Last door on the left, room 207.
Last door on the left, room 110 - by Daniel Taylor
Upon arriving at his destination Bill awoke, the abrupt halt of the vehicle acting as an adequate alarm clock for his weary head. Though he wasn't aware of the exact location, he was aware that at some point a decision had been made to send him there; a decision that his fading resolve and incompliance could not rebut. As Bill rose from one of the many seats, he was unexpectedly ushered along the vehicles gangway; the offending person, clad in white overalls, was obviously devoid of sympathy for his bewildered state. Though he lacked empathy in this physical act, he sure could feign it after Bill bumped his head on the cars ceiling upon exiting the vehicle. The spurious bastard even had the nerve to call Bill sir as he apologised.
Had it not been for Bill's attendant's firm grip, their passage towards the building - which would be the last building that Bill would ever see - would've been meandering. As it stood though, the individual escorting him certainly wasn't going to allow him to breathe his last breath of fresh air at a leisurely pace.
Bill looked round at the forecourt of his destination, the serene skies and well blossomed trees of the summer's day in stark contrast to his current disposition. As they entered the wide doorway the attendants grip slackened somewhat, and before walking past the receptionists, a ruse smile slowly widened across the attendants face, his lingering eye's making the women behind desk squirm with discomfort in their vinyl upholstered chairs.
'Good morning ladies' Martin the attendant said.
'Good morning, who do we have here then?' one of the receptionists responded.
'Bill Davis. I don't think he's quite with it.'
Bill glanced from one person to the next, puzzled as to why they were speaking as if he wasn't there.
'Would you like to hand over your personal belongings Bill?' Martin asked. Without waiting for a reply he'd already began prying into Bill's pockets, presumably looking for anything he might use to harm himself or others. Finding nothing of that nature, he took Bill's wallet and keys.
'What do you need those for?' Bill asked, finally mustering up enough courage to confront the staff at this disconcerting building.
Martin ignored him, not even regarding Bill's question enough to cast him a rueful glance or console him with a pleasant tap on the arm.
Sensing Martin's unprofessionalism at not relinquishing Bill of his confusion, the older receptionist took it upon herself to respond. 'It's for your own good Mr Davis. We'll take care of you now.' She said, in an accidentally patronising manner.
'I can take care of myself, thank you very much.' Bill said.
'I'm sure you can Mr Davis, but we'll look after those for you anyway.'
Sensing he was fighting a losing battle, and having neither the energy nor the will power to disagree, Bill surrendered his independence to these people. Besides, he had been here before and had found the place more agreeable the first time. This place would be good for him, he had been told; and he had definitely been told that, this much was clear. What wasn't clear was who had told him and when.
As Bill was escorted out of the receptionist's office to the safety of the hallway, away from the prying eyes of the public, it encouraged Martin's grip to become firm once more.
As they made their way down the hallway the first thing Bill noticed was the terrible stench; it smelled like a bizarre mixture of bodily fluids and detergent, a smell so acute, it brought a tear streaming down Bill's cheek. As he wiped away the tear with his plaid handkerchief, Bill glanced round the room, taking in the drab surroundings: the floral pattern of the cheap wallpaper clumsily applied to the walls, the profusely stained carpet that certainly hadn't been hovered in weeks, and the handrails made of a synthetic polymer along the walls.
When they reached Bill's room Martin reached into his overalls to bring out an electronic key card, augmenting the homes cheap hotel feel. Upon entering room 207, Bill placed himself down on his prison-like-bed, the permanent plastic covering relinquishing its mattress of any comfort its innards could potentially provide.
'Dinner's at one Bill, I'll arrange for your things to be taken in from the car.' Martin said, his tone entirely objective; he was used to processing the buildings guests to their rooms, any emotion associated with the job completely lost on him.
As Bill laid his head on the equally uncomfortable pillow he closed his eyes, dislodging a tear that had been developing on entering room 207, a tear that wasn't a product of the room's acrid smell.
When Bill awoke four hours later it was due to Martin's regardless slamming of his room door. As Martin sat down on the corner of the bed, Bill stirred. Wiping the drool that had accumulated round his mouth during his unconscious state, he took in his surroundings once more, reliving the feeling of dread that he had encountered when first entering the room.
