Millie lies in a bed in a convalescent home, clutching what appears to be a simple ball of carpet fibers. In a nurse's attempt to part the patient from her unusual object, a story unfolds, making it clear that the bundle of fabric represents more than just something left behind, but also a personal tragedy Millie clings to just as tightly as her fluff. A short story from our Nibs literary line.
She heard the shuffle and squeak on the highly polished floor as only a triangle of dim hallway light filtered into her room. It was early morning perhaps, commencing yet another day of unforgiving nightmares and the anniversary of untimely loneliness. The thin, fragile woman fidgeted with the sheer woven blanket with her misshapen fingers, refraining from using either thumb or either forefinger as they presently held the sole artifact of the horrifying memory and a love long since past. Her heart ached with the cumulative pressure of unwarranted guilt.
“Can’t sleep dear?” whispered the concerned silhouette now standing, dividing the triangle.
“No, I suppose not. I’m not keeping anybody else up, am I?” the old woman returned, sincerely.
“Of course not, dear. Are you feeling okay? Do you want me to get you something?”
The elder twisted the object fervently, looked toward the window and whimpered, “Time.”
With this, the nurse flicked on the lamp adjacent to the mechanical bed. She leaned over dutifully and primped the pillow supporting the head of pure white hair. As she slowly withdrew her hand she gently brushed it against the woman’s cheek.
“Want to tell me about it?”
“It’s June 17th isn’t it?”
“Yes it is Millie; it’s been June 17th for about two hours now.”
“Hmm, that late is it? My grandson keeps buying me clocks and calendars and such things; and I love him ever so dearly but I just throw them out. He only visits a few times a year so I think that he may tend to forget that he’d ever given me the things anyway.” She smiles peacefully.
“Well I think it’s just wonderful that you know what day it is without a calendar. I’d be lost without one myself!”
“If you would have asked me last week what day it was, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you.”
The nurse turned her own head a bit, not sure how to respond at first. “What made last week different? I don’t remember you being ill?”
“Oh no,” the old woman said with a start, “I wasn’t sick at all. I know Beth in #237 wasn’t feeling up-to-snuff, but I was fine.” Then she glances upward toward the nurse and emphatically states, “I know this day by heart; and when I say, ‘by heart,’ I mean it!”
The nurse was taken aback by the elder’s posturing, but was innately concerned that her patient was troubled, and it was important to know and listen to what was so possessing about this night.
“Millie, is this a special day for you? Are you expecting visitors today?”
“None of my kids will come, that’s for sure—they know better.” She stated flatly.
“What is it then?”
“Just a day—just a day—it’ll pass,” she said breathlessly.
The kindness of the nurse encouraged the pursuit of anxiety that was surfacing in this fragile woman. While pausing to think of words to explore this conversation, she noticed the dark pellet that the old woman was methodically spinning tightly between her forefingers and thumbs. The nurse snatched a tissue from the nightstand and leaned forward.
“Here, dear, let me get rid of that for you.”
“What?” the woman scolded while withdrawing her hands out of reach.
“Not a chance. When I die, this is going with me. When I get tired of holding it, I stick it in the curls of my hair so nobody steals it; but it’s going with me.”
The nurse is taken aback, and is concerned of the woman’s anxieties and obvious obsession, as she perceives that this spec of insignificant matter is of little interest or corollary.
“Do you want to put it on the tissue by yourself?”
“No. If I did that, I wouldn’t be holding it, and I have to be holding it when I go meet my Maker. I’m hoping I don’t go when it’s in my hair, but I think he’ll understand if I tell the story straight.”
“God? God will understand?”
The old woman smiled and chuckled a bit.
“Sure, He’ll understand cuz that’s His job! I was talking about Norman.”
“Your husband, Norman—your late husband, Norman?”
The woman inhaled deeply, holding the breath. “Yes.”
The nurse stared at the woman’s twisted fingers as they manipulated this small sphere more frantically than before.
“So tell me, Millie, why is that thing, there, so important to take with you?”