Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: ZEST (10/01/15)
TITLE: Happy Like Heaven
By Jody Day
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“Now, now, Mr. Eddie.” She set the tray at the foot of his bed.
He edged his big toe toward the tray and wondered how much trouble he’d be in if he shoved it off the side. No. Not her fault boredom flowed through his veins like a blood virus.
“Turn the stupid idiot box off. Why does it have to stay on the blasted shopping channel all day, as if any of these old, decrepit people would call and buy themselves a convection oven? If you’d just let me have the remote back.”
“You threw it too, remember? Broke it in pieces.” She reached over and turned off the confounded TV. “Let me help you get ready for church.”
He pulled the covers up over his head. “Not going today. Same old preacher, same three hymns, blah ad infinitum. Why can’t Shady Acres Home for the Bored to Death get a decent volunteer preacher?"
Eddie peeked over the covers. Nurse Kelly stood before him, hands fisted on her hips.
“Oh, all right. Nothing else to do around here anyway.”
She pushed him in his wheelchair to the cafeteria where the Sunday service had already begun.
He muttered under his breath as she bumped him over the threshold. “Bland eggs, dry toast, cards, bingo, TV, nap. Mashed potatoes, no salt, no butter, mystery meat, cards, bingo, TV, nap.”
Just as he took a breath to denounce the evening schedule, a raucous version of At the Cross pounded from the piano. A forty-something man played all over that rickety, out of tune instrument, and his pearly whites shone through a smile wide as Texas.
“Who in tarnation is that?”
“That’s our new resident, Duane Ames. He has Downs. His mother cared for him but just died. He loves to play the piano.” Nurse Kelly flipped up the foot rests on Eddie’s chair.
When that ancient preacher got up and started the billionth repeat of his sermon, Duane clapped and said “Praise Jesus. Thank you Jesus!” every time the preacher paused for a breath. The residents jerked like they’d been jabbed in the side each time he shouted. Eddie laughed until his dentures loosened from his gums.
Duane made himself at home. He helped the nurses deliver snacks. He pushed wheelchairs down the halls at a speed that upset pacemakers. He played the piano at odd and random hours of the day and night. He talked to each and every resident and always punctuated his conversations with “Praise Jesus. Thank you, Jesus!”
Duane joined Eddie for lunch one day. “Mr. Eddie, how are you today? Can I have your mashed potatoes?”
“You certainly can,” Eddie said, pushing his plate over. He watched Duane lap them up like ambrosia.
“I’m sorry to hear about your mother, but you seem to like it here,” Eddie said.
“Mama said to praise Jesus and always thank Jesus, and everything would be happy like heaven. She said to think of a big ‘thank you’ every day. Thank you for your mashed potatoes.”
Didn’t Eddie thank God every day for taking his Celia and leaving him alone? Thank you very much. Didn’t he say ‘thanks a lot’ for sentencing him to life in a geriatric prison? All right. So he had a stinkin’ attitude. Who cares?
He thought it was easy for a man like Duane to be happy about mashed potatoes until he found him crying in the garden one afternoon.
“I miss my mama,” Duane said.
A lump rose in Eddie’s throat. “What’s your big ‘thank you’ today, Duane?”
Duane sniffled a little and then smiled. “My mama had pretty blue eyes. When she looked at me I felt happy like heaven.”
Celia’s blue eyes had the same effect on Eddie. Had he ever said thank you?
He couldn’t find Duane at breakfast the next morning.
“He’s gone, Mr. Eddie. His stay was temporary until a spot opened in a more suitable facility,” Nurse Kelly said.
Eddie’s shoulders slumped. Shady Acres minus Duane equaled boredom.
“Now, now, Mr. Eddie. What’s your big ‘thank you’ today?" Nurse Kelly patted his back.
Eddie called Duane every day to tell him his big ‘thank you’. Duane was driven to Shady Acres every Sunday to play for service. Although mashed potatoes never made the list, Eddie’s ‘thank yous’ multiplied.
If he could only talk Nurse Kelly into wheelchair races.
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