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None So Blind
Paul hated his work.
Not just hated it, despised it. Loathed it. He couldn't think of a worse job in the world to have. He hated the white uniform, he hated the demands on his time, he hated the stupid people he worked for and with.
Those thoughts were foremost on his mind as he came in that morning, as they were every morning that he worked. As he drove past the wooden roadway sign that said "Woods Retirement Home", he tried to envision all the ways that he could burn this place to the ground and never get caught.
He'd been working as an orderly at this home for the decrepit for almost three years, since right after he flunked out of school. He thought that this job would be a cinch, just sit around all day and push old people around in wheelchairs.
Then he'd been introduced to the wonderful world of geriatrics. The cleaning up after people so old and useless that they couldn't even make it to the bathroom. People who were so lazy that they couldn't be bothered to get out of bed to have the sheets changed. People who couldn't see well enough to know that he wasn't their grandchild.
He couldn't stand these people.
Paul would have quit a long time ago if it wasn't for the fringe benefits of working in a place like this. He'd bought his new stereo from the jewelry he'd hawked from these people. He'd bought a new TV, too. Just a couple more sweeps through the ward and he'd have enough in the bank to buy a new car and dump this old clunker of his off a cliff.
::Maybe I'll put one of these geezers in the car first.::
The thought brought a smile to his face. A toothy, humorless smile.
He walked through the back doors and up to the duty nurse. She looked up from the clipboard she was looking over, "You're late, Paul. What's your excuse this time?"
"Car trouble.", he said simply.
She sighed. Paul knew that Nurse Carlson didn't like him, and she didn't totally trust him. But she didn't have any proof of anything. More important, she was perpetually understaffed.
"Look, Paul. I've just about had it with you. This is the last time that I'm going to let this slide. Once more, and you're gone."
Paul only half listened as he opened his locker and pulled out the white lab coat that he wore on the job. This was certainly not the first time that she had used that line, and Paul knew that the stupid bitch wouldn't do anything.
She sighed and dropped a clipboard to the table with a clatter. "Okay, Paul. Here're your assignments. Try to get most of them done for once. These are people we're dealing with."
Paul didn't even look at her as he picked up the worn clipboard. ::People. Yea, right.::
She gave up and left the room. Paul looked over the clipboard as he dropped money into a soda machine and pulled out the cold can. Not too much to do today, leaving out any emergencies. He spied a few names on the chart that he didn't recognize, but that was to be expected. This was a big facility, and he didn't bother to take the time to remember all of them. Besides, there was always turnover.
He started pushing the cart of sheets down the hall. For the most part, this was easy work, changing the sheets on the fifth floor ward. Most of the geezers were still mobile enough to get off their lazy butts and out of the bed. As for the ones that didn't, well, he had ways of dealing with them.
Jasmine Jassen, the old bag in room 568 was one. Like usual, Paul found her completely oblivious to the world in her bed. He shut the door and looked around the tiny room. Whoever this lady was, her family was loaded. She was one of the few with a private room and one of the very few who had regular visitors. He rummaged around through the drawers and found a couple of knickknacks that a family member had probably brought to her. They weren't much, but he could sell them for a few bucks. Smiling, he stuffed them into a canvas bag he had hidden on the cart.
Then he walked over to the bed. He knew that that he'd be checked after, and he couldn't get away with simply not changing the sheets. At least not for long. He'd already skipped over Jassen's room twice, and he had to do it eventually.
Now, normally, there was a very specific procedure in changing hospital bed sheets when there was a non-mobile patient involved. With a patient like Jassen, who wasn't actually in physical danger from being moved a little, it was easy for one person to do. You simply roll the person to one side, slip the sheets up, roll them gently to the other side and pull the loose sheet off. Then you repeat the procedure to replace the sheets. Nothing to it.
But Paul couldn't be bothered with something like that. He simply picked up the frail 88 year old woman, the beloved mother of three, grandmother of eight and widow of the founder of a still-prosperous lumber mill, and dropped her to the tile floor.
He changed the sheets while she moaned softly on the floor, only dimly aware that she was no longer in her bed. After he stuffed the soiled sheets in the cart, he roughly picked her up and tossed her back on the bed.
She lay against the pillow drooling a little from the side of her mouth. Her mind, worn away by her decades long fight with Alzheimer's, couldn't comprehend what was happening to her, and she could never tell anyone.
For that reason alone, Paul smiled as he left the room.
He walked to the nurses station at the end of the hall and grabbed a quick drink of water from the cooler. A couple of patients passed by while he was there, and they looked at him with more than a little fear. It was a look that Paul loved to see.
He crumpled the paper cup in his hand and tossed it to the putty colored wastebasket under the desk. He missed, but left it for the janitor to get later. He walked from the station, turned the corner to go down the hall, and ran straight into another patient.
Paul fell back a little as he bounced off the old man. He was about to chew the guy out when he realized that this wasn't a patient. Most of them wore robes or pajamas all the time. A few wore comfortable clothes. But this guy was decked out in a black overcoat and suit. He wore one of those stupid hats that Paul only saw in the movies.
::Must be a visitor::, he thought.
