Sorry for the Visual

5 min

Christopher Scott Ford is a profoundly imperfect and intensely happy man who loves the art of good storytelling. Having been a sports coach, teenage alcoholic, stand-up comic, baseball umpire  [+]

Image of Short Story
I nervously walked through the main entrance of the Parkway Nursing Home. The first thing that hit me was the smell. I can’t explain it except that it was sour. My newspaper bags were heavily loaded and they hurt my shoulders a little. My brother, Shanon, was going to be busy and he had asked me to sub for him on his paper route.
I walked through the large central room with the book shelves, the colorful aquarium, the comfy looking couches and the bored looking white haired people. I turned toward the hall to my right, down which most of my deliveries would be made, looking forward to getting done with this uncomfortable portion of the paper route, wanting to get back on my bike and on to the next neighborhood.
I was fifteen years old and, in the mid 1980s, being a paperboy was a great job. Today I was delivering on both my brother’s route and on my own. It would be a long afternoon. We both delivered papers for The Everett Herald. Herald routes were huge compared to some of the other local newspapers. We both had over seventy customers. When my best buddies, Jeff, Brad and Greg, would mention their own paper routes, on the other side of town, for papers like The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post Intelligencer, I had to laugh. My route had more papers than all three of theirs combined. Today I would be delivering over a hundred fifty newspapers.
This Nursing Home was the part of today’s job that I had been dreading. I was a very shy fifteen-year-old and I felt very out of place there, knowing that I was the only kid in the building. Though I knew that I had permission to be there, walking the halls unsupervised, I felt as though I was trespassing. I worried that others would think so too. I felt so conspicuous and out of place. Please, just let me get through this... let no one talk to me or look at me.
I was almost to the south hallway when I heard a high pitched screech, “Paperboy!” Did I just hear that? No, keep walking... it’ll be okay.
“Oh, Paperboy!” There it was again, no mistake. I had the urge to ignore the voice, but I knew that I couldn’t do that. Shy though I was, I was raised to have good manners. I took a deep breath. I turned around with a smile, and I looked out over the room. On the far side, near the shelves of Reader’s Digest Condensed Classics, sat a tiny gray-haired woman in a wheelchair, waving at me.
“Paperboy!” she shrieked again. Then she smiled and beckoned to me like she was trying to pull me to her with an invisible rope. Through my already mounting discomfort and my timidity with strangers, I couldn’t help but chuckle at how cute that was.
A moment later, I found myself, at her request, pushing her aluminum chariot down the south hall, cursing my good manners. I should’ve kept walking... dummy!
She rode along with a big look-at-me smile as one ancient gentleman shouted, “you’re choosing your men kinda young, aren’t you Agnes?” A woman in a chair lowered her knitting and shouted, “Oh, Agnes, he’s supposed to deliver papers, not old women!” and she cackled with laughter. “Hey, kid!” someone yelled. “No kissing on the first date!” A room full of one-thousand-year-olds howled with laughter. So much for getting in and out unnoticed.
I turned red as I silently pushed Agnes down the hall. Agnes, on the other hand, was having a grand time, waving to everyone we passed like she was a pageant princess on a parade float – the newly crowned Miss Wrinkles.
As we neared the end of the hall, where we would be turning left at the tee, Agnes threw her arms up in the air and shouted “Weeeeeee!” Had I been pushing her too fast? I was fifteen, what did I know about octogenarian wheelchair etiquette?
After leaving an appreciative grinning Agnes at her destination, I moved on down the hall toward my first customer.
When Shanon had given me the list of room numbers and a hand-drawn map of the building the day before, he had also given me some delivery instructions. “Now, don’t leave the papers outside their rooms,” he said. “The other old folks will just steal it. And don’t knock on their doors ‘cause they might not be there, and half of them can’t hear you knocking anyway. Just walk in and lay the paper on their bed.”
“What?! Just walk in?” I was very reluctant to do that. That would be bad manners. It would be intruding. That’s just a tough thing to ask of a very shy fifteen-year-old. I’m not sure why I thought that, since my brother was only thirteen, and he’d been doing it for weeks.
So, here I was, opening doors and laying newspapers on beds. After that first one, which had only happened after a full minute of standing outside, I was starting to get the hang of it. Almost done, I looked at my list of room numbers, and boldly launched into room 117. Good, another empty room.
“Well, hello there young man!” Not so empty!
I froze. The voice had come from my left. I slowly turned and looked in that direction. I saw something that, no matter how hard I tried, could never be unseen. There stood a smiling taller-than-average senior lady wearing curlers. Oh, and slippers. Yeah, that was pretty much it. It took me a moment to understand what I was looking at. Is she wearing curtains? No, that’s just giant folds of sagging skin.
She stood in a shadowy area of the room. The sun streamed in through the window blinds, casting stripes across her, so it’s no wonder that I didn’t immediately understand what I was seeing. It looked like she had a pair of softballs at the ends of two stretched out tube socks somehow attached to the front of her upper torso.
Oh my goodness, those are her... those are her... (gulp!)
“How are you today?” she asked me with a happy smile. “Isn’t the weather just lovely?”
“Uh... Yes ma’am,” was what squeaked out of my mouth, while my mind erupted with thoughts like, Would it be bad manners to scream and run with arms flailing over my head and crash through that window to my death on the street below? Yeah, I might need to do that.
“I just adore the flowers this time of year,” she said as she took a step toward me. I backed up and my heavily packed back newspaper pouch pressed against the wall. Trapped! Nowhere to go! And she kept coming closer! What do I do?!
Doesn’t she know that she’s naked? Doesn’t she care?
“And the sounds of the birds outside my window,” she said as she clapped her hands together with delight, a motion that caused waves to roll across her many folds and dimples. I didn’t want to, but I stared. I stared at all of that cottage cheese rolling and rippling across her massive front. I couldn’t pull my eyes away. I was a deer, helplessly staring into the headlights of impending death, as she took another step toward me. Oh no! What if she wants a hug?
Suddenly, the door opened and in walked a nurse. Noooo!!! What couldn’t have possibly gotten any more awkward and uncomfortable, just got more awkward and uncomfortable. Someone has now seen me at the most awkward moment of my life. I’m probably going to be in trouble now. I looked up at her, my face beet red and my eyes twice their normal diameter.
The nurse stood still. She looked at me. She looked at the woman. She looked back at me. Suddenly, she laughed. It was a single laugh, like a soft dog bark, and then, just as quickly, she composed herself and told me with a smile, “You can go, and wait for me in the hall.”
Now, I was sure that I was in trouble. Should I run? Yes! No! That would be bad manners.
A moment later, out in the hall, the nurse laughed again and said, “I am so sorry. That’s Helen. She doesn’t know any better.”
From that day on, no paperboy would ever have to open another door at the Parkway Nursing Home. All he had to do was leave a stack of newspapers at the nurse’s station with a list of room numbers. And I had nightmares for the next week. Oh, who am I kidding? I’ve had nightmares for the last thirty years!

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