He sat facing the window unaware of his surroundings. With a slack jaw, he stared into his oblivion. He was not always like this. He remembered slices of his past but nothing of consequence. He knew the void he stared at through the window was real and of his own making. He could not do much anymore than sit in the chair and look into the empty scenery, which felt like looking into a mirror. The only thing he was sure of was his name. Sadly, no one with him now knew this because he is not allowed to speak. The Man had control over him, using his own gift against him.
Marcie shuddered as she looked up the walk to the front door of the Lakeside Sanitarium. She grew up in the town ten miles east of the hospital and she had never been this close to it before. She dreaded moving back home. There was so little there. The small town, where she grew up, was a shell that emptied after the oil boom and never recovered. It was a fine place to grow up, but living there, as an adult was something she never dreamed would ever happen. Marcie always dreamed of what was beyond the dry, windblown land as a child, now she was back from the strength of the city. If she had only made her marriage work and overlook her ex-husbands philandering. She knew that was something she could not just let go and left him within months of her discovery. She went to nursing school right out of high school; part of her plan to leave and never return. When she called her mother to tell her the news of her divorce, she felt lost with a need to leave the city. Her mother convinced her to come home.
“It’ll only be temporary, just until you figure out where you want to go.”
Marcie reluctantly agreed and packed her car with her clothes and cat. Six months had past and she had not found a job that did not include greasy food at her best friend’s diner. She had been a nurse for almost ten years and had never dreamed finding a job would be this difficult. The hospitals and clinics in the surrounding towns did not have any openings. Currently, she worked at the diner a few hours a week. She depleted her savings and she needed to make some money.
Her mother found the help wanted ad in the newspaper. “I’m sure it is not as bad as you think,” she remembered her mother telling her. “It just looks scary from the outside.”
“Have you ever been inside?” Marcie retorted.
“Uh, well, no. But Gerri worked there for many years before she retired and thought it was a lovely place to work.”
“Mom, Gerri was as wacky as the people that live there.”
“It doesn’t have to be forever, just until you find something else.”
Marcie conceded and sent her resume in. The Director of Nursing Janet Marks contacted her three days later and hired her over the phone. No interview, nothing, just “can you start Monday morning at 8:00? We’ll discuss your shift and everything else then.”
Samuel Desai built the Lakeside Sanitarium in the late 1800’s of granite blocks. It looked completely out of place with its front entrance facing the lake to the West and the sagebrush covered plains surrounding it in all other directions. From the highway, drivers were able to see the hospital’s unwelcoming façade loom on the horizon. Widow walk balconies lined the dark attic windows hanging over the three floors below. Marcie noticed, as she walked up walk to the front door, someone took immaculate care of the grounds, from the lavender swaying lazily in the breeze around the foundation to the old elm trees lining the walk. A breeze gently rattled the remaining leaves in the branches above her. She shivered as she approached, wondering if she made the right decision taking this job. There was no debris on the steps to the entrance and the freshly lacquered great oak doors gleamed in the morning light. She stopped, not knowing if she should knock or just enter. She decided it was probably not necessary to knock and reached for the doorknob when the door softly squeaked open.
“You must be Marcie,” said a shrill voice. “I’m Janet Marks, Director of Nursing here at Lakeside. Come in.”
Marcie was not able to see whom the voice belonged to because of the bright autumn sun. She smiled her timid smile and took a step forward. As she entered the hospital, she looked behind her to the parking lot as if to say good-bye to the outside world. She turned her attention back to the voice that beckoned her into the hospital.
“Welcome to Lakeside Sanitarium,” said the skeletal woman extending her hand. “It’s always wonderful to have new faces. Let’s go into the office and fill out your paperwork and discuss what your duties will be and all the other mundane stuff that goes with it.”
Marcie wondered if the woman ever took a breath and followed her into the office. She sat down glancing out the window to see a car drive by on the highway. She filled out the forms and they discussed the particulars of the job.
“This week I’ll have you work during the day. So if you have any questions, I’ll be able to answer them for you.”
“I’ll give you Thursday and Friday off this week and you will start your regular shift Saturday night at 8:00 with Wednesday, Thursday and Friday off. Please try to get here at least 15 minutes early. We don’t want Edith thinking her replacement is a now show.”
“That’s fine.” Marcie replied.
“Twelve hour shifts are a little rough to at first, but you’ll adjust.”
“I’ve worked them before, I don’t mind them.”
