Nurse

Gerald Fleming

He gets out of bed. That is, his nurse gets him out of bed and sits him up and arm-by-arm leg-by-leg dresses him, and today is Tuesday, no-shaving day, and the nurse is glad of that but he is not glad of that, for he misses the warm water, the white shaving cream, and the sight of her hands on his face in the mirror, so gentle, always so gentle.

            And now she brings him to the kitchen, puts oatmeal into his mouth & wipes it from the sides and places into his mouth the straw for the fruit juice and he sucks at it, loses some of it, she expects that, sponges it, and now slowly spins his chair around, finds his scarf, his hat, stands him against the sink & puts his jacket on, says Can you stay there? and he cannot quickly answer but can nod, so nods, and she gets his chair and settles him back into it, wheels him out the door on this warm November day, and they head down rue d’Assas toward the Luxembourg Gardens.

            She does not speak in the four blocks there, and neither does he. She wheels him down the gravel ramp and finds a place beside the rectangle of grass in front of the Senate, sun low in the sky but still warm, hothouse dahlias in bloom at the edge of the low iron rail.

            Now she pulls up a metal chair beside him; he can hardly move his head, his black hat casts a shadow across his face, his lower lip is wet, and she takes out a glossy magazine and begins reading to him.

            The nurse is a young woman, a third his age. She might be from his country, she might not. Her hair is dark & long, bound at the back with a simple bamboo stick. She wears frilled leather boots, yellow and black. Her skin is lustrous black.

            She is reading aloud what must be a story, and she’s a good reader, an emphatic reader, and though they’re in a public place & many people pass on the gravel path behind them, she doesn’t care—she reads the dialogue in varying voices, and it’s clear he’s listening, for he laughs once in a while a nearly inaudible laugh, minimally convulsive, leaning forward, a slight smile on his face, and she continues reading as he stares off across the garden to the distant trees & Montparnasse Tower, soon slumps a little forward, testing the straps that hold him, falls asleep.

            An English-speaking couple passes behind them.

            “Not for me,” the man says. “Pull the plug. Agony in the garden.”

            The nurse, multilingual, hears this, turns her head and watches them as they walk away.

 

(p. 36, The Hong Kong Review, Vol. II, No. 3)