“A Visit of Charity” by Eudora Welty
It was mid-morning—a very cold, bright day. Holding a potted plant before her, a girl of fourteen jumped off the bus in front of the Old Ladies’ Home, on the outskirts of town. She wore a red coat, and her straight yellow hair was hanging down loose from the pointed white cap all the little girls were wearing that year. She stopped for a moment beside one of the prickly dark shrubs with which the city had beautified the Home, and then proceeded slowly toward the building, which was of whitewashed brick and reflected the winter sunlight like a block of ice. As she walked vaguely up the steps she shifted the small pot from hand to hand; then she had to set it down and remove her mittens before she could open the heavy door.
“I’m a Campfire Girl…I have to pay a visit to sold old lady,” she told the nurse at the desk. This was a woman in a white uniform who looked as if she were cold; she had close-cut hair which stood up on the very top of her head exactly like a sea wave. Marian, the little girl, did not tell her that this visit would give her a minimum of only three points in her score.
“Acquainted with any of our residents?” asked the nurse. She lifted one eyebrow and spoke like a man.
“With any old ladies? No—but—that is, any of them will do,” Marian stammered. With her free hand she pushed her hair behind her ears, as she did when it was time to study Science.
The nurse shrugged and rose. “You have a nice multiflora cineraria there,” she remarked as she walked ahead down the hall of closed doors to pick out an old lady.
There was loose, bulging linoleum on the floor. Marian felt as if she were walking on the waves, but the nurse paid no attention to it. There was a smell in the hall like the interior of a clock. Everything was silent until, behind one of the doors, an old lady of some kind cleared her throat like a sheep bleating. This decided the nurse. Stopping in her tracks, she first extended her arm, bent her elbow, and leaned forward from the hips, all to examine the watched strapped to her wrist; then she gave a loud double-rap on the door.
“There are two in each room,” the nurse remarked over her shoulder.
“Two what?” asked Marian without thinking. The sound like a sheep’s bleating almost made her turn around and run back.