The Tall, Dark Stranger
The sound of large, heavy doors being unlocked distracted him from his maze of disjointed thoughts and he turned his head to look over his shoulder. Through the split doors came a metal cart filled with small, paper cups. The shadows of different colors behind the folded paper made him think they were pills but then he caught the scent of fruit. Fruit cart. The very thought unsettled him further. Then he looked up to see the person pushing the cart and his breath actually caught in his throat.
He was an imposing, giant redwood of a man with skin almost the same color as the giant Oregonian trees. His biceps swelled so large and supported such huge shoulders that his head seemed to be hiding between the two giant stumps of muscles. He looked like the kind-of guy who could pin his entire body down with one arm while yawning and flipping through channels on tv as if bored. It made perfect sense for him to be an orderly. Or a bouncer.
“Fruit time, everybody!” he called out to the room joyfully. “Time for some sweet, tasty fruit,” he sang, more to himself than to anyone else. He wheeled the cart to the corner first, handed the fruit cup to the man who had been yelling in another language. The man stopped his rant instantly and took the cup happily, as if the angry man who’d been yelling was instantly gone, replaced by a 12 year-old happy to have his snack. “There ya go, Ben- I knew you’d feel better once ya got your snack.”
He wheeled the cart over to the crew by the tv and began dispensing cups. “Sally, eat some fruit- gotta get some meat on these ol’ bones,” he said, handing the cup to the frail girl rocking in her seat. She released her grip on her knees and took it from him without looking up to acknowledge him in any way, but stopped rocking just a little and spooned out a large chunk of some soggy, orange mass. “Good girl,” he cooed to her.
“Come on Al, fruit time,” he called to the drooling man. He reached down and took the man’s hand and folded it around the cup. He didn’t respond in any way, his remained on it side, drool coming out like a slowly growing mold.
“Jerry, can’t we don nothing ‘bout this?” he said, straightening up and looking over to the other orderly who’d follow’d him in.
“Wish we could man, but Doc Brown put him on the dose for a reason. It is not for anyone else to question.” Came the answer from a tall, thin man who’d been on the outskirts of the room watching.
The redwood man sighed and the sound of the air coming out his lungs sounded like a strong breeze- the kind that could break off a tree branch during a storm. “Alright, then- can we at least get her upright then,” he said, bending to the double over figure.
The man he’d spoken to earlier, Jerry was the name he’d responded to, came over and knelt before the double frame, trying to see the eyes that must have been looking at the underside of the chair. “Mrs. Corning? Jim has brought you some fruit. You want to have some fruit?” he asked. A small, muffled came from the figure and Jerry reached around them carefully to help them straighten up.
As he straightened her it became apparent that she was, in fact, a woman. And in addition to weighing no more than 80 or so pond she also looked like she was on the later side of 70, perhaps even older. The man straightened her back in the chair with the delicacy of a cook placing the final flourish on a temperamental soufflé, careful not to disturb her in any way. It was no wonder the giant didn’t want to touch her, he’d probably snap her in half is he used any more than a finger worth of pressure.
“Thanks, Jerry,” the giant said as he placed the fruit cup on the arm rest of the chair the woman now sat back in.
“Just doin’ my job,” jerry said over his shoulder as he walked away.
“Oh my goodness, what have we have here?” he boomed jollily as he beheld the newcomer. “What your name, champ?”
He had to think about it for a second before he could answer and that bothered him. “Tom- uh, to-“ he choked on the word as if something were stuck in his throat and coughed to get it out. He hadn’t remembered when his mouth had turned to sand paper.
“Tom- ‘sok. It’ll wear off in a day or two, no worries,” the giant said, wheeling the cart toward him. “Here, have some fruit- it’ll help.”
Tom waved the cup offered away and continued to choke on his own saliva. The coughing worsened and he actually had to straighten his back to keep his lungs filling up with air to continue the coughing fit. A small plastic cup grippe by a giant hand appeared in front of hi and Tom grabbed it without even looked up. He started the down the water like a dying man in a desert.
“Woah, woah- slow down there or you’ll choke even worse,” he said. Tom forced himself to slow and lengthen the next gulp. “There ya go- that’s better. Now sip that slowly and you should feel better.”
“What- was that?” Tom managed to sputter, still trying to get his chest back in order. He tried to clear his throat and struggled.
“Keep sipping. Don’t worry about it- we all come out looking worse for the wear our first day here,” he said, grabbing a chair near him and turning it to Tom. “They give everybody something when they first come in- whether they need it or not. All the heavy duty ones’ll give that mouth rot.”
Tom swallowed gingerly and then looked at the man sitting next to him. “Mouth ‘rot’ you said? What is that?”
“What you got- the dryness and stuff,” he said.
“Oh. Never heard that term before,” Tom said.
“That’s cause I think I made it up- no doctor’d call it that.”
“Oh,” Tom said weakly.
“Don’t worry, it’ll pass. Anyways- Tom. I’m Jim,” he said offered his baseball glove-sized hand to him.
“Hey, Jim,” Tom said, shaking. “I’d say it’s nice to meet but given the circumstances it would seem insincere.”