Tuesday, July 8, 2014

One who couldn’t fly the coo coo’s nest (August 7, 1980)


Richi looked scared, slinking along the hallway wall to the locked door beyond which freedom waited. He pretended to be a visitor, though the big nurse wasn't fooled, shooing him back as she might a fly.
 ``He's already tried that four times today,'' she said after stopping us as we started to leave. ``But it's all right. We understand how lonely people get. He's luckier than most. He gets visitors like you.''
 She stared straight at me and licked her lips, smearing the bright lipstick a little with her tongue. Her eyes studied me like a butcher studying a cow before slaughter, debating which part would sell best ground, and which part she'd like to take home for an evening meal of her own.
 I was scared, too. Ever since I was a kid I'd been coming to places like this, nut houses where one or another of my relations wound up. It ran in the family. Grandma's father had died in a place like this. I was also nervous about leaving Pete outside in the hall, our one rich relation who was growing rapidly impatient with this side of the family. We've always been a pain to him, an embarrassing element which he endured for his wife's sake. Alice was least like the rest of us. She was the sane soul in a house of crazies. He loved her and would put up with us to prove that love. But since the day she'd died, that patience faded. Now he came out of a sense of duty, a visitor on the doorstep who would -- if these things kept occurring -- ceased to come at all.
 ``I'm glad you think we're helping him,'' I said and tried to move away, but the nurse's sharp red nails dug into my arm, holding me back.
 ``Are you his so?'' she asked.
 ``His nephew,'' I said with a shake of my head.
 The nurse did not enquire after Susan's relationship to Richi. I think she presumed Susan to be my sister. We looked enough alike for that and her eyes said something to me that increased my anxiety, her eyes asking that I come back, soon and often.
 ``You're a real good nephew,'' the nurse said, and squeezed my arm, and then, very reluctantly, let loose my arm, signaling for the guard to let us out.
 Richi stood back a few steps, his head down, his eyes closes, his hands shaking at his sides. His brother had called and said we'd find the man here at Bergen Pines.
 ``I couldn't put up with him anymore,'' Albie had said on the telephone. ``All he kept talking about was killing himself.''
 ``Good bye, Richi,'' I said.
 Richi did not move, except to shake his head, the salt and pepper hair like that of an old man's.
 ``Say good bye, Richi,'' the nurse said, nudging him with her nail.
 ``Good bye, Richi,'' Richi said.
 It was an old joke. One not funny even when Richi used to deliver it in a humorous way, part of his overall less than funny sense of humor he carried around on his back with his carpenter tools.
 Only the nurse laughed, and was still laughing even after the guard had opened and closed the door. I heard her cackle even as we hurried away, that cackle dying with the echoes of our step, and we charged out into the empty lobby where Pete should have been.

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