'You know, Bill; I think you'll get on just fine here. But you need to start listening better. I said dinner is at one, it's now half past.' Martin said, the snide grin on his face the best effort he could muster as part of the hospitality a part of him new he should provide.
Sensing Martin's agitation, Bill rose from his slumber. Sauntering over to the door, with footsteps small and childlike, he stopped abruptly, turning and waiting for Martin.
'You don't talk much do you Bill. I think you'll fit in just right here. '
The reason for Bill's quiet was due to a social barrier that Martin ignored, if he even new it existed. Twirling his thin, sparse moustache, Martin rose from his intrusive seat on the edge of Bill's bed. He looked over at Bill with scarcely latent disdain, a dehumanising leer that communicated more than Martin's inarticulate self could muster.
'Let's go eat before it gets cold.' Martin said, looking at Bill through the slits that constituted his eyes.
Upon entering the dining room Bill stopped, vicariously glancing at his fellow residents. Trying not to make eye contact, he inspected every down and out soul that had the misfortune of being imprisoned here. The smell he had experienced upon entering the building was stronger here, and Bill identified why. Dotted around the room were veterans of the residency. Neither dead nor alive, they stared inadvertently at inanimate objects around the room, seemingly unaware of their own existence. Every so often one of the orderlies would scoop a spoonful of mush, which at this establishment constituted food, into their unresponsive mouths, only to have the majority of it fall into the curved bib askew around their neck. In between the veterans where the groups of newbie's, jovially socialising, telling anecdotes about the family members they could remember: the ones that occasionally came to visit them. Finally, there were the outcasts: the decrepit individuals making their transition from newbie to veteran, unable to socialise, but with a conscious and functionality just slightly more apt than their older counterparts; this, only added to their tortures. For these unfortunate souls, ignorance certainly wasn't bliss.
As Bill continued to scope the room, one the newbie's caught his eye. The man, holding a chess piece in his hand, was smiling at Bill. Indicating for Bill to go over he waved his hand inwardly, the lack of strength in his wrist making it seem as if his hand was attached to a well oiled hinge. As Bill arrived at the table the two men playing chess took their eyes from the chequered board and rose from their seats.
'Please to meet you sir, the names Jeff. '
'Sir? I haven't been called that in a while, you can call me Bill, but never Billy. My ex wife used to call me that' Bill responded jovially, the presence of like minded people - well at first glance anyway - acting as refreshment.
'That was a complete sentence; looks like you'll be a formidable chess opponent in this place.' Jeff's friend said, the broad smile on his face reassuring Bill that the risqué comment was in good jest. 'Clive's the name, I'd tell you my surname but there never seems to be any point in this place. Most of these guys can't even remember what day of the week it is.'
'I noticed, it doesn't seem like I'm ready for this place.' Bill said, the instant rapport with these fellows causing him to drop his guard.
'That's what we all think Bill old boy, even that sorry bastard over there in the corner.' Jeff said, indicating a short, delirious and ostensibly pugnacious man in the corner.
'But don't worry Bill, he wouldn't hurt a fly. Especially when Martin controls the medication at this place.' Clive said.
'Now, now Clive, don't....' Jeff interrupted Clive, only for Bill to interject.
'It's that kid over there, barely out of nappies and he thinks he rules the roost.' Clive said nodding in the direction of the orderly that Bill was accustomed with.
'Oh yeah' Bill said as he was rubbing the tiredness out of his eyes.
'Let me tell you a little about that guy.' Jeff started, all attention now focussed on Bill's welcoming party. 'He's not as stupid as he looks and certainly not as stupid as he sounds, don't let his dozy looks fool you, he's a sly as a cat burglar and ferocious as the dog chasing after it. I wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of him either; he doesn't care about a soul in this place, and he doesn't mind showing it.'
Bill heeded Jeff's warning, nodding in his direction.
'How long have some of these people been here?' Bill asked, pensively looking round the room.
