Come here, young man—yes, you! And bring me one of those cookies that the nurses are hiding behind the counter. Not the ones with nuts—my blasted doctor says I can’t have nuts. Well, diverticulitis be hanged, I’ll be dead in a year. The doctor can kiss my…Be quick about it, young man, I don’t have all day. My sweater—it’s fallen on the floor and I can’t reach it from this confounded wheelchair. I don’t suppose you can bring me my pipe, can you? No? This place might as well be a prison. Well, never mind.
So you’re volunteering here, are you? Makes you feel good, does it, to wipe crumbs from an old man’s whiskers? Yes? Then why aren’t you doing it?
That’s better. Might as well sit down, young fellow. Let me have a look at you.
Hmmph. This is what college boys are wearing these days? Is that an earring, son? Why, in my day we’d have called you a…well, that fat old nurse is giving me the evil eye, so I won’t say it. But we’d have been right about you, too, Mr. One Earring, and let me tell you something else. Back then, respectable boys wouldn’t have a tattoo, either. What is that on your arm, young man, some kind of fish? Looks like something my little Gina would have drawn in grammar school…
Do you know my Gina?
No, of course not, you’re just a kid, and Gina would be…well, she’d be almost sixty now. I haven’t seen Gina since she…I guess she has kids of her own, now, if that bum didn’t take all her money and run off with it—grandkids too, maybe. I wonder if they’ve got her eyes…those green eyes, just like her mother…
Bah! Why do girls like Gina get caught up with no-good fellows? No--tell me, boy, I really want to know. Don’t glance at the clock like that, will it kill you to listen to an old man for five minutes?
Look at Pierson over there, with his fancy lap robe. Do you know that his granddaughter crocheted it for him? And Douglass—his room filled up with birthday cards and balloons last week. Do I have a lap robe? Do you see any birthday cards in my room? No! And I’ll tell you why—it was that young man who took my Gina away from me…
He wasn’t good enough for Gina, not at all. A boy from the wrong side of the tracks, no family to speak of, no prospects. Oh, she cried and cried, and her mother turned those blasted green eyes on me, but I would not have my daughter marrying that boy. But daddy, I love him, she kept saying. What did she know of love? She was just a girl, and love to a girl is nothing more than a cheap stuffed dog from the county fair, a romp in the meadow.
What ridiculousness! Anyone could see that he would leave her penniless. He was nothing, nothing! I forbade her to see him again, and she defied me—her father! I had given that girl everything—a fine education, travel in Europe—and she threw it all away for a smile and a promise.
Would you take a girl from her home, from her father? Speak up, boy, would you? Cat got your tongue? Well then, bring me another cookie, you might as well be good for something…
This tastes like sawdust…Say, do you know my Gina? She was about your age…she left with that black-haired boy, and I told her she was no daughter of mine. No coming back to daddy when that boy put her on the streets or worse, no more daddy’s money for pretty dresses and geegaws…I was done with her.
Her mother never forgave me. She died later that year, with her eyes just as sad as they were the day Gina left.
Gina didn’t come to the hospital, didn’t come to the funeral either. Just as well, I would have shown her my back. Ungrateful child.
Forty years, young man, and they say time flies. Rubbish! Time doesn’t fly. Time is a
creeping cancer, and it kills you slowly. Forty years, and now I’m sitting here in a blasted wheelchair, in a chilly old folks’ home, talking to an earring and a fish tattoo. There are no birthday cards on my door…
Say, boy--do you know my Gina?
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