Hank hesitated a moment to wait for the automatic doors to slide open, and then stepped into the little reception area; the woman behind the desk smiled and nodded hello. The air in this place was always a tad too warm and carried the disagreeable tang of fatty cafeteria fare with unmistakable overtones of urine. It was mid-afternoon and he could hear dinner preparations already underway at the end of the concourse to his left, but his destination was down another one on the right, lined with the distinctive flat handrails on either side that suggested infirmity, props for people on their way out of this life. Folks don’t check into a nursing home with the prospect of leaving it alive, he mused. Somewhere down the hall a nameless woman wailed help me on continuous loop, as she often did when he visited. Now he bore left and made his way another few short steps to a room on the right, its door slightly ajar. He tapped it lightly with his knuckles and pushed it open at the same instant. So damned dark in here, he thought as he tiptoed in: why do these irksome staffers insist on keeping these poor folks in eternal darkness? His father slept fitfully; on the wall opposite the bed a muted senator on C-SPAN blustered on silently about something to an empty house, gesticulating with his hands, finger pointing, even.
“Daddy…daddy,” Hank gently nudged his father’s shoulder. A guttural sound bubbled up from the old man’s throat as he stirred and gazed up at Hank through rheumy eyes, disoriented. Hank adjusted the bed so that his father was now more upright. He offered him a sip of water from the plastic hospital ware on the nightstand. Aware of his son now, Hank Sr. furrowed his brow and shook his head, pushing away the cup. “Pull up that chair over there.” Hank understood him perfectly, although the words had come out as a long, slurred syllable.
“You need a shave, daddy.” (And why was it so difficult for the staff here to stay on top of basic hygiene in these elder residents?) The same instant this notion struck him Hank remembered how difficult his dad had made it for even his own children to keep him comfortable at home, to help him dress and bathe, before they finally made the painstaking decision to put him here, when it was abundantly clear he could not live alone anymore. Nobody these days could fathom the sacrifices of his dad’s generation, though, and that was the truth. The young people these days who couldn’t be troubled even to change out of their pajamas, who were happy with handouts but still somehow owned fancy TVs and expensive phones, that generation was already busy producing another like unto itself, he thought: soon the Pajama Wearers will outnumber us all, and that will be a tragic eventuality. Hank reflected on this worrisome dystopia as he settled into the vinyl armchair next to his dad and watched the little man on the screen come unhinged.