Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Memory (07/10/08)
TITLE: The Stranger
By Linda Grigg
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The elderly woman looked up in surprise at the kind-faced stranger standing beside her bed. It was her birthday today, but how could this woman know that? And why would she bring her a present?
It was so prettily wrapped. Thick glossy paper tied with a curled ribbon. Her eyes were too frail to see the paper’s pattern, but she could tell it was pink. She held it closer to her face and could smell roses.
The other woman smiled. “Open it,” she said. “I hope you like it.” She looked down at the watch pinned to her crisp uniform. She had another 20 minutes and then she would have to get back to her shift.
The patient placed the gift carefully on her stomach and plucked at the bow. Her visitor helped her tug it free and rip off a corner of the tough paper. She then slid a gnarled finger in the hole and pulled hard as she could, tearing the paper open. It seemed a shame to ruin such lovely paper, but the sound of it ripping brought back happy memories of special family times. How she missed them.
Something white tumbled out of the package. She picked it up and rubbed her fingers over it. A hand towel. She smelled it, absorbing its sweet perfume.
“It’s scented,” said the stranger. “And see, it has embroidery on the edge. A rose.”
“Yes, it’s lovely,” said the elderly woman. She could feel the raised threads of the embroidered pattern. “Thank you. How did you know?”
The visitor paused as if to think of an answer. She settled for a question of her own. “Have you had a good day?”
“Yes,” said the old woman. “I have. The nice women here brought my breakfast on a tray. And see, they gave me a flower from their garden. An orchid, I think.” She pointed to her side table.
The stranger smiled. “They take good care of you here, don’t they?”
“Yes,” said the other. “My family don’t care about me, you see, so these ladies look after me. I don’t know what I would have done if they hadn’t taken me in.”
The visitor rubbed a finger gently along the old woman’s wrist, where veins strained and throbbed in a slight pulse beneath paper-thin skin.
“Are you warm enough? Can I get you anything before I go?” She asked, checking the woman’s bed to make sure the patient was tucked in properly. “Here, let me adjust your pillow for you.”
The old lady lifted her head weakly as the visitor bent over her, flipped the pillow and adjusted it beneath her neck. She loved the feel of the cool cotton on her bare neck.
“Well, I have to go now and do my rounds on the ward. I’ll check on you later.” She brushed her hand lightly over the patient’s coarse white hair.
“Thank you. Bye,” said the old woman, her eyes already closing. The afternoon sun was warm on her bed and she was feeling drowsy. So nice of that lady to stop by, but she doubted she’d see her again. People came and went, but few stayed for long. She was asleep by the time the uniformed woman was half way down the hospital hallway.
The woman checked her watch again as she reached the nurse’s station. She picked up the clipboard with her name on it, running her finger down the list of patients and the details of their prescriptions. She jumped with a start when the receptionist approached her.
“Hi Glenda. There’s a message here for you. Mrs Gladding’s daughter wants you to call her about her pills. She thinks they’re having side effects.”
Glenda sighed slightly and held out her hand for the note.
“You been to see your mother?”
“Yes. It’s her birthday, did you know? She’s 79 today.”
“Did she remember you?”
Glenda shook her head weakly, shrugging her shoulders. “Not today.”
The receptionist touched the nurse’s forearm. She didn’t know what else to say, so she smiled sympathetically and went back to her desk.
Glenda sat at the chair in the nurse’s station and checked something on the patient computer database before dialling the number on the note the receptionist had given her. She straightened her uniform unconsciously as she waited for the phone to be answered.
“Oh, Mrs Dawson? It’s Glenda Giles here, the nurse at Glen Vista. Mary said you called about your mother?”
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