“The time is now!” Albert boomed in a clear, forceful voice.
Thelma hefted her considerable weight out of her chair. The tattered, thrift store romance novel she’d been absorbed in flew from her hands and landed on the floor with a soft plop.
“Almighty Jesus!” she exclaimed, clutching a fist to her ample bosom. “Lord, but you gave me a scare, Mistuh Albert! I ain’t never heard your voice before, in all the two years I been takin’ care of you! I didn’t think you could talk no more!”
If Albert had heard or understood Thelma’s outburst, he gave no indication. He fell as mute as he’d been a minute ago. His milky eyes stared up at the ceiling.
Thelma’s hands were shaking as she reached for her patient’s medical chart. This most unusual event must be written down for his doctors to read, come morning. But when she glanced at her smartwatch to notate the time, she was startled to see that its digital face was blank.
“What’s wrong with this thing?” She tapped the watch’s face in frustration. Dang, newfangled technology. She longed for her old, wind-up Timex that was ticking uselessly away in her nightstand drawer at home. So much more reliable than these hi-tech gadgets that her workplace forced her to use.
“The time is now!” Albert said again, even louder this time. He turned his head in Thelma’s direction. Although he was nearly blind, due to cataracts which obscured the color of his eyes, he seemed to look directly at her. He flashed a one-tooth grin, which made Thelma’s blood run cold.
Her watch came back to life, emitting two loud buzzes. A gasp escaped her throat when she gazed down at it. The word “NOW” was flashing, in capital block letters. Thelma held her wrist as far away from her face as possible, as if the watch were a snake in disguise, ready to jump at her throat. It felt like the strap of the device was cutting off her circulation.
“What’s happening here?” she asked, addressing no one in particular.
The room seemed to rock from side to side. Thelma, who’d suffered from motion sickness all her life, began to feel both nauseous and dizzy. She was going to faint, she knew it. All she could do was to reach out, in hopes of breaking her fall.
Thelma’s eyes snapped open at the sound of her name. Where was she? What had happened? Slowly, she began to remember…
“Hrmmm…” She couldn’t command her mouth to form any words. A stroke? Lord, have I had a stroke?
“Be calm.” A masculine voice said, seemingly inches from her ear.
A blurry face hovered above her. Slowly, it came into focus.
“Mis- Mistuh Albert?” Thelma stared in disbelief.
The frail, withered nonagenarian whom she’d nursed over the past twenty-four months, the very man who could no loner walk or talk, nor control his bodily functions, stood tall and strong before her. His face had less than half the wrinkles as before. Its slack, non-expression had been replaced by a look of eager adventurousness. The thin, white wisps on his age-spotted scalp had been replaced by a full head of wavy, silver hair. His vacant, colorless eyes were now a piercing shade of blue. Most astonishing of all, Thelma thought, was his smile.
“Mistuh Albert… You got all your teeth!” she blurted.
Albert laughed. It was not the dry, papery cackle of an elderly person, but the hearty laugh of a man in robust health. Thelma’s cheeks grew warm with a bashfulness she hadn’t felt since she was a schoolgirl. But… how? Was she dreaming?
“Are you ready?” Albert’s deep voice interrupted her thoughts.
“Ready?” she repeated. “Ready for…?”
Albert extended his hand.
Thelma looked back at the heavy, middle-aged woman in a nurse’s uniform, slumped in her chair, a paperback novel laying at her feet. Her eyes traveled to the pathetic form of the old man, lying perfectly still in his hospital bed.
“Are you ready?” her new friend repeated.
She took Albert’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.
“I am now,” she said.