Hero

May

There is a picture hanging on the wall; a man sleeps in the bed beneath.
My job here is to wake up the man and make sure he’s decent and in the dining room in, oh, ten minutes. Maybe I’ve been rushed too many times today, because despite my hurry, I pause to actually look at the picture hanging on the wall.
There’s something of the proud young soldier in the old man sleeping in the bed–something in the bones, obscured by the sagging skin. Being black-and-white, the picture doesn’t capture the intense blue of his eyes, but it does capture the mischievous sparkle. There’s still a pride in the way he holds himself.
What’s different are the sixty years’ worth of wrinkles and the pock-marks of shrapnel on his face and shoulder. If he tried to salute now, you would probably mistake the attempt for a salvo of muted gunfire as he tried to get his joints to bend and straighten appropriately.
What’s different, in short, is simply the years and life that lie between the soldier and the resident.
“Come on, Mr.____,” I say, shaking his shoulder. “Up and at ’em.”
When he’s mostly awake, I set about changing his soiled brief; he grumbles a bit as I roll him over a couple times.
“Five more minutes,” he tells me. “Just let me rest my old bones for five more minutes.”
“Can’t,” I reply, swinging him up on the side of the bed. “In five minutes we’d be late for the Memorial Day service.”
“Will they have cake?” he asks hopefully.
I know that tone too well. “You’re a diabetic,” I scold him. “Don’t you be getting extra pieces from those kids by playing the war hero.”
“But I am a war hero!” he protests.
“And a diabetic.”
“You drive a hard bargain,” he sighs as I help him stand and pivot into the chair. “Fine. Two pieces of cake and I won’t ask where they’ve hidden the good punch.”
He’s lucky the chair is underneath of him when he says that, otherwise I might have dropped him on the floor in my outburst of laughter.

“And you’re right, you know,” I tell him as I push him out of the room. “You are a hero.”
“So three pieces of cake?”
“How about we start with one and then have nurse check your blood sugar?”
“Damn.”