They were all scheming against him.
They wouldn’t let him have his car. They wouldn’t let him leave, the women who went in and out of the rooms. They always shut the door. They always tried to tell him what to do.
He wouldn’t let them tell him what to do.
He sat at one of the tables in the big room at the end of the short hall. One of the women sat at the table with him. She was the only good one, the only one that didn’t go into the rooms where people slept and shut the door. She just sat there and shuffled a deck of cards.
There were only two ways out. One was through a glass door, but it led into a small fenced-off yard. The fence was too high to climb. The other was at the end of the short hall, past the rooms where people slept. That door was locked, though, and the women wouldn’t give him the key.
“Herald, it’s time to take your medication,” said one of the women who went into the rooms where people slept and shut the door. She placed a glass of water and a small white paper cup in front of him.
Herald looked at the glass and the paper cup. “No,” he said. He turned his head toward the window. There were three grain trucks parked along the curb across the street, and two men stood beside one.
“Okay, but it will make you feel better,” the woman insisted. She slid the paper cup closer to him.
“There’s nothing wrong with me,” Herald said. He pushed the paper cup away again.
“You have to take your medication, Herald.” She picked up the water glass and put it in Herald’s hand.
“No, I don’t!” shouted Herald. He thrust the glass away from him, and it toppled. Water sloshed over the table and ran over the edge where it pooled on the floor. The woman, the only good one, snatched her cards away from the encroaching water.
The other woman, the one who was trying to make him take the medication, grabbed the water glass before it could roll off the table. “I’ll get you another glass of water, Herald. Then you can take your medication, okay?” The woman walked over to a sink where she filled the glass under the tap, then she returned and placed it in front of Herald. “Okay, lets take your medication now.”
“Where’s my car? I need to go home,” said Herald. He pushed his chair away from the table and stood up.
“You are home, Herald,” the woman said.
“No,” Herald said. He started walking down the hall, towards the doors at the end. “This isn’t home.”
“Do you want to go back to your room?” The woman was following him. “Do you want to watch the TV?”
“No. I need to go home.” He walked faster. He passed the room that was supposed to be his, then he stopped. He turned around to look at the woman who was following him. “I need the keys to my car. Do you have them?”
The woman shook her head. “I don’t have the keys, Herald. Let’s go back into the living room and sit down.” She gently took his elbow and started to lead him towards the big room at the end of the hall.
Herald pulled his arm away from the woman. “No, I won’t go with you!” he yelled. “Where’s my keys? I know you’re hiding them from me!”
“Calm down, Herald…”
Herald didn’t wait for her to finish. She was scheming against him, her and the other three women. He knew they were bad, always going into the rooms where people slept and shutting the door. The only good one was the young woman who sat at the table with him and played with her deck of cards.
Maybe he could get one of the other bad women to give him his keys, because the woman who stood beside him was the worst. He went into the big room at the end of the hall and spotted one of the other bad women. She stood beside an old woman with fleshy jowls who stared at the table in front of her blankly.
He raised a shaky hand and pointed at the bad woman. “Hey, I have to talk to you!” he called.
The woman looked up. She was young, far younger than him like the girl who sat at his table and played with her deck of cards. She was bad, too, though, because he’d seen her go into the rooms where people slept and shut the door. “Yes? What do you need, Herald?” She smiled, and her voice was soft, but he wouldn’t let her fool him.
“I need the keys to my car. I have to go home,” he told her.
“How about you take your medication first, Herald,” said the bad woman, the one who had tried to make him take the pills in the white paper cup earlier. She touched his arm, but Herald flinched away.
“I want my keys.”
“Herald, how about…”
“No!” Herald yelled. The old woman with the fleshy jowls looked up sharply, the emptiness in her eyes replaced by alarm. “I need to go home. Now!”
“Herald, you have to sit down,” said the young bad woman. She wasn’t smiling anymore.
“I do not! You’re all conspiring against me!” he shouted. He banged his hand on the table he stood beside, the one he usually sat at with the only good woman, the one with the deck of cards.
“We’re trying to help you,” said the worst of the bad women. “Everything will be alright if you take your medication.” She pointed to the paper cup and the full glass of water that still sat on the table.
Herald banged his hand on the table again, harder this time. The good woman stared at him, her eyes wide and frightened. She clutched her cards to her chest as if they were a child.
“You’re conspiring against me!” Herald screamed. He was close to the bad woman’s face, and she stepped back. Deep lines furrowed her forehead.
A baby started to cry. He didn’t know where it was, but he wished it would be quiet. The sound grated at his ears.
The worst of the bad women finally left him. She disappeared into one of the rooms and shut the door, but the other one, the young one who had once been smiling, stayed. She hovered nearby and only took her eyes off him when she bent to speak with one of the people who sat at the tables or in the large chairs next to the wall.
