Pulling the tab up on the square plastic container, I tip some of the contents out into my hands. Truth be told, I actually hate mints. I hate the way they burn the inside of my nose when I smell them; I hate when my breath smells and I have to take one for societal reasons; and I especially hate when I get my white chocolate mocha from the barista during the holiday season. Apparently, December equals putting crushed candy canes on every whipped topping in every type of coffee.
Today, though, I can stand to stomach a few.
After popping three candies into my mouth, two people sludge by me. Both of them smell like stronger versions of this entire hall, and they walk slow enough that the scent begins lingering on my turtleneck. I put one sleeve-covered hand over my nose and mouth to block the fulsome odor from entering my body again. There’s no reason to, though. It’s not like the odor is going to go away. It’ll just get fainter.
Finally, finally they have moved on. As they turn the corner of the dull, olive walls, remorse begins to creep in. Why should I be so annoyed by them? After all, it’s not me who needs assistant to walk, or help to bathe, or even someone to read me my favorite novels when I can barely lift my head off a pillow.
But the smell is putrid. It’s just as awful as the mossy yellow carpet and the dirty ivory wall trim. Crossing my right leg over my left, I press the lid of my mint container into place and put it into the empty seat next to me. When I finish placing it, my eyes glint up and catch a glimpse of possibly the ugliest statue to be heated in a kiln. It’s as though my eyes just saw something as putrid as the smells those two individuals brought with them. A short, stocky statue of a chef, complete with a tall white chapeau and graphite-grey moustache that I can only assume was originally slate grey.
I think I put my mints down too soon.
My hands reach to shake out another capsule while my eyes scan the rest of the corridor. I can see two people sitting against the wall: one’s in a wheelchair, the other is on woven wicker stool. Set on the table between the two seats is a tall wire basket overflowing with pink and yellow roses, scattered sprigs of baby’s breath throughout the bundle. As my eyes fixate on the two individuals, I notice the one in the wheelchair beginning to pluck the yellow roses out of the bouquet. The shaky, withered hands pull out a pair of needle-thin scissors to snip off the excess leaves and thorns. After each stem is cleared of the offenders, the silver scissors are laid into the vase while the rose stem breaches the sallow lips of the one in the wheelchair.
Transfixed, I swallow another mint candy and call for one of the assistants. Informing her of the situation, I express my concern for the poison that could be in that flower. Eating it could cause serious medical complications. But she responds simply. “Those flowers are artificial. She can’t hurt herself.”
Her. The one in the wheelchair is a her. I would never have guessed. Ripped taffeta hair, a sallow shell of skin, clothes that I can only assume were once colored: I couldn’t tell who she was. Do the helpers even know who she is? I certainly can’t tell her apart from the other individual sitting in the wicker chair. Maybe they should wear name tags so the helpers and the other members can recognize each other. Or recognize themselves.
Craning my neck around to the back wall, the expansive and white spray-painted bulletin board, known only as the “Hall of Memorable Experiences” by the cursive letters on the top edge, becomes visible. Pictures of smiling employees and fish-bowl eyed patients with captions on each one. When I spot the two women in front of me, their own cloudy, puddled eyes staring blankly, the caption underneath reads: “Alana M. Wallace, retired visual artist. Marjorie Richland, former seamstress.” The two individuals by the vase are women. Somehow, the same women who are chewing on artificial roses and rotting in their seats managed to create beauty. Their artistry and talents have been immensely individualized and perfected, yet even their faces look like the same sagging leather bag of old wine.
Pouring another three mints into my palm and popping them into my lips, I dart my eyes around the room to the rest of the patients. Why does everyone appear the same when they reach old age? The closest comparison I can make is that… well, I guess it’s the same as babies. All babies look the same to me, too. Then they grow hair, colour their eyes, smooth or rough out their skin, speak and sing in various trebles and basses, develop talents and skills that we manifest in our own ways. Even our memories become singular to themselves: eating, sleeping, breathing. Patterns they create and adapt to be their own. None of it holds, though, because we all end up in the same place: in a yellow-green hallway chewing on a fake flower.
I need another mint.