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The International Writers Magazine
: Dreamscapes

Purgatory
Douglas N. Kimball
"You get a new roommate today, John," said Ratchett.

It was once his favorite, cream of rice, but dammit, John couldn't eat it by himself, would spill it all over. So Nurse Ratchett (the name he had given the impatient weekday attendant with her permanent smirk) was feeding him. Bite after bite, he opened his mouth like a helpless bird while Ratchett spooned in the lumpy, sugary mix. It wasn't as good as Marmie's, made with water not milk. John knew from the texture.
"You get a new roommate today, John," said Ratchett.
"Eat me," said John, "Animal House."
Ratchett did not respond. She smirked and lifted the straw to John's lips so he could sip his orange juice, which he did, dutifully.
His old roommate of eighteen months had been a Navy man, master's mate in the submarine fleet, on the old diesel stinkpots. They pulled the sheet over his head after a cerebral hemorrhage, poor bastard. It was John's seventh roommate in seven years. They had talked all the time. John quoted from old films and Lloyd tried to remember the titles. Even with a touch of Alzheimer's, Lloyd did pretty well.
"I gotta pee," said John, "Forrest Gump."
Ratchett helped John up and braced him as he made his way to the bathroom. He closed the door, but could not lock it as there was no lock. Still, he did not want Ratchett to see him sit, like a girl, to urinate. His left hand was useless and his right had such a quake, if he used it to hold his penis, he'd piss all over himself. This he knew from experience. So, he sat. When finished, he pulled up his pajamas and braced himself against the sink to rinse his hands. Ratchett sensed he was done and opened the door. Her gaze drifted to his crotch, thus did his, and he realized he had, despite precaution, pissed himself.
"Dinner's postponed on account a' rain," said John. "Stooges, 'Day and Nite Plumbers'."
"You want me to help you change, or would you like for me to call Jimmy?"
"Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."
"I'll get Jimmy."

Ratchett walked him back to his bed. While waiting for Jimmy, John tried to imagine what his new roommate would be like. In addition to the seven thus far, John had outlived five siblings, two wives, four children and all his friends. He had six grandchildren and two lived near enough to visit, though visits were rare. He always expected them to look like him, when he was their age, or like Marmie, but they were a disappointment. They looked like someone else's kids.
Jimmy arrived and closed the door. "Sue says you had a little accident." Jimmy moved to the drawer and rummaged for a new set of underwear and pajamas.
'You want the truth? You can't handle the truth," said John. "A Few Good Men."
Jimmy easily lifted John with one arm and helped him change with the other. "New roomie today, John."
"I'll alert the media," said John. "Arthur."
Jimmy raised the bed, so John could sit up, and turned on the television. He looked at John and asked, "Anything else?" but when his gaze was not returned, he left. John watched the local news.

A little later Jimmy returned with the new roommate. Jimmy lifted a tall, thin man from a wheelchair and placed him in the inside bed. John had long since claimed the "window seat."
"This is Ralph Russo," said Jimmy while adjusting the bed to a sitting position. "Ralph, meet your roommate, John Tobis."
"Hello, John," said Ralph. His speech was slightly slurred. John nodded.
"I'll leave you two alone."
When Jimmy was safely away, John asked, "So, Ralphie. What you in for?"
"Strokes," said Ralph. "Mini-strokes."
"Parkinson's," said John holding up his quaking right hand. "Too bad I didn't have this when I was thirteen."
Ralph laughed, a deep resonant laugh and John knew then, he liked the man.
"Navy man?" asked John.
"No, Army. Second Cavalry, North Africa."
"I'm Fifth Marines. South Pacific. Okinawa."
"You like movies?" asked John.
"Learned my best moves in the back of a theatre," said Ralph.
John laughed, then closed his eyes and said a quick prayer.
"You OK?" asked Ralph.
John, eyes tightly closed, mouth pursed, looked pained.
"You havin' a mini-stroke?"
"I'm fine," said John, opening his eyes, "just talking to God."
"Makes sense. When you get to be our age, you don't want to be takin' chances."
John smiled. He didn't want to contradict, but Ralph wasn't quite correct. John didn't pray for forgiveness or salvation. He wanted God to take him first. He didn't want to outlive yet another roommate.

© Douglas Kimball Feb 2004
Chandler, AZ
pamkimball@cox.net

About Doug:
I am a minor economic indicator. Whenever the economy spins itself down the proverbial economic drain, it spits me out like a drowned tub toy. Unemployed and left with time, amid the resumes, cover letters and interviews, I fantasize about writing for a living. Stories grow up next to resumes. Submissions accompany responses to job advertisements. The search for headhunters includes a side trail to locate unwary literary agents. I've published in Penworks and Open Wide. I'm shopping a novel to agents.

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