KEEPING TIME by Angelique Stevens

by Angelique Stevens

Walking through the doors of the V.A. hospital where my stepfather is a patient, the air settles, resigned like the sun’s afternoon descent. Dust flecks float in and out of golden afternoon rays. In the stillness, I can almost follow one from foyer through corridor, up and down lifeless hallways until it finally settles on a rusted radiator. I walk cautiously like I might break the building’s trance. The building, its dirt collecting in forgotten baseboard crevices is lined with plaster walls, their cracks covered with layers of paint. An old wooden bench sits in the foyer where people remove boots and unbutton coats.

Along the right wall are two bulletin boards. One posts the day’s schedule “10:00—group meeting, 12:00—lunch: corn, meatloaf, and onion soup, 2:30—movie: Harrison Ford in Patriot Games” The other overflows with old pictures of current residents. One photo, cracked and worn, shows a young man newly pressed and proudly uniformed with an elbow on the nose of an old fighter plane. In another a young man, no older than 17, stands next to his parents. His mother lingers in the back, indifferent. World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam—they all stand, young and strong, next to the armaments of their era.

In the silence, I tip-toe unconsciously. The nurse’s station in the next corridor is empty. The other workers have all gone home to their families for the weekend. Unused rooms are darkened and office doors are closed. Further down the corridor, a man slumps in a wheelchair blocking it where the sun’s rays are the brightest. He wears gray pants with dark stains that reveal his secrets. A slipper covers one foot, a cast the other. He doesn’t move to greet me; he only stares in expectation at the slit of light on the floor.