Touch: The Journal of Healing



The Space Between

    by Lynn Pinkerton

Consuela’s mop bucket squeaked as she pushed it wearily through the heavy, unlocked door into Room 411, where she was greeted by unused air and abandoned, silent shadows.  The bare room lay sleeping, quiet now, readying itself for the next wounded soul.  Walls the color of smoke grey sky just before a summer thunderstorm stood sentry over faded prayers and vanished hope.  Consuela shivered, the chilling touch of loss heavy on her aging skin, and wondered when her own time in a place like this would come.

Most times Consuela found the night shift at the hospital to her liking.  Things were quieter, she got her cleaning done faster and no one seemed to notice when she slipped extra snacks from the coffee station into her apron pockets.  Tonight, however, was not a night to her liking. The absent sound was heavy on her ears and her heart.  She would miss this one.

Consuela was well acquainted with empty rooms.  Like migrating birds, patients were always passing through, leaving her scattered bits of their transitory living when they departed.  Stale cookies, empty chip bags, yesterday’s newspapers, unread magazines, business cards from hope-peddling preachers.  She cleaned and polished until the lifeless rooms echoed again with a tentative welcome for the next arrival, but some appeared, settled in for a time, and came to know her name.   Mr. Mac had known her name and more.

He arrived in Room 411 thirty-seven days ago, full of questions and with a teasing grin.  How long had she worked here?  Where was her village in Mexico?  Did she have children?  Would she bring him a cold cerveza?  Every night new questions and every night unlikely friendship grew while she mopped and answered him.  He told her stories about the year he lived in Mexico and one day gave her silver dollars for her grandchildren.  One for each.  She always hoped that he was not napping when she came to clean.

His bride of sixty-three years had setup housekeeping inside the alien steel grey cavern and kept a constant vigil against all harm.  Intent on his restoration, she sponged, cajoled, teased and tended, and hung his going home coveralls on the closet door for all to see.  She spent her nights on a roll-away bed next to her only love, always offered Consuela cookies or fruit from the ever-expanding buffet contributed by friends and family, and made sure that Mr. Mac did not offend her with his teasing.

The life inside Room 411 seemed stronger than the ominous doctor visits and dismal diagnoses.  Laughter, music, daily news, and persistent prayer, spilled out into the dreary hallway and Consuela often found little room to mop between the many feet gathered around his bed.  Roses from his garden bloomed in green bud vases along the window ledge and each night she noticed new square patches of listless grey wall had disappeared behind a growing gallery of photos of Mr. Mac’s family and triumphant crayon drawings from his only great granddaughter.  The room made her ache for a small village south of the Rio Grande River.

Night after night, Consuela cleaned and visited and helplessly observed the signs as Mr. Mac began his gentle leave taking.  Quiet now, he began to disappear into another place.  The labored whoosh of oxygen replaced his endless questions and spirited banter.  Consuela knew the time for final farewells was fast approaching.

Late on the thirty seventh night, Consuela knocked tentatively and pushed open the door to find Room 411 dark.  Unoccupied.  Her favorite, Mr. Mac, had made his final passage.  His impromptu family gallery, cookies and candies, emerald green rose vases and going home coveralls had vanished, leaving only beds stripped of hope and detached, cold grey walls.

She knew her job.  Knew she should not linger.  She cleaned and mopped and readied for the next one who was sure to come and fill the barren void.  Consuela offered up a prayer for Mr. Mac, crossed herself and turned off the light.  Shoulders heavy, she closed the door and pushed her bucket down the hall.  The scent of Pine-Sol and sorrow lingered in the vast emptiness behind her.

© 2011 Lynn Pinkerton

Lynn Pinkerton, a freelance writer, knew in the fifth grade that she wanted to be a writer when she grew up.  Sidetracked by careers in social services and special events marketing, Lynn eventually reclaimed her childhood aspiration, joined a writing group and began publishing.  She lives in Houston, Texas.

Copyright © 2011

Touch: The Journal of Healing

All rights reserved.