He smiled his best. He liked to keep up appearances with the visitors. It made them less hesitant about brining gifts to their friends and relatives. Sometimes expensive gifts. "Can I help you, sir?"
The man seemed more than a little amused by that, "Help? From you? Oh, no my young friend. I'm actually here to see you."
Paul felt a touch of suspicion rising in the back of his mind. "Me?"
The man walked to the nurses station around the corner and took a seat. Paul noticed that none of the nurses were there, and he realized for the first time that they hadn't been there a few minutes before, either. The man pushed his fedora back on his head, "You are Paul, right? Paul Larson?"
He leaned against the desk, "That's me. What can I do for you, Mister...?"
The man ignored the hanging question, "Paul, why are you working here?"
The question caught him off guard. "Well, I need the money for one thing..."
"Any thought about helping other people?"
Paul looked at this old geezer a minute. There was something familiar about him, but something he couldn't place. He was pretty sure that he wasn't a patient. "Sure." He lied. "That's the reason I applied. I always wanted to go into medicine, but never had the academics."
The man raised his eyebrows in mock surprise, "Really? I never saw you as the medical type. Never came up in any of the possibilities. But I guess that some people simply aren't destined for that kind of work."
Paul simply looked at the man, unsure how to respond.
The man reached over to the desk and picked up a clipboard that Paul hadn't noticed before. "Paul, I want to ask you about Mr. Starr."
"Sure, you remember Kenneth Starr, don't you? He was a patient in this facility about a year ago. Oh, that's right, you don't get close enough to the patients to remember their names. Let me refresh your memory. Mr. Starr was recovering from an extremely painful cancer surgery, one in which a side effect was a total and complete loss of his ability to control his bodily functions." The man paused a moment, "Did you know that Mr. Starr was actually Commander Starr of the United States Navy, retired? No, I don't suppose you did. You were assigned to change the sheets on his bed one afternoon. As you finished, he involuntarily urinated. You became incensed and covered his face with a pillow until he stopped squirming."
Paul felt the blood rapidly drain from his face. ::This guy must be a state inspector. Or maybe a newsman. Maybe that's why his face is so familiar.::
"Do you know where Commander Starr is today, Paul?"
Paul meekly shook his head.
"He is still in intensive care. He has been in a coma, one that you put him in, since that afternoon. As of yet, the doctors still don't know why he fell into that coma, and they never will."
"What? What do you mean?"
The man sighed and leaned foreword in his chair. "Paul, you've been a real conundrum to me, you know. I've never had such a problem with anyone as you. You're like a bull in a china shop, shattering everything that you touch. Commander Starr is simply one of many. I've wanted to stop your savagery for so long, but simply couldn't. Unfortunately, your destiny intersected with another. A specific piece of china, if you will. A fragile, delicate piece of the finest china the world has ever made,"
The man threw the clipboard back onto the desk. "You've finally shattered that china. Mrs. Jassen is dead."
At first, the name meant nothing to Paul, then he remembered the old lady in the room whose sheets he'd just changed. Then his feet started getting cold.
"For all the trouble you've caused, Paul, all the lives you've destroyed in such a short time, I should simply kill you now."
Paul looked at the man with growing fear. He suddenly knew that the old man had the power.
"Perhaps lucky for you, though, your life still has a purpose. Believe it or not, Paul, you have something left to do in life, and only a few more years left to do it in."
Paul felt his world spin. The facility dissolved around him, to be replaced by a grassy park. The world looked odd to him all of a sudden. Then he saw the old man again, standing above him now.
"You've got one last choice in your life, Paul. You're about to enter very special training, and you will retain all your present faculties. If you choose, you will be a star pupil."
"But if you choose, you will be nothing more than a pet. You can still be the mean and viscous creature that you once were, but that will make your life vicious and short. And no one will miss you when you go."
Paul didn't understand what the man was talking about. Then he tried to bring a hand to his face and failed. He looked down and saw the paws of a yellow Labrador. He yelped in astonishment.
"That's right, Paul. You're not human anymore. But do you know what pains me about this? You have a chance to be loved, truly loved. As much as I cherish the ability to love, and recognize the need for it in this world, it pains me to see that you may receive some. There are so many more deserving that you. But love is not a one way street. The act of giving it is often just as wonderful as receiving."
"That is the only reason your life is spared."
Paul was still looking at the old man when he felt a tug on a leash he hadn't noticed before. "Come on, boy." He looked up to see a young woman tugging at the leash. She didn't seem to notice the old man. Paul looked back at him.
"You heard her, boy. Go."
Paul shakily rose to his four feet and followed the woman. His mind was full of conflicting thoughts. He kept waiting for the nightmare to end.
He was so engrossed in his own growing panic that he failed to see the sign as they passed through the small gate, "Eastman Institute for the Blind".
The old man watched as the large yellow dog was led into the facility. He sighed deeply. He removed he hat for a moment and tugged the white feather from the band. He held it to his nose for a moment and breathed in deeply. A tear rolled down his weathered cheek, even as a small smile came across his face.
He slid the doves feather back into it's position next to the falcon feather, and silently vanished.
None So Blind copyright 1996 by Brian Eirik Coe.
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