s wandered off the property.” We went into the office and she related how the evening had unfolded. “I came on at 7 as you know. Rounds and meds were all done by 8pm and by 8:30 the lights were out.” I nodded acknowledging what was standard practice. “I did some paperwork in the office and at 10pm, went to check the rooms. Myrtle was awake, watching TV and murmuring to herself about some nursery rhyme. I gave her a sip of water and she seemed to settle down. I popped back at 11:15 and she was gone.”
I closed my eyes blocking out thoughts of hit and run accidents and psychopaths preying on an old lady. Myrtle was a wily one and had escaped before by sheltering behind the hedge and slipping through the gate after a car had entered. “You’ve searched all the usual spots? The laundry, the summer house, the other rooms.” Jo nodded.
“And did anyone enter the property after 10?”
“Geraldine Matthews had a bad turn and the doctor came in at about 10:30.”
The searchers came stomping into the office. “She’s not in the gardens. We’ve hunted from end to end.”
“I’ll be in Myrtle’s room.” I escaped the hubbub and slipped down the corridor. “Open my eyes, Lord. Help me to understand what Myrtle was thinking.” Her room was simple. Functional furniture, burnt orange carpet, a small television on top of some drawers. The nursery rhyme book lay open next to her bed. I recognized the rhyme by the pictures. London Bridge is falling down. An idea began to form. I grabbed her robe from the back of the door.
“Jo. What nursery rhyme was Myrtle muttering?” She creased her brow into a furrow.
“London Bridge I think.”
“And she was watching TV, right?” I continued as Jo nodded. “There was a story on the news tonight about a bridge in a rural area that collapsed. I’m wondering if Myrtle hasn’t got it in her head to go and look for the bridge.”
Hope flooded Jo’s face. “The park. The bridge across the stream at the park.”
I was already on my way.
Myrtle was sitting in the dirt by the bridge. “Do I know you?” she asked as I wrapped the robe around her trembling shoulders. “I’m looking for Simon. The bridge is falling down but I can’t find him.”
“It wasn’t Simon’s bridge.” I assured her. “Simon is safe in bed.”
She huddled up to me, frail hands fluttering like moth wings. “He’s safe?”
I wrapped my arms around her as the sound of voices and running feet echoed across the park. “He’s safe.” I repeated. “And thank you Lord for keeping Myrtle safe.” I whispered to myself.
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