Josie found excuses to walk past June Spencer’s room two more times after that—retrieving a blanket for Lisette’s lap from her room and then going back again for the butterscotch candies she kept in her nightstand. Each time she passed, she slowed and peered inside. The nursing aides had, as instructed, moved June from her bed to the guest chair next to it. She sat unmoving with her hands on the armrests. Her pale legs—hairy from a year of not having shaved them—peeked out from beneath the hospital gown. Someone had put those awful brown non-skid socks on her feet. Pushed up in front of her was the rolling tray table and dinner: turkey breast with gravy, apple sauce, jello, a tiny can of ginger ale and a hot tea. All of it was untouched, the silverware perfectly lined up beside her plate, which meant no one had tried to feed her. Josie wondered if she would eat. Perhaps, if she was hungry enough? She remembered Ray saying she was healthy. Perhaps the act of eating was an automatic thing for her.
“Come now,” Lisette called from the cafeteria, and Josie tore herself from June’s doorway to return to the dining room with the candy.
“There’s nothing more you can do for her right now. Leave her,” she said, as Josie dealt a new hand of kings in the corner. They played in silence, finishing two games before Lisette suggested rummy. “Since you obviously have no plans to go home.” She winked at Josie and started shuffling the cards again as they heard Sherri push her cart past the dining room entrance, heading back in the direction of June’s room. “I’ve got to do this admission,” she called to someone at the nurses’ station.
Lisette dealt as Josie tried to remember how to play, her ears straining for the click of the door down the hall, hoping that Sherri had the good sense to give the poor girl some privacy.
“You don’t remember how to play, do
you?” Lisette broke in.
Josie gave her a sheepish smile as Lisette offered her another butterscotch candy and took her through the basics of the game. Slowly it came back to her as they played a few practice hands, before Lisette took the deck and began shuffling it again. “Now we’ll play to win,” she said.
“Don’t we need a notepad to keep track of the score?”
Lisette raised a brow. “I don’t suppose you want to take a walk back to my room to get one?”
“I don’t,” Josie said pointedly.
“You don’t have some fancy snap on that phone of yours we can use?”
“You mean app, Grandma.”
She waved one hand in the air. “Whatever. Or is it whatevs? I heard Mrs. Sole’s great-granddaughter in here the other day and she said, ‘whatevs’. Is that the new thing? Young people are too lazy to even finish saying words?”
Josie was laughing so hard it took a moment to register the commotion coming from down the hallway. Then a bloodcurdling scream sliced the air, followed by another and another, from more than one person, until it sounded like a pack of hysterical, panicked wolves howling. Josie raced into the hallway and saw a gaggle of nursing aides standing outside June’s room. Their mouths were stretched wide in horror, their faces ashen. One woman stopped screaming just long enough to be sick. Another fell to her knees and covered her eyes as more staff rushed to the door.
Josie ran for the room, the world revolving in slow motion around her. She was moving toward something terrible, she knew it, a large stone of dread pressing down hard on her center of gravity. Sherri’s cart stood untouched and unattended outside the room, June’s electronic chart aglow on its screen.
Pushing through the crowd, she made it to the threshold at last. Sherri lay on the floor near the foot of the bed, face up. Her hands lay limp on her chest. She was gone. A pool of blood spread quickly beneath her, her throat in shreds, a tiny geyser of blood still gushing from the torn flesh. Her eyes were huge and glassy, frozen. Not so much in horror or even panic. She simply looked surprised, like someone had jumped out of the closet and startled her. Your face will freeze like that. Josie’s mother’s voice rang in her ears.
her gaze to the far side of the room,
where June squatted beneath the window, her naked
rounded spine facing the door. The non- skid socks on her feet were thick with
blood and the hem of the hospital
gown swished back and forth in the crimson puddle. From where she stood, Josie could see she clutched a fork in one bloody hand, a small shard of flesh dangling from its tongs. She was doing something with the other hand. Josie couldn’t see what, but her shoulder and elbow worked at a frenzied pace, up and down, back and forth.
“Call 911,” Josie said quietly to the sobbing women at her back. “And do not come into this room.”
She took a halting step inside. Then another. Whatever June was doing, it was to the wall beneath the windows, her movement smooth and steady, her crouched body blocking Josie’s view.
A few feet from Sherri’s head lay a white foam cup at rest on its side. The lid had been removed and was still on the tray table. The water for the hot tea. She must have flung it in Sherri’s face, then gone for the jugular.
Josie sidestepped the pool of blood edging along the tile floor. Now she was close enough to see that June had written a word on the wall in Sherri’s bright, warm red blood in large streaks using her fingertips. Not a word, actually. A name.