Dolores Metcalf, Comforter
by LaVerne Zocco
I was collected by Federal men who happened to be in the neighborhood. I thought I would be safe in the days before the round-ups started. I had changed my name to that of one of my friends, Dolores, who had died an ignominious death that no one had noticed. I was no longer Ann Davis, I was Dolores Metcalf.
I had changed all the information about me that was in the world of computers and systems. They weren’t very fierce then, and my masquerade had lasted ten years until the rationing law went into effect.
I would have never been caught if I hadn’t had a slight stroke as well as the bad luck of turning seventy. How was I to know that the collections would follow the new laws? All those who were over seventy and were suffering from any potentially terminal illnesses such as stroke, cancer and heart problems had to appear before their district rationing board. I had the good fortune to recover from my small stroke, but I was kept just the same and not allowed to go.
In any event, it was the slight stroke that sealed my fate. Since it was my first, Doctor Drake, my physician and good friend, tried to hide me from the law. He treated me at home and never reported my condition. That worked for a while. But then the dear doctor treated other patients so humanely that in the end his license was terminated and so was he.
The officials said it had been an accident. No one could prove otherwise, because no one knew where he was. His patients who were seventy and older were cataloged. Those who had aging problems were soon rounded up and taken to hospitals, where they were closely guarded.
Since I was fairly mobile, I was allowed to walk freely down the halls of the institution and in doing so, I was able to start putting names to the captives. Soon I was stopping by their rooms and talking to them. This became my routine.
I soon noticed that one by one the list of patients started to thin out until all the rooms were empty. The staff smiled happily and told me that the patients had been sent to appear before their rationing boards for review and soon went back home. But I knew where they had all gone. Then a list of new names appeared, and the rooms were full again.
Not long after, a Mrs. Cartwright came in to see me. I judged her to be about twenty-four and bubbly. She commented on my quick recovery from my stroke and said she was happy to see me up and walking about and taking an interest in my fellow patients.
“It has come to the attention of my committee, Mrs. Metcalf, that you have a very charming way with people. I don’t know what you did when you were younger, but whatever it was, people must have talked to you and listened to you. A person with such talents cannot be overlooked in our business.
“I have come to make you an offer. Will you take a position as patient comforter? You would spend time with the patients in the hospital and keep them calm and peaceful. We think we could make it a regular position and give you the chance to use your talents for good. What do you think?”
“Could I go home and live?”
“Would I be left alone to do these duties in the way I would like to do them?”
“Yes. There is only one requirement: that you do them at night when the collections are made. That seems to be when the patients get restless and rather bothersome. What do you say?”
“Then yes, I accept.”
And I did take the job, knowing full well what it was all about. The hospital was a euthanasia center, and the patients I would see and try to keep calm were those scheduled for death.
You may think that I was hardhearted to take on such a position, but I knew if I said no, Mrs. Cartwright would put me on the list for extinction, and I didn’t want to die. I have no other excuse.
And so I started my duties. I would get a list of names and room numbers and sit by the bedside and observe the behaviors of each doomed soul. Some seemed to take it very well and said they were tired of being in pain. Others fought against the dying of the light. Some could only say prayers, and some told me their thoughts on the hereafter. And then I would hear the boots on the floor, and I crossed that particular patient off my list.
One day I was surprised to see Mrs. Cartwright’s name on the list, and her room number. The floor nurse told me the law had been changed to include people of all ages if they had a terminal disease. Mrs. Cartwright had contracted a cancer of the blood, one usually found in young people. I went into her room and sat down beside her bed.
She was the worst patient I ever had. She had such terrible crying spells that she had to be shackled to her bed. She screamed that she didn’t want to die. I found pity for her in my heart and gave her all the time I could.
But as long as I was at her bedside, she was calm, and she told me many times I had a particular way with people that was soothing and pleasant. Then, almost as an afterthought she asked me what my job had been when I was young. I told her I had been the manager of a daycare center for children. She laughed at that in an almost hysterical way.
But then we heard the boots coming to get her. The night they came for her, she screamed as the guards wheeled her, still shackled, all the way down the hall to the area of the building where patients were killed.
That night seems very long ago now; I went on with my vocation. But yesterday I hit the end of the road. I suffered a second stroke, a serious one, and they put me to bed. My right side was weak and I was unable to walk.
In the evening a woman came into my room and introduced herself as Della Baines, my comforter. She spoke to me in such a soft voice and told me that the powers that be were going to let me die a natural death in reward for my years of service.
She actually thought I was listening to her ramblings. No, what I was listening for was the sound of the boots that would stop outside my door. She was no comfort at all.
And it finally dawned on me that I, too, had been no comforter, for now I knew my patients — almost all of them — had been quiet because they, too, were listening for the tramp of approaching boots.
Copyright © 2013 by LaVerne Zocco