This week’s chosen pic was lovely, but I didn’t come up with anything compelling enough to write, so I decided to strike out my own again.
Elaine pushed through the rec room door and gestured for Mary to enter first. “This is where most residents spend their days.” Mary was new and getting the tour.
It was a large space, with a TV at one end and a few tables and chairs at the other. The couches were old but looked clean enough. Bookshelves offered battered paperbacks and old board games.
Mary attempted to look upbeat. “Well, this looks cheery enough.”
Elaine had always been a realist. “It doesn’t, actually, but it’s the best we can do. The money only goes so far, and these people are here on the state’s dime.”
A few of the residents present were at the table playing cards or a game, but the bulk of them sat silently in front of the TV, which was currently running a commercial on cat litter. The volume was high enough to make Elaine’s ears hurt, but it had be turned up for those with hearing problems.
One old woman noticeably sat apart, facing a window in her wheelchair, gazing out with an empty expression on her face. Mary discreetly pointed. “Who’s that?”
“Sara. She refuses to watch the television and seems to have no interest in the other residents.” Elaine sighed. Sara had been a problem since she’d arrived, and lately her depression was worse. “Spends every day right there in front of that window.” She leaned in and lowered her voice. “I suspect she’s trying to come up with a plan to make a break for it,” she joked.
Mary’s smile was thin. “Has she been put on the list?”
“Of course. Everyone here has, and everyone is still waiting. The wheels of government always move slow.”
“My father is attached to the program. He might be able to help.” Mary winked. “Maybe drop a few words in the right ears?”
Elaine looked around the room. These people were no longer part of life. They were only waiting to die. “Please do. It might make all the difference.”
Several weeks passed. Mary settled into her job and became a favorite with the residents. She was eternally patient and kind, and they responded to that. Everyone except Sara, who wouldn’t speak with Mary or even acknowledge her. But then, Sara never talked to anyone.
One day a large truck pulled up out front. Inside it were gifts for everyone, courtesy of a special government program. Two muscular young men unloaded everything, one package per room, and a third unpacked and set things up. Excitement everywhere was palpable.
Mary’s father had worked his magic at last, much to the delight of residents and staff. When everything was ready, and the truck had vanished down the drive, Elaine took great pleasure in turning off the TV in the rec room. The silence was a great relief.
“No more damn cat litter commercials,” she said gleefully to Mary, who laughed. “Do you want to be the one to take Sara to her room?”
“I’ll do it right now.” Mary went over to Sara, who was at her window, as usual. “I have a surprise for you, Sara.” There was no response, but Mary hadn’t expected one.
She wheeled the old woman to her room. Several items had been neatly laid out on the bed. Mary parked the wheelchair in front of the flat-screen television on the table and picked up the visor. When she put it on Sara’s head, two earbuds extended, one at each side. Mary put them in Sara’s ears. Lightweight sensory cuffs went around Sara’s wrists and ankles, and a belt was wound around her waist.
“You remember this, don’t you?” Mary said, turning on the television. Picking up the remote, she chose Source, scrolled to VWorlds, and clicked, then she plugged in the component that completed the connection. A login screen appeared. Please enter your name and password.
Mary cast an anxious glance at Sara, whose eyes were hidden behind the visor. “Do you remember this information, Sara? If you don’t, I’ll help you create a new acco–”
Sara’s fingers moved on the arms of her chair, tapping keys that weren’t there. On the screen, letters were entered as Xs, to hide what they were.
Mary sighed with relief. “You remember. That’s good.” She stepped back and sat on the bed behind Sara, planning to stay only long enough to make sure everything went well.
Mary saw nothing on the TV. It was used only as a gateway to the virtual worlds the user had created or chosen to become part of. All the action was happening behind the visor. That was a good thing. Mr. Riley in Room 201 was probably fucking someone right now; he was a dirty old man Mary took pains to avoid. But hey, if it kept him happy and content, who was she to judge? Maybe he’d pinch her ass less frequently now.
She wondered where Sara was. Her feet and hands were moving, so Mary knew Sara was touching things and walking. Even with the earbuds, Sara could still hear her. She stood and went to the door. “Where are you, Sara?”
This time Sara answered, and she sounded happy. “I’m in a summer woods, and I’m young again.”
Word count: 880
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