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Forty-two

A couple of weeks later, I visited Althea. Went over there and had lunch with her. Dry pot roast, wet broccoli, potatoes, peaches, salad. Everything was fine. She asked me to go down to the corner and buy her a few things.

“There’s a grocery store near, right?”

“Sure there is.”

She asked for face cream, cookies, white socks for basketball, cards.

“Cards?”

“Cards are good,” she said. “I like cards a lot now.”

Before I left, we sat and had a cup of decaf in the cafeteria. Lunch was over. The place was empty. She smiled. A guy came by and smiled. She introduced us, and then he gave Althea this heavy look.

“How are you now?” he asked.

He raised his eyebrows, really zoomed in.

Althea stopped smiling.

“Not bad,” she said.

He nodded, observed, considered the implications of her words, and slowly – very slowly – left us there to ourselves.

This distracted her, thinking about how she was. She sipped her coffee, didn’t smile, said something about the nurses here. They were nice, but they could be snotty.

He was back in a minute.

“Time to start,” he said.

“Therapy,” she said.

She hopped up, gave me a pat on the head, led me out of the cafeteria. She walked down the hallway, left me there in the lobby. I could look down another hallway. Kids were walking around, talking. One kid ran out of one room, looked around, and ran into another. It looked like a college dorm. I looked over at the nurses station, lit up behind the glass. They ignored me. I left, headed for the swinging glass doors, began my trip back, via bus.

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