BUT WHAT ABOUT THE BABIES?

Ann Neuser Lederer


Despite his now wasted muscles, he slides the iron deftly over the old-fashioned, striped pajama shirt he irons on the living room floor. He learned this way as a kid, he confesses, sitting in a chair and bending from the waist.  He always did his sisters' dresses, and still loves to iron. 

At first glance, he can seem terrifying, with his shadowy face and black head rag tied at the back of the neck.  You'd surely cross the street to avoid him if you were walking.  But as he weakens, he becomes more endearing.  Maybe it's just familiarity; or the reality that he actually is less physically threatening now.

While waiting for his lady to finish dressing, he asks about AIDS babies.  Have I ever seen one?  What do they look like?  How long they do live?  Whether people ever adopt them. 

Now, he says the sweetest things.  You can see why she likes him.  Of course, part of the attraction is she knows how sick he is.  She blossoms when she takes care of people.  She still talks about last year's boyfriend, who got that homing instinct towards the end, and left her to go back to his mother. 

This fellow is starting to talk that way too.  It might be a sign.  She seems to be aware of it.  Her eyes get blacker as she whispers it, becoming big, sorrowful pools. She smoothly gets him off the topic, though. She works the talk around to veins.  This is a sure crowd pleaser among users.  Everyone has an opinion. They get to pointing at certain veins, prodding them, labeling the good ones and the bad ones, noting ways you can tell, such as by bounce. 

And then, discussing who can hit them.  Naming names.  The lady in the lab called Eve.  That Cuban doctor who moonlighted in the Miami ER.  The flight team, for sure.  Finally, the necessity of sometimes using arteries.  Tricks for that.  A very long needle.  Going straight in.  Unusual places to stick.  Necks. Groins.  Breasts. 

She is animated, joking now.  That look of weariness is gone.  That beauty, born of  premature knowledge, that washes over any of  them sometimes, temporarily gone.  Now she just looks regular, like any person, and so does he, sort of.  The laughing helped that.  It brought them back for awhile. 



Ann Neuser Lederer works as a Hospice Nurse. She also has degrees in Cultural Anthropology. Her poems can be found in such journals as Wind, Comstock Review, The Bridge, and National Forum. "Notes on a Nursing Home," anecdotes about confused patients from the back wards, appeared in Geriatric Nursing.  More of her works can be found at http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Village/1890/


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