“I hate these elevators,” Cameron grumbled to himself.
The Good Morning Sunshine Nursing Home did not have the best elevators. They were a dull lime green, almost mint, in the dimly lit interior. They never worked. Plus they smelled funny. Something like split pea soup with a hint of urine. Cameron had only been working there three months and he could already notice the horrible odor on his clothes when he got home.
The loud buzz let Cameron know he was on the third floor but it would still be several moments before the elevator would decide to open its doors to release its occupant.
When they finally did open, Cameron pushed his cart of dirty dishes into the hallway.
He set about his work in his usual mundane manner, pushing his cart from one room to the next, collecting plates of half chewed food, many barely touched. Plenty of guests had their TVs on, while an occasional wheelchair-bound person would offer a friendly greeting or a groan of some kind. The taupe color of the walls gave it the feeling of a rundown hotel, only with sporadic load moaning and the awful smell.
By the time he got to 349B he was fully lost in thought. He wished they paid him more for doing this. The only reason he was even working here was because he wanted a car. His parents weren’t much help in the finance department, so if he was going to get wheels that didn’t have sliding doors and car seat, he’d have to buy it on his own.
When he got his first paycheck he was double-shocked. First, because he’d never made that much money before. And quickly after when he noticed how much money he actually made; after taxes. It didn’t seem fair. His dreams of a hot sports car were dashed. After weeks of car shopping he finally drove off of the lot with a 15-year old hunter green Oldsmobile. That was all he could afford, and driving an old person’s car didn’t seem to impress the girls in the school parking lot, but it got him around.
Back in 349B, the old man living there was lying in bed and staring at the television screen, the soft glow spilling onto the bed. Cameron could barely make out his face. It was a good thing too. His face was weathered, presumably from years of hard labor somewhere and his jowls had dropped his face into a constant scowl, looking like some kind of pug that had never in it’s life heard a good joke. 349B had just moved in last week and was causing an epic fit with the nursing staff during his transition.
“Sir I’m here for your plate.”
“It’s over there,” he said with a cough, pointing a gnarled finger to the other side of the bed.
Cameron cautiously entered the dimly lit room. As he picked up the plate he noticed the tray neatly arranged with his silverware carefully placed inside the plastic dome covering. He was surprised not to see it spread helter-skelter like many residents so often do. 349B didn’t strike him as neat and tidy.
As he passed by the old man’s bed he caught a glimpse of 349B and his usual scowl was replaced with the hint of something, not quite a smile, but as he stared unblinkingly toward the TV there was something pleasant on his face. Even through the soft glow he noticed the old man’s eyes had a far off look to them, almost as if he was looking through the television toward some distant memory.
Cameron glanced at the screen. It was some black and white movie. Several cowboys were gathered around a fire talking, as another sang softly into the darkness.
“What are you watching?” Cameron said without thinking. “It looks like an old one.”
349B glanced down from the TV toward Cameron. For the first time Cameron swore he saw a smile on the old man’s face. “Son, when it comes to me, everything about me is old. Even the movies I watch.”
Cameron smiled and turned toward the door and the light spilling from the hallway. As he was about to reach his cart the old man spoke up again. “It’s never as glamorous as you see in the movies.”
Cameron paused. “What isn’t?”
The old man raised his gnarled finger again. This time toward the screen. “Driving cattle. That’s what this program’s about. Them Hollywood types never do it right. You have to experience it.”
“You were a cowboy sir?” Cameron said walking back into 349B’s room.
“In my younger days, yes. Even back then it was a dying profession, but I managed for about 8 years. Then the war came, never had much use for it after that. I had probably changed some too after what I’d seen, but it didn’t seem to have the same appeal to me after.”
Cameron grabbed a chair. “You were out West?”
“That’s where I grew up. Just outside of Twin Bridges.”
“Montana. Just South of Helena. Beautiful country. Nothing but sky for as far as the eye could see. It was a nice small town right at the bend of the Beaverhead River. We used to use a bunch of old Indian trails to get the cattle moving. Not sure if they’re still there today.”
Cameron was beginning to take a liking to the old man. “What was it like?”
“I was a young boy at the time, younger than you. That’s all I was raised to do. I could ride a horse before I could walk,” the old man said with a sense of accomplishment in his voice.
“It was a simpler time back then,” he said with a small grunt.
His eyes went back up to the TV. The cowboys were now driving the cattle through a small creek. One cowboy with a bandana had a calf roped around its neck and he was attempting to pull it across.
“It was my family and another from the same town. We’d take turns driving across the open land back then. Back when we were happy with some cloths on our back and something to eat at the end of the day. Back when we were all cowboys.”
This story was a writing exercise from many years ago based on one sentence a friend of mine uttered. Back then, my buddies and I would get together on weekly basis. On one particular “man night” I was complaining to my friend Scott of an imperfection with a rivet on my jean pocket that was causing me to cut myself every time I would put my hands in my pockets. “Why do we even have these things?” I wondered. Scott’s answer was perfect. “It’s probably something left over from when we were all cowboys.”