By K. Uffelman

Ned’s chin dropped to his chest and the sudden movement woke him with a start.

“Bored by the lunch? Yeah, the food’s not so good.”

Ned turned his head. Who is that guy? He must be new, thought Ned, although he looked strangely familiar.

“I’ve had worse,” Ned mumbled, trying to focus on the plate in front of him. Was it really that the food was so bad it was putting him to sleep? Looked like some kind of chicken and something else. Maybe hashbrowns? That couldn’t be right. Who serves hashbrowns with chicken?

“Feel like a game of cards after they clear away this mess?” asked the familiar stranger.

Ned directed his attention back to the speaker. Nobody talked this much at Pearl Manor. Ned shrugged. He tried to roll back from the table, he didn’t want to play cards. But someone had set the parking break on his wheelchair and he couldn’t remember where the release lever was. He was so sleepy.

When he next opened his eyes he was sitting in front of a large window with a blanket thrown over his lap. The sod of the suburban backyard was curiously green and he could make out the details of the sprinkler heads, poking up every so often in the grass. His cataract surgery had been a great success; his eyesight was better than it had been in years and he was still getting used to the crystal-clear picture he saw when he woke in the morning. It was the same now. He could see imperfections in the sheetrock and how the laminate flooring didn’t really look like wood at all. Pearl Manor had seemed so much nicer before they fixed his eyes.

“Hey, buddy, I think your girlfriend might make an appearance.”

Ned turned his head to see who was talking. It was his neighbor from lunch. Who was he? Ned couldn’t remember a name, or how long this man had been a resident, but his knowledge of Ned’s lovelife was disturbing.

“Hi Luba! How’s mom doing today?”

Ned could see Rose’s daughter-in-law walking down the hall, carrying some potted flowers. What was her name? Jen? Gina? Something like that.

“She slept through lunch. We didn’t wake her.” Luba stuck a bobby pin in the braid she had coiled at the base of her neck. Ned noticed she fussed with her hair a lot. Jen/Gina looked deflated.

“Was she up for breakfast? Has she been up today?”

Luba smiled apologetically.

“We gave Rose her morning medication with some toast, but then she wanted to lie down. I’m sure she’ll be so happy to see you!”

Jen/Gina looked around. Ned tried to see what she saw. A handful of ancient men napping in wheelchairs. And then the familiar stranger who looked a little too fit to be here. Or maybe fit was the wrong term. He was sporting a significant pot belly and wearing slippers, but he was energetic in a way that was out of place here. He made Ned feel nervous.

“Hi miss!” shrilled the familiar stranger, “How are you doing today? You look lovely as always!”

Jen/Gina actively ignored him, but brightened a little when she noticed Ned.

“Hi, Ned.”

Ned nodded in her direction and tried to give her what he hoped was a smile.

“Your grandkids coming today?” She asked. Ned shrugged. He had no idea. He was worried about Jen/Gina holding that heavy pot of flowers. It looked heavy. He wished he could carry it for her, but all he could manage was a nod toward Rose’s room.

“Nice to see you, Ned.”

She was a good daughter-in-law, thought Ned. Cheerful. Ned would like a daugher-in-law like that.

“Do you want some help waking her, Jamie?” Luba asked.

Jamie. He must remember. Her name is Jamie.

Luba pushed open Rose’s door and said, too loudly in Ned’s opinion, “Rose, your daughter-in-law Jamie is here with some beautiful flowers! Wake up, Rose. Time to wake up!”

“Hi mom,” Jamie whispered.

Jamie hesitated for a moment, but then walked into Rose’s room. Luba clicked off down the hall, wearing heels instead of her usual nursing shoes. Was it Sunday? Was she dressed up for church, Ned wondered?

He noticed the familiar stranger was staring at Rose’s door. He didn’t like the intensity of the gaze or the agitated drumming of the stranger’s fingers on the arm of the sofa. He started to say something, but his eyelids slipped down, down and his head rolled back against the thick collar of his sweater.

When he next woke, it was to Rose laboring through a Bach minuet. He loved to hear her play, even when she struggled, and he secretly prayed through each piece that she wouldn’t give up mid-melody. He was disappointed that in his long, long life he had never made the effort to learn to play a musical instrument. It was so magical, that human hands could deliver such beautiful sound.

“Here mom, let’s play one of these. They’re simple duets…you can coach me.”

Jamie and Rose picked slowly through some Schubert. Ned rolled his wheelchair to the front sitting room to be closer to the music. Jamie and Rose were seated side by side at the piano in front of the window, and Ned rolled as close as he thought he could without disturbing them. Jamie managed the simple arrangement well enough, and the sound of the piano was a welcome relief to the news program blaring from the television in the other room. But it was the view of Rose’s back that really enchanted Ned. Her normally slumping shoulders straightened in the loveliest way. Although he couldn’t see from behind, he imagined her breast bone lifted and her lungs inflating fully as her arms and hands moved in tempo. He closed his eyes, but instead of giving in to drowsiness, it was to better conjure the pressure of Rose’s fingers, on the keys of the piano or maybe on the small of his back or the nape of his neck.

“Don’t fall asleep while your girlfriend’s playing, old man!” The stranger’s fingers replaced the thought of Rose’s, shaking Ned in a way that near choked him.

“I’m awake!” gasped Ned.

“Sure you are, sure you are.”

Jamie turned around and glared at the stranger. He smiled back at her in a way that Ned was sure she didn’t welcome.

“Beautiful playing,” Ned whispered.

Rose turned her head slightly and he caught her eye. At moments like these, he was sure she understood his admiration. She rarely looked his direction, and sometimes he was sure she didn’t remember who he was. Often, in fact. But right now, she knew.

“I think I need to lie down now, dear.”

“One more?” Ned asked, his whisper hanging in the air.


“Yeah, how about one more tune for the old boy!” the stranger’s voice hurt Ned’s ears, too close and too loud.

“I’m just so tired,” Rose said, to no one in particular. And then Jamie helped her to her feet, and they walked slowly back to her room.

Rose passed close by Ned’s wheelchair and her fingers brushed his forearm. He didn’t catch her eye a second time, but he had felt the faint warmth of her skin and that was enough. Ned’s arm tingled for a moment, but then his eyelids started to feel heavy again.

The room was suddenly empty.

What was wrong with him?


















About bbcstudiowrites

This blog is me archiving the BBC Studio Writers Workshop.

Posted on November 3, 2016, in Fiction, Seattle, Short Stories. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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