“Hum and put your fingers in your ears,” she said.
Her eyes were closed. Whatever she was humming seemed fairly tuneless. “It turns your head into a concert hall,” she exclaimed.
I tried my best to hide my impatience. It was late; the evening shift would be coming on soon and I had a number of residents still to check in on. This time of day, with dinner and a new round of medications still over an hour away, things could get positively surreal on this floor.
Her eyelids flipped open. “Try it,” she said.
“Mary-Beth, I’m tired . . . ” I faltered.
She leaned forward, touched my arm. “You don’t have to go anywhere, dear, and you know it!
“Just tell me this,” she said. “What’s your favorite song? Everyone has one.”
I thought for a moment. “Well, I don’t know. I’ve had the Hallelujah Chorus going through my head a lot lately – ever since I heard them practicing the Messiah in chapel last week.”
She brightened. “Oh, I like that too! Or at least, I think I do. Hum a few bars, now, will you?”
I heard a dull banging from the end of the hall. No doubt Mrs. Shell had managed to undo the restraints again and was back to drumming on the glass of the fire alarm with her cane.
“Come on. It’ll only take a second! I need something else to hum.”
I hummed a few bars and immediately felt very self-conscious – like undressing in front of a nurse. I began singing it softly instead.
She clapped her hands. “Oh yes! Just one word! So beautiful!” She stuck her fingers back in her ears, shut her eyes and began crooning “Hallelujah” to herself, over and over. I padded quietly back out into the hall. Good thing I’m wearing rubber-soled slippers, I thought.
Just then a hand fell on my shoulder, and a condescending male voice sounded in my ear.
“Out of our room again, are we, Doris?” followed by a tsk-tsk-tsk. I spun around. Who the hell was this? A new resident no one had told me about?
Whoever he was, he was clever: dressed in an LPN’s green smock just like the one I used to wear, before they decided I didn’t need it anymore. He saw my anger and took a few steps back.
“Now Doris,” he said, “I guess you don’t remember me. My name’s Mike. I just started last week.”
“Of course I remember,” I snapped. “And you don’t need to talk to me like that! Now, get back to your room before I buzz for assistance!”
He turned and hurried off. I made my way back down the hall to my station, went in and shut the door behind me. The paperwork could wait, I said to myself.
I sat down by the window in a pool of sunlight. A couple of house sparrows fluttered up from the window ledge. I closed my eyes, put my fingers in my ears and started to hum.