“I want my keys!” yelled Herald. He shuffled after the young bad woman, one hand curled into a fist. “I need to go home.”
“It will help if you take your medication, Herald,” said the bad woman. “Maybe you should sit down now. Would you like to sit in your room and watch the TV?”
“No! You’re an awful woman!” shouted Herald. “I want my car. I want to go home.”
“Herald! Look who has come to see you!”
Herald turned around. The worst of the bad women stood beside a middle-aged man with brown hair and a short brown beard. The man smiled and waved.
Herald smiled too and started energetically for the man. “Robert!” he called. He reached the man and shook his hand.
The man frowned, but only briefly, then the grin was back on his face. “Hello, Herald. What’s been going on?”
“I don’t want to say anything here. We’ll sit at the table,” said Herald. He led Robert to the table where the good woman still sat, and when they were seated Herald leaned closer to Robert and said in a soft voice, “I think there’s something shady going on here.”
“Really?” said Robert.
“Yeah,” said Herald. “Those women, the ones that try to tell me what to do, they go into those rooms were people sleep and shut the doors. I think they’re prostitutes!”
“You don’t say!” said Robert with a muffled chuckle.
“The only good one here is her!” said Herald. He pointed to the young woman with the deck of cards. “Meet my brother, Robert. Robert, shake her hand. She’s the only good one here.”
Robert shook the hand of the woman. Her gaze never left Herald, though, and her eyes were still wide.
“They won’t let me have my car, either,” Herald said. “I need to go home, and they won’t let me have the keys.”
“Well, I’ll just have to talk to them.”
“She’s the worst one.” Herald pointed at the bad woman, the one who had tried to make him take the medication. “She’s always trying to tell me what to do.”
“Oh, I’ll talk to her, too.”
Herald pointed out the window, to the three trucks across the street. “They’re trying to steal the grain. It’s all a conspiracy.”
Robert followed Herald’s finger with his eyes. “Oh, yeah, I see. Say, Herald, why don’t we have some ice cream? I’m really hungry.”
Herald thought about it for a moment, and then nodded his head. “Yeah, yeah, sure.”
Robert got up and spoke to one of the bad women. Herald thought it was about his car keys. Maybe Robert could convince her to give him the car. Robert returned a few minutes later with two bowls of ice cream and two spoons. Herald waited for Robert to take a bite, then he started on his own bowl. It was chocolate, his favorite.
“Have you been in that yard out there?” asked Robert.
Herald looked at the glass door with contempt. “Yes, but it’s fenced in. There’s no way out. The other door is locked.”
Robert was already scraping the edges of his ice cream bowl. He licked the last melted bits of ice cream from the spoon. Herald took small bites because the coldness of the treat made his teeth hurt. Somewhere the baby started to cry again. Herald thought it was nearby, but he couldn’t see it.
“That damn baby is always crying,” said Herald. “It won’t ever shut up.”
“I’ll talk to the baby, too.”
Herald finished his ice cream. His tongue felt chalky, and the taste was different than chocolate.
“Do you want to go into your room? There might be something to watch on the TV,” suggested Robert.
Herald nodded his heavy head. Robert had to help him out of his chair, and together they walked down the hall to the room Herald shared with another old man. The other man was gone, though, probably in the big room at the end of the hall. Herald was glad because that other man snored when he slept and often smelled odd.
“Okay, sit down in your chair here,” said Robert.
Herald let Robert lower him slowly into the comfy brown chair. Robert turned the television on and switched the channels until he came across an old Western show, one with John Wayne.
“There you go,” said Robert. He stood and watched the show for a minute, then he said, “I’m going to go talk to them now. I’ll come back to see you later, okay?”
“Yeah, yeah, sure,” said Herald, but he was already absorbed with the John Wayne show even though he’d seen it a hundred times before.
Robert left the room and walked down the hall. One of the women waited for him there.
“Is he alright now?” she asked.
Robert nodded. “Yeah, he’s watching the TV. My dad and I have this worked out, you know. He kicks up a little fuss and then we both get ice cream.”
The nurse laughed. “Sure, Craig.” Her face turned serious then. “If he keeps behaving like this he can’t stay here anymore. If you hadn’t been in town I don’t know how we’d have gotten him calmed down.”
Craig looked thoughtful, the humor gone from his face. “You’ll have to give him a full dosage, I guess.”
One of the residents started to wail, the sound loud and irritating.
“The baby my dad was talking about,” said Craig.
The nurse nodded and smiled sadly. “Elizabeth.”
“Well, call me I guess if anything else comes up,” Craig said.
The nurse nodded. Craig walked slowly down the hall, and when he came to the locked door he punched in a number combination on the pad next to the wall. The door clicked open, and Craig slipped through while Herald stared at the television with empty eyes.