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Excerpt from the Sweet By and By

Read this excerpt from 'The Sweet By and By' by Todd Johnson.

The truth is we don’t have much in common except the fact that none of us is here [at the nursing home] by choice. I personally don’t resent them anymore, except on bad days from time to time. On those days, it can be something as simple as seeing the same walls over and over, not remembering much about my own walls at home, that makes me mad.

“Look here at what I’ve got. I know you’re gon be satisfied with this here.” Lorraine is bending over me, holding out a huge bowl of banana pudding. She has scraped off most of the meringue and piled some extra vanilla wafer crust on top, exactly the way I love it.

“Bless your heart.” I put the bowl in my lap because it’s too heavy to hold with one hand while taking a plastic spoon in the other. “I know it’s not going to be as good as your mama’s though.”

Bernice strolls over with Mister Benny [a stuffed monkey] on one arm and the other waving out to the side like she’s in a beauty contest. I’ve become used to such changes of manner. She’s gazing around the landscape like she’s on the Biltmore Estate. “Hello there,” she twitters, “we are so glad you could come today. Welcome.” She obviously thinks this is her party, or maybe Mister Benny’s.

“My name is Bernice Alton Stokes, and this is Mister Benny Stokes. I’m thrilled he could join me today.”

“Yes honey, we’ve met on several occasions. Always a pleasure.” I shake the paw that is offered me. She does a sort of flip with the hem of her dress, like she might be wearing a ball gown and is off to the next person. Josephus Parker has a mouthful of stringy coleslaw that he is chewing slowly to a near-liquid state. Maybe he shouldn’t be eating that, it’s hard on your stomach, I don’t know, it’s none of my business. Josephus gets up and precariously approaches the big metal cooker, made out of an old drum. He’s going back for seconds, and he gets around just fine without a cane or anybody’s help. The nurse on his hall is a pretty Filipino woman named Kiri or maybe Kari—it’s a funny name, it sounds like an exotic bird when you say it out loud. Whenever she tries to help him walk, he shoos her off angrily. More power to him I reckon. Bernice has made her way around the seated crowd and over to the cooker. She has welcomed almost everyone in the spirit of a true hostess at a party that unfortunately has absolutely nothing to do with her.

From the book The Sweet By and By by Todd Johnson. Excerpted with permission from William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Copyright © 2009.

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