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The Bed by the Window
In Jefferson Memorial Hospital, two old men, both of them seriously ill, were
confined to a room in the cheerless recovery wing on the twelfth floor. It was a
small room, no bigger than 10 by 12 feet, painted pale green and connected to
another room of identical size by a tiny bathroom.
Mr. Vincent, the man in the bed by the only window in the room was not doing
well after the removal of his lung. He was in severe pain most of the time, and
every afternoon a nurse came in and propped him up to a sitting position to
clear the accumulated fluid. He sat there by the window and between labored
breaths he told his roommate, Parker, all the things he could see outside.
It was good for Parker. Parker was in an accident last month and his lumbar
vertebrae was dislocated, resulting in the loss of cartilage between them. He
was forced to lie perfectly still on his back until it healed. All he could see
was the ceiling curtain track and the face of the nurse when she bent over him.
The two men talked through the long night and the early morning hours. They
spoke of their families and friends, their jobs and their experiences in the
war. They were restless and resentful of their confinement in Jefferson Memorial
and the waste of the precious little time left to them in their senior years.
They dreaded the bed pan and the cold wash cloth -- and although they wanted to
be left alone they were filled with unspoken sadness during visiting hours if no
one came to see them. Worst of all they lost track of the world outside.
Whenever Mr. Vincent was propped up by the window, Parker would ask him, “What
do you see out there Vinny?”
Mr. Vincent would hesitate before answering, partly because of the pain in his
chest and partly because he wanted his words to be worthy of the scene, “Well,
first of all it’s a beautiful day. The kids must have the afternoon off from
school ... they’re all over the park. I remember now, the nurse said there’s a
school board election.”
“How would she know?”
“Well she had to get a sitter. That’s where her little boy is – over there, in
the park. I’ll bet he’s the one by the lake. He’s got a sailboat and it’s headed
for this little string of ducks ... look at that!”
“The little boat. It sailed right through the line of ducks ... now it’s headed
for the other side of the lake. The little kid is running like hell around the
lake trying to get there before his sailboat does.”
“Gee, I wish I could see.”
“You will, you will, as soon as they let you sit up. You’re a sick man Parker
Every day the park was different, and every day Mr. Vincent had a different
story to tell.
“It’s cloudy today – it looks cooler. Must be breezy too – you can see the water
rippling on the lake.”
“Any kids in the park?”
“Not so many as yesterday.”
“You’ll tell me when you see something, Vinny ... won’t you?
Mr. Vincent turned his head back to the window. “I see a couple walking under
the trees at this end of the lake.”
“What do you mean, ‘couple’?”
“You know what I mean. A man and a woman walking together. The man has his arm
around her and her hand is on his shoulder. They just stopped by the willow –
you remember the willow tree, Parker?”
“Yeah, I remember. What are they doing now?”
“What do you suppose?”
“How the hell do I know! I’m layin’ here flat on my back ... you can see. I
“They’re kissing.” A moment or two passed and Mr. Vincent turned to Parker ...
“They’re still kissing. How long can can you hold a kiss without breathing?”
“You breathe through your nose, remember – you can go on for hours. ... they
still at it?”
Mr. Vincent took a quick look out the window. “No, they’re walking off arm in
arm. Those were the days, weren’t they Parker?”
“You kiddin’? I proposed to my wife in that same park.”
“By the willow tree I’ll bet.”
Both men could hardly wait the afternoon of the parade. When the nurse came in
at three o’clock, both Mr. Vincent and Parker were on edge. They had already
checked the route of the march in the morning paper, “They’ll be coming down
Fifth Street then turning north up into the park,” Parker said. “You’ll be able
to see them all the way up to the exit.” He looked up anxiously at Mr. Vincent.
“Well. Well, what do you see?”
“Gimme a chance, will you. I only got two eyes.” He sat up extra straight.
“Beautiful day for a parade ... I can see the High School band.”
“Are you sure it’s the High School Band? My grandson’s in the High School band.”
“What color uniforms?”
“They wear green and white. My grandson plays the clarinet.”
“Gimme a break. They’re a block away, I can’t pick out a clarinet a block away.
I can see the tubas and the drums though.”
“He marches right in front of the tubas.” Parker looked puzzled. Shouldn’t we be
able to hear them from here?”
“No. Not with these double glazed windows – you can’t hear anything through
these windows. Like the traffic in the street down there – there’s traffic down
there, you can’t hear any of that either.”
One hour a day may not seem a lot, but for both men it was an hour that
sustained them through the sleepless hours of the night. Parker would close his
eyes and relive the scenes that Mr. Vincent had painted for him. Mr. Vincent, in
turn, felt as a great artist might feel – painting a picture in words for
someone who could not see.
