The Protectors (Unfinished)

She lay in bed and stared at the ceiling. Most of the time she didn’t know who she was, where she was, or why she was there, and this particular moment was no exception to that foggy state of being.
It was maddening. She gazed at the ceiling and tried not to let frustration overwhelm her. Somewhere, dancing just on the edges of her mind, she could feel all the answers. She knew she should know who she was, where she was, why she was. She felt all those dancing thoughts hidden away behind a secret doorway in her mind. If she could just find the key to unlock them, she’d know what this was all about…but she couldn’t quite make the shadow-shape answers formulate themselves clearly. So she settled for staring at the ceiling and tried not to focus on the nagging feeling that she was forgetting…well, everything. A blank mind was better than a continually foggy one, or so she thought.
And just like that, as it sometimes did, the door unlocked.
“Margaret,” she said emphatically. “I’m Margaret.”
Margaret carefully pushed herself upward, not wanting to bother her arthritis more than she had to. Her hip had been bad lately, very bad. That much she knew. She surveyed her surroundings and made a slight face: Pleasant Manor. Though on her more lucid days, Margaret knew better. “Pleasant”, her hind end. Places, especially nursing homes, were always given cute, soothing monikers like “pleasant” and “golden” to hide the fact they were really places where very old people went to live out the messy end of their rapidly-shortening lives. If they were lucky, they’d keep their faculties fully intact to the very last, but more often than not they went with cranky bowels, weak bladders, half of their teeth left in their head, half a brain left in their head. It was sad and it was inevitable, but Margaret had decided to make her room as cheerful as possible and focus on the good. So when she moved into her room, 103—no second story for this manor, couldn’t have the septuagenarians falling and breaking any bones—she made sure to bring the needlepoint throw pillows she had made over the years, her crocheted blanket, a few photo albums, so she could look at well-loved faces even when they were no longer familiar…and her dolls.
Of course, her dolls. Sitting in chairs, on the television, on her dresser, were the dolls. Her son, Richard, had even erected a shelf that ran the full length of the room so Margaret would have more room for her beloved doll collection. It was a strange fascination, almost an obsession, how much Margaret loved her dolls. But Richard figured if it made his mom happy, who was he to take away one of the few things that brought her true pleasure in her remaining years? So he drove down early one Saturday morning with his tools and nails and within a few hours, Margaret had a shelf on every wall for her friends.
She climbed out of her bed with bones that creaked louder each day, and shuffled over to the shelf directly across from her bed. There, Emily held the place of honor. She was the oldest and most beloved of Margaret’s dolls. Margaret was eighty-seven years old, and Emily older still. The doll had been given to Margaret when she was only five, by her grandmother for whom she was named.
She picked Emily up in her hands and wondered who would take care of her dolls when she was gone. As long as she could go out on her own terms with a little bit of fight left in her, so be it. She didn’t much care what happened to her, but she cared about her dolls. They were the only true friends she’d ever really had.
She hadn’t had many friends and even those she had the occasional play date with hadn’t really been friends so much as acquaintances of convenience. It wasn’t that her classmates had been mean to her or that she had disliked them. Somehow, other children had just seemed to…stay away from her. But she was a loner by nature, so that was alright.
It was why she loved Grandma Meg so much. From a very early age, Margaret had noticed that Grandma Meg tended to be a loner, too. People respected her grandma, but neither were they overly friendly with her. They never showed her anything but courtesy when went into town, but they still left her alone. It was rare that Margaret ever saw her grandma sharing a cup of tea with someone after Sunday church, and even rarer still that Grandma Meg had visitors to her home, a huge, rambling Victorian at the end of Hawthorne Lane on the edge of town. Other houses shared the street, but Grandma Meg’s was the biggest, and, Margaret had thought, the nicest.
Margaret gazed down at the doll in her hands and thought about the day Grandma Meg had bequeathed Emily to her. It had been a few days after her fifth birthday, and as a treat, her mother had allowed her to spend the weekend at her grandmother’s house. Margaret had been overjoyed. She loved Grandma Meg’s house, and loved being able to roam as she wished through the rambling corridors and explore the attic. It had cloth-draped shelves and dusty chests filled with all sorts of interesting things.
At first Margaret had worried that maybe it bothered her grandma that she poked through the old things—once, when she had showed Grandma Meg a strange pendant she had found, with curious marks all over it, Grandma Meg’s face had gone stark white and she snatched it out of Margaret’s hands. Margaret never saw it again, though she searched high and low for it in the months that followed.