'It's hard to tell, some of them haven't spoke in years. Some days they seem more alert, other times they're dead to the world. The women at this place seem to go downhill the fastest, one day they're full of cheer, the next they're the walking dead.' Clive said. Jeff was nodding in agreement without seemingly listening to the conversation, as if the thought had already occurred in his in his mind many times before.
After Bill's new acquaintances had introduced themselves and filled him in on the day to day life at the home, they sat down to talk emphatically about their past lives. Although Bill felt isolated already, he was amazed at how Jeff and Clive seemed to refer to their friends and family as if they existed in a book they had read at school, or a film they'd watched as a child from the silent era. Their anecdotes about days gone by outside of the home were told as if they were dreams they had experienced, a nostalgic reverie that perplexed him and filled his heart with sorrow. Bill thought about telling some of his stories about holidays and family occasions, and was even prompted too on numerous occasions by Clive and Jeff, but he thought better of it, as much for his own wellbeing as to prevent his new friend's melancholy, for stories told as fresh as Bill would tell them would ruin the jovial atmosphere that had developed round the chess board.
As Bill went to place his knight in a highly strategic position, a person caught the corner of his vision. With his piece stationary over the chess board, suspended by quivering hand, Bill gawped at the figure stood in the corner. Noticing Bill's distraction, Clive and Jeff followed his stare.
'She's a head turner that one.' Clive said, breaking the silence that had befallen the chess table.
Embarrassed at being caught ogling the woman, Bill placed his chess piece clumsily on the board, quickly averting his eyes and knocking over the opposing king in the process.
'I never had you down as a cheater.' Clive said, the broad smile on his face relinquishing the statement of any malice. 'But it was worth a try.'
'I haven't been married in a long time.' Bill responded.
'What? No, the chess game Bill.'
Upon realising his mistake Bill erupted into laughter that proved to be contagious. The three men round the chess board soon had tears streaming down their furrowed cheeks; flimsy forearms carried lifeless hands onto opposing shoulders that tapped lightly in a regardful gesture of mutual respect. At its peak, the raucous laughter attracted the attention of newbie's; the veterans simply gawped at the television set, unaware of any disturbance in their vicinity. One newbie in particular paid close attention to Bill specifically. Mesmerised by his sprightliness, she glanced occasionally at him, her own shyness betraying her need to make eye contact.
Martin, whom had obviously noticed the uproar, made his way swiftly to the affable trio. 'Pipe down The Three Stooges; you're disturbing the other guests TV watching.'
The interruption only fuelled the laughter of Bill, his two companions though, aware of Martin's influence at the home, stopped abruptly. Noticing Jeff and Clive, Bill followed suit.
After the suppression of their enjoyment the day panned out much the same as any other day at the Four Leaves retirement home. Its structure a blueprint devoid of detail; a mere shell without distinguishable features, the lack of detail to fill the minutes and hours rendering passing of time a viscous flow.
Upon waking in room 207, Bill muttered the name of his wife; his forgetful a mind a torture device that certainly wasn't welcomed. As he rose from his slumber, he stroked the side of the bed he hadn't slept on, a physical act intended to give certainty to his failing mind. With the light off, Bill also didn't remember that he was in a care home, the width of the bed a surprise to his senses as he easily swivelled his legs over the bed onto the floor.
Bill's sense memory kicked in when he heard Martin's voice down the hallway. 'Come on now Mrs Tuckfield; let's get you back to bed.'
Bill looked outside, investigating the window for any indication of the time. The darkness outside affirmed his suspicions: it was early in the morning, or late at night as the earlier generation might say.
Staring blankly into the darkness, Bill listened in for any sounds that might be heard in relation to the surprising early morning activity. Just as he began to lose concentration, he heard a loud thud. The unmistakable sound of a human cranium making contact with a hard object; alarmed that the sound had enough rigour to startle him, Bill frantically made his way to his door. He gently twisted the Bakelite door handle, his shaking hand and clammy palm making the task of gripping the slippery plastic difficult.
Bill peered down the hallway, unaware of which direction to head; a shimmer of light creeping from under of one the doors gave him his bearing. As he approached the lit room he heard shuffling feet and then an unintelligible grunt that had to be Martin.
