Ms. Lyle raises the cup of coffee to her lips.
A large sip restores energy
Revives sleep dulled senses.
The weather… what a mess,
Everyone is so down.
What a shame it is
To be stuck inside for so long.
There are only several more hours to dinner.
Ms. Lyle smiles diminutively
Whenever someone meets her gaze.
She looks around for someone to smile at,
Sometimes for days before she can make contact
Even though there are plenty of people around.
It is not that anyone avoids contact with her,
It is just that deep privacy has sealed the nation
Into a multitude of individual cocoons
That wait for their moment of death politely.
Memories allow her to have
Quiet internal conversations
Before skipping away to join the forgotten.
The old people smile at the news of the rain.
There has been three weeks of it
With very little intermission.
One can find no more color
Than in the smile of old people who no longer care,
Who no longer worry when God takes away the sunshine.
They can tell you,
He always puts it back.
The news of the afternoon entertains,
So pleasant to know what everyone does
And who was involved with what.
Details make the stories last longer.
There is more fun to be had when more time is used.
Routine permeates every nook and cranny of the old building.
In the morning before the sun gets the courage to rise
The man arrives with the morning paper,
Word of all the special important things from the day before.
The helpers prepare for the waking residents.
They scurry to turn on lights
To fill the fountain.
They turn on soft music for the background.
Ms. Lyle loves the activity.
She sets out on her day early.
She watches the helpers.
It makes her think about being young again,
About the time when everything was a rush and a bustle.
She enjoys watching the action
As much as she used to like doing it all.
She finds that intentions, attitudes and personalities
Can easily be read.
She reads the helpers by watching their faces.
She listens to the level of tension in their replies to one another.
After she gets her paper,
And all of the building staff have prepared the sitting area,
The cooks begin setting up the breakfast room.
Everyday at exactly six o’clock.
Hot biscuits and the first batch of coffee
Can always be had by half past.
The other residents of the old building
Trickle down shortly before the repast is served
To engage in polite gossip and discuss the newspaper.
On occasion one of them will complain
That their physical problems have got the better of them.
The others nod in understanding.
They are unable to heal the problems,
But they sympathetically hope for surcease,
The same way they hope their own ills
Do not come back suddenly or grow worse.
When the breakfast room starts to fill up
The noise gets louder.
The food warms hearts and stomachs.
The chill of the morning dissipates.
Many things come up that can be touched on,
Talked about during the civilized, formal meal.
The talk sounds like practiced dance pirouettes.
There are gentle child like qualities in the banter.
The talk can go on about things unimportant fifty years earlier
For a long time after the food has been eaten.
The housekeepers arrive and begin tidying
Just before the breakfast room begins
To empty its antique contents into other areas.
The old building guards those who survived
Three quarters of a century, and much longer,
And they think it is more pleasant a place to be
Than just about any other place they can think of.
In the winter the cozy heaters draw life down
From the upstairs apartments.
All the residents know one another
And most of them get along well.
In the summer the cool verandas
And the smaller parlors in the far wings of the building
Attract more people than the main sitting areas.
With so much sun outside the residents
Find less need to seek light through interaction,
They can find light and warmth wherever they go.
Many of the residents exercise in the morning
As an outlet for the time they accumulate.
They walk or do aerobic exercises in the small gymnasium.
Their walks are always slow and meticulous.
The women sometimes look like birds stalking small bugs.
They walk as though all the things there are to see
Might be missed if they go a little too fast.
Some of the women look like plump greedy robins
Who gobble up all the sparrows’ food
After they arrive triumphantly in the spring.
The old men are more like gray squirrels.
They prick up their noses and ears
To catch the scent or sound of anything they need to know about.
Their tails flap wildly
At any news they do not like.
They seldom fight over food the way real squirrels do,
It’s just that a lot of the qualities they had
When they were young boys who liked to play
Linger on inside them.
The large and stately old building,
Just short of being designated a castle,
Was built shortly before the outbreak of the last world war.
The residents who have not lost their memories,
And that is most of them,
Remember the time period from which it dates.
The building boasts twelve doors
Into and out of the hallways.
Four wings branch off from the main hall.
Their are stairs at the ends of each wing.
And stairs on both sides
Where the long main hallway converges with the wings.
The overall shape of the building, then,
Equates to a huge square,
Split through the middle by the main hallway.
The hall extends ten apartments from the center
Before splitting into the “x” of the wings.
A primary entrance in the front opens into the foyer,
Beyond which are the sitting rooms, dining rooms,
The library, the exercise room, and at the back the kitchens.
For the sake of the old residents elevators were installed
At the two cruxes of the far wings on opposite sides of the building;
The location provides equidistant access for every resident.
Also in the cruxes of the “x”, on both sides,
Are the open air verandas.
These are on all three floors.
The wealthy owner of the building
Plans to enclose the ends of the towers with an addition
That will make the shape of the building
A huge dumbbell with a massive box in the center.
The addition would provide two enclosed gardens
And extra courtyard space.
The old building faces east.
The wings extend to the northeast, northwest,
Southeast and southwest.
The manager of the estate,
Kept around by the residents for their convenience,
Has an office located just inside the front doors.
Before his office is a long, dignified front desk
At which sit young clerics and a secretary.
They tend to all the tedious business paperwork.
The secretary sits there during business hours
And the young men sit there all night.
On the other side of the foyer from the front desk
The architects nestled a small waiting room and employee kitchen,
For the sake of the night employees who can’t eat supper
Than the day employees who can walk back into a busy kitchen.
Small gold engraved mosaics from the middle east
Adorn the walls of the entranceway,
As well as daring art from the nineteenth century
(now old fashioned)
And elegant tapestries from northern Europe.
Silk curtains cover the large windows that surround the front door.
The designer of the building was evidently fond
Of an unobstructed view of the outside world from the foyer.
Mahogany shelves burst with well tended plants
Along the walls of the foyer.
The foyer opens into a center,
Where a grand fountain spews forth water all day long.
The residents take delight in stopping to toss in pennies
To make wishes or help their prayers along.
Around the fountain a cupola sits on top of a circle of wooden benches,
Latticed and trimmed with posts and banisters.
Here the residents sit and rest.
It is actually an octagon shaped affair
And can be seen clearly from the verandas at the ends of the hall.
Beyond the fountain are the common rooms,
The sitting room, the game room, the large dining room and the kitchen.
A large block shaped area was constructed to house these areas.
It is as if the back area was designed to be the opposite
Of the very concentrated, petite front.
Before the main hallway leaves the central area
It sports signs that announce the location of the health center,
The activities office, the beauty shop,
The built-in chapel, the ice cream parlor and the mail room.
At the south end the residents quarters begin just after the health center,
And at the north end they begin just after the beauty shop.
The main hall only contains five residences on the first floor
On both the north and south sides before the four branches.
Those residences are considered very elite
As they were the first to be grabbed up after
Construction of the old building was completed,
And they have only changed hands once or twice.
They are regarded so highly
Because of their proximity to the common areas.
From those quarters the resident need not walk far
To eat or participate in other social activities.