The lawns that grow out from the central fountain are freshly mown and the wet scent of Spring clover is spread by the Spring breeze. In the shaded patio under the slatted roof they sit in a pool of quiet that is only shaken by the rumble of distant dump trucks coming down the Skyway from Paradise. Those truckloads of ash and plastic and other detritus of the fires are bound somewhere, somewhere out there beyond the orchards of Orland and the great greening rice paddies of the central valley. None of this is their concern. They are only concerned with sitting together in the pool of quiet as the last Spring unfolds around them.
Her hands are almost skeletal but her rings of turquoise, moonstone, and opal are still on her fingers. Her skin is glassine and is easily abraded and made raw. When this happens the place where they are must call in a night nurse from another organization since they are not permitted to render even the service of bandaging without permission. Most of the time when he notices these injuries he doesn’t bother the institutions that shelter her. He takes out his kit from the car and does what he can, but she’s quick to injure and slow to heal.
In the gardens, the days are long and the years are short but they stay in the hour and find each breeze a pleasant and cool surprise in the slatted shade of the patio. There are others living at the gardens but most are confined to their rooms by their bodies or their minds and are seldom seen. For the most part, the gardens and the lawns are theirs.
“I think that’s a strange tree over there by the street. It’s all shaggy on the trunk and then it has that spiky hairdo on top.”
“It’s a palm tree. A big one.”
“Oh yes, a palm tree. I see that now.”
She has her hands folded together in a kind of handshake so that she can know where her hands are when she needs them.
“Can I please have some cranberry juice?”
“Sure thing,” and he places the spill-proof cup with the flex straw in her hands and watches carefully as she drinks, ready to catch the cup should it slip from her lips. This time it does not.
There is nobody else in the gardens and nothing at all is happening in the gardens. Nothing, at any rate, that can be seen.
And so they sit there next to each other. After a while he holds her hands and pats them, thinking to himself, “Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear.”
In the gardens the sun is warm and the May breeze is cool. And even though evening is coming on, the afternoon is as good an afternoon as anyone, at this late date, is likely to get.