With a constant anxious expression imprinted onto her face, the nurse paces back and forth on top of the dirty exposed floor boards; stopping only occasionally to stare at the old man resting upright on the bed. She has spent many hours of her life watching this old man slowly die, many hours that she would have preferred to do something, anything, else. It gives her no pleasure to watch someone fade into oblivion, to cease to exist, to become a memory soon to be faded. It gives her no pleasure, she takes no joy in this morbid act but she does believe no one should be alone in their final hours. And alone this old man is.
"Must you do that?" the old man grumbled under his breath. "If i'm going to die, i'd like to go in peace."
"I thought that might have been you..." replied the Nurse, slightly shocked.
"No...no just yet... ". The old man smirked at this and slowly opened his eyes.
“well, I am grateful you’re still here. Even if it displeases you” she said in a stern friendly manner.
The old man let out a little laughter and closed his eyes once again. The nurse stood deadly still and just looked at the old withering man. His time was soon.
The nurse gazed around the room; it was reminiscent of prison cell. The room was dark, cold and uninviting. There was no trace of family, or even a trace of happy memories. The wallpaper was an unsettling shade of yellow, unravelling at the edges and covered in deep brown stains. The nurse always wondered how such a friendly old man ended living in such squalor, living conditions that are barely fit for rodents.
The old man started coughing very violently, each cough deeper and rougher than the last. The coughing went on much longer than usual. The nurse began to worry. The old mans face began to contort as he desperately tried to hid the excruciating pain. The nurse looked on helpless, knowing there is nothing she could do to stop this; she just had to let him ride it out. His hands were firmly cupped in front of his mouth catching all the spit and blood that was projected with each deep burning cough. This lasted so long that the old man became accustomed to the pain, like it was natural. Each breath was supposed to feel like sandpaper rubbing against your throat. Each breath was supposed to feel like acid was dissolving all the internal organs. Each breath was supposed to make you wish for death.
Once the eternity of coughing finally subdued, the old man lay back and opened his mouth; trusting the nurse to have his bottle of water at the ready. He was not disappointed. He sucked on the slightly chewed straw, hoping to wash away the taste of blood he’d become quite used to. The old man wiped his hands on the bed sheets and looked deeply saddened.
“i’m so sorry about that. How very unbecoming of me...In my defence though, it’s very hard to remain dignified while dying. There’s usually a lot worse bodily fluids flying all over the place”.
The nurse smiled compassionately:
“You know you don’t have to apologise, there’s no need. I fully understand”
“With all respect due, I don’t believe you do. You see...” the old man look vacantly into the distance. “You see...”
The nurse remained in the same spot patiently awaiting the old man to finish his thought.
“You remember how I told you, that you waste all you time; keeping the company of an old man? I was very similar. Except it was young women, and plenty of them”
“oh, come on now. No need for this kind of talk” The nurse interrupted.
“No no no. This is important, you must hear it.” The old man’s eyes widened, waiting for the nurses approval.
“Fine then. But keep it clean. I’ve heard stories about you, I know what you’re like” The nurse said with slightly cheeky smirk.
“Ha, you shouldn’t believe all you hear, my dear. but I’ll get on with what I was trying to say”, The old mans entire facial expressions began to change “I’ve spent the majority of my life in the company of young women” The old man began softly “I just moved from one delight to another treasure, as if it was nothing. I never created anything substantial, I never created anything lasting. I squandered every opportunity that came my way. I ruined every potential that was ever laid out in front of me. Before I knew it, I was old, and I was alone.” The old man looked away for a moment. “Look around you. Take a great big look at this room” The old man gestured and pointed to everything he could. “This. This is my legacy, this is what I’ll leave behind. There will be no loved ones to mourn me. There will be no one to miss me. Once I pass on, I’ll be forgotten almost instantly.”
The nurse wanted to interrupt, she wanted to reassure him. But she knew he was telling the truth.
“Look at my legacy. Look at all of this. The only thing this place is fit for is the incinerator.”
“Oh come on, you don’t really mean that.” The nurse intervened trying to humour the old man but he just sat staring into the distance.
“I’ve made mistakes, we all have. But unlike most, I have thrown away the one chance at life I’ll get...I have nothing. Nothing to show for all these years. And as sad and as low as it sounds, you’re all I have. So I do worry about how I act in your company. You mean a great deal to me. I try with all my might to stop you thinking less of me but it’s getting harder.” The old man now overrun with sorrow fights to hold back the tears.” I hope you don’t find it strange that I think that”
“It’s not sad at all” The nurse replied “And I don’t find it Strange at all. You tell me these things on a daily basis, it’s rather flattering”
“A daily basis? Oh” The old man repeated “Oh. Oh dear”
“Not to worry” The nurse said optimistically. “perhaps you should just get some more sleep”
The old man started muttering to himself and turned around on the bed and almost instantly fell into a deep sleep. The nurse walked round to the old mans bedside, pulled up his covers and let her hand rest on his shoulder. The nurse stared at the old man resting, knowing that his time will be soon. Soon he will be gone. Soon he will be forgotten.
The anxious feeling soon returned;, anxiety turned to guilt, guilt turned into sorrow, sorrow turned into anxiety. The nurse began to paced back and forth; it wasn’t much but it was a way of dealing with such feelings.