Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Pink Passions

When working in a nursing home, I cared for this old lady who was addicted to lipstick.

Her mind was all pockmarked—a soap opera hunk became her wayward son—and she smelled slightly of stale urine under the Jean Naté. But that lipstick was her I-am-still-here-goddammit stamp on a fading world. Whenever there was a gap in our conversation, or a commercial on TV, she’d pull out a tube of Pink Passions and just slather that nothing mouth like one of those freaky, televangelist wives. She must have went through a tube a day. Her niece found a place that sold them bulk, I think. Had to change her pillowcase constantly, but none of us had the heart to take that color away.

She still wanted to be beautiful. She still wanted to be kissed.

Down the hall from Miss Luttrell was Mr. Lyons, a real firecracker of a man who raged at the talk show guests on TV, and us nurses, for the dead wife who left him six months ago. When she was breathing, he'd had no use for her, but now that she had stopped, he sniffed the air like a bloodhound that’d lost its master. That’s usually the way it goes, far as I can tell. But he wore his anger like a cheap toupée that slipped over his eyes to hide the guilt and shame. Too easy to see that scrubbed baby scalp below. Anyway, we all liked him, in spite of his nasty. The wound was so raw, you know.

One day I caught him checking out my ass. I knew he must be doing something because he wasn’t yelling at me. Got me thinking, it did.

When it came time for Bingo in the rec room that week, I made sure to park Mr. Lyons’ wheelchair next to Miss Luttrell’s. They weren’t much in the way of players—he yapped too much and missed the calls, and she was distracted by the wind from the fan—but that wasn’t the point, after all.

I sat in the corner as that swivel fan swung our way. Miss Luttrell started to hunt in her pocket for something. Mr. Lyons finally shut his trap.

And I waited for my chips to fall.


Aine said...

**clapping** Good move!

I think I worked in the same nursing home!

I like the voice of the narrator. Though she is too gifted a storyteller to be stuck in nurse's aide job... ;)

You've captured a piece of nursing home culture very nicely. I wish more people were aware of the complexity and joy that can be found in that environment. No one wants to be there, but it is possible to make the most of the situation. And, knowing that many of the residents would be suffering more if they weren't in a structured, caregiving facility, makes it easier to view nursing homes in a positive manner.

Sarah Hina said...

I thought of you when I wrote this, Aine. :)

In my email earlier, I said something about "second chances." I wanted to write a story within an hour this afternoon, and this little tale came out of that inspiration. So thank you! I'm sure you made your patients' days a lot brighter during those nursing home days. :)

Why should human desire--sexual or otherwise--shrivel away to nothing as our bodies age? There's a natural diminution, of course, but I hope that we're all still open to finding joy and love, when or where we least expect it.

Hotwire said...

having worked in a nursing home during my youth i feel that this captured that type of setting, and the personalities within, perfectly.

Anonymous said...

Amazing how one thing, one description about a person, can balloon in your mind to so much more. That simple old woman and her lipstick is far more vivid than page after page of careful description. I guess that's called less is more. This would is a great piece to demonstrate that effect.

I think about people (including me) growing old. How we become whittled away to fewer and fewer things. I like the message here. Even in that state, there is still more magic to chase.

Sarah Hina said...

I'm so glad you felt that way, Hotwire. Authenticity is crucial in a scene like this. Thank you so much for saying so! :)

Yes, Jason--this is my "less is more" attempt. :) I thought by restricting the time I spent on it, I'd be forced toward a more natural, less belabored style. I'm pretty happy with the result.

And there is always new magic to chase. I believe that.

Vesper said...

Excellent piece, Sarah. It feels tremendously real.

Sarah Hina said...

Thank you, Vesper. I'm so pleased it reached you. :)

Bernita said...

Yes. Jason is right. You nailed the telling detail.
Really liked it.

Sarah Hina said...

Thank you, Bernita. I had fun with the voice in this one. And the slightly less fussy writing.

Anonymous said...

Awwwwwww. That's all I can say, because I am off to visit Mom today.