She wasn't mine last week.
I only know her from from the shouts i heard in the hallway, and her nurse's exasperated look when she can't be settled. I know that her tiny frail body body takes nothing to boost up to the top of the bed.
When we really meet, i say "I'm going to ask you three silly questions." and she tells me her name and where we are. She can't remember the rest.
She doesn't say much at first. Says she's fine. Nothing else. But i keep making dumb jokes, and i don't let her send me away, and after a little while, there's a look, a tiny glint in the eyes and the beginnings of a smirk on the side of her mouth that the stroke didn't smear.
I try to make her comfortable. I show her the call bell. When i ask if she needs anything she says no. I say i'll come back and bother her again in an hour and she laughs and says she'll look forward to it.
Later I bring her some pills. Some juice. More pills. Each time I leave I ask again if she needs anything. She says:
"A million dollars"
"A trip to Barbados"
"A Good looking man"
I brush her teeth with a little sponge on a stick. Wash her face. She tells she feels human again. She says its been a long time, I brush it off and say something silly in response and i don't let myself think about it.
Later it will break my heart.
Each time I care for her she compliments me. Says i'm pretty. (debatable). Says I have nice teeth. (a lie). She tries to feed me cookies. These are the only things she has to give, and these compliments come with apologies. She sorry she needs to be cared for. Sorry i am stuck with her. Sorry to waste my time. She's sorry she had to go to the bathroom.
I refuse the apologies.
"Everyone poops" i tell her. "There's even a book about it for children" and she laughs.
Eventually, she stops trying to make it up to me and at odd moments we talk a little about travel and she tells me a funny story. Its long and can't quite catch all of the words, but i try my best to laugh the right amount at the right times and she believes me and pats my arm with that now satisfied smirk.
She says i am too kind to her.
"Impossible!" i say.
Again, she insists.
"No", I tell her, this time resolute.
"There is no such thing as too much kindness"
She wakes up disoriented in the night, and begins to slip back into confusion. By morning the smile is gone and when I ask her if there's anything i can do for her she says "shoot me".
All my dumb jokes can't bring the smile back, and we are both of us defeated.