The scent of sterile corridors ambushed their senses as they entered the facility. All was calm in the building except for the quiet bustle of nurses and the scratching of pen on paper by the receptionist stationed at the front desk, doodling nonsense out of boredom.
"Mom, did we really have to come here?" asked the boy impatiently, cringing a bit at the sight of an IV bag dangling from an elderly woman's wheelchair.
"It's a nice gesture," his mother responded.
"But I'm missing the football game!"
"Now Eddie, you know it's Thanksgiving. We've come to visit your grandfather."
"He's crazy, Mom! He doesn't even recognize me!" the child loudly protested, "All he ever does is mumble to himself."
"That's enough, Edward! You will show your grandfather some respect."
The mother and son came upon the old man in his assigned room, propped up in a sunken-in chair with his gaze fixated towards the activity outside the window: two squirrels whirling around the broad, moss-ridden trunk of a tree and toting acorns in their pouched cheeks.
In the lighting from the window the man appeared almost translucent. His skin was the texture of sun-dried tomatoes, and every lined vein played peek-a-boo beneath the rugged canvas of flesh. Parallel rows of wrinkles framed a pair of deep-set, glazed eyes.
"Hey Dad," the woman greeted the old man's half-turned head. A reign of uncomfortable silence forced her to trudge through the awkwardness. "Go on Eddie. Say hello to your grandfather."
The boy muttered distractedly, "Hey Grandpa."
All the while his thoughts branched out to a fantasy game in his mind; he imagined the thrill of the first touchdown and the suspense of an evenly matched face-off -all that he was missing by being here with his grandfather.
"How have things around here been, Dad?" the woman continued on reluctantly this time, "Do the nurses take good care of you?"
She gave a tiny smile when her father turned to face her. A sigh escaped her lips as she awaited his answer.
"Blue, blue, blue…yes…blue, blue," came rolling out of the old man's mouth, sounding much like infant babble.
She frowned as she attempted to again break through his foggy disorientation.
"Eddie's been doing just wonderfully in school," she exclaimed plaintively, "He gets straight A's. Isn't that right, Sweetie?
The boy did not speak. The television in the corner had been discovered and her son now glued his attention to the sports channel, occupying himself with a one-sided conversation directed at the football game. He gave cheers when excited and hurled insults when irate.
At this moment, the woman's composure caved in, and the insecurity and frustration seeped outward.
"Dad, please. It's Molly, your daughter. Don't you remember me?"
Her pleas, her last-ditch coaxing. They were all met by the ring of dead and birds chirping outside. A tear skimmed down her cheek, and she swayed her gaze aside, unable to try coercing her father any longer. She gathered up her son and cast one final look at the old man before wishing him a happy holiday and re-affirming her love. They hurried away.
"MAW-LEE," the old man tested the word, feeling the quiver of each syllable on his tongue. "Molly…Molly…Molly…" he kept chanting long after the mother and son had departed.
He spoke the word in a lofted voice, as though reciting a singsong ballad. For hours, he drilled out the five-letter noun, seeming like a scholar grappling to recall the translation for a word in a foreign language, or a straggler searching for even a trifle of guiding intuition.
For such a long time, he pronounced the word, trying to wrap his bleak mind around the significance, but failing to do so.