This is an entry for Finish the Story Contest - Week #36.
Here is @calluna's story:
"When I was your age, I was quite the wild one. Ahhh that look, that 'sure granny' look, well if you don't believe me."
The underpaid nurse attempting to spoon feed the elderly lady sat, heaped spoon waiting for a pause between words.
"I had quite the adventure, back when I was twenty-two, I never told your mam about this one."
Susie suppressed a sigh, every resident took her as a different relative. They used a warm, familiar tone with her, looking into her eyes, and seeing those of another. She'd given up correcting them, not one of them could remember her name.
"It was during the war, your grandpa worked intelligence out of one of those top secret northern bunkers, that's where he got that compass you used to love playing with."
There was something about never being seen as herself that was starting to eat at Susie. At first, she'd pitied them, unable to see things for what they were, but as time went by, every word spoken to her, meant for another, began to cut.
"It's been two months since I'd had a letter from him, and well, you can imagine what I thought when a man in uniform knocked at the door."
Finally catching a pause in the resident's flow, Susie swooped in with a spoon full of buttery mash, beaded with peas. For loud, sloppy moments the lady chewed, and trying to draw on her compassion, Susie smiled, scooping up another spoonful.
"Well my heart dropped and I nearly fainted before he could speak. That awkward young officer grabbed my hands, looking me firm in the eyes, 'He's not dead Mrs Ellerton, he's fine, I just need you to come with me'. I've never packed a bag so fast in my life!"
Susie quickly exploited the dramatic moment, dropped another spoon of mash, this time laked with stewed beef and gravy, into the open mouth. She used to hate herself for finding those too far gone to chatter away easier, avoiding the talkers, but despite her best evasions, she'd got stuck with conversational Mrs Ellerton today.
"We sped down those country roads, whizzing up north, in hours. He told me nothing on the way, offering only that Nick would tell me when we got there. I'd had no idea what to bring, and had frantically thrown everything I could think of into my bag, as we drove up I began to realise all the things I'd not thought of, but there was no turning back, I could tell by the way that officer gripped the wheel we were in a hurry!"
Mrs Ellerton wasn't letting up, Susie glanced at the clock, her shift was due to finish in ten minutes, but she couldn't go anywhere until the old bag wrapped it up. Putting the spoon down, she tried to fight the rising anger, and decided to try and get Mrs Ellerton to cut to the chase.
"So why had your husband brought you there?"
And this is my ending:
Mrs. Ellerton pouted; she had intended to milk her story longer. Graciously, she gave up.
"In order to recruit me, of course." She grinned. "They were assembling a decryption team. I was a math teacher and married to an intelligence officer... Quite a shoo-in, breezing through interviews and training."
She looked at her expectantly. Susie just inserted another spoonful of mesh through her mouth.
"I saw that Cumberbatch movie," Susie said. "The Enigma engine, was it?"
Mrs. Ellerton shook her head. "I doubt that what happened, made it into movies! It's still top secret! And," she added mysteriously, "reality can be stranger than fiction."
Susie didn't take the bait this time, either. "After the war, did you return to teaching?"
Mrs. Ellerton nodded. "Teaching was my cover. MI5 could use war-trained professionals... And we had gotten used to the extra salary."
Susie regarded her in skeptical silence. The lady opened her mouth, waiting for the spoonful. The nurse obliged. "When did you stop, then?"
Mrs. Ellerton paused. "Never," she said, matter-of-course.
As if!, Susie scoffed.
"You need to quit that 'sure granny' look. It's unkind."
"Sorry," Susie said, not feeling sorry at all.
"Fact is, I'm close to sixty..."
You're ninety-nine!, Susie thought incredulously.
"...and I'm no longer fit. There was a saying: when a head is cut off, more will rise to take its place. Tell me, dear: can you see yourself in my stead?"
The nurse imagined her older self in that sickbed, an unfamiliar stranger feeding her. Where was the adventure she would tell? Which acquaintance would she address in her delusions? None came to mind. The human wrecks she attended, she concluded, they'd had a better life than she would. The thought cut her the deepest.
Mrs. Ellerton had been studying her. "You don't apply for my kind of occupation; in fact, an application disqualifies you. You can only get chosen. And I choose you."
Susie faltered. "You want me to--"
"--look under the sixth step of the wooden stairway at home. It's all in there: the compass, procedures, contacts, bank accounts, codes, manuals, pharmaceuticals."
Susie knew the old bag was off her rocker, but the words 'bank accounts' kept reverberating in her mind. Mrs. Ellerton's serious tone didn't help take her lightly, either. She capitulated: "Why me?"
"There are those who would make the world better, and those who put themselves first and foremost. It is not more nuanced than that. Your mam, she wouldn't have cared for this talk very much. But I saw it in you, you're different. Like I was. You'll do your granny proud."
Susie doubted it. She got up and left. Her turn was over, and she had some planning to do. Plans that included the hospital records. A crowbar. Some breaking and entering. They definitely sounded adventurous.
Mrs. Ellerton was alone in the room. Her vacant gaze was lost in the distant past. She struggled to raise her right arm, and murmured, "Hail Hydra."