Bill stopped outside the room; he could feel his over animate pulse in his temple, his heart felt like it was ricocheting off his ribcage. The sign on the door substantiated his instincts, the name on the door, even with the limited light that the hallway provided, was easily read as Mrs Tuckfield.
Just as Bill was preparing to grasp the door handle, the door suddenly opened inward. He was presented with the red and flustered face of Martin. As their eyes met, both men jerked back in surprise.
'Mrs...Tuckfield, are you okay?' Bill asked.
'What the bloody hell are you doing out of your room. No wandering after lights out.' Martin forcefully interjected. As he was saying this he was exiting the room, being very careful to obstruct Bill's view as much as he could. From the room their came no reply from Mrs Tuckfield.
Grabbing Bill's arm at the same time, Martin hurriedly shut the door, seemingly unaware or uncaringly, leaving the light on.
'Back to bed now Bill, we don't want to disturb any of our guests.'
In a confused state, and not wanting to disturb anyone else's sleep, Bill did not ask any of the questions that were burning through his thoughts; he dampened them with his doubts, it was much easier to dampen the flames before they reached an inferno, a smouldering mass unable to ignite after a dousing. He simply allowed himself to be escorted back to his room; his lack of defiance a great indication of the relinquishing of his independence.
Bill relinquished his consciousness, only after his mind had churned the thoughts of his recollection of the early morning events to completion; with no real conclusion or further insight, only a pulpy mass of speculations, his conscious state gave up on the task, the effort of trying to piece together the pieces of the jigsaw tired his mind until it gave in to the inevitability of sleep.
He slipped out of his bed, his luxuriant platform not allowing a rude departure from his deep, restful slumber. Aware, but not surprised, that he wasn't presented with the drab surroundings of room 207, he looked round the familiar place, strangely, he wasn't perplexed that it contained a diverse range of significant objects: the Grandfather Clock, given to him by his son, displayed on the bed in a lopsided fashion; his grandson's favourite Tonka Truck abnormally presented in the sill of his window; his wife's wedding dress used to shield out the sun in a lavish oversight. These objects, though only material in form, represented substantial portions from his life.
Without moving a muscle he was suddenly presented with his wife. He went to speak and caress her young cheek but couldn't manoeuvre his appendages, nor open his mouth. The thought of how he got there, or why his wife looked youthful, didn't seem illogical to him. The facade of his wife was a psychological rack, twisting and contorting his emotions to excruciation, as it didn't allow him to focus upon it; its image dodged his view like a spot of light in one's vision after looking at a bright light. His perception of time was sufficiently skewed to make this moment seem a lifetime, only adding to the angst and frustration that saturated his being. The event that followed made Bill wish that this moment did in fact last a lifetime: his wife, seemingly unaware of his presence, began to turn and walk away from him, gradually picking up a swift, but gliding, pace. It took Bill's cognitive processes what it seemed like an age to respond. He urged to his legs to take his body in bounding leaps towards his departing wife, but the best his unresponsive legs could muster was a lengthy drawl of a footstep; his motion seemingly curtailed by a thick medium of impenetrable viscosity.
The shrill ringing in Bill's ear startled him from his slumber; he quickly rose out of his bed looking around, the transition between his dream and his conscious state acting as dark, disconcerting start to the day. As he scrambled to investigate the source of the sound he clumsily knocked into the intrusive mass rested on his bed.
'Thought I'd give you a hand getting up in the morning Billy Boy.' Martin said.
Bill looked at him through squinted eyes; his mind still recovering from the sudden transition from his dream state to his present surroundings: room 207.
Martin leaned over the gleaming new alarm clock perched on his windowsill and pressed one of the buttons, the plastic film over the LCD screen an indicator that it was a fresh purchase. 'That wasn't the snooze button Bill. Wakey, wakey rise and shine.'
'I've just about had enough of you Martin. Don't you know any respect?' Bill asked, his tiredness finally getting the better of his reserved nature.
'Oh I have plenty of respect Bill, just not for folk round here who don't play by the rules. Now get dressed and go and see you new boyfriends.'
