Lost in Thought
George stirred from a deep sleep. Images of people eating and the smell of grease began to leave him as he rubbed his eyes. A moment later, he focused on his clock and the images were gone, again.
6:23. The images must have been more vivid and he slept a little longer than usual. His gaze shifted and he smiled a silent “good morning” to the framed photograph next to the clock. A sigh escaped as he began the arduous task of living yet another day.
George tensed his muscles for a moment and climbed slowly out of bed. He made his way to the bathroom, slowly, grasping pieces of furniture to steady himself as he walked.
Twenty minutes later, he returned by the same route. George sank into a chair next to his bed and closed his eyes.
“Come on, George. Hurry up with that coffee. Mud shouldn’t take that long to brew.”
“I didn’t see anyone drag you in here,” George growled over his shoulder. There was a barely perceptible movement in his lips which his friends recognized as a smile.
George opened his eyes. Any trace of a smile was now gone. He carefully threaded his arms through the sleeves of his shirt. He put on his pants just as slowly and slipped his feet into an ancient pair of slippers – a birthday present from another lifetime. George treated his eyes to another glance at the photograph by the clock.
7:30. George allowed himself to become aware of the sounds he was hearing for the past hour as he rose to leave his room and make his way to breakfast. People were quietly shuffling past his door, also on their way to the morning meal. He took his cane as he closed the door behind him.
“Good morning, Mr. Davis.”
“Morning, Mrs. Rose.”
He stood tentatively with the others as a young girl in white unlocked the door. He waited impatiently until the crowd began to dissipate and he could make his way to his seat at the table. He sat down and waited. Another young girl in white placed a plate in front of him and poured a cup of coffee. George sipped the coffee and put it down. “Mud,” he thought and almost smiled as he recalled another time in a far off place. “No one dragged me in here,” George mumbled to himself.
“Beg your pardon, Mr. Davis?”
He had not noticed the two women sitting opposite him until now. “Good morning, Mrs. Berke.”
“Good morning.” But George was not listening for a response as he teased the eggs on his plate with a fork. Twenty-five minutes later, he had finished most of the two eggs he was served and was making his way out of the dining room, past the other fifty-six people with whom he ate, past all the young girls dressed in white.
George settled into a large, comfortable, plastic-cushioned chair in front of the television. “Popeye” was ending when a woman walked past and turned the channel to “Donahue”. His eyes gently drifted closed before he could learn that the subject for this particular morning would be the welfare system and single-parent women.
“C’mon, George, what’s the story? You got my order ready yet?”
“You want fast, go to White Castle.” George threw a hamburger onto a plate, then scraped the greasy residue to one end of the griddle with his spatula.
“I hope you’re not gonna make me wait until that antique is clean.”
George turned around and presented his friend a hamburger on a bun. A small white paper cup of cole slaw was on the plate.
“What’s your hurry?” George rumbled. “You think you’re gonna be late for a meeting of the board of directors?” He put the plate down, smiling sarcastically at the man. The two taunted each other mercilessly and each knew that the other was his friend.
“It’s about time, George.”
“It’s time, George.” It was not his friend talking to him now. The voice was softer, colder – and more persistent. George opened his eyes.
“It’s time for your medication, George.” A young girl in white extended her hand to his. He examined the small white paper cup in his hand for a moment, thinking about the side order he served his friend only moments ago. He closed his eyes and swallowed the contents.
“I take so many pills, you’re going to kill my appetite for lunch.” George still enjoyed a little verbal sparring.
“When you see lunch, you’ll ask for seconds on the pills.” The girl winked and moved on to the woman who had turned the channel.
11:30. With some effort, George stood. He glanced at the “Flintstones” cartoon on the television and trudged slowly from the room. He relieved himself at a nearby bathroom and approached the counter. Three more young girls, also dressed in white, were incredibly busy; two were writing furiously, the third was storing away long boxes of little white paper cups. He stood there for a moment, then, seeming to change his mind, walked away. The girls continued their work dutifully, oblivious of their recent visitor.
George walked into another room and sat down. He took a newspaper from the table.
“Good morning, Mr. Davis.”
“Good morning, Mrs. Newman.” He looked up but the woman was concentrating on her knitting. He stared at the paper until the meaningless words faded before his eyes. He looked up from his paper.
“Can I go out and play, Daddy?”
“No, honey,” he told the little girl. “We’ll be eating lunch in a few minutes.”
“Lunch, George.” He looked up at the young girl in white. “It’s time to go for lunch, George.”
“I think I’d rather go out and play.”
The young girl looked at him quizzically as he walked past her. Once, again, he found himself in his seat at the dining room table. Another girl in white deposited a plate in front of him – hamburgers. A smile crossed his lips as he recalled a friend who had impatiently waited for a hamburger.
George was lost in thought when he became aware of a piece of hamburger lodged in his throat. His tongue and jaw worked furiously. The young girls had efficiently helped him from the dining room and stretched him out on the floor. A man was busy at George’s head. George looked into a bright light and closed his eyes.
He felt the warmth of another body next to his. Clad only in a thin blue gown, George could feel the tenderness of her body pressed against his. He looked deeply into the eyes of the face in the picture next to his clock.
“I’ve missed you.”
“I love you, George.”
(This story first appeared in Contemporary Administrator in June, 1982.)
© Joel J. Greenwald