The last few green leaves on the maple tree in front of a white house began to fade to brown. Its branches weaved between the parallel powerlines that stretched down Oak Street. A cool breeze wisped through the late September air, arousing a song from wind chimes hanging on a neighboring porch. An aged rocker creaked as the owner of the house read his watch.
“It’s time, boy,” he said.
The man scooched across the seat, slowly descended the steps, and scuffled down the sidewalk to the street. As he made his way, a cab pulled up to the curb out of nowhere. The man opened the back passenger side door and paused.
“Let’s go,” he snapped.
A greying dog on the porch answered with two barks and slowly waddled off the porch and into the cab. The man sat next to the dog and closed the door. He looked into the rearview mirror and nodded to the driver, who expressed a patient stare. The cab drove away from the curb and made its way up the street.
As the car circled Juckett Park, the old man whispered to the dog, “The park looks stunning this time of the year.”
They passed St. Mary’s church and then St. Paul’s before heading down the hill towards the next town. The odor of rotten eggs seeped into the cab from the mills along the Hudson River. The stench forced the old man to pinch his nose closed and the dog to cover his nose with his paws. Several traffic lights and four miles later, the cab pulled up to the main lobby of the hospital. The man exited the cab, and the dog sat up, waiting for his command.
“You stay here,” the man said to the dog. He turned to the open front passenger window. “I’ll be back in five. Keep the engine running.”
The dog sat and looked up into the man’s eyes with sadness.
“Good boy,” the man said before walking into the hospital lobby.
“Good morning. It’s such a pleasure to see you,” said a woman greeter dressed in a red and white candy-striped blouse.
“Is the coffee ready?” he asked.
“Just brewed,” she answered.
He disappeared into the room a few feet down the hall. Five minutes passed, and a nurse walked to the outside of the door.
“Everything OK?” she asked.
“Just finishing up in here,” he answered from behind the door.
The nurse slowly opened it.
“You look great today. How do you feel?” she asked.
“Just dandy, for a ninety-year-old man,” he grumbled.
“The doctor will be here to see you in a minute,” said the nurse.
The old man sat with the fingers of both hands clasped together and twirled his thumbs. His back hunched over as he stared down at his bare feet. He looked back up when the door swung open.
“Good morning, sir,” said a doctor.
“What’s good about it?” asked the old man.
“We are blessed with another day to share with our friends,” answered the doctor.
The doctor opened the old man’s medical folder and silently read what was inside.
“Mr. Varney, I would like to take your blood pressure,” said the doctor. “I trust you have been walking at least three days a week.”
“I walk every chance I get,” said Varney.
“At least a mile?” asked the doctor.
“Definitely,” grumbled Varney.
“Now let’s start your blood test,” said the doctor.
“Do you have to poke me every time I’m here?” asked Varney.
“If you follow my advice, this will hopefully be the last time,” answered the doctor.
After the blood test was completed, the doctor handed the old man a prescription.
“Remember to take this pill after dinner every night,” said the doctor.
“More pills, huh?” asked Varney
“See you next Tuesday,” said the doctor. “Hope you feel better.”
Ten minutes after the doctor finished his test, a knock pounded on the examination door.
“How are you doing, sir?” asked the greeter.
Varney didn’t answer. She knocked again, and Varney swung the door open. He slowly walked out of the room with his head drooping and his eyes focused on the floor.
“Can I escort you to the cafeteria?” she asked.
There was no answer from the old man.
“How is your dog today?” she asked.
No answer. They approached the cafeteria doors.
“Enjoy your coffee, George,” the greeter said before heading back to her desk.
The old man made his way to his usual seat in the hospital cafeteria.
The waitress, named Sallie, walked over to the table and asked, “Any surprises today?”
“Nope,” he answered. “The usual.”
She returned with a cup of coffee. “Black. No cream and no sugar,” said Sallie.