Sylvie glares at Jim while jabbing her finger into his chest. “My son is Green Beret,” she says, “and if you don’t let me leave soon, he’ll come here and throw you right out that window over there.” Jim smiles. He’s heard her threats a thousand times before, and wonders when the last time her son came to visit. Years, probably.
Blanche sits between them with a concerned look on her face, rubbing her bruised knuckles like she thinks she can erase the marks if she just tries hard enough. Annette picks a piece of broccoli out of her teeth, her adult depends sticking out of her pants. Gladys clutches onto her stuffed golden retriever, Buck, and mumbles sweet nothings to herself.
Jim shuffles the deck of cards and says, “Whaddya say, girls, how about a hand of Go-Fish?” A mute woman in the corner pulls her sweater up to her chin so that her breasts are exposed, nipples resting entirely in her lap. Sylvie gives her one look and raises her nonexistent eyebrows in a show of disgust. She lifts the red cap off her head, revealing a goblin’s cue ball ringed with a stringy white halo.
Blanche smiles and grabs Jim’s hand, squeezing it. “Deal me in, honey.” She’s convinced he’s her husband. It makes her so happy when he’s around, he doesn’t bother correcting her.
Annette scowls, scratching the back of her neck nervously and says, “Me too.”
A nurse that’s been on her feet for fourteen hours approaches with a cart full of apple juice, paper cups, and a million tiny pink and blue and red and orange pills. She flips through a notebook and chews on a pen, its end gnarled and filling fast with globs of her spit. That same spit traveling through the tube and mixing with the ink, leaving thick wet stains on the form in front of her. She either doesn’t notice or can’t be bothered to care.
Sylvie looks from Jim, the cards in his hand, to the nurse and back again. “Are you kidding me, you lazy ass? Why are you making us ladies do all the work around here while you relax?”
Jim smirks. “Got any fives, Gladys?”
Gladys blushes and whispers into Buck’s weathered ear. She waits for a second and then nods thoroughly. “Go fish,” she says, confident, despite never looking at her cards. Jim wonders what the dog could have said to her to make her so sure of herself. He stares into Buck’s yellow marble eyes and implores it to tell him the secrets of the universe.
People aren’t worth their weight in gold, the dog whispers back. Jim, in shock, puts his hand down in front of him and leans even closer.
“You heard me? You waste of space, I asked you a question!” Sylvie demands, but he doesn’t notice, can’t notice. Buck’s eyes have gotten bigger. His tongue has expanded to the length of an eel and is wagging out of sync with his speech.
Gladys knows this. You know this. So why do you spend so much of your time around them? Buck asks. The dog’s voice is less cartoonish than Jim would’ve expected. It’s wise, comforting almost. Jim entirely forgets the women between them. He’s entirely transfixed.
Blanche squeezes Jim’s hand again. He knows this isn’t the case, but for a second he feels like she’s trying to wrestle his attention away from Buck.
“That’s it, girls, that’s enough. Let’s get away from this asshole,” Sylvie growls, standing up and for a single moment towering over him with her hunched form. Blanche and Annette rise with her, and Gladys starts to, but without thinking, Jim grabs onto her sleeve.
“Wait. Gladys, I wasn’t done talking to Buck.”
She laughs, says, “Well honey, Buck’s done talking to you.” And for a moment she sounds like a woman twenty years her junior. Like she must have sounded when she was still young and vital, and not trapped behind these magnetically locked doors.
Wait, Jim pleas, still in shock. I have so much that I need to ask you.
The geriatric girl gang saunters off toward the bedrooms down the hall. Buck’s head, peeking over Gladys’ shoulder, gives him a foreboding look. He begs his new friend to tell him something, anything else, but all he gets in return is radio silence.
When they’re finally out of view, he unlocks the door to the stairwell, trying to leave. Sylvie catches him in the act and shouts, “I knew it was you, keeping us locked up in here, you bastard. Get back and let us leave, my son is Green Beret, and if you don’t he’ll kill you!”
Jim stops himself, “Girls, I swear, it’s not what it looks like.”
Sylvie and the others are closing in on him like a pack of wolves. Blanche stares at the floor, hands behind her back. She looks heartbroken that she ever trusted him. Sylvie stomps one orthopedic boot on the ground, trying to look menacing. Annette sticks her tongue out, smiling wide, eyebrows furrowed.
Gladys holds Buck up to her ear again, and Jim begs for him to speak. For a second it seems like she’ll stay as silent as his new friend, but she whispers, crazed, “You were supposed to be different, he told me so,” gesturing to Buck, “but now we know who you really are. Rat Fink. Impostor. Traitor.”
Jim’s heart shatters into a thousand little pieces because he knows that she’s right. That Buck is right. He’s the world’s biggest fraud.
After a few more minutes of launching verbal attacks against him, the ladies lose interest. They forget that they’re even locked in here, and remember that they have unfinished Styrofoam cups of coffee back in the community room. They walk away and Jim is left alone to consider the lessons he could have learned had he never tried to leave in the first place.
BOB RAYMONDA is the Founding Editor of Breadcrumbs Magazine. He has been featured in Luna Luna Magazine, OCCULUM, Peach Magazine, and Yes Poetry, among others. Learn more at www.bobraymonda.co