"Hello, Mrs. Kennedy," I say. Violet looks at the ceiling and cries "Help me!" in the ugliest old voice you can imagine, but it doesn't bother me anymore.
In every room an old, slumpy person is staring at a TV. "Get your hair out of your eyes, Martha," I hear a crone from 211 shout. "You'd be prettier if you'd use a comb."
Halfway down the hall Bobbi is standing at the mobile meds cart, mixing drugs in a cup. "I'm on my way down," she says brightly.
Aren't we all? I think, but out loud I say, "See you there."
As I arrive at Dad's little pink room, Martin, a tall Jamaican man, and Ella, a very pretty young woman from Brazil, are lifting my father out of his bed.
"Okay, turn now," Martin says, "turn, turn, turn to me." I could listen to his musical voice forever.
Dad's old feet patter on the linoleum floor as he tries to help Martin and Ella turn him. Then Martin says, "Okay, now, Mr. Williams, here is the chair, behind you," and they lower Dad into the wheelchair. Martin moves in behind him and grasps him under the arms, and Ella leans over in front. They shift him to the left, and Ella stuffs a cushion between his hip and the side of the chair.
"Okay now, Mr. Williams?" Martin says, bending over to be at Dad's eye level. I can see Dad's head slightly, slightly nod. "See you later then," Martin says, and Ella caresses his shoulder and says, "See you later, Mr. Williams." They smile at my mother and come out of the room, and smile at me and say hello as they pass.
My mother is pulling dead leaves off the foil-wrapped plants on the windowsill, left over from the most recent Happy Holiday.
"Hi, Dad," I shout from the door, and I walk past the bed where Harry died, to Dad's side of the room.
Dad slowly, slowly, slowly turns his head toward me, and his hand lifts slightly from the arm of his chair.
"Bill, can't you say hello?" my mother says.
The faintest of whispers issues from Dad.
"Hi, Dad," I say again.
"I'll say it then," my mother says. "Hello, Vera."
"He did say hello," I say. How on earth do they manage when I'm not here? "Mom, are you wearing your hearing aids?"
"What?" she says. She looks at Dad. "Did you say hello?"
He slowly, slowly turns his face toward her. He slightly, slightly nods.
"Oh, damn," she says. "This damn thing." She cups a hand beside her right ear and then her left ear, and shakes her head. "The battery's dead again."
The batteries in my mother's hearing aids seem to die at the drop of a hat. "Do you have any with you?" I shout.
"What?" she shouts back.
"I have batteries," she says.
"Want me to—?" I hold out my hand.
"What do you want them for?" she asks.
"I'll put them in for you," I say, enunciating clearly and pointing to her purse, to her hearing aid, to my own chest.
She shakes her head. "I can do it," she says, and she sits down in the visitor's chair and takes the hearing aid out of her left ear and begins rooting through her purse in search of her spare-battery case.