“Of course you have.” Janet twittered. She paused, seeming shaken by the conversation. “We don’t have to do much for the patients. They are all on therapy routines, which keep them busy and relatively self-sufficient. We mostly make sure they have their meds on time and don’t miss a meal. We only have one bed bound, Mr. Ristle, he’s on the third floor, so you won’t need to worry about him. We have two nurses on duty at all times, plus me during the day, two orderlies and two security guards. If you have any problems with any of the residents, just press one of the panic buttons and help will arrive.” Janet paused for a moment and looked out the window. “The doctor comes a few times a month for checkups and there are three in the cooking staff. Do you have any questions?”
“No, I think you covered everything.”
“All right then,” Janet said as she stood from her chair. “I’ll show you around.”
She led Marcie from the office to the common area. “The residents use this area to watch television, play games, and make crafts. Marcie glanced around the room at the worn brown naugahyde chairs placed neatly around the walnut veneered tables. A red and green plaid sofa faced a television in the corner. A fireplace made of river rock stood across from the rows of windows along the south wall. As they walked along Marcie noticed that everything was immaculately clean, there was not even a speck of dust on the television screen.
“Housekeeping keeps everything very clean.” Marcie remarked.
Janet laughed, “We don’t have housekeeping. The residents keep everything tidy.” The back wall held a gated elevator and a closed door. “This is the doctor’s private suite. We never go in, unless invited and never when he is not here.”
“Is that where the garage connects?” Marcie asked.
“Yes.” Janet answered robotically.
“Are we able to park in it when the weather is bad?”
“No.” Janet almost shouted. “It is the doctor’s private garage.” She took a breath and pointed, “Here’s the elevator. It only goes as far as the third floor. We only use it for taking up shipments and taking laundry to the basement. We prefer you use the stairs.”
“No problem. What’s on the fourth floor?”
“Just storage,” Janet stated sternly. “Since the attic does not have the floor space as the rest of the floors it wasn’t possible to extend the elevator up there. When they added the elevator on in the 60’s they didn’t want to lose any floor space, so they built a shaft on the outside and took out a window on each floor for the doors.”
Janet turned from the doors and looked at the dry fountain in the courtyard in the center of the hospital.
“The residents are not allowed in the courtyard or balconies, just employees. Each floor has a small balcony.”
Curious, Marcie opened the French doors to the courtyard. She looked around and saw she could see through to the front door through the windows on the other side. Along the walls she saw barberry plants and thought it strange, they were blooming this early in the year.
“The fountain hasn’t worked for some time now.” Janet dictated. “We haven’t found a repairman able to fix it.”
Marcie nodded and closed the doors. Turning, she noticed a man sitting looking out the window.
“This is the kitchen.” Janet interjected quickly distracting Marcie. “The cooking staff does not allow us to use it, not even to store a sandwich. This is the dining room. All residents must be here at 6:30, 12:00, and 5:30, with the exception of course with Mr. Ristle. When they are finished eating they take their dishes to the kitchen and cleanup the dining area.”
“Should the residents be doing all of this labor? Isn’t there some law about that?”
“Oh, well, hee, hee, it is part of their therapy. We believe that everyone needs to remain active.” Janet smirked leaning against the second river rock fireplace on the main floor. She glanced at the man sitting near the window and began shuffling Marcie from the room toward the stairs near the front door.
Marcie noticed him again and asked, “Who’s he?”
“He’s a John Doe and has been here as long as I can remember,” said Janet. “I started around 8 years ago and he was here then. He is usually there in front of the window. Never speaks. Just sits and stares out the window.”
“What’s wrong with him,” questioned Marcie.
“Don’t know. No one really knows.” She answered. “He can walk, eat, and do his bodily functions on his own. He’s not much of a bother to anyone. He always has that slack face and stares. Every once in a while he will make a little groaning noise then it’s back to that.”
“Is he over medicated?”
“No!” Janet answered in a shrill staccato syllable. For a moment, she was solemn then began again in her upbeat tone. “Don’t worry about a patient you’re not assigned to? He’s just another nut job. I think most of them are faking, just so they don’t have to deal with the real world. Why are you so interested anyway?”
“No reason, just curious.”
“There’s a lot to be curious about here. So much, you’ll forget all about him. You’re on the second floor.” Janet said as she led Marcie upstairs to the second floor.
Marcie turned to look at him one more time. He turned his head slightly and she could see his face more clearly. It seemed as though he were staring right into her soul. Startled, she hurried to follow Janet upstairs.
