‘When I get my legs’, the old man said, ‘you won’t see me for shit.’
Alvy nodded and returned to folding the sheets. The old man looked down and massaged his stumps. He waggled each of them in turn and opened his mouth into a broad grin. His eyes disappeared into a deep bed of wrinkles and for a moment he looked like a baby asking to be burped.
‘Don’t tell the nurses, though. They’ll only get excited’.
Alvy had finished stripping the bed. The duvet and pillow cases were in a neat jumble on the floor and he stuffed them into a large canvas bag. All that was left now was a half-drunk glass of water and a get-well card. He lifted the bag onto his shoulder and made his way quickly toward the door, partly because of the weight and partly because he wanted to get out into the hall and away from the patient.
‘Are you just going to leave me looking at that?’ said the man. Alvy turned and saw that he was pointing toward the glass. He started making exaggerated ‘thirsty’ gestures with his tongue and clutched at his throat. Alvy passed him the glass and he snatched it and drank it straight down, his gnarled Adam’s apple jumping up and down in his yellow noodle throat. When he was done, he laid it on his covers and sniffed at the air.
‘Jesus was I thirsty. Johnson was thirsty too. Remember him? Liked to pull a cork’.
Alvy smiled. ‘If that’s all’, he said, ‘I’ll be going. I have an appointment with the super’.
‘Ahh’, said the old man, ‘sure, but would you do me a favour? - ask him about my legs while you’re at it, wouldya?’
Alvy left and the old man started to talk to himself.
‘When I get my legs,’ he said.
They made them for him from bands of coloured glass. When he walked, the light refracted through and cast a moving rainbow against the corridor walls. The young nurses flocked to his attention, running their fingers over the cold surfaces and marvelling at his every step. Most of all, he liked to make long, wheeling passes of the dementia ward, seeing the milky-eyed patients turn and wondering if their addled minds made sense of the strange, long legged figure gliding past their windows and trailing patterns of flickering light.