And now without further ado, drum-rolls or ticker tape: the conclusion to Rest & Recuperation. As always, Bianca, thank you for vetting I couldn't do it without you.
Bethlehem Gardens Nursing Home - 9:25 A.M.
Boredom had been a deciding factor in the impromptu visit to Bethlehem Gardens. Chris hadn't bothered to check what time it was when he decided to stop turning around on the sleeper sofa and dedicate his time to more productive endeavors. A punishing six mile run on a very expensive rat wheel, weight lifting, shoe shining, clothes pressing, comics reading, real porn that needn't be disguised in old Deer Hunter tapes; that sort of thing.
Had he looked it up, he might have found it amusing that the name of his father's assisted living community was the root of the word bedlam: a place, scene, or state of uproar and confusion. It wasn't apparent in the manicured lawns, artificial ponds full of fat ducks pecking at koi fish or the staff in their stark white uniforms stalking the grounds like an army of Good Humor men had been loosed on the elderly and infirm.
He'd been turning heads all morning decked in dark dress pants, a striped shirt with all the in, earthy colors of fall, a leather jacket tailored to enhance the visually appealing line of broad shoulders, narrow hips and a square jaw and shod in handmade, square toe Forzieri oxfords that never failed get noticed by any woman old enough to buy her own booze. Heady with the stench of hospital smells, Silas was glad to see the Nurse Crawford divest some of the attention she was lavishing on the exact consistency of her neighbor's uterine polyps to his presence in the long term care wing.
"How may I help you?" She asked in a tone meant to discourage any request that might in fact require any.
"I am looking for First Se, Christopher Silas," he corrected himself. "I can't find him in his regular room." A look between terror and dislike clouded the woman's face at the mention of Silas Senior. She hung up the phone and stood up.
"And you are?"
"Related," he replied deadpan, ticked off by everything in the nurse's demeanor.
"I am afraid Mr. Silas cannot receive visitors due to his schedule. I'm sorry for the inconvenience." She looked from Silas' set jaw and back to her computer screen and realized he wasn't going away. "He was moved to room 313 in September. Give me a minute. I'll show you in."
"That's okay sweetheart, I can count all the way up to ten now!" He walked down the squeaky hallway and had his first pleasant thought of the day. At least nurse Crawford wasn't a lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
Silas had staked out the third floor while he waited. Even numbered rooms were on the right, odd on the left with ten rooms on each side of the elevators. He was halfway down the hall before it struck him that he had no idea what he was doing or why. The last time he'd seen his father, the Red Sox were still cursed and New York's skyline sported twin towers instead of tribute lights. The door to 313 was ajar and he knew the racket inside had nothing to do with his father's roommate who had been in a diabetic coma since Watergate was current events.
He stood before the door to 313 and his defenses evaporated. The noise seeping out turned back the clock to his life twenty years earlier; to all the nights he'd bunked with Dean to get away from the bloody noses, split lips and black eyes across the street in his house. He felt all of twelve when he stepped inside, no bronze star, no 'V' for valor, no service ribbons, no purple heart. Like every time he tried to call, he was tongue tied.
The homegrown diabetic beeped quietly in the first bed attached to a web of light wires like one of those science fair exhibits where fourth graders tried to grill a hotdog by hooking the ends to a 9-volt battery. The morale corkboard above the man's bed was a morbid timeline chock full of different relatives playing with the family turnip at various stages of his old age. His father's morale board had one card, condolences on your wife's recent passing. It was dated April 1, 1994. Two orderlies were busy holding him down while a third hovered near the headboard with a safety razor at the ready and a can of shaving cream under one arm. Silas Senior had been secured to the bed with soft restraints on both wrists and one ankle. The left thigh stump flung wildly. It took Chris three attempts to speak loud enough to be heard.
"Excuse me." The Good Humor man in charge of facial hair turned around.
"Hello. I didn't hear you come in." He looked at Silas' face. "You must be Mr. Silas' son." Chris had never met the man and he didn't react to the proffered hand. It always took him a while to remember he looked so much like his father that even with thirty-five years between them, people could pinpoint exact blood-ties in one try.
"I am Tom Brigham." Tom moved to block Silas' view of his father. "I'm afraid you'll have to come with me until your dad is sedated, sir."
"He's having a bad day. Dementia can be very unpredictable in this stage. May I show you to our waiting room for family members?" Tom Brigham was a bulldozer moving towards the door taking everyone in his path down with him.
"Stop that." Chris moved out of the bulldozer's way. "Why is my father tied down?" The word father stuck to the inside of his cheek.
"He's having a bad day. I really must insist you come with me to the waiting room sir. We cannot be responsible for any injury to your person while he is in this altered state." Silas looked at what was left of his father. He was visibly older, thinner, and haggard.
"Stop talking like he's not here," he ordered without stopping to think who he was defending or why. "Get out. Leave him alone."
"Sir, please, I cannot leave you alone with your father, it takes three men just to shave him!"
"Don't call me sir goddamnit I work for a living!" He picked up the phone on the console between the two beds and dialed Dean's number. "Get out of here unless you want to explain to my lawyer why you have someone who can't consent on medication and restraints." Dean picked up on his side. "Here you go." He held out the handset. Tom sighed, wrung his hands and motioned for the underlings to follow him out of the room.
"He just hates safety razors," Chris said in a little, childish voice once he was alone.
His father's head was pointed in his direction but the eyes couldn't focus for more than a second. He stood at an arm's length counting his own version of Lamaze breaths until he worked up the courage to look beyond the bedspread at the man on it. He'd never known Christopher Silas Senior before he was a First Sergeant in Vietnam. He'd grown up with the crazy man who drank all day sitting in a foxhole he dug in the back yard and woke up at night screaming in Vietnamese and pulled a field knife on anyone who came too close for comfort. The charming, easygoing Christopher his mother cried for whenever the one returned to her by the Army –crazy and two thirds of a leg short a whole man beat her with his crutches had never been more than an urban legend in his house.
