There’s a little more security that might be expected, for a nursing home. Discreet, but there: the full-body scanner set into the front door, the well-muscled and alert ‘nurses’ at reception.
He barely notices, after two years. Making sure his pockets are empty of anything that might be considered ‘a weapon’ has become second nature, and the security staff are familiar faces, seen once a week.
He knows why they’re there, after all.
He’s glad of it.
Up to the second floor, third corridor, fifth door on the left, more ‘nurses’. He smiles at them, like always. They don’t smile back, like always. Not unfriendly. Just on duty.
He still smiles. Still brings the traditional gifts at the new year. They’d die to protect him: the least he can do is smiles and marzipan.
Through the door, the man waits. Although waits might not be the right word – there’s nothing in the empty stare, the slack face, to indicate enough cognitive function to understand the difference between present and future. Still, the man is there, and not doing anything else, so waits is close enough.
It’s a pleasant enough room, the medical necessities subtly concealed, a view of the gardens. He takes a chair that lets him see out the window, lets the silence lengthen. Always, there’s the possibility that this time, he won’t be the first to speak.
And always, eventually, he is.
“You’re looking well,” he says. It’s not entirely untrue. The medical care here is excellent. The residents have every chance of living a long, long time, and this resident is still in early middle age. “She’s looking well, too. I talked to her yesterday.”
Not a flicker of response. Still, maybe, just maybe, there’s the possibility of a firing neuron somewhere deep behind those vacant eyes. Maybe, just maybe, what he says is heard and understood.
So he persists. “Just bought a new ship, she said. Some sort of rare … something, I can never work out what she means when she starts talking about that stuff, but I gather it was incredibly expensive. But then, she’s incredibly rich. I mean, even by capsuleer standards. And so happy, still so much in love, and her family … everything’s going perfectly for her.” Is that a flare of a nostril or a trick of the light? “And for me, too. I’ve been chosen for the exhibition. They say I have real talent. And Cami is in an advanced computer sciences course – she’s a genius, you know, although mostly at skills that don’t have many legal applications. She’s going to be able to do anything she wants with her life. Anything at all.”
Nothing. He studies the man for a while, noting the sagging flesh of his cheeks where the muscles are atrophying from lack of use, the unmarked, manicured hands. Nothing.
Always nothing. But he can’t quite believe it, despite what the doctors say, can’t believe that this man is, for all intents and purposes, gone: personality, will, mind all erased by creeping dementia. And until he can believe it, he will keep coming, week after week, bringing his stories of the world outside the walls and the worlds beyond the stars.
Look how well we’re doing. Look how successful we are.
Look how happy we are.
And there’s nothing you can do about it.
The garden outside the window is darkening into dusk. The weekly visit is over.
Luc Roth stands, and leans down to brush a kiss on his father’s immobile face. “Goodbye, Papa. I’ll be here next week.”
And so will you.
With a smile for the unsmiling guards, Jorian Roth’s youngest son walks out the door and into the world outside his father’s walls.