“She’s whining again.” Madge sighed as she swiped the damp cloth over the reception counter. “I can’t take much more.”
“That bad?” Tilly peered over the counter to see out the wide front lobby windows. “Huh. How can you tell?”
“Whenever she’s awake, her mouth can’t stay shut.” Madge returned her attention to the cleaning cart. “Ugh. I wish they’d hurry up and hire a new janitor. This is too much work. I was hired as an aide, not a maid.”
“Cutbacks are setbacks.” Tilly returned to her task of desk-clearing and organizing. “Finished yet?”
“Almost. Call light on again?”
“No—thank goodness. If I have to wash my hands again between now and the next five minutes just because someone wants their pillow rearranged-”
“We should take turns.” Madge interrupted. “That way it’s less of an issue.”
“Aren’t we taking turns anyway?”
The red light near the phone set began to flash and flicker.
“On second thought,” Tilly muttered. “Never mind me.” She checked the light and then the corresponding number. “You’re right, it’s her.”
Madge shrugged in apology. “You go first, I’ll cover you on the next.”
Her friend snorted. “As if. Some nurse you are.” Tilly crossed the hall to duck into the women’s bathroom to wash her hands before continuing on.
Old Mrs. Petersen was famous for her mile-long list of grievances on everything from the color of socks she wore to the scent of the air she breathed. The new personal alert system allowed the elderly patient to take advantage of the nurses on shift. Madge scowled, watching the interaction between ailing patient and nurse. Tilly had more patience than her, she’d give her that. Madge wrinkled her nose at Tilly’s white-gold halo of hair and wondered if her own silver tresses would hold a decent hair dye.
Maybe she’d look into it.
Maybe she’d ask Tilly.
Her friend returned, the fake smile melting off her face within seconds. She dropped into her desk chair with an undisguised groan of relief. “Absolutely horrible.” She announced, running one nervous hand through her thinned curls. “That woman is something else!”
Madge hid a smile. “And you thought my half of the wing was easy?” She smirked. “ We’re taking turns. I’m not doing this alone.”
“I don’t think I could handle turns. She’s arguing about rosewater soap this time and how the vinegar on the pickled-”
“Afternoon!” Kira’s greeting interrupted the chat as the young woman breezed by. “Be back in a sec.”
The two older women watched her go.
“There’s another one I can’t stand.” Madge huffed. “Always acting so perky and-”
“Don’t get me started on that.” Tilly yawned. “We ought to make her do the cleaning.”
“Not the cleaning, she can help that dear old witch.” Madge grinned. “It’s good practice for her, don’t you think?”
Kira returned minutes later and stood at the counter dressed in her nurses’ uniform, scanning the posted work schedule. “Just cleaning today?”
“Actually, we’re doing the cleaning.” Madge faked a smile. “It’s best that someone’s free to help the patients, so you can-”
“Wonderful. Who’s out today?” The red light flashed on the phone set again. Kira’s head snapped up and she trotted over to see. “So I’ll take this one?” There were no objections.
The cheery nurse disappeared through the lobby doors and headed straight for the curly-haired woman in the wheelchair.
“Where angels fear to tread” Tilly quoted. “She’s got to be taking something you know. No one can be that idiotically happy every moment of the day.”
“Probably.” Madge allowed. “At least we don’t have to deal with that old-”
“She likes Kira, I think.” Tilly mused. “Is always happy to see her.”
“Happy? She can’t do happy. If she could laugh, I’d be pickled and salted. That old crone can’t even”
“Hey, easy now. We’re up in the same years.” Tilly teased. “Eh, it’s part of the job.”
The sound of laughter floated through the private clinic’s lobby. Kira giggled as she tried to answer something in a mix of French and Spanish. Mrs. Petersen’s wrinkled face lit up and she responded in a fluent stream of gibberish.
Madge glowered as the pair cruised past. “Where angels feared to tread, men stood and stared in awe.” She turned away, pushing the cleaning cart. “Where next?”
Tilly sighed. “She is your daughter, you know.”
“Adopted.” Madge reminded. “Adopted. Why on earth did she choose to be a nurse?”
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