“Nobody believes me!”
The old man’s voice bounced around the common room of the nursing home, under the roar of the TV mounted to the wall and the general murmur of many voices.
Jackie shifted in the hard plastic chair under her, and pretended not to hear. The bangles and bracelets ringing her arm halfway to the elbow grated on the old Formica table top.
“No one will listen,” he said again, voice tight, “but it’s true! It’s true! They’re coming!”
Jackie wondered why no one replied for a moment, but didn’t look up from her book.
She set her jaw and recounted the reasons she hated coming to visit her grandmother. Grandma always gave her a warm, enthusiastic greeting, but she just didn’t get how weird Jackie felt around so many…well, old people.
Including her grandmother.
So she hadn’t visited her grandmother for months. Her mom nagged about it on both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Jackie told her that she and Grandma had nothing to talk about, but it didn’t matter. Her mom called almost every day then, asking if she’d been to see her grandmother yet. She finally just gave in and came.
The room felt hot and stuffy to Jackie, but all the residents had either a shawl draped over their shoulders or a blanket over their laps. Jackie had to wipe sweat from her neck under her hair. Pale white light from the big picture window made everything look washed-out in the bland common room. And the antiseptic smell mixed with the soft, powdery scent of old people almost gagged her.
Jackie’s grandmother said to wait here while she changed for lunch. Why she had to change clothes to walk down the hall to the dining room was anyone’s guess, but Jackie sat at an ancient table. A book with some buxom lady falling into the arms of a bodybuilder with long, flowing hair was on the table, so she opened it out of boredom. Some tenants had shuffled in then, including an old man in a maroon cardigan over his pajamas, led by an orderly.
The guy yelling now.
“They won’t listen! They think I’m senile!”
Jackie glanced up. He stared right at her.
A hot flush rode up her cheeks. She turned toward the door, but there was only the portly attendant behind the check-in window shifting papers and banging her keyboard. She never looked up.
Jackie turned back at the old man, and he kept staring at her. She looked behind her again, but there was no one there.
She blushed again. “Are–are you talking to me?” She tried to look annoyed.
But the old man just nodded. “Yeah! You gotta listen to me! They’re coming! They’re coming!”
Jackie sat up despite herself. “Who’s coming? What’re you talking about?” Now she tried to sound annoyed.
“I saw them last night! They’re coming for us all!”
Jackie’s heart pounded. “Who? Who’s coming?”
A loud buzz ripped through the room followed by a clack of the electric lock, and Jackie jumped, heart slamming in her chest at the sudden clamor. The door banged open and an orderly swished in, and took the old man by the arm, yanking him to his feet.
“C’mon, Mr. Pelby,” the orderly’s voice boomed in the near-empty space. “Let’s get you back to your room now.”
“Please!” the old man pleaded, eyes locked on Jackie’s as the orderly tugged him along. “They’re coming! Help us! Help–”
The orderly’s polyester uniform zip-zopped a final time and the ancient dark wood door slammed behind them.
And the old man was gone.