THE COLD INSIDE
By AL BRUNO III
Tuesday November 8, 1994
The Carvale Home for the Elderly and the Infirm was a labyrinth of brightly painted walls and florescent lights. It had won awards for its standard of quality service and been mentioned favorably in newspapers and medical journals. Tristam hated there, he loathed it. He wanted nothing more than to spend the hour before his mother went home locked in the car- locked in the trunk even. Anything was better than being trapped in here. The place made his skin crawl. The people here- ‘the consumers’ as his mother called them- they were so old, so feeble. Tristam could barely stand to look at them. He felt like a character in a zombie movie, surrounded by shambling nightmares on all sides.
Tristam sat in his mother’s office, his math book open, his homework already half done. His mother was off visiting one of the residents, administering her daily dose of therapy. Carol Bloom was an Occupational Therapist; she helped stroke victims relearn things like holding a spoon, tying their shoes and getting dressed. Her job was commonly confused with Physical Therapy which was the same thing but different. She always said that the Occupational Therapists did all the work and the Physical Therapists got all the glory. Tristam had never really understood the difference himself but it was one of Mom’s favorite things to rant about. She could probably complain about it in her sleep.
With a shake Tristam realized that he’d been zoning out, just staring at the algebraic equation before him. Back to work. He thought, Let's get this over with now so we can watch some TV tonight.
Four problems later Tristam realized that he was being watched. One of the residents was staring at him through his mother’s open office door. It was an old man in t-shirt, slippers and sweat pants. He was bent and wrinkly, he looked like a dying tree. Tristam looked back down at his textbook but it was too late. He’d made eye contact.
“You workin?” He took tentative, shuffling footsteps into the office, “Schoolwork?”
The one rule Tristam had learned in dealing with irritable dogs and confused old farts was to show no fear, “Ms. Bloom isn’t here now, if you come back later she can-”
“Had a job when I was your age,” he smiled gumily, “had two.”
“I’d love to talk but this homework isn’t going to do itself so-”
“You look like a strong boy. You gonna join the army?”
“I hadn’t thought about it really.” Tristam searched the doorway for his mother, a nurse, anybody who could save him before the old man actually touched him.
“Maybe the Marines? I was in the Marines,” the old man gave Tristam’s bicep a playful squeeze.