Things looked (and felt) different at Bingo today. Dorothy’s table was empty. A man I’d never met was pushing the prize cart. And the one big table made out of four smaller tables was lined completely with men I’d never seen in my life.
I looked for something or someone familiar—and, as usual, looked first for Ray McDade.
Ray is an excellent welcomer. “Well, bless your heart, dear,” he usually says. And he did.
We hugged and caught up briefly, and I jumped right into Bingo-ing.
Harriet and Doris were in place. So were Faith and David Fox. And Leo Martell’s trusty gang—Royal, Gary C. and Charlie—was in fine form.
Terry the volunteer was calling the Bingo numbers and welcomed me over the microphone.
The new prize-cart pusher was having a hard time keeping up with the winners. At some point, he simply sat down.
“Want me to push?” I asked. “Sure!” he answered.
Gary C. chose an electric toothbrush and asked me to put in the battery. I did, but he wasn’t happy with the on-off switch and wanted to trade in the whole thing. Had Dorothy been there, this would have been a nuclear crisis, but today no one even noticed.
Leo had no luck with his battery-operated prize, either. He chose a misting fan but, unlike the toothbrush, batteries were not included. He asked to trade, too, so I suggested some no-batteries-required chapstick. “Why would I need that?” Leo gruffed. “I’m not gettin’ any lovin’.”
I laughed out loud. “Then you might as well pick this,” I said, and held up the Tabasco sauce.
Ray and I talked between games and after the final Blackout, and I told him I was on my way to see Bill Crowell. Ray said Bill had seemed a little better lately, so I knocked on his door a little more hopeful.
Bill was sitting in his wheelchair with the TV on. He seemed happy to see me, so I hugged him and sat on the edge of his bed. But even though I muted the TV, I had a very hard time hearing and understanding Bill.
I leaned in and looked him in the eyes and concentrated very hard, and I heard him say, “My daughter told me when you die you just close your eyes, and when you open them you’re in heaven.”
I smiled. The image—and the fact that I understood him—seemed to comfort Bill.
“I hope I see you,” Bill said.
I sat a while longer and tried to talk with Bill, but I felt as if we were just talking at each other, with neither of us really connecting.
I smiled, rubbed his shoulder and hugged him tightly goodbye.
It’s getting harder to tell whether my visits are helping or hurting Bill. Or maybe, it’s just getting harder.