As Martin got up from the dishevelled bed linen his stare lingered on Bill's forlorn, unshaven face. Bill tried to hide his intimidation, feigning indifference as he began to prepare himself for another day at the Four Leaves retirement home. This facade was upheld until Martin's over-zealous shutting of his door, with a sigh and a drop of the head, drew out a response.
During searching for the clothes he would wear that day, Bill thought of his career serving his country. He always managed to remain dignified and emotionless to the tribulations inflicted on himself by both the enemy (in both the Falklands conflict and the Northern Ireland conflict) and on the rare occasions that one of his fellow servicemen felt the need to express their dislike to Bill's stonewall method of leadership - though most of the men that Bill lead respected his leadership style, especially because of its distinct lack of emotion. This strength was evading him at the present time, the pillars that supported his structure - his wife and family - we're all but crumbled, with one pillar in particular completely eroded. The result of said erosion being a broken and beaten man, sobbing into the creased cardigan that he'd withdrawn from his wardrobe, its selection thoughtless.
When Bill stepped into the communal area he scanned the room again, feeling much the same way as he did the first day: devoid of bearing or purpose. When he noticed the chessboard and the two familiar faces sat beside it, he felt a faint spark of positivity building in his gut, the emotion a physical feeling, although this emotion was somewhat drowned out by the other emotions exerting their physical effect on their bearer.
Turning round, seemingly feeling Bill's stare, Jeff ushered him over with his ever present jovial flap of the hand. 'How was your first night in jail?' Jeff asked. The humour in the statement lost on Bill; he thought it an apt way to describe the place.
'The same as any other sleeping in a different bed, restless.' Bill responded.
'I hear that. I wish I could tell you it's gotten better, but I still wake up at the same time most evenings.' Clive said.
'I noticed you missed a bit their Bill.' Jeff said, indicating the unshaven area just below Bill's jaw line. 'Hang onto the little things Bill, keep up appearances; otherwise the whole house will come crumbling down.'
Bill regarded this comment, but didn't acknowledge its pertinence until he looked round at the veterans. Their unkempt appearance, including gravy stains on their crinkled clothing and overtly neglected personal hygiene, in comparison to that of Clive and Jeff, gave the ambiguous statement significance.
'Right then gentlemen, who wants to be beaten first.' Bill said, indicating the chessboard. At this, Jeff gave a sly smile at his comment's pertinence having an immediate effect.
'I guess that's me Bill; though I warn you, I'm feeling eager to avenge yesterday's defeat.' Clive said.
The three men played chess avidly for most of the morning, and into the afternoon. Although each player's tactics were ferocious, the sportsmanship was impeccable, each man applauding every strong tactical decision. After victories, each player embraced the other; more a celebration of the prolonged mind, as opposed to a mere win over their counterpart. The chess was more than a past-time or hobby, it was a form of escapism; escape from the reminders round the room about their inevitable fate: their slow decline into incontinence, an unfunctional state, and eventually, their demise.
During the apparent conclusion of a hard fought battle of the minds between
Bill and Clive, something caught the corner of Bill's vision. Excusing himself, Bill walked over to the lone figure in the corner, consciously unaware of his reason for doing so or who it was he was walking over too.
Manoeuvring his head from side to side, he struggled to make eye contact with the abashed woman. Giving up on his visual greeting he pursued a more direct route 'Pleased to meet you, Bill Davis.' He said, the slight quiver in his voice an indication of the tentative nature he has with members of the opposite sex; this trait, in part, due to his strong sense of monogyny and his current status as a widower.
The woman looked at Bill with faint recognition in her eyes, as though she recognised the face, but couldn't put a name to it. 'Rose, pleased to meet you.' She responded, holding out a frail hand. Bill took her hand gracefully, being careful not to disturb its structure, for her hands fragility would've been profound, even to the most blundering observer. 'Oh I remember you now; you're the lovely gentlemen who likes to play chess. Sorry about my cold greeting, I'm not very good with strangers.' She said, warming to Bill's presence.
'That's quite alright, I would've responded the same way if I saw my face coming.' Bill said.
