The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes
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
"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
'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.
"I'll leave you two alone."
When Jimmy was safely away, John asked, "So, Ralphie. What you
"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
"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
"Makes sense. When you get to be our age, you don't want to be
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
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
Open Wide. I'm shopping a novel to agents.
- Fiction from around the globe
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