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  • Writer's pictureShelly Desjarlais

The Visitor

The carnations by the window were wilted and brown. Gertrude, a woman pushing the age of ninety, gazed at their simple vase with a longing she didn’t quite understand. All she knew was that it captured her attention far more than the old television in the corner and the bland artwork on her walls.

An excessive heat beat down on Gertrude’s window and trickled through the mullions. Though she had the desire to fan herself, her wrists were too brittle for such a thing. The retirement home had their air conditioners on full blast, yet it did little to combat the outside world.

When there was a tap on the door, Gertrude turned to look. A young man had appeared with a fresh bouquet of flowers and a decorative paper fan. His kind smile washed over every inch of the room. It was a familiar kindness, one that Gertrude recognized instantly.

“Stewart! Are those pretty flowers for me?”

“Hi, Grandma,” he greeted her. He gave her a brisk peck upon the cheek before crossing to her vase. He replaced the dying carnations with an assortment of daisies. “I hope you like this arrangement. I thought you might like something other than carnations for once.”

“I love them, Stewart. You’re such a thoughtful gentleman. How’s school?”

He took a place at her bedside where he could fan her lightly. “Well, it’s summer. I don’t have school until fall.”

“Oh, that’s right. Which year are you going into again?”

“I’ll be a junior in high school.”

“Of course! I knew that. You’re always so sweet to come see me. When were you here last time?”

“I come every Friday, Grandma. I sit with you in the afternoon right before your naptime.”

Gertrude nodded her head. “Yes, that’s right. I always wait for you, you know. I don’t always know why I’m waiting, but then you come and I remember. How’s your mother? She hasn’t come to see me.”

“She’s doing good. She told me to tell you that she’s sorry she hasn’t been by. Work and all that. But she’ll be by real soon, okay?”

“Okay. That’s fine. At least you’re here. I get lonely sometimes.”

“I know. That’s why I come,” he said. His fan kept a steady breeze flowing towards her face. “How’s this? Helping with the heat?”

She grinned at the thoughtful teen. “Yes. Quite. It is so hot. Tell me, how are your sisters? Why don’t they ever come?”

“They’re away at college. They’re okay. Studying hard.”

“Oh. How nice,” Gertrude replied as her eyelids grew heavy. “My, I think naptime is coming soon. Stewart, talk to me until I fall asleep. And promise you’ll be back.”

“I’ll be back next Friday. Why don’t I talk about my job at the florist? How I’m always around flowers.”

"Yes. I’d like that, Stewart.”

As he told Gertrude about the flower arrangements he had created and the bouquets he had delivered, he carefully fanned her aging skin. She soon fell into a deep sleep. Once he heard her snores, he gave her a final kiss on the forehead and slipped out of her room.

He expertly navigated the halls of the nursing home, as he knew the facility better than even his high school. His final destination was the front desk. The caregivers on duty, Meghan and Viola, were looking over their files upon his arrival. He held up his paper fan to get their attention.

Meghan noticed the colorful print in the corner of her eye. “That’s a beautiful fan. It looks expensive.”

“Nah, it’s nothing. I picked it up from the dollar store. I want to leave it with you, though. Maybe you could go in there and fan Mrs. Herkins later. She seemed to like it,” he replied.

“I bet. A fan like this one is perfect for a scorcher like today. It’s sweet of you to give it to us,” Meghan said. She flashed a quick and curious grin. “Who is it tomorrow?”

The teen thought for a moment. “Derek. Mr. Thames’ grandson. It’s Rodney after that. Mrs. Yelich’s grandnephew.”

“Good. They could use a visit. I’ll see you tomorrow, Jake. And thanks again for the flowers. They always make the reception area smell so much nicer.”

Jake shrugged it off. “It’s my pleasure. I’ll be around. And it was nice to meet you, Viola. I hope you like working here. Everyone is super nice.”

With that, Jake left the nursing home. Viola, who was only on her third shift, raised an eyebrow. “I’m lost. Who was that young man? He told me he was Mrs. Herkins’ grandson.”

“Today he is. His real name is Jake Orbison. He used to come here to visit his grandmother. She passed away last winter. Ever since then, he comes here to spend time with the patients who have different types of dementia—and no visitors. He becomes whoever it is they’re longing to see. Brings them gifts or flowers. They never know the difference, and they’re much happier after he visits. I swear, that kid is an angel.”

Viola felt tears come to her eyes. “I’ve never heard of such a sweet gesture.”

“Yep. He told me that the thought of someone’s grandparent being forgotten in their final days makes his heart hurt. Seeing him do what he does…it’s made me understand that all anybody wants in this world is to feel like someone cares.”

Not far from the nursing home, Jake rode his bicycle to the local cemetery. After a brisk walk, he reached his grandmother’s grave. He had a few daisies left from his bouquet for Gertrude Herkins, which he set at the headstone’s base. His fingers pressed to his lips and then to his grandmother’s beautifully engraved epitaph.

“You taught me how to care, Grandma. I hope you’re proud of what I’m doing,” Jake whispered. “See you next week. I think I’ll bring you lilies…”

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