Pity trumped fear after a minute and he rummaged through the top drawer for the shaving kit he'd loved to play with as a child. He turned it over on the table and lined up the contents, a leather strop, the straight razor, a can of soap shavings, a badger hair brush. He hung the strop from the comatose roommate's IV, flipped the razor open and began the meticulous process of sharpening the blade.
"How would you like a close shave today First Sergeant?" Silas Senior focused his wandering stare on his son. There was no recognition in his eyes.
Chris lathered the brush in the bathroom sink and covered his father's face and neck in white suds blinking back a surge of grief that didn't make any sense in his mind. The first sweep upwards against the grain was unsteady and he bent over the gaunt face for better angling. He shaved up then down and rotated the razor's handle to keep it out of the way while he tackled the right side of Silas Sr.'s neck. He went back to the strop for three more licks of the blade and finished the face.
"Who are you?" Silas Sr. asked baffled. Chris held up a hand mirror he'd found in the bathroom.
"I'm new here First Sergeant; just started work today."
"But," he didn't finish the thought. "Do you know me? You don't call me sir like the others."
"That's for college boys who don't work for a living Sergeant," Silas managed through a mouth that felt like cotton.
"You remind me of my son."
"Really, where is he?"
"Well, it's Monday so he's in school. That Jesuit place, best central defender in his team." It was Thursday. He'd gone to public school. Silas Senior had never signed the permission slip to let him play soccer. Chris splashed some of the comatose roommate's aftershave on his father's face. He took the brush and the razor into the bathroom and rinsed them a lot longer than there was soap.
"Orderly, I want you to remove these." The restraints rattled. "I need to go to the toilet."
Chris saw the change in his father's eyes, the one he'd come to recognize instantly when he was growing up and finished packing the shaving kit with shaky fingers, ashamed to be scared of the wretch in front of him though he was now 31. There was mercury then brief recognition in brown eyes that mirrored his and the old man melted into a screaming banshee. Silas blocked out the insults and the rattle of restraints on the railings. He stood in the hallway by the open door for several minutes while Tom Brigham and his posse scrambled to get Silas Senior under control. Nurse Crawford was gone from her station and he thanked God for the small miracle of privacy in the time he needed to get his bearings and let his heartbeat catch up to his calendar age.
The three nurses who gathered around Willie in the CCTV room a half hour later were not interested in Willie. No one was interested in Willie; in fact Willie was hoping to get tapped for the sequel to The 40 Year Old Virgin. Carla, Gina and Cherisse were ogling the two screens trained on the nursing home lobby where Staff Sergeant Christopher Silas was currently pacing the length of the hall sipping vending machine coffee and staring at the public telephones. Don Quixote and the windmills had started the trend.
"Who is that gorgeous man?" Cherisse elbowed Willie out of her way.
"Came to see Son Tay Joe," Gina replied using the Bethlehem staff's nickname for Chris' father.
"Ugh that nasty old dog. He bit Jen's finger clear to the bone!"
"Tom had to put him under with Haldol."
"Oh shush honey who cares? Just look at that ass." Gina's biological clock was louder than Big Ben in the tiny room. She zoomed in on Silas until his face took up most of the frame and panned the camera to look him up and down. Willie slapped her hands off the controls.
"I'm gonna get fire if he complain Gina."
He didn't. There could have been a marching band of albino dwarves jumping on tambourines and Silas' attention wouldn't have wavered from the phone. He had been fourteen the night his father was committed for shooting Dean's dog. It'd taken him fourteen years to go off the deep end one day at a time and now, Silas couldn't help but wonder how close he was to that point of no return. He didn't know as he dialed that scary, worsening symptoms he'd experienced in the past couple of months fit the psychological mutt of the armed forces to a T. He didn't know any of the statistics on the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He didn't think of a trigger as more than the useful little doohickey needed to fire an M4. He was going to hang up when someone picked up.
"Brooklyn Veterans Center, no, we don't do flea dips, how may I help you?"
"Hi, good morning, may I…"
"Hold on a second honey let me get this door closed." He heard the handset being placed on an unidentified flat surface and clicking heels walking away. A heavy door screeched as it closed and the voice was with him again, clear, strong, sincere, a lifeline.
"May I speak with Angela Cruz?"
"This is she." Chris relaxed slightly. He loosened his grip on the phone. It wasn't another Nurse Crawford. Was Angela Cruz really all right?
"My friend gave me your card yesterday." He took a deep breath. "I'd like to make an appointment."
"I think I know the leprechaun in question." On his end, Silas laughed. It was all nervous energy. "How's 1300?" The voice asked.
"My lunch hour, if you don't mind a sidewalk hotdog listening in."
"Do you know Cecilia's on Concord and Bridge? You can't miss it; Cecilia is always standing outside in a red muumuu. We can meet there, go for a walk."
He switched ears unsure of what to say next but held on, answering Angela's questions, at ease with words he wasn't usually able to find. For the first time in two years as he walked out of Bedlam, he felt as if the snowball might just have a chance. He reached in his pocket to put away her card and chuckled at the note Dean had scribbled on the flipside. I'm not kidding about the tres leches man. He saw a flash of yellow out of the corner of his eye and lengthened his stride to hail the incoming cab. He wanted to skip.
Ze Finis a'ight!
Now, Sgt. Hotness erm SSgt. Scream can go back to I-raq to kick insurgent booty. Apologies if last minute revelations seemed forthcoming but I wanted to wind this down in a subdued note; in fact my editor's parting words were: "What? No histrionics?"