Sara reached over to pat the other side of the bed, her fingers searching for the reassuring form usually lying beside her. Her hand dropped to the mattress with a thud; no one there.
Puzzled, she sat up and called, “Hello,” but there was no reply, no sound, except for the drone of the air conditioner.
Moonlight filtered through a narrow opening in the drapes, filling the room with a soft glow, revealing unfamiliar objects: a chair, a small table, a television hanging from the wall. Something was wrong. She stroked the sheets covering the small bed. Cool and coarse, they reeked of bleach. This wasn’t her bed. This wasn’t her bedroom.
“Where am I?” she wondered aloud.
Raising her arms high over her head, she gave a great yawn and stretched. A bright light outside the open door caught her attention. There, she thought, he’s out there. Lowering her legs over the side of the bed, she felt for her slippers with her toes and stepped into them. Standing with great care, she began to walk toward the door. An earsplitting noise pierced the silent room.
She cried out, wrapping her hands around her ears to stifle the painful racket.
A large woman in white pushed open the door, summoned by the alarm that alerted the nursing staff a patient at risk for falls had left her bed. She switched on the light, and then turned off the alarm.
Sara blinked in the brightness and shielded her eyes with her hands.
“Where are you going, Sara? It’s the middle of the night. Are you looking for the bathroom?” The woman’s voice was as soft and gentle as powder.
Sara peered through her fingers until her vision adjusted to the light, and then lowered her hands to her sides.
The strange woman took her by the arm and led her toward the bathroom.
Sara shook her head. “No.” She wrenched her arm away and raised her fist, blocking the woman from grasping her arm again. “Let me go. I have to find him.”
“Find who?” asked the woman.
Sara paused for a moment, her thoughts churning like a whirlpool. “You know,” she stammered. “That man. The one who was here before.”
“Your husband?” asked the woman. “Jack?”
Sara’s eyes lit up with understanding. “Yes, Jack.”
“Jack’s not here, Sara. He’s at home and sound asleep, I hope.”
“Of course he’s not sleeping,” Sara said, affronted. “We have to make breakfast.”
The woman sighed and shook her head. “Sara,” she explained with great patience. “It’s four o’clock in the morning. Everyone’s asleep, and you should be, too. Let me help you back into bed.” She reached for the old woman’s arm.
Sara pulled away. “Wait a minute,” she ordered. “Don’t you know we have work to do? If we don’t get started, nothing will be prepared for our guests when they wake up.”
The woman stared at her, hands on her hips. She wore an ID badge that read Rita Malone, RN.
Sara didn’t know this woman. She didn’t know any Rita Malone, RN. “Who are you?” she asked. “What are you doing in my house?” She took stock of the unfamiliar room. Nothing was right. This wasn’t her house. “Where am I?” she shouted, clutching her nightgown. Her voice warbled, betraying her fear. “What is this place?”
The woman spoke to her kindly. “Sara, you’re in the hospital, and I’m Rita, the night nurse. You’re all right, Sara. You’re safe here.” She smoothed down the front of her immaculate uniform. “I’ll tell you what,” she said. “Come sit with me at the nurses’ desk. I’ll make you a nice hot cup of my special chamomile tea, and we’ll see if you won’t get back to sleep.” She reached for Sara’s hand.
Lulled by Rita’s mellow tone, Sara allowed her to walk her to the nurses’ desk. Rita settled her into a cushiony vinyl recliner, wrapped a blanket around her, and positioned a small table across her lap.
“Sit right here and I’ll get you that cup of tea,” she said.
Sara appraised her surroundings while she waited. The hospital, she thought, that’s where I am. She couldn’t remember how she’d gotten there. I must be sick, she surmised, and ran her fingers through her hair. The evening before, someone, not that man, not Jack, had pulled out her French braid and brushed her long white hair. Whoever it was had done a lousy job. It was tangled and unruly.
While waiting for Rita, she fidgeted with her hair, her nightgown, and the blanket. She fidgeted a lot these days, even she saw that, but she was so nervous all of the time, and lost track of so many things. Crowds of people terrified her. Loud noises overwhelmed her. Simple tasks were impossible. She struggled to keep up, but people rushed her, raced around her, left her behind, and left her out. Why? She didn’t know.
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