The glass doors slid suddenly open, loose along the tracks, allowing out the thick, perfumed air. The reception area was deserted, the line of grey pillars, each tied with a plush red bow, tapering down the long and empty halls. I stepped inside, rubbing the foamy blob of liquid soap between my hands, and paused at the tree, perfect, artificial and green.
I looked around and then in amongst the baubles of the tree, half-expecting a specter to come out.“Bracing weather.” The disembodied voice was raspy and friendly.
I circled the branches to find an elderly man in a wheelchair, a thin tartan blanket draped down. His eyes were wide, a clear green, his smile crooked and sincere. “Here for a visit?”
I felt the twist in my hips, impelling me to leave. “My mother.”
He nodded slightly, a ragged scab covering the back of his head. “She will be pleased to see you.”
I realized that the blanket hung flat against the wheelchair, that he had no legs, that he must have had countless surgeries and was only smiling in pain. “Yes.”
His arms lay still across his empty lap. “Carry on.”
I sidled away awkwardly, surging around the corner to where a woman stood, dressed as an elf.
We waited for the elevator. “It must be hard to work here,” I said. “Especially around Christmas.”
“I’m not a nurse.” She pressed the clipboard tight to her green felt blouse. “I’m the director of social programs.”
The doors opened and we got in.
She got off on the third. “Merry Christmas.”