The woman at the desk greeted me with the muted enthusiasm of a person working long hours.
“She’ll be so happy to see you. She doesn’t get many visitors.”
“I’ve been busy,” I said. “You know how it is.”
She stood. “Let me show you to her room.”
“No need. I think I can find it. D3036?”
She nodded, tapped the laminated map with her long fingernail. “It’s right here, at the end of D-wing. Two lefts and a right, then down the hall.”
I had been busy, but that wasn’t the reason. It was the smell of the place. It smelled, not like death exactly, but like waiting for death. It smelled like purgatory.
They had dressed her in a pink nightgown I remembered from before. She had always loved pink, even though it wasn’t the best color for her complexion. Whoever dressed her had also applied a rose-colored rouge to her unlined cheeks. It contrasted strangely with the respirator tubes.
Her eyes stared vacantly out the window. She did not seem to notice I was there. The machines that kept her alive made almost no noise all.
I sat next to the hospital bed in an armchair designed for maximum comfort, as though you might be there a while. On the table was one of those marble solitaire sets, untouched.