“What’s with 37B?” I asked an hour after my nursing home shift began. This was a dead end job for me. A job between careers. A place to fill the spaces of empty hours while I figured things out. It was an easy enough job, bringing food back and forth to residents, making sure they were comfortable, trying to engage them in activities, pushing them around in their wheelchairs to give them a change of scenery and some fresh air. Like I said, simple enough.
“Yeah she’s new. According to her daughter she’s delusional and it’s been coming on for years.”
“I noticed that, something about being a princess?”
“Apparently a claim she’s made mention of before but as she’s gotten older, well you know how old people get sometimes. Here, Margot supposedly always has tea and shortbread cookies with her breakfast. I’m sure that must have been what the served at the royal court.” We both chuckled as I brought her breakfast. If I had only known then how Margot would change my heart.
As I said before I spent time with all of the residents, trying to engage them in conversation, maybe playing cards, anything to sharpen their slowly declining minds. Margot in 37B was different. Maybe it’s because there was a difference about her. An air of not fitting in, her incompatibility with this place, with these people.
It wasn’t like she was cantankerous or bitter, that would be Ethel in 22A, the former softball coach. You looked at her the wrong way and the food tray would be flying across the room, faster than you could blink. Ethel may have some cognitive impairments but her pitching aim was still dead on. Margot in 37B instead was quiet and pleasant, yet more than any of the other residents she was a puzzle piece that didn’t quite fit in.
It became a routine with us from that first day. I would bring Princess Margot, as the staff jokingly called her, her tea and biscuits every morning. While the rest of the staff found Margot off putting and irritating with her made up tales, of her made up country, I enjoyed her quiet company. It was the best twenty minutes of my shift, as she’d spin her tales for my amusement. Her tales, made up though they were, were quite entertaining. It was sometimes quite easy to forget they were all a trick of her delusional imagination
And it would always end with me teasing her about her box. Margot’s one possession, according to her family she would not travel without. The intricately carved box had supposedly sat on her bedroom bookshelf for years, locked with a key which Margot kept firmly chained on a necklace and never took off. The one piece of her past that had never been opened.
So that was our ending salvo after every breakfast together. “So Margot, what’s in the box?”
She would smile at me and say “None of your business,”
I would tease her back that someday I would get her to tell me.
“But I already have,” she would laughingly say, as I got up to leave.
About a year into our back and forth breakfasts, I came to work one day, to find her box at the nurse’s station with a key on top of it. I knew instantly Margot in 37B had moved on to a better place. My eyes teared slightly at the loss of this patient who had become a beloved friend.
I looked at one of the nurses who gave me a sympathetic smile. “Her family has already claimed her body. They said they weren’t interested in her effects and asked they be given away. Margot had specifically asked me months ago, to be sure the box and her key necklace go to you and you alone. I’m sorry I know how much she meant to you. Everyone whose been here long enough has had a Margot in their lives.” I gave her a wistful smile and sat down quietly to open the box that I had joked with Margot about for so many months.
I’m sure my gasp must have been audible when the lifted lid uncovered a crown, placed regally on top of a diary and a small photo album below that. Her life hadn’t been a delusion after all. Margot had been telling me what was in the box all along. And it was then when I began to write.