Marie was the Head Nurse on the second floor. She was a stern woman with ice blue eyes and a head of tight black curls. She saw me sitting in Room 215, in the dark, mop bucket beside the door.
She pointed at me, then the door. I got the point.
“What are you doing in there?” Her voice was a rough whisper, the practiced tone of someone used to speaking low.
“I was just sitting.”
“The nurses’ station still needs cleaning.”
“I know. I heard everyone talking and was waiting for things to quiet down.”
“Really? Is that how we do things now? Wait until it’s convenient?”
“I’m sorry. I just wanted to see her. Heck said–”
“Heck’s not a doctor, and he shouldn’t be saying anything.”
“Because he’s a janitor?”
She lowered her head. “That’s not what I mean. I know you mean well, but this girl… she’s a special case. We don’t know who she is. If someone were to come along and see you alone with her, and in the dark, there could be liability issues.”
“I was just sitting,” I said. “Listening to her breathe. Making sure.”
“That’s still not good. Look, I know you’re harmless. You’ve been working here, what ten years?”
“Oh. I mean, okay, sure. But you can see how it looks.”
“So I’ll turn on the light. It won’t bother her, will it?”
Marie smiled. A rarity. “Twenty-five years. Okay.”
I nodded. “I’m a lifer, I guess.”
“Indeed. Well. Look. If you’re going to visit her, let one of the nurses know beforehand. I still don’t know why you’re in there.”
“She doesn’t have anybody,” I said. “I thought a voice might help her. If she can even hear me.”
“We’ve been calling her Heather. It’s a perfume she was wearing when she was admitted. Dolores Henley said she recognized the fragrance.”
“Heather. That’s nice.”
“And don’t you dare tell anyone we’ve had this conversation. I’ll tell everyone I gave you special permission to be in her room because of your work experience.”
“Okay. Thank you. I won’t stay in there long. Just talk to her a bit. And I’ll turn the light on.”
“All right. Remember, always tell the nurses when you go in there. Please don’t make a habit of it. Otherwise….” She shrugged. “And what’s your name again? I can’t remember.”
I told her. She nodded and walked back to the nurses’ station. The conversation was a lot quieter now. No one would say a thing to me, just watch me clean up their styrofoam cups and donut boxes.