THE COLD INSIDE
By AL BRUNO III
Wednesday November 9, 1994
Workdays at the Carvale Home for the Elderly and Infirm went by quickly. Carol Bloom’s time was divided between irregular staff meetings and the consumers she saw each day. Whatever free moments she had were filled with paperwork, paperwork and more paperwork. At least she got an hour for lunch, that was something, at her old job she had been so busy she had to skip lunch or eat while she worked. For now lunch was over and she was walking the drably painted halls with Grace Lumley, the Nurse Practitioner that for all intents and purposes ran the Carvale Home.
“...now of course that he’s gotten a whiff of the Medicaid money, he wants to increase yours and PE’s workload as much as he can,” Grace noticed one of the overhead florescent lights was out and paused to make a note in the pad of paper she carried in her pocket, frowning as she wrote.
Carol waited for her to finish scribbling before she spoke, “Well I can’t speak for Bill but I’m stretched to the limit.”
“You think he cares? As far as he’s concerned if you or Bill give him any lip he’ll just replace you with some kid fresh out of college for a fraction of what he pays you.”
“He wouldn’t-” They rounded the hallway, pausing to peer in the main cafeteria. Clean up was almost done, it was almost time to get the area ready for arts and crafts. That was always a favorite with the more able-bodied patients. There was a smear of something on one of the windows. “Is that food?”
“I hope so.”
“Wonder if maintenance will notice it.”
“We’ll see.” Grace wrote in her notepad and started walking again, “They better.”
From the windows they could see the long black hearse labeled Crawford Funeral Parlor double-parked near the rear exit. “We lost someone,” Grace said. The Carvale home had been doing business this way for years. If the patient hadn’t already made arrangements Crawford Funeral was always called in to handle the details.
“Mr. Krawl in 302. The Sleeper strikes again,” Grace shook her head and kept walking, pausing momentarily to note a sticky spot on the floor.
Attendants and orderlies passed them in the hallway, some nodding and smiling, some avoiding eye contact, “You don’t believe that do you?”
“Carol. I’ve been here since nineteen eighty-nine, so has the Sleeper, and every roommate we’ve ever given him has expired within six weeks.”
“Our patients don’t always come to us in the best of health.”
“All I know is what I’ve seen. That thing in the hospital bed has been here longer than any of the staff and his room and board have been paid for until the millennium.”
“The Sleeper has family?”
One of the paintings that decorated the walls was hanging askew, Grace spent a few moments straightening it. She tended to sweat the little amenities like working light bulbs and clean windows because they were the kind of things that other local nursing homes neglected. That was probably why the Carvale Home was so highly regarded, that was also probably why Grace had one Hell of an ulcer. “They pay anonymously, some kind of trust fund thing. I’ve only spoken to the guy on the phone once.”
“I warned the new director not to give the Sleeper another roommate but all he cares about is packing in the patients. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. He thinks he can run this place like a cheap motel.” Grace shook her head, “The best thing we can do is keep our heads down and muddle through, he’ll learn how things are done around here, or he’ll be out the door.”
Carol nodded appreciatively, “I’d love to know how he ended up in charge.”
“Same way you got your job, inside connections.”
“I resent that,” Carol stopped dead in her tracks, the blood rising to her face.
Grace gave her a disbelieving laugh “Hey lighten up.”
“I didn’t think it was very funny I work pretty hard here. Maybe I didn’t come here under the best of circumstances-”
Grace waved her hand dismissively, “Oh God not again. Carol, I’m your friend. I’m one of the few friends you’ve got here.”
“I- Maybe I should just get to work before I say something we both regret,” Carol headed back to her cramped little office.
“All right.” Grace called after her, “Sorry.”
With her office door closed behind her Carol Bloom made a fist and cursed. Every time she started to feel like she had earned her place here someone jerked the carpet out from under her.
Inside connections. She hated it but it was true- her ex-husband had gotten her this job. Almost sixteen years after the divorce and he was still doing her favors but always with a litany of complaints. He loved to play the martyr but the alimony was generous and mostly paid on time. For God’s sakes he was footing the bill to send both her children to Blessed Heart and Pam wasn’t even his stepdaughter anymore!
The problem was that everything with him had a price tag.
This job was a perfect example of that. She had struggled for years working for a company that sent her on a series of house calls that had her working twelve hours a day and driving out to locations as far away as Massachusetts. When she made the mistake of asking her supervisor for a cost of living increase in her wages he’d laid her off. Three weeks of searching for a new job and dodging creditors sent her pleading to her ex-husband for a loan. Gawain had done more than give her a loan, he arranged for the Carvale Home for the Elderly and Infirm to fire the long standing and well-loved Occupational Therapist and hire her.
Needless to say it made her reception here a frosty one.
There was a trio of manila folders on her desk, she sat down and leafed half-heartedly through them. The bottom folder was for Lucille Dowd, a stroke victim that had been living at the Carvale Home for almost two years now. She was strong and determined. Lucille’s husband, Phillip Dowd came to see her every day, he was sweet and helpful and full of questions. Carol liked them both.
Except that Phillip and his wife were not the people they said they were. They had been Federal Agents until one night over thirty years ago when they had embezzled nearly a million dollars from the government and gone into hiding.
For some reason her ex-husband was interested in them and he’d gotten her a job here so she could spy on them. It made her feel dirty to do it but she needed this job, she depended on it. Every week her ex-husband called her for an update of Lucille Dowd’s condition.
The phone jangled to life, she let it ring a few times before she answered it, “Hello?”
“Carol,” her ex-husband’s voice was a haggard baritone, “it’s me.”
“Same as before.”
“Hey- what time are you coming to pick up Tristam?”
“Oh God I forgot.”
“You’re still coming aren’t you?”
“Carol, I’m not even on the East Coast. Can you break the news to him?”
“Me?” Her knuckles whitened around the receiver.