Therapy Room

Amigoland, the new novel by Oscar Casares, follows a retired postman named Fidencio Rosales as he escapes his senior home and heads for Mexico with his brother to explore a decades-old family mystery. In this exclusive excerpt, Fidencio daydreams his way out of the drudgery of exercise hour.
Therapy Room
Photograph by Todd Hido

Of the eight people waiting in line, Don Fidencio was the one person sitting in a regular chair and dressed in clothes decent enough to be worn out in public: black orthopedic shoes, blue jeans, checkered flannel shirt, red suspenders, red-and-black Astros cap. The One With The Hole In His Back wore his usual maroon pajamas and tan moccasin slippers, but now with his beige cowboy hat that normally hung off the headboard.

He motioned for his roommate to come closer.

WHAT DAY IS IT TODAY?”

Don Fidencio pulled away when he remembered the volume of his roommate’s voice. “Tuesday.”

¿EH?

Tuesday. Today is Tuesday,” he said a little louder.

TUESDAY?”

Yes,” he answered and nodded at the same time. “Today is Tuesday.”

ARE YOU SURE TODAY IS TUESDAY?”

Don Fidencio stared at his watch, focusing on the enlarged numbers and the date. “Yes,” he said, more confidently. “Tuesday, the third of February.”

THEY BROUGHT ME IN ON A TUESDAY.”

Pues, that must have been another Tuesday.”

The One With The Hole In His Back raised his cowboy hat and scratched his head, pushing the wisps of white hair to one side.

LAST TIME I ASKED THE NURSE WHAT DAY IT WAS SHE SAID TUESDAY. EVERY TIME I ASK THEY TELL ME THE SAME THING, ‘ TUESDAY, TODAY IS TUESDAY.’ YOU TELL ME, HOW MANY TUESDAYS CAN THERE BE? ARE THERE NO MORE DAYS OF THE WEEK? DID THEY CHANGE THE CALENDAR SINCE THEY PUT ME IN HERE? HOW CAN IT ALWAYS BE THE SAME? TUESDAY, TUESDAY, ‘ TODAY IS TUESDAY.’ THAT’S ALL THEY EVER TELL ME.”

Don Fidencio looked blankly at him.

Ask tomorrow and I bet you get a different answer.”

The One With The Hole In His Back shook his head and turned away.

Don Fidencio grabbed hold of the walker. If he was going to waste his morning sitting around, he preferred to do it in his own room. He had already taken his first step when The Filipina Who Looks Like A Boy came up to him and stood a couple inches from his face.

And good morning to you, Mr. Rosales. How are you feeling today, sir?”

Good morning,” he said as he strained to read the name stitched onto her baggy scrubs. He had never met a person named Mandy, but he guessed it must be a woman’s name. She was small, like a woman or a frail boy. The scrubs were too big on her, and he couldn’t tell if she had a pair of chiches in there somewhere.

The Filipina Who Looks Like A Boy helped him sit back down, then gave him a long rubber cord with handles on both ends. He held one of the handles in his right hand as she hooked the other handle around his right shoe.

You remember how we do these, Mr. Rosales? These are the ones for your arms.” She demonstrated by standing in front of him and curling her skinny little arm toward her chest. “It’s easy, right? Can you do ten like that for me, sir?”

He nodded, not really sure what the girl had just asked him, but he agreed so she would stop with all her questions.

One … two … three … very good, Mr. Rosales, very good … four … five …”

He continued on when she turned to help one of the other therapists with a resident. He wasn’t quite sure how pulling a rubber cord up and down was going to help one bit; the problem was with the strength in his legs, not his arms. But this was about the only thing there was to do at this hour, unless he wanted to go back to the recreational room to watch the talk shows with their guests that didn’t interest him or take part in some silly group activity like playing volleyball with a balloon or singing and clapping with The Jesus Christ Loves Everybody Women who came around every morning, tempting people with their free doughnuts. At least here he thought he could show the therapists how much he had improved and then, God willing, they might tell the other ones to give him back his canes. And if he got his canes back, he was that much closer to leaving this place.

So good, Mr. Rosales. Very strong,” The Filipina Who Looks Like A Boy said, leaning in close to his face. “Can you do ten more for me now, the same way?”

If she wanted him to do twenty, he didn’t know why she didn’t say this from the beginning. She needed to make up her mind, instead of expecting him to follow her commands like a trained animal.

Eight, nine, and … ten! Very good, sir!”

Next she wanted him to keep his arm curled and extend his leg, stretching the rubber cord in the other direction. This didn’t feel any more strenuous than the first exercise.

… three … four … way to go, Mr. Rosales … five … six …” She patted him on the arm. “You’re doing very good, sir.”

After a while he lost himself in the singsong way she counted off the repetitions and then counted them off again when he did the extra 10 she asked for. He could have been up to 15 repetitions or he could have been up to 78, he only knew to stop because she told him to and took away the cord and replaced it with something else, like the big yellow ball that he was supposed to hold between his legs and squeeze, over and over, as if he were a chicken laying an enormous yellow egg. None of it made any sense to him, the squeezing, the curling, the extending. All he knew was there was a time when his arms and legs were so strong that he could walk

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