I stare at the floor as often as I can. I count the spread of green and white boxes. The linoleum is scarred and grooved, the result of forty years of dragged heels.
I do this because the only other option is to look at her. I don't want to.
Feeling things isn't everything, she says.
I nod and trace a rut in the linoleum with my eyes. It is a Spanish guitarist. El mariachi.
Knowing who you are, she says, isn't all it's cracked up to be. Psychology is a farce, she says. Invented theories for imagined afflictions.
I nod again and try to count my eyelashes.
She says that living in the past is much better than living in the now.
I nod again.
I'm not happy except in my dreams, she says.
She tells me all of this in the hour that I spend in the hard orange plastic chair beside her bed. She tells me this while I spoon hot cereal into her toothless mouth. The doctors tell me that her taste buds are useless, but all the same she'll eat nothing but this cereal, her favorite.
Her vacant blue eyes stare through the ceiling. They are edged by skin crinkled like cellophane. Her hair hangs in limp strands around her face. Gray vines. She sees nothing.
I met a man once, she says. Years ago. I met this man when I was at the state fair with my family, she says.
Her words are slurring.
This man yanked me aside and kissed me! she says. He kissed me so long! And then he spun me back into the crowd.
Her blind eyes light up, and I smile. She cannot see me smile.
Every kiss after, she says, I measured against that one kiss. Even Bruce's. Bruce never kissed like that.
I say, Wow, that's love.
I say, I know just what you mean.
I say, Yes, yes, that's right.
Then the hour is up and the nurse enters, nodding at me.
I place aside the cereal and pat her hand. Tomorrow, I say.
Be good, she says to me.
The nurse shares the depression that this place burns into me. I walk down the green hallway, faster and faster until I burst into the sun and fall to the grass, letting the warmth of the real world scrape away those slowly ticking minutes.
And then I go back inside. To the next room. Again.