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The Little Bear Bar
by Grace Gannon Rudolph

Angela Littlebear had her Irish mother’s flaming red hair and her Navajo father’s high cheek bones.

By night she tended bar at her dad’s Littlebear Bar on West Lenox Street just off the highway and two blocks from the police station. The bar was a cop hang-out but occasionally a lost biker would roll off the highway and into the Littlebear for a pop or two. When things got rowdy Angela dimmed the lights, put on soft music, and watered down the drinks.

By day she was the charge nurse on the locked Alzheimer’s Unit at the Golden Ladder Nursing Home.

The unit was usually confused but calm until the change of shift at 3 o’clock. Then residents revved up. Those who were napping, sat bolt upright and without assistance tried to escape from beds or wheelchairs, ignoring the shrill motion alarms that brought staff barreling down the hallways to rescue them before they fell.

This was never the case when Angela worked the three to eleven because she dimmed the overhead lights and slid Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, or Mel Torme into her boom box. She figured if it worked at the Littlebear it would work at the Golden Ladder. She was right.

Around the middle of November, when the days began to darken early, the residents spent the late afternoons nodding off until the med pass just before supper. This respite gave Angela time to review the nurse’s notes from the earlier shift. Soothed by the crooning of I Remember You or Love is Here to Stay, residents would nap with smiles on their faces or leaf through magazines.

Angela knew she shouldn’t have favorites but Paul James was her link between her jobs. He was a tall, rangy 88-year-old sea dog with a tattoo on his bicep of a topless Hawaiian nubile who swung her hips from side to side when he flexed his muscle.

One night as Angela worked the three to eleven, he ambled up to the nurse’s station and leaned his elbow on the counter. When she looked up he said, “Got any Coors back there?”

Angela brushed a stray curl off her forehead. “I’d give you one if I had one,” she said. “How ‘bout apple juice or Ginger Ale?”

Paul thought for a moment then said, “Nah.”

Makin’ Whoopee smoothed from the boom box. He shuffled a few steps and raised an eyebrow at Angela who smiled, shook her head, and bowed over the chart in front of her.

He turned to his right, to one end of the empty hall, and then turned left and looked down the other end of the hall where Mary Alice Mulligan sat curled into her wheelchair. Her chin rested on her chest. “Well,” Paul sighed, “Guess I’m not gonna get any action around here. Might as well go back to my apartment.” Angela looked up with a smile when she heard him mutter, “What kind of a bar is this anyway!”

What kind indeed.