The next day the nurse was particularly energetic. Her rubber soles squeaked on
the tile floor as she put on the brakes next to Mr. Vincent’s bed. “Three
o’clock, Mr. Vincent. Time to sit up – get some air into that lung.” She rapped
on the side rail of his bed – “Let’s go, let’s go ... Mr. Vincent ... “ There
was a pause, then she spoke his name more gently. “Mr. Vincent, Mr. Vincent ...
oh dear God no. No. No!”
“What’s the matter with Vinny. Nurse? What? What?” She turned and with her hand
covering her mouth, she ran from the room.
She was back in a moment with the floor doctor and a specialist. Two nurses
followed them with an EKG machine. Parker lay there and tried to make eye
contact with someone, but all eyes were on Mr. Vincent.
The floor doctor straightened up and shook his head. “He’s gone,” he said, “Been
gone at least a half hour or more.” He waved off the two nurses with the EKG
machine. The surgeon searched for a heartbeat at Mr. Vincent’s wrists, neck and
leg. He finally straightened up and closed Mr. Vincent’s eyes. The nurse was
shaken and the floor doctor put his arm around her ... “It’s okay. It’s okay. It
happens. Nothing you could have done.” He pulled the sheet up. “Let’s get him
The nurse, the last to leave, was still sobbing, she looked at Parker as she
left. “I’m sorry Mr. Parker.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“I hate it when this happen. I’ll never get used to it. Are you okay? Can I get
you something?” She brightened up a little and said, “There’s good news for you,
by the way. Your X-rays show the cartilage is building – you’ll be starting on
re-hab.” He listened to her shoes squeak on the tile floor as she hurried out of
He lay there looking at the covered figure. The man who had been his eyes for
the past month. Now, with his own eyes closed, he could see the park, the
children by the lake, the lovers, the parade – as clearly as the day Mr. Vincent
described them. “What would these last two weeks have been like without Vinny?
Never got a chance to thank him, did you Parker? Course you did! You had all the
chances in the world.” He wished he’d taken the time – once in a while – just to
say, “Thanks Vinny. Thanks for seeing for me.” Now it was too late, who was
going to see for him now?
A sleepy eyed attendant came in with a gurney. He pulled it up to Mr. Vincent’s
bed and looked at Parker. “Lost a bunky, huh?” Without waiting for an answer, he
pulled a curtain around Mr. Vincent’s bed and went to work. When he pulled the
curtain back again, the bed was empty.
The bed stood empty against the wall by the window. In his imagination, Parker
could still see Mr. Vincent there, looking out the window with the back of the
bed cranked up. His face would often break into a smile when he saw something to
humor him, and he would turn the scene into words so Parker could see it with
him. He wondered if he could talk the nurse into letting him have that bed by
the window. He was responding to the first week of therapy and his spine was
better now, there was less pain and it was torture to lay there not knowing what
was happening outside.
“How are we doin’ Mr. Parker?” The nurse charged in pulling a cart with one hand
and shaking a thermometer down with the other. Without waiting for an answer she
put the thermometer in his mouth. “Gonna give you a sponge down Mr. Parker.
Gonna get up real close and personal.”
“Can I ask you a question?” Parker said around both sides of the thermometer.
“What’s on your mind, hon?”
“I was wondering if I could move to the bed by the window – where Mr. Vincent
used to be.”
“Sure. Why not? You’re gonna have a new bunky the end of the week, he can take
over on your side. I don’t know what you want with the window though, there’s
not much to see out there.”
“The world is out there.”
The nurse shrugged, “It’s up to you, hon. I’ll roll you over when I’m done,
He wanted to be alone when he looked outside. What was out there was between
Vinny and him. Nobody else had a right to that view, it was theirs. When the
nurse was finished with him she wheeled Mr. Vincent’s bed out of the way and
rolled Parker over to the window. He waited, watching her finish up around the
room – looked up at the ceiling and listened for the squeak of her rubber soles
to fade away as she walked out of the room and back down the hall.
He tried to sit up and a stabbing pain in his lower back stopped him cold. He
held tightly to the bed rail until he could stand the pain no longer and dropped
back panting and drained of strength. His eyes closed and he counted until ten
waiting for the pain to subside – then he tried again. He was able to raise
himself on one elbow. The pain in his lower back was fierce and unrelenting but
he stayed with it. His chin was almost on a level with the window sill, and if
he could just ... just push a little more ... that’s all dear God ... just an
He got the inch and he brought his face to the window. He opened his eyes and
looked out. There was a brick wall! Nothing!
Nothing but a brick wall!
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