'Don't be silly, dashing fellow's are always welcome in my presence.' Rose responded, appreciating his self deprecating humour. During this exchange they made fleeting passes of eye contact, their fervent glances making the instant attraction between each other known. The presence of Bill seemed to give Rose new vigour, her previous dazed state over powered by the wash of emotion she felt.
'If you don't hurry up Bill you'll forget whether you are dark or light?' Clive said, playfully interrupting Bill and Rose.
The volume of Clive's voice during this exchange demanded the attention of Martin. He looked over at Clive scornfully before his attention was diverted towards Rose and Bill. Martin looked over intuitively, clearly distracted from his duties by the discussion between two residents whom he wished hadn't crossed passed paths, especially today.
'I'm whichever has the most pieces; it looks like this one is in the bag. I'll be over in two shakes of lamb's tail.' Bill responded. Turning towards Rose, with a broad smile on his face, they said their parting phrases. Out of politeness, and to prolong the conversation, Bill turned and asked: 'Sorry I didn't catch your surname?'
'Mrs Tuckfield.....though I should probably lose the Mrs, I've been a widow for many years now.' Rose replied.
In a trice, Martin made his way over to Mrs Tuckfield, ushering her away from Bill's presence. 'Come along Rose, I think you've had enough for one day.'
Bill stood there perplexed at the situation; she certainly didn't look upset or wearied by their conversation. It wasn't until Bill reached the chess table that he realised the significance of the surname. As he looked towards Martin hurriedly guiding Rose away from the communal area, his mind wandered. Though Bill's best years were behind him, he was still receptive and intuitive. Part of him wanted to forget his suspicions, if he could call them that, suspicions would require that he could speculate as to justifications of Martins behaviour; he certainly couldn't do that, he could only gage what emotion he was experiencing as result of the Martin's wary demeanour: utter dread.
'Where's your mind at Bill?' Jeff asked.
'I'm not sure. Do you think there's anything odd about that fella?' Bill responded.
'He gives me the willies too Bill. But I'd get your mind back on the game; I'm developing my knight's nicely.' Clive said.
The next couple of hours of play amongst the three men were tentative and anxious. The atmosphere that had originated with Bill spread across the table, its cloak smothering the enthusiasm that was usually aroused by the pursuit of victory. Bill intermittently glanced across the room towards the door, expecting the return of Martin, Rose, or both, but neither party returned for the afternoon, only adding to Bill's pensive state.
Finally, after realising Bill's disconsolate form wouldn't be alleviated by the mere passing of time, Jeff spoke to try and address the situation: 'Now don't go thinking I'm some sort of counsellor now, but tell me about what's on your mind.' Clive said, embarrassed by the idea of playing psychologist.
'Me? I'm just concentrating on the game.' Bill responded.
'Now you don't take us for a pair of geriatrics now do you Bill?' Clive said.
'Ha ha, I would if you weren't so damn old and wise.' Bill looked at Clive, and then Jeff; realising they were both concerned he dropped his guard. 'You ever thought about leaving this place?'
'Hell, where would we go? Back to our families? If we were welcome, do you think we'd be sat here?' Clive said, laughing off his comment with doleful eyes.
'We don't necessarily have to do that. We could live on our own again.'
'The world outside these walls would eat us alive, you know that.' Jeff added.
'Maybe it would, but isn't it better to spend a minute in paradise than an eternity in hell.' Bill said.
'Well maybe we don't think it is paradise. Here we don't have to worry about paying bills, feeding our selves or even cooking our own meals. We're kept men; you'll come around to our way of thinking soon enough Bill.' Clive said.
'That's what I'm worried about fella's, that's what I'm worried about.'
Clive and Jeff, whether not receptive to the sentiment or realising its pertinence, went back to chess game, neither man willing to carry on the conversation. Bill played on, trying to absorb himself wholly in the duels, forcing out adverse thoughts with overtly raucous displays of camaraderie. The facade had its effect: Clive and Jeff thinking that the spirit amongst the table had been restored.
