His scarred chin had a single line of saliva running down it, clinging to the indented flesh, and I reached forward with my tissue to wipe it off. The scar ran from his right cheekbone downwards, just touching the corner of his mouth. He was wrapped in a red plaid blanket, asleep sitting up. He slept a lot, but at his age, it was normal. I could see the wrinkles on the skin around his eyes stretch and contract as he tried to squeeze them shut, even in his dreams.
I work as a caretaker for those elderly that we have decided to keep around. Usually something unusual happened to them, or they were part of some event and have firsthand knowledge that we want to hold on to. Usually they need to stay near whatever caused it, for the purpose of research. I live at research site 21. We deal in containment of the ones who don't need to. It's pleasant. It has to be.
I was sent here after I got on someone's nerves. Who doesn't matter. There's a lot of land between us now, and an ocean. I did the same thing there. People willing to do this job are limited in number.
He woke with a start when the tissue touched him, eyes wide in an instant. He tried to strike out with his fist, but lacked the strength, and was caught by the blanket. I'm used to that by now.
"Oh… I'm sorry." he said, and he meant it."I was… having a bad dream."
I served him extra soup and soft bread for dinner, because he had slept through lunch. It was getting worse. His body had decided that a century was enough, and that isn't something we can help with. The doctors had said six months to a year. We haven't told him that yet, and probably never will.
I turned on the radio, and the Beatles came on. That's a luxury I get when I'm helping him. He is very hard of hearing, nearly deaf, so I can listen to what I want.
He ate quietly, lost in thought, until he finished. As I moved to take away the dishes, he at last spoke. "You remind me of…" he said, pausing with what sounded like confusion towards the end."Of…" he repeated, and after a second's pause, let out a breath that wheezed like wind in the sails of an old wooden boat. "Of my nurse. Her name… I can't remember her name. She was… pretty. She looked like you. She…"
He seemed to be searching for something- her name, perhaps. Perhaps not. I turned down the music to listen. That's part of the job, listening. Many of the old ones like it, like to feel noticed, especially when so may have spent so long here. They always seem to talk about their families, their childhoods- never about the reasons that they're here.
"It was on my second day, I, I… I was hit by a shell. Shrapnel, I mean. In the leg, just a cut. But it wasn't healing right. It wasn't… I was never in the front lines, I was meant to look ahead for places we could use. Places we could defend near the beach."
He seemed focused for the first time I could remember, staring straight at me with steel eyes and that glaring scar. He was not telling me anything I did not already know, and he knew it. He knew that I knew why the cut wouldn't heal, and what that meant.
"They… the Turks had us pinned. They were tossing bombs and bullets at anyone who got close, and no one knew what to do but keep throwing ourselves back in and hope. Cally and Jenkers… they were the boys I'd come with. We were in the 6th Dublins. They got put in the trenches then they got put on top afterward. I didn't find out 'till later, of course."
We hadn't taken sides in that battle. There was something we had to keep them away from. It was a chaotic time for everyone, I've learned. The reins had slipped out of our hands, and the idiots once off their leashes were much harder to steer. So, they went for Gaillipoli. They went because it would make a clear route to Russia, and the Turks who owned the peninsula rallied to keep it. We were caught in the middle, trying to keep anyone from finding us in our underground bunker, there underneath a rock that they called the "Sphinx." It was a biohazard containment site.
"I only had to spend one day there, before that little cut got so bad that they pulled me back out. I was lucky, of course. We weren't near the heavy fighting. That's when I met the nurse. She really did look just like you."
We didn't have much to work with. HQ was trying to get through, but it was a war zone. What were we supposed to do? We had a few guns and bombs we'd gotten from an agent with the Turks. Our orders were to keep ourselves hidden at all costs. Things were crazy back then. We'd lost two of our best researchers when they defected to Germany, and when the gas started spraying out in panicked clouds over the trenches, it was all we could do to keep it explained. One small site out of many, we were.
"She seemed to know what was happening. At least, she seemed… confident. Took off my leg at the knee, opened up the bottom half and took something out, something that looked like a mouse with fur made of fucking veins, veins and little squirming things with fishhooks and, and she stabbed me with something when I tried to scream, and… and… and then I woke up."
He paused, and then seemed to relax, eyes unfocused. I took his bowl.
"Bad dream," I said.
"Yeah," he said.
What was I supposed to do? Back there, with shells falling like glass and nails every day and people dying at your doorstep because that's what you had to do…no matter what, that was what you had to do…
All we had was a little food and a couple guns and a couple shells and one Petri dish, and when it broke it changed things in us so what am I supposed to do? The others didn't live like I did, like I keep doing. I knew that I couldn't leave him, not with that thing inside, and HQ still couldn't get through with pickup, and he couldn't… I couldn't let him remember either because that might give us away. When they got to us two days later, he was so fucked up in the head that he couldn't remember who he was because that's what I had to do, and that scar, and… and no matter what…
After HQ finally got itself picked up and decided who should win and what should happen to the assholes who tried to leave us, they tried to fix him up, but I had done too much. He didn't know what was real and what wasn't, and he doesn't, and I do, and I can't tell him because he already knows even if he…
No matter what.
Six months to a year.
Six months to a year.