Joey was sitting in her wheelchair in the hallway near her room. Nurses’ aides hurried by, delivering medication, changing the incontinent, or merely providing solace to someone having a bad dream. Joey’s head was slumped forward and she appeared to be sleeping. In her hand was an open package of Fig Newtons.
A man and woman were walking down the hallway and, as they drew closer to Joey, could see that she wasn’t sleeping at all. Joey seemed to be visiting some other time, some other place. She was humming an indecipherable love song, the words coming to her only sporadically. The aide was busy filling tiny cups with the various pills that maintained the resident population of the nursing home. She heard Joey, who was by now trying to find the words of the obscure song deep within her memory — these lyrics from another lifetime.
"Sing, Joey, sing," said the aide. But Joey had begun to pick at the Fig Newtons. She spotted the man now sitting in a chair in the hallway next to one of the residents, and wheeled her chair over in that direction.
"Would you like one?" she asked. The man was obviously not one of the residents.
"No, thanks," he answered with a smile, "but I’d love to hear you sing."
Joey lifted her head, her face now one lovely smile, and she began singing in earnest. She could see the man was listening intently, so she struggled extra hard to remember the words. Joey twisted her cardigan sweater tightly in her fist and, gradually, the words came back and her voice grew stronger.
Suddenly she stopped and offered her package of Fig Newtons to the woman, who was returning from the laundry room, where she had just placed a load of clothes in the washer. Joey realized that the woman was also obviously not a resident, and that she probably belonged with the man who was sitting in the hallway. Joey kept offering the Fig Newtons to the woman until she thanked Joey and took the package of cookies and disappeared into a nearby resident’s room with them. Satisfied, Joey began to sing again.
"You have a beautiful voice," the man remarked.
"Thank you," she answered, just the way she had no doubt answered the many compliments about her voice that she had once received routinely.
Joey stopped again and suddenly realized that she wanted the Fig Newtons, not to eat, but to hold tightly in her hand. The woman noticed her discomfort and hurried back out to return them to Joey. "I’m glad I didn’t eat them," she whispered to the man.
"Sing, Joey, sing," the aide reminded her.
This time, Joey was determined to remember all the words. She held on to the cookies with one hand and twisted her sweater ever more tightly in her fist and sang out even stronger. Joey stared at the package of cookies as if they contained the long lost lyrics to the song. With great effort, she reached the last line of the lyric. Somehow Joey finished her song, her voice no longer shaky, the lyrics clear and true.
They all applauded — the resident sitting in the hallway, the man and woman visitors and the aide, who had stopped sorting out the pills to acknowledge Joey’s triumph.
The woman visitor left to return to the laundry room to finish the clothes, and the man began to gently prod Joey’s memory. She had once been a singer, she admitted — a singer who was never late for a show. She wanted to know how often the man visited. She wanted him to know that she was willing to sing a duet with him if he could sing, but he said that he couldn’t. What she really needed around here was a piano and some sheet music. Joey’s eyes sparkled as she spoke. She wanted the man to know that she often sang with her two beautiful daughters, and she told him their names.
The man looked at Joey intently as she spoke, and the aging resident in black slacks and the beige and brown sweater disappeared before his eyes. He could see Joey perched seductively on top of a piano in a black cocktail dress, a Billie Holiday gardenia in her hair. Joey, noticing his attention, smiled and began singing Let’s Fall in Love.
"I know that one," the man remarked, and as Joey stumbled over the lines, the man whispered them sweetly to her. She didn’t notice the moisture in the man’s eyes as she finished her song.
By the time the woman returned from the laundry room, the song was over and the sparkle had left Joey’s eyes. Satisfied with her performance, Joey closed her eyes and appeared to be sleeping again.