Note: Previously published on Tumblr, as a response to the Musedays (mondaymuse) prompt "But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought." by George Orwell.

Twenty Minutes

Marge is wheeled into the dining room for dinner at 4:54PM. A nurse straightens her wheelchair, pushes her close to the table, sets the brake, and leaves. Marge waits. Two minutes later, the nurse brings in the first of her tablemates.

At a dull roar, the nurse says, "Annie, say hello to Margie here. She'll be having dinner with you!"

"Dinner?" Annie mumbles. Her eyes roll over Marge with disinterest. "Who is this?"

"This is Marge," the nurse bellows again.

"It's March?"

"Marge, over there, that's Marge."

Annie nods and the nurse sets her up at the table and walks away.

"Hello, Anne," Marge says. "It's nice to meet you."

"What?"

The nurse wheels in another resident. "Annie's a bit deaf, Marge," she says. "You'll have to speak loudly for her."

"Oh! Of course!" Marge exclaims and smiles at Annie. Across the table, Annie eyes her suspiciously before staring intently at her coffee mug.

"Hello new person," the next resident says as the clock chimes 5:00 and the nurse clicks the brake into place. "Have you lived here long?"

Marge smiles and shakes her hand. "No, I've only just moved in today."

"Really? Have you met my son? He lives just down the road."

The nurse sighs and gives a weak smile. "June just loves to talk. I'm sure you two will get along great."

"I'm sure!" Marge agrees, and turns to June. "How are you doing today, June?"

"Oh, I'm doing just fine, thank you." June smiles somewhere off to Marge's left, perhaps at her ear. "Are you the one who's a third grade teacher? I heard someone is and I wanted some advice about my son."

"No, I'm afraid I'm not," Marge says. "My husband was an art history professor once but I never had a job."

"Oh, I'm sorry dear," June sighs. "I don't know what the professor wants."

"Pardon?" Marge says.

"What?" Annie says, and looks around, startled, before going back to her study of the coffee mug.

"I don't remember the question," June laughs. "Are we going to have a test this afternoon? I'm afraid I haven't studied." She looks around the table, searching under her napkin. "I can't seem to find my textbook. Do you have yours?"

"I'm afraid I don't," Marge says, and picks up her coffee. While she drinks, June falls silent, and Annie looks up and smiles pleasantly at everyone. Marge sets her coffee cup down and Annie looks away.

At 5:04 the nurse wheels in the final tablemate. Visibly happy for the distraction, Marge says, "Hello! I'm new here. My name is Marge, what's yours?"

"Hello Marge, it's nice to meet you," June says.

"Hello, Marge, I'm Caroline, are we having dinner, are we in the dining room?" Caroline feels around until she finds her coffee mug, plate, and silverware but keeps searching for something else.

"We're all ready for dinner, Caroline," the nurse says with a smiling voice though her face remains bored. "Your milk is just a little further past your plate, at 1:00."

"I think I have an appointment at 1:00," June says. "Could you check that for me, dear?"

"Oh, there it is, thank you," Caroline says as her fingers wrap around the milk glass.

The nurse walks away and June frowns. "I'm really sure I have something to do at 1:00," she yells at the nurse's back. "Can you help me find out what?"

"Find what?" Annie grunts.

"I think I've lost something," June says. "I'm sure I have. I lose so many things every day." She laughs. "I think I've lost my marbles."

Caroline nods. Marge smiles knowingly. "So what do you ladies usually talk about over dinner? I always love a good conversation."

Caroline folds her hands in her lap and cocks her head in June's direction. "That one usually just talks our ears off. I just try to eat in peace."

"Rest in peace," June intones, bowing her head, then looking up, startled. "Who died? Was it someone you knew?"

"No one died, June," Marge assures her as Caroline sighs. "Caroline was just saying she wanted to eat in peace. Not rest in peace."

"Rest in peace," June repeats. "I say that every time I visit my son. Do you like flowers? I planted flowers for him. Posies."

"Poison?" Annie says, eyebrows rising in alarm.

Marge shakes her head. "No poison," she says loudly. "Posies!"

"Oh." Annie smiles at Marge.

"Could you hand me my coffee, thanks," Caroline asks and thanks her as Marge does so. "You shouldn't try, the nurses like to rush everyone once the food comes and it takes so long to eat and listen to that one yammering."

"I can't remember what I had for dinner," June says.

"You haven't had it yet," Marge says before frowning realization crosses her face.

"I need to go to the grocery store," June says. "I don't know what to make for dinner and I need some vegetables and probably some milk and eggs. My son loves eggs, he always asks me to make two for breakfast, and bacon and orange juice. And I think I'll make a pie, so I guess I'll get some flour too. Do you think he'd like cherry or apple better? He likes both of them."

Marge picks up her coffee mug and nods in June's direction.

The nurse sets a plate down in front of June. "Doesn't this look good, June?"

"Oh yes, very good. I think I'll be quite fat by the time I leave here. Don't you think so?" June laughs.

Annie chuckles. "Good joke," she says to the table at large, meeting everyone's eyes before eying the plate the nurse sets down in front of her.

"Oh, I've got a joke for you," June says. "A tiger, a seal, and a whale are walking to church-"

"Whales don't walk," Caroline grunts. "Is my food here yet?"

"I have your food right here, Caroline," the nurse says. "The ham is at 3:00, and the peas are at 9:00."

"What time is it?" June says. "It can't be 3:00 and 9:00 all at once."

"Thank you," Caroline says and carefully brings a spoonful of peas to her mouth.

"It's 5:12, June," the nurse says, as she sets Marge's plate down with a pitying smile. "Eat up!"

"I'd love to, dear, but I think I already ate today." June picks at her food. "But I think I could try to eat some more."

Marge sighs and eats. June mutters to herself between bites while Caroline and Annie join Marge in silent dinner.

By 5:14 even June stops talking.