“We haven’t changed much of the original architecture, but we had to update the electrical soon after I started.” Janet droned as she walked up the stairs. “Even though we aren’t funded by the government, we still have to keep up to code. This is your floor. There are twelve rooms per floor with two residents in each room and a lavatory.”
Marcie glanced out the window to the left as she reached the landing and saw a few of small buildings and the dry bluffs that stood north of the hospital. Condensation nestled in the corner of the window ledge sparkled like stars in the morning sun. She wondered if the man sitting at the window below could see the desolation of the barren land they lived. She turned her gaze to her right and saw an identical fireplace as the ones on the main floor.
“Edith this is Marcie, she’s replacing Nancy,” Janet paused and glared out the window. “It’ll be sad to see her go. She’s been here so long.”
“Too long, if you ask me. That lazy b…”
“Edith, will you please show Marcie around,” said Janet cutting her off. “I have something I need to check on?”
“Whatever.” She snorted as Janet walked briskly down the stairs.
“You’re fat,” stated Edith looking over Marcie with her ever-critical eyes. “I hope you’re not lazy too.”
“Excuse me?” Marcie retorted.
“There’s nothing worse than a fat and lazy nurse that doesn’t do anything but sit on her ass and read her gossip rags.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Marcie said with a coy wink. This took Edith slightly off guard. “The last place I worked it seemed like I was the only one there.”
“Good,” replied Edith. “This is the nursing station, if that’s what you want to call it. There’s a small frig and microwave underneath the counter. I’m sure the gracious Janet told you not to go into the kitchen.”
“I only have a few rules that I expect you to keep. If you leave your food in the frig, I will either eat it or throw it out. If you spill something, clean it up. Do you understand?”
“Sure. And I do expect the same of you.” Marcie replied with a sparkle in her eye.
They stared at each other for a moment and Edith started to laugh. “Aren’t you scared of me?”
“Should I be?”
“Of course,” She giggled. “No, not really. I like to do that with the newbie’s just to see if I get a rise out of them or if they run to tell your majesty.”
“Gracious and your majesty. I take it you don’t care much for Janet.”
“BINGO! Ever since she started, she has acted as if she is the queen of the world with her big hair and sunken cheeks. Come on, I’ll show you the floor.”
Marcie glanced around and saw windows behind the nurse’s station looking across to a small balcony. Across from the nurse’s station were two doors leading into rooms.
“The residents in these rooms need the most attention. They probably should be on the third floor but there’s not enough room. They are usually restless at night and will keep you busier than the others.” They stopped at the end of the hall, “the supply closet is around the corner here.” She said as she took a key out of her smock.
“You have to jiggle the key a little bit then turn it.” Edith opened the door to show Marcie the contents of the closet. “I’ll give you Nancy’s key when you start your regular shift.”
She closed the door and they turned and started walking down the hall.
“OINK! OINK! WEEEEE!”
Startled, Marcie looked around and asked, “Do we raise pigs too?”
“No that’s just Mr. Ristle from upstairs. He thinks he’s a pig.”
“Oh, he’s the one that’s bed ridden. Janet mentioned him.”
“Bed ridden, is that what she told you? I guess it’s actually true. But it’s more like strapped in bed.”
“Like I said he thinks he’s a pig. He ruts around and craps everywhere. They think it’s best if he stays in one place.”
“Lucky him, he has his own room. They originally assigned Slack-jaw to that room but he would always end up in the attic curled up by the window overlooking the courtyard or in a different room. So, they put a bed up there for him. He was probably tired of the constant snorting”
“Haven’t you seen him yet? Can’t miss him. He sits in the dining room staring out the window.”
“Oh, him. Yeah, I saw him earlier. What’s his story?”
“Don’t know. They keep everything very secret. If you’re not assigned to that floor, you aren’t given the information.”
“What are you doing Edith?” A shrill voice came from behind them.
Edith and Marcie turned to see Janet standing at the end of the hall with her hands on her hips and an intense scowl on her face that pinched her pencil line eyebrows together.
You know the rules no gossiping about the residents.”
“Yes, your maj- ma’am.”
“Have you shown Marcie around the floor?”
“Good. It’s almost lunch. Did you bring anything to eat, dear?” She asked turning to Marcie.
“No I didn’t.”
“You can join me at my table.” Janet sang walking back to the stairs. “The food is always tasty.”
Marcie glanced at Edith, who was making gagging faces and shaking her head no. The timid smile returned to Marcie’s face. She bit her lip to stop herself from laughing as she followed Janet downstairs.