My first day as an elderly living assistant and I’m already off to see my first patient, a Mrs. Josephine Small. I turn onto Park Lane, keeping an eye out for the house my boss’s directions tell me is hers. My fingers tap the steering wheel to the rhythm of the Beatle’s Blue Album that’s blasting out of my car’s long-suffering speaker system. If I’ve read my boss’s cramped writing correctly, this should be it. I pull into the driveway, cut the engine, and get out, hoisting my bag of medical supplies over my shoulder. It’s a relatively tiny house, all one level, with a rather forlorn-looking picture window overseeing a lawn that looks like it hasn’t been mowed in some time.
I walk over to the door and knock, unable to stop my hands from shaking as I do. Not only am I nervous because it’s my first day but because Mrs. Small is notorious amongst the patients of Sunrise Health, the small healthcare company I work for. All six who have ever gone to work with her have quit, leaving the company with nothing but a stiffly typed resignation letter. I only hope I make a good impression; I’m too buried in student loans to quit now. A stooped, wizened old lady clutching a walker for support answers the door, her huge glasses making her seem owlish.
“Hi, Mrs. Small, I’m Nellie Blythe from Sunrise Health and I’m your new assistant,” I say, trying to sound pleasant. Mrs. Small sizes me up and gives me a toothy grin.
“You’ll do very well, dear,” she declares in a grandmotherly drawl. “Please come in.”
“Thank you.” I follow patiently behind her as she wobbles from the entrance area to a diminutive living room where she’s taken the trouble to arrange tea for the two of us, as if I were a proper guest rather than an assistant paid to take her vital signs and do light house work. The thought touches me. She sees my smile and returns it.
“I wanted to welcome my new assistant, especially after all the trouble I seem to have caused.” I hear a loud thump from below. “Don’t worry about that,” she responds when I shoot her a questioning look. “It’s just Gypsy, my cat, puttering around the basement. I suspect he’s caught a mouse.”
She settles herself in an armchair and the appointment goes smoothly. She lets me take her vitals and lead her through a few exercises without complaint. She answers my medical questions with the practiced descriptions long-term patients develop. I make sure she takes her medicine and, since she has no other work for me to do, I sit down and have a cup of tea with her. The talk quickly turns to her family.
“My husband Bill died over twenty years ago now,” she tells me with a wistful glance at a picture on a side table. “And my sons John, Joe and Andrew are all too busy to come and see me that often.”
I take another sip of tea, feeling drowsy. There are more thumps from downstairs and Mrs. Small bangs her foot on the floor a few times.
“Damn cat,” she says once all is silent. “I love that furball but he can be a handful.” She shoots an annoyed look at the door in the corner, which is padlocked.
“Do you want me to go and bring him up here?” I ask, already sitting up.
“No, Miss Blythe, he’s not bothering anybody. Have another cup of tea.” She refills my cup and it’s only then that I realize she isn’t drinking any.
“Don’t you want any tea?”
“No, dear, this particular blend doesn’t agree with me.”
There is a slight pause. I take another sip and yawn. I don’t know why I’m feeling so tired.
“So as I was saying earlier, I don’t see my children and my grandkids too much. I even used to relish the times Donny Mays from down the street used to come up and mow my lawn, if it only meant that I could talk to someone.”
“Haven’t you heard?” I say, forcing myself to sit up straighter. “He’s been missing for about a month now.”
Mrs. Small nods, tears in her beady eyes. “I know. I pray every night that they find him soon. He was such a nice boy.”
It goes quiet again and I hear wind chimes on the back porch colliding with one another in the spring breeze.
“That’s the thing they never tell you about gettin’ old,” Mrs. Small muses, fiddling with the drawstring of her pants. “They never mention how lonely it is. How you crave another’s company and how you don’t want people to leave when it’s time for them to go.”
I give her a bleary smile, trying not to fall asleep in this comfortable chair.
“Well, I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.” Her intense gaze sets off alarm bells in my head, though I don’t know why.
“No,” she says simply. “You’re not.”
There is thumping again from downstairs, steady as a beating heart. Before I know what’s happening, Mrs. Small is standing and walking towards me without the assistance of her walker. She pulls me up, quite strong for such a fragile woman, and I stumble behind her as she leads me to the basement door. She turns the key in the padlock and pushes me down the first few steps. At the bottom I see not a cat chasing mice, but the gagged figures of Donny Mays and my coworkers chained to the walls, desperately staring back at me. I know what I must do, but my body won’t let me for I am too exhausted. I take out my cell phone but she snatches it away quick as lightning.
“I’m sorry, Miss Blythe, but I don’t ever want to be alone again. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a resignation letter to write.”
Those are the last words Mrs. Small says to me before the darkness engulfs me and all I hear is the rattle of steel chains.
Elizabeth Hoyle has been writing stories since she was eight-years-old and is currently earning her Bachelor’s of both English Writing and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. A native of Beckley, West Virginia, her fiction has been featured on flashfictionworld.com and her poetry has been included in the American Library of Poetry’s student anthology entitled “Talented”. She also keeps a somewhat opinionated literature blog at: http://literaryparaphernalia.blogspot.com/