Martin returned to the communal area to find the three chess players enthralled in the game, and in his opinion, too much so. As each player rose from their seat, voicing their approval of the ensuing tactical battles, Martin intermittently looked over, displaying his distaste with a malign stare.
Marching over, red faced, Martin proceeded to dampen the party spirits. 'No Chess after five fellas.' Martin said; the quiver in his voice an indication of the cowardice that was a deep inclination he was unable to smooth over. 'Some of the older guests are going to watch Songs Of Praise.'
'That tired old show; it's an insult to their intelligence.' Jeff said.
'Rules are rules Granddads. Now finish up and blend in with the crowd.'
'You'd like that wouldn't you Martin. But I don't see any of the other employees at this place averse to our Chess. I know you like peace and quiet, but we also want to have fun, and on occasion, that means making a bit of noise. Now go back to bullying some the other guests, because it sounds like I have you checkmate.' Jeff said, showing signs of anger, but maintaining his calm demeanour.
Knowing he was beaten, Martin skulked away, sporadically looking back with disdain at his subjugator. This act of defiance invigorated Bill, which in turn, enthused Clive and Jeff; for the retort, so skilfully articulated, captured the minds of the three men sitting round the Chess table, and certainly echoed the thoughts of some of the more coherent guests at the Four Leaves retirement home. To them, it didn't only just feel like a victory over one unruly man, at one unruly retirement home, but a victory for all the people in every retirement home, a victory for the forgotten.
That night, Bill slept soundly, the excitement of the evening's activities outweighing the negative experiences of earlier in the day. Instead of sleeping in his clothes for a third day in a row, Bill meticulously prepared for bed, trying to establish some sort of routine. The feeling of isolation was beginning to fade, much to do with the camaraderie he has felt during the time in the communal area.
When Bill awoke from a deep sleep, which was ostensibly dreamless, he expected to see Martin perched on the end of his bed. Surprisingly, the sour faced little tyrant wasn't there; strangely, Bill felt enthusiastic about the day. He dressed and showered in double time, but whilst maintaining a scrupulous attention to both his personal hygiene and appearance, in particular his shaving routine.
Unlike the first three days he'd spent at the care home, he walked into the communal area with a latent vigour and exuberance akin to his days of old.
'Looks like I'll be playing you first Clive. Where is the old boy?' Bill asked whilst sitting down opposite his friend at the Chess table.
'Not too sure, in the two years I've known him he's never slept in a minute past half six.' Clive responded.
'The silly old fool's probably still stewing over his defeat yesterday.'
'Maybe.' Clive responded with a pensive look on his face.
Just like the previous days, the men played chess, though this session to the participants felt profoundly different. The exchanges between Bill and Clive were devoid of banter, the conversation and interaction feeling mechanical and forced. Neither man could put their finger on the depleted atmosphere, though it wasn't discussed between them, merely thought. By midday the anxiety, which was cutting through Bill's new found enthusiasm, developed to such a point that the passing of each minute became unbearable.
'Should we go and check on Jeff?' Bill asked.
'I think we'd better, not even a man of Jeff's laziness could sleep in until this hour.' Clive said, the playfully mocking nature of the comment aimed at expelling the dire atmosphere that had developed over the preceding hours.
Clive and Bill made their way as swiftly towards Jeff's room as their decrepit bodies would allow, leaving behind an unfinished game of chess in the communal area. Arriving at the hallway that the room was on, the two men looked round inanely, knowing that Jeff was not about to present himself outside of his room, but still going through the motions, hanging onto the string of hope that contradicted what their instincts told them.
The final steps leading to the doorway seemed to go in slow motion, the feeling of dread elongating time until each second brimmed with anxiety, the moments passing with a perturbing surrealism. When both men saw the naked door, devoid of name plate or any other indication as to whom occupied the room, the two men looked at each other ruefully; a large tear had began to immediately well in one of Bill's eyes when Clive stepped forward and twisted the door handle of Jeff's room, now plainly known again as room 110.
Like the door, the room was bare. The eerie silence accompanied by the room, vacant of Jeff's effects, confirmed their suspicions. The two men alighted on what was Jeff's bed, neither man saying a word, the mourning process already begun as each man were both apt at progressing through the initial stage: the denial of a loss of a loved one.
