PREVIEW FRIDAY: Tranquility

BY LAURIE GARDINER

A novel excerpt. Copyright is held by the author.

MRS. W was having a hard time that day. She choked and coughed with the first spoonful. Soup trickled down her chin and neck, soaking her apron before Sheila impatiently swiped at it with a napkin.

Mrs. Sellers tried to push her wheelchair away from the table. I pulled her back in, moved the half-empty soup bowl away and placed a ham and cheese sandwich in front of her. “Here, Mrs. Sellers, here’s a sandwich for you.” That piqued her interest and she began to eat again.

Lily giggled and I looked over to see her with a sandwich in one hand and the other on Sam’s crotch. Sam had a huge grin on his face. I turned back to Mrs. Sellers with a smile. She was still engrossed in her sandwich and oblivious to the antics across the table.

Sheila’s loud, shrill voice rang out. “Open your mouth now, dear. You have to eat.”

“Open your mouth, dear,” parroted Lily. She and Beth giggled, oblivious to Sheila’s angry glare.

There were a few other snickers throughout the room, no doubt because Lily had sounded so much like Sheila, condescending tone and all.

My eyes met Tracey’s as I looked around the room. She raised an eyebrow and shook her head in disgust. We both looked back at Sheila as her power struggle with Mrs. W continued.

Mrs. W clamped her mouth shut as she turned her head from side to side in an attempt to get away from the spoon. Sheila leaned forward and caught Mrs. W’s chin in one hand. She held her head still and forced the spoon between her lips. “You. Need. To eat!”

The force of the spoon pried Mrs. W’s lips open and in went a mouthful of soup. Sheila sat up taller and looked around for approval, but all eyes were on Mrs. W’s face as she prepared to empty her mouth. Her eyes shot daggers at Sheila as she puffed out her cheeks and took a deep breath in through her nose.

Sheila had finished gloating and was turning back toward the table when Mrs. W expelled her breath forcefully. Soup and spit flew from her mouth and hit Sheila full in the face.

There was a collective gasp before the dining room fell silent. For a moment, no one spoke or moved as we all watched and waited for Sheila’s reaction. But even she seemed shocked into silence. Finally, she sputtered and reached for a napkin.

Edie, who had been staring at Sheila as though mesmerized by the globs of slimy soup dripping off her face, now glanced at me. My hand had gone automatically to my mouth when the soup flew. I saw the glint in Edie’s eye and realized that, behind my hand, I was smirking. I shook my head violently at her, but it was too late.

Edie chuckled. Lily and Beth, upon hearing Edie’s laughter, both snorted loudly and were soon laughing as well. Sam and Albert were oblivious to it all and continued to eat as though nothing had happened.

Sheila’s expression was murderous. She eyed Edie from across the table as she wiped her face with the napkin. Her angry glare only made Edie laugh harder. It was contagious and soon most of the residents joined in. Staff members turned away to hide their grins. Tracey hid her face behind her hand, but her shoulders were shaking.

Sheila remained silent, but I could tell by her stiff movements and the set of her jaw that she was quietly seething. She finished cleaning her face as well as she could with the napkin, and then went to the sink to wash properly. She came back to the table and proceeded to feed Mrs. W her pudding, which she ate willingly.

The laughter died down and everyone went back to eating as though nothing had happened. Everyone but Sheila. The dark looks she gave Edie, her rigid posture and silence, said more than any angry words could have.

My “Sheila-watching” days had just begun.

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