Southern Cross Retirement Village is a cocoon of retreating realities. Each resident, some hopeful for a next lifetime, lives in a period of waiting. Waiting for lunch. Waiting for family. Waiting for tomorrow. Waiting to not wake up tomorrow. Waiting to be a day older.
In the waiting period the televisions are on, the blinds are drawn, the bed is neatly made. Just like a home. It's a world created for those wanting to live out the remainder of their days in blissful peacefulness. Relative quietness.
The halls echo this. The white washed walls are stark and the smell, even starker. The only sound that resonates through the building is the snapping of the rubber gloves hastily put on by the nurses.
Not quite here
There are times when my Nan looks at me and I wonder where she is. She looks rested, present almost, but I know she isn't here. Not quite.
Her hands are ribbed together with glue. Arthritis, Mum calls it, and with them her wrinkled fingers pat Katie's plump cheeks. Her soft gaze is on me as she listens to my ramblings. They are mostly about unimportant things as I try to fill in the deathly silence. I know she isn't listening.
'Katie looks pretty today. Those rosy cheeks just need a big, big kiss,' she murmurs as she puckers her rosy lips.
I can't stop myself, I wonder where she is. 60 years ago? Present day? Are the flowers chirping and the birds looking pretty where she is? Or are the teacups talking and the deck of cards dancing?
'Wherever she is' Mum says, 'is where we'll leave her.'
'But, oh you have such lovely red hair' she murmurs to Katie. I look up to the ceiling and try not to make the black dots, pupils they're called, roll around in my eyes condescendingly. I'm the one with the red hair.
Nan continues, 'Who has been a good girl to...?'
She is momentarily interrupted as an alarm rings out. She looks distracted but her gaze is on me. She is present this time as she quietly mutters, 'The alarm'. It's ringing in her ears and bringing her back to the present. She says the alarm goes off when a resident stands in front of the main entrance for too long, wanting to get out but with no idea how.
In a moment of franticness, the nurses come rushing 'ooohing' and 'ahhhing' over the patient, snapping their rubber gloves in their wake. And then they are wiping away the tears of the resident who can't comprehend where they are, why they exist, or why they wake up each morning and the other side of their bed is empty.
Sadness echoes through these hallways.
Room 109 is the Village's favourite room. Daphne Shipard and her doll Katie are both sweet in nature. Their sweetness lures the old men who wake up each morning and realise the other side of their bed is empty. You can often find them migrating to her door.
At 97 she is not a picture of perfect health. Her frame is shrunken in her chair and each day reflects the shriveling of her physical state. What brings them to her door is immediately seen. Her thin, permed curls lay perfectly positioned and her dainty features are kind in their expression. Each morning she tells the nurses with their snapping gloves what she would like to wear. Without fault, her top always matches her pants.
It must be pretty spectacular wherever she is. A trickle of distant memories clashes with her imagination to create a realistic present in her mind. As she retreats to her childhood, I am not afraid of the conversations she has with Katie. In fact, I may just join in. Play her game.
As she lives in this waiting period, patting Katie's cheeks, I wonder if she is afraid of being alive, but not present?
'Emily' she suddenly says 'You have such lovely red hair'.
Emily Black is passionate about writing and seeks to write raw, authentic and timely pieces that disturb and comfort, engage justice and fundamentally empower. She is currently studying a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne and actively desires to pursue a life of untainted freedom through Jesus Christ.
Emily Black's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/emily-black.html