When an orderly finally noticed the open door and entered the room to dispel the two men, she stopped herself from her professional duties, their melancholy demeanour breaking down the walls of bureaucracy and exposing the human within. Sitting between the two men she explained that Jeff had died peacefully in his sleep, and that he had felt no pain, along with an assortment of other clichés. The two men listened, wanting to believe that such fairytale depictions of death can exist, but with them being so close to death they found it hard to romanticise this event; another friend had been taken, and although they had learnt to become somewhat pragmatic about this notion in a behavioural sense, the mysticism surrounding the concept of death hadn't been dispelled or alleviated in their minds, it's occurrence still as surreal as when they were newly exposed to this dire inevitability.
The two men were about to leave the room, with no particular location in mind, when one of Jeff's family members walked through the door accompanied by a young girl of around 8 or 9. Bill looked at the girl, who, clasping her favourite doll tightly to her chest, mirrored the bewildered sorrowful look in his eyes. As the two men began to exit the room, feeling that their presence in the room was imposed, they shot Jeff's older relative a mournful glance.
Neither man felt like picking up the pieces of the chess board and engaging their minds in anything else apart from the mourning of the passing of their friend, but what motivated them was the idea that their participation in this game - the game that Jeff respected so dearly - would pay greater homage to the man than sitting round and feeling sorry for themselves, and Jeff. The two men duelled playfully during the game, neither one wanting the ensuing battle to end, whilst intermittently telling stories about the man; each one both telling the story of the previous nights moral victory over Martin with various different stylistic interpretations and mild exaggerations. Although Bill hadn't known Jeff for a long time, he had known enough about the man, in the short time that he knew him, to share joyfully in his humanity without feeling like any need to justify his involvement in the celebration - though Clive would not've demanded such a vindication, just as Bill would not've have offered it. To Bill, Jeff represented, along with Clive, hope in this, his final stage of his life, and although one part of this supportive structure had crumbled, the other part was manoeuvring to bear the additional weight.
It was the time of the year when the leaves begin turn a plethora of autumnal colours, the winds are fierce and the streets begin to become deserted on account of the sudden change from glorious sunshine to brisk, over-cast days. Clive and Bill didn't mind, clad in their perfectly pressed wool suits, accompanying ties and handkerchiefs', and perfectly slicked back hair. They sat nursing a cup of Tea, the tribulations of seasonal adjustment and the world outside the home that had to face it, didn't nearly provoke a thought or feeling through their iron willed indifference. Since Martin had been fired, for an undisclosed professional and social misdemeanour, things had been quiet at the Four Leaves retirement home; that is, apart from when Clive's nephew had sneaked them in a few nips of whisky to enjoy with their games of chess, then of course, the communal area could become a hive of activity, at least amongst the group of newbie's playing chess in the middle.
Mrs Tuckfield had become an integral part of Bill's life at the home. Their relationship had developed based on a mutual respect for each other's airs and graces, and their need to perpetuate a sense of normality and routine in the home. Though Clive was slightly jealous of this development, he hadn't shown this, and the courting, if anything, only added to the community cohesion between the three.
Ostensibly bewitched by a particularly tactical game, it didn't seem as if Clive and Bill could be stirred, not even by one of Jill's notorious Alzheimer's fits. That is, until they heard the mentioning of room 110 between an orderly and a new face with a muddled expression.
The orderly backed away from the individual - holding bags that wouldn't look out of place in a film from the vaudevillian era - towards the accommodation area of Four Leaves. Looking abandoned and lost, the man looked round the room fatuously, the sorrow in his expression lending his face areas of deep furrow.
Bill took it upon himself introduce himself to the man, ushering him over to the table with a jovial wave and consoling smile. 'I'm Bill, this is Clive. Pleased to meet your acquaintance.' Bill said as he was pulling up a chair next to the chess table.
'Bernard, what is there to do round here?' The new guest said.
'Oh, there's a not a whole lot, but a bad day of chess is better than any at work.' Clive added, as Bill and himself laughed heartily.