The Curtain Dances

fiction about old age
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Short Story


I’m sick of the clock ticking. It echoes through the halls at night when it’s dead silent. Peacefulness interrupted by ticks and tocks and struggles for breath from next door. Those tend to stop by morning though.

Next-door is one of the hospice rooms. I got stuck next to it because I didn’t raise my kids well enough to have better jobs so they could afford a better room for me.  I have a wall of sticky notes that I draw of everyone that moves in next door, like a poor-man’s hall of remembrance.

Eggs and biscuits at 7:30 sharp–if you miss it, no breakfast. The biscuits are always left over from dinner the previous night. I don’t like eating breakfast, it upsets my stomach, or at least, their breakfast does. I make myself coffee and stay in my room. The aides don’t mind, one less person to feed.

I then sit and read until 11:30, whereupon lunch is served. Lunch is the best meal of the day. They keep it light, and change it up everyday of the week. I can’t complain. After lunch we have activities. Those are more meant for the mentally weak lodgers, but I’m forced to do it anyway. It consists of me getting a blow-up ball thrown at my feet, me bending down to get it, and then throwing it to anybody but the person next to me.

I don’t know how anyone could have more fun than that. It’s the retiree’s dream.

Dinner is at 5:00. It’s whatever it is that night.

I don’t really want to talk about it anymore. It bores me…and depresses me.

The truth about Green Leaf Retirement Village is that it’s nothing. I walk the halls alone at night sometimes. Every room has it’s own breathing pattern. 124 is breath in, breath out, small breath in, big breath out, and repeat. I like that one. It has a rhythm to it that I can always rely on.

Daniel comes to visit his grandma a lot. We got to know each other. He’s in high school, soon to graduate. He’s not the smartest guy, nor the most talented. But, unlike everyone else I’ve met here, he doesn’t act like he knows everything and has experienced all experiences. He tells me he wants to be like me when he’s an old man. I tell him to just be a good guy.

My room is 16×16 with a twin bed. It’s not luxurious, but it’s all I need. My favorite part of the day is nighttime. I get to lie on my bed and stare at the ceiling. It’s like a blank canvas. I get to think of everyone I’ve ever met, think about my wall of sticky notes. When I go ceiling gazing, I’m not an old man anymore, and it makes me smile.

I see my mother. I’m in my crib and she picks me up and holds me. A breeze blows in from my bedroom window. The curtains curl and wave. She smiles at me as the curtain bobs in front of her, covering her in a thin white see-through fabric, like an angel. My brother rides in on his tricycle, and she sets me down and chases him around the house. She always catches him, and there is laughter.

My mother owned a pump organ. She played for a few churches around town. Music filled the house, the sounds of sharp poignant organ ringing. Her eyes were always closed when she played. Everything was memorized.

We lost our home when I was nine. My mother cried for two days straight. When the tears ran out she stood up, grabbed our things from the motel room, and left town. She dropped my brother and I off at our father’s, and we never saw her again.

Hands are a weird thing. Not because of their mechanics. Anatomically, they make sense. I more mean what they show. When I was young they were smooth and healthy. They looked like I had never worked in my life. My hands aren’t like that anymore. They move slowly and clumsily, and are entirely made up by wrinkles. Just like my grandfather’s.

My last memory of him is his funeral. He had his suit on and was in his box. Then he was gone. Not too different from me now.

That’s alright though.

I just want to feel a breeze again, and watch the curtains dance. I wouldn’t mind some silence, real silence I mean.


Breath in, breath out, short breath in, big breath out, and repeat.



photograph by Mikael Kristenson


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