“NO," Mr. Thomas screamed, violently wheeling himself into the wall. A crazed look stole over his face. “No," he said again a little weaker. But then his eyes sparked as if a memory was triggered. “She’s mine."

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have rushed you. Calm down. It’s yours," Cathy said, handing Mr. Thomas the doll.

Snatching the doll from Cathy, Mr. Thomas looked through her and pleaded, “Why can’t you just leave me alone?"

“You noticed every time I was here," she stated more than asked.

“I was nicer than the others, better," Mr. Thomas whispered. “Haven’t I paid enough?"

Cathy realized he hadn’t seen her, just an apparition where she stood. She wondered who he could be talking to. She knelt to be eye level with him, placed a gentle hand on his knee and asked, “Mr. Thomas, who is there? Who are you speaking with?"

“Leave me alone," he shrieked repeatedly until two people rushed into the commotion, another CNA and the charge nurse. The nurse gave Mr. Thomas a morphine injection, which calmed him down almost immediately and left him slumped in his wheelchair.

The nurse told Cathy to clean the room and to give her a full report before ending her shift. “And put this where he can’t see it," she spat, handing Cathy the whicker doll.

Numbly, Cathy swept up the glass, and put the doll and frame in Mr. Thomas’s top drawer. When she picked up the photo, she noticed the sides where folded back, which hid a good third of the photo and the arms of the soldiers flanking Sergeant Thomas. After seeing what they held, she gripped the top of the dresser to hold herself up and catch her breath.

Head bent and eyes wet, Cathy noticed an odd collection of children’s’ toys was in the drawer with the whicker doll. Fear set in, as realization struck.

“Oh, God," she said, fighting back the urge to vomit. Both Knuckles and Lips were clutching long strings of human ears, showing them off like trophies. But if those were trophies, the doll and the other toys must be as well.

She ran out of the nursing home without giving report. Driving home that night, Cathy wondered how many children’s’ lives filled that drawer. She wondered if he had just killed them or done worse. But most of all she wondered how she would care for a man whose life she wanted to end.

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