Over his cooked carrots, Ronald asked the rest of the table who the new guy was.
One them said it was Nathanial Holmes.
Ron said he knew Nathanial from school. He asked which room Nate had been put in.
Ron was told it was Room 122B. Nate was sharing it with the one legged man from Liberty who never talked and never left the bed.
Knowing Nate from their schooldays, Ron decided he’d give Nate a visit. He considered their reacquaintance might give him a partner to play cards with or somebody to watch the afternoon cowboy shows with, after lunch and Ron’s 12:30 nap.
It was a Thursday after lunch when Ron sought Nate out. He shuffled into Nate’s room, inside the cage of his wheeled walker.
The one legged man from Liberty was lying in bed, behind the synthetic curtain.
Ronald introduced himself to the bald, wilted man with wisps of silver hair who was sitting by the window, tremoring.
“Nathanial Holmes?” Ron asked.
“Yeah,” the bent man by the window replied.
He spoke softly, but Ron could read his lips and subtle gestures and mannerisms enough to make sense of it.
“You remember me?” Ronald asked. “We went to school together. I’m Ronald McClure. We might have been in Mrs. White’s second grade class together. You remember?”
Frail of both body and mind, Nathanial looked up and replied, “Yes. I think I remember.”
“You remember me or you remember having Mrs. White for a teacher?” Ronald asked.
Nathanial took as good and hard a look at his visitor as he could.
“Both,” Nathanial finally eked out. “But I remember you from high school the most.”
Ron, anticipating the response, made out most of what Nathanial had said.
“High school?” Ron asked.
“I played basketball,” Ron said. “We went to semi-state one year. You remember that?”
“No,” Nathanial said. “Me and my friends liked beer and cars and girls, not basketball.”
As Nate explained his high school preference for extracurriculars, Ron noticed his acquaintance’s teeth. He noticed Nate had a few left, but not many.
There was a sudden commotion out in the hall. One on the residents was trying to enter a room she wasn’t supposed to go in.
“So what you been up to since school?” Ron had to holler, due to his own lack of hearing, thought it might be presumed for his acquaintance’s sake as well.
Nathanial shrugged, as if to say, “I don’t know. I’m here.”
Ronald continued, “Well, as far as me, I got a couple of nice daughters. One graduated from Miami. The other graduated from Baldwin-Wallace. One’s a CPA. The other works for Procter & Gamble. And I got 5 lovely grandkids.”
Nathanial listened and blinked. Ron noticed the grime in the creases of Nate’s cheap, black sneakers. It appeared as if he’d been pulled directly out of squalor and dumped into the nursing home.
Ronald went on, “I was married. We’d retired to Florida. She died 7 years ago. We had a nice house around here and a condo down in Florida. A boat I’d take out on the lake and the river. I was even elected to the school board. I served for over a decade. Then Marna died and my health started going to hell. So my girls brought me back here. Isn’t it hell getting old?”
Nathan mumbled something.
“What’s that?” Ron asked. “I’m a little hard of hearing and there’s something going on in the hall.”
Nathanial got closer.
“I remember you now, for sure.”
“Oh yeah?” Ron asked.
Nathanial said something, but it only registered to Ron as a loud blur.
“You’ll have to speak up,” Ron said. “I’m hard of hearing.”
Nate took a deep breath. This time Ron heard it loud and clear, as well as many of the rest in the surrounding rooms and hallway did.
“You’re the one they said screwed his sister.”
Ron, already white and ghostly, turned even paler. His heart flinched. He gripped his walker like holding on to life itself.
From behind the curtain, the one legged man from Liberty who never spoke said, “C’mon, now. Take it easy.”
“I ain’t judging,” Nathanial yelled. “It’s just what I remember. In fact, it’s about all I remember of you.”
Ron wished he had already died. What this senile old man said was something Ron had spent over 60 years pretending never happened and hoping nobody else knew or remembered.
“Well, I did a lot more than that with my life,” Ron said.
“Thank heavens,” Nathanial mumbled. “But I would have imagined that since I did more than just race cars and chase girls and drink beer too.”
“Like I said, my daughters graduated from nice universities. I had a boat and a beautiful wife and a nice house here and a condo on the beach. I was even on the school board.”
“Yeah,” Nathanial said. “So tell me, you got a girlfriend in here?”
“No,” Ronald said.
“So why don’t you help me get a girlfriend in here.”
“I was thinking we might play some cards together or watch some cowboy shows,” Ronald said.
“I ain’t interested in cards or Wagon Train. I’m interested in finding a woman. I’m already lonely in here.”
“I can’t help with that,” Ronald said. “But maybe I can be your friend.”
“I’m not a pansy,” Nathanial scoffed.
“Alight,” Ron said.
“You fucked your sister,” the meandering-minded Nathanial repeated.
“Quiet,” came from behind the curtain.
“Okay. Okay,” Ron said, leaving the room and deciding not to return.
“I’d have never had the balls to do something like that. But I guess you did,” Nate blathered. “But it’s okay. I ain’t judging. Heck, I almost wish I’d had the balls to do such a thing.”
Shuffling down the hall behind his walker, Ronald decided he and Nathanial wouldn’t be watching any cowboy shows or playing cards together any time soon. And he hoped Nathanial might be senile enough to forget about Ron’s past before he smeared any more of Ron’s good name and reputation inside the nursing home.