The noise is constant.
In the hall outside I can hear the rustle of starched uniforms, the squeak of a rubble sole and the endless movement of harried people with too much to do and not enough time to do it in. Inside the room, there is too much time and not enough to do. The four walls echo with the hum of machinery and the dry rasp of laboured breathing.
I feel guilty because my mind is full of the mundane and self-absorbed thoughts rather than me considering the man who lies a few feet away.
I don’t want to be here.
My foot itches. I wish I could take my shoe off and scratch it. You can’t take your shoes off in here!
I’m starving, should’ve had breakfast. I could really go for a lemon muffin.
Why is the air so dry?
It feels as though the air molecules are dehydrated and trying to regain their moisture from me. My skin feels too tight across my forehead, and an arid tickle has started at the back of my throat.
“Jenny?” His voice is barely a whisper above the crinkle of the sheets as he stirs.
“Hey, Grandad. You ok?”
“Tip top!” He gives a dry chuckle which turns into a cough. I fetch the water from the bedside table and hold it so he can take a sip. He struggles to swallow, and a trickle of water escapes his lips. I put the glass down and blot the side of his face gentle.
“Mom has just taken Nan for a cup of tea. They’ll be back in a minute.”
He pats the bed beside him. “Sit down a sec, Pet. Sit with a tired old man a minute.” I can never resist him. I was Grandad’s Pet from the day I was born, or so they all tell me. I perch on the very edge of the bed and take his hand in mine. Although old, he had always been such a strong, solid-seeming man. Swinging me up onto his shoulders as a child so I could see all of the world. Now, I am careful. His hands feel fragile. Like a bundle of autumn leaves and dried twigs, the slighted pressure could cause them to crumble into dust.
“What’s up with you then?”
He gives me the barest of smiles, as though it takes enormous effort to hold up the corners of his mouth, but exhaustion does not dim the sly twinkle in his eye. “What’s the opposite of coffee?”
I roll my eyes and return his grin. “Dunno, what’s the opposite of coffee?”
“Sneezy!” He replies and a dry cackle escapes him. Laughter fizzes up inside my chest and tumbles out. The joke is terrible, but I laugh because he is so delighted with it. It is so typically Grandad.
“What are you two up to?” Mom and Nan stand in the doorway looking slightly bemused. I look to Grandad, still swallowing down my giggles.
“Nothing at all,” he winks at me. “Alright now, it’s time for you to be getting on, let an old man get some rest and visit with your Nan and Mom.” I pat his hand and slide from the bed. I lean over and kiss him, feeling the hollowness of his cheeks under the wrinkled skin.
“Love you, Grandad.”
“Love you, Pet.”
I closed the door to his room, knowing I probably wouldn’t see him again.