about the author

Marlene Olin was born in Brooklyn, raised in Miami, and educated at the University of Michigan. Her short stories have been featured or are forthcoming in publications such as The Massachusetts Review, Upstreet Magazine, Arts and Letters, Slippery Elm, and The American Literary Review. She is the winner of the 2015 Rick DeMarinis Short Fiction Award as well as a nominee for both the Pushcart and the Best of the Net prizes.

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Marlene Olin

The door to Harvey’s apartment in the assisted living facility is never locked. There isn’t much to steal. His third wife ran off with the deed to his house and half of his savings. They’d been married only five years when he started leaving the Sunday crossword blank. Sometimes he spent half the weekend sleeping. As soon as she saw the writing on the wall, she bolted.

Now Harvey wipes his nose with his socks. He eats his peas with his fingers.

“How’s it going Dad?” Adele greets him each week with a peck on the cheek and a bag of groceries. He offers her a grin but the words are trapped inside.

“Don’t worry. I didn’t forget your cookies.”

Pawing the air with his large hands, he’s eager for lunch. He smells like mothballs and old soup. Adele notices a stain on his crotch.

“Brought you some lollipops, too.”

Harvey smacks his lips and waits for his daughter-in-law to make him a sandwich. There was a time when he brandished his high IQ like a flag. Everyone knew his Mensa scores and his GRE percentiles. But his son David was the one who made it big.

“How’s the fancy lawyer job?” Harvey used to tease.

“Busy Dad, real busy.” Depositions all over the world. Five-star hotels. Lunches where you saw celebrities. A life everyone envied. A world people begrudged.

She averts her eyes as Harvey chews. Half the meal dribbles down his chin or lands in his lap. Opening the refrigerator, she throws out last week’s food and sponges the shelves. Then she wipes the floor, the chair, his hands, his face.

“I’m busy, real busy,” her husband David likes to say. “The children are grown. What else do you have to do?”

Harvey struggles to talk. Perhaps he wants to thank her, but only garbled grunts barrel through. On her way out she pauses by the oversized calendar sitting on the Formica table. In the Wednesday box she writes in big block letters: Adele was here.

She takes a deep breath before stepping into the long narrow hallway. It reeks of urine and antiseptics, suffering and sorrow. Tucking in her arms, she walks by rows and rows of white-haired men and women. Some are slouched in wheelchairs, their heads nodding on their shoulders. Others reach and touch like little birds. The black nurses at the station, as always, wave.

“Remember his doctor’s appointment,” says one.

“He needs new sheets and towels,” says another.

“We’ll buzz you out,” they say in unison.

There’s a camera in the ceiling corner and alarm bells on the wall. Adele feels her heart pounding as she waits at the exit. She licks sweat from her upper lip. She shifts from one foot to the other, itching to move, needing to move, listening for the click click click. Some days it seems to take forever for the door to be unlocked.

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