The teenager watching Jim

The Chinese woman efficiently went about her duties in a wordless routine, cleansing Jim on one side and then rolling him over to the other while she changed the sheets between dabs of the washcloth. It seemed as if she were part octopus as she competently carried out simultaneous duties. She was gruff, and tossed around the old man's body as easily as she would a bag of vegetables, yet as the young man watched the entire procedure from the shadows, never once did he doubt the delicacy with which she handled his great-grandfather's needs. After dressing him and checking old Jim's chart one last time, she scurried away, and carried with her a seemingly mountainous jumble of dirty laundry in her arms.

Alone again, Jim lay atop crisp white linens, freshly shaven and looking surprisingly alert in his smart silk robe. The boy found it difficult to watch the old man's eyes without actually making eye contact, but he was encouraged to find those old ocular organs alive with activity as the old man scanned the ceiling. He wanted to lean in closer, keen with interest, to further inspect the bed-bound individual, but he remained impeccably motionless amid the shadows of the far wall, lest he made his presence known. He barely breathed.

The nurse returned carrying a tray, which she placed above the reclined man's lap. She sat him up and propped a few pillows at his back, then showed him a bowl – which the boy could not see clearly, but looked to perhaps hold a heaping mound of oatmeal. The toothless man nodded his acceptance and let his eyes travel to the plate sitting beside the oatmeal bowl. It was then that his cracked, rubbery lips stretched wide in a grin, “Ya placed peppers in me scrambled eggs today, didja now? You're a sweet lass, to be takin' care of an old, withered man such as I in a most agreeable way. God love ya, Nurse. May He bless your very heart, eh?”

The Chinese woman, for her part, said nothing. Perhaps she understood the old man, perhaps not. It didn't matter in any case; she withdrew to change his chamber pot as he grabbed a spoonful of steaming oatmeal and aimed it in the direction of that feeble hole in his face he called a mouth. He slowly chewed – more out of habit than because he had any remaining teeth – whatever didn't get caught on his lips.

The young man watched with great interest from the shadows, a wraith in the darkness, invisible and silent.

And then the old man's sandpapery voice broke the stillness of the room with all the subtlety of a bullwhip, “So, boy, are ye gonna come over here so we can converse like proper gentlemen or are ye gonna spend all day in the shadows and watch me like a damned kook?”

The End

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