Posting the first chapter of my new novel, Oldsters.
Eddie Barnes had just sunk comfortably into his porch chair and taken a sip of the sweet tea he had brought outside when he saw the SUV pull into the small parking lot on the side of his duplex. Glancing up from his laptop, he noticed Tilly rushing across the lawn, her pink earrings swinging, and her heels sinking into the morning grass every few steps.
Tilly wore pink every day. Eddie thought this strange when he first moved to Avalon, but he was used to it now, and it had become something he looked forward to, seeing how she would incorporate the color into her daily ensemble. Today, she was in full regalia. Her pantsuit was the same bright pink as her earrings. On anyone else it would have been a mess, but the color complimented her mocha skin and her personality, and Eddie found it almost pleasing.
He tried not to stare, but he saw boxes in the vehicle and it wasn’t often that new residents drove themselves here, so he couldn’t help but lean forward to listen. A woman he guessed to be a few years younger than himself climbed out of the car and walked around to the back, raising the trunk.
By the time Tilly reached her, the woman had pulled out a suitcase and two large canvases and placed them up against the vehicle.
“Lila, welcome! How was the drive?”
The woman raised her hand to shade the sun from her eyes.
“Hello Jane. The drive took a bit longer than expected but I’ve made it,” she said.
Eddie was taken back hearing someone call the Avalon director by her first name. Jane, he said to himself. The name didn’t suit her – it was too ordinary. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d heard someone call her anything but Miss Tillman or ‘Tilly’, the nickname some of the residents and staff had given her.
“Let me help you with your things.”
The woman hesitated, but she looked tired, and Eddie wasn’t surprised when she handed the younger woman one of her suitcases from the car.
“Thank you,” she said.
She looked at the set of duplexes around her. Eddie knew what she was thinking – which one was hers? They all looked alike, with the exception of some differences in the porch furnishings. Each home had the same mailbox to the right of the dark screen door, the same light siding and gray shutters, and the same manicured bushes and garden of red and white geraniums, a few marigolds sprinkled throughout.
He was right.
“Jesus, they all look the same. I didn’t notice that before,” she said.
“Well they all have the same basic exterior, but you can certainly do a lot to individualize it – make it your own. You’re in 108, which is right over there,” Tilly pointed at the unit next door to Eddie – and for the first time, noticing him sitting on the porch.
The two women gathered as much as they could in their arms and walked up the path next door to Eddie’s porch.
“Good morning Edward.”
He nodded. “Good morning ladies, can I help you with those things?”
“Yes, that’s kind of you,” Tilly replied.
But as he stood up, the other woman cut him off. “No thank you,” she said curtly, but then quickly added, “I mean, thank you, but I’m just going to throw these things inside and then I think I’ll rest for a bit. The rest of it can stay in the car for now.”
Eddie met Tilly’s eyes, and the look she gave him stopped him from insisting. He sat back down and the two women walked on. It was about ten minutes later when Tilly walked out the door and stopped at the foot of his drive.
“Don’t take it personally Edward. Lila’s going through a tough stretch right now. Give her some time. I’m sure she’ll come around and you’ll be great neighbors.”
“You know me Tilly, no worries. It’s rough the first week or so,” he said.
“How’s the book coming?” she asked noticing the blank page up on his laptop screen.
“Slow, very slow.”
She smiled at him like she knew something he didn’t, and it made him nervous.
“Inspiration Edward. Inspiration is all around us; it’s just a matter of us seeing it for what it is.
“Right, inspiration. Maybe I’ll find some of that in the cafeteria this afternoon huh Tilly? I think today’s Taco Tuesday.”
She laughed. “Have a good day Edward.”
Eddie watched her walk back towards the administration building; taking care to avoid the lawn this time, keeping to the sidewalks instead. When she disappeared through the building doors, he took another sip of tea and glanced toward unit 108. Life was funny, he thought. One moment you could be grasping for something, anything to hold you down to this earth – and then just like that, the wind could change and blow you in a different direction, giving you a chance to make another run at the game.
Lila closed the door behind the woman. She dropped her suitcase on the floor, leaned the canvases against the wall and sunk to the ground.
She didn’t even try to wipe away the tears that fell now. She looked through them, around the room and saw her furniture that had been delivered the day before. Her beautiful dark wood tables, the rich green couch and chairs, her crystal lamps – all placed randomly by the movers. It almost seemed fitting to Lila, all these pieces placed haphazardly in this place that wasn’t home. She grabbed the back of one of the chairs and pulled herself up, walking to the window and pulling back the shear cream drapes, staring outward without seeing anything.
The conversation with Daniel last night had put her over the edge. Her son had always been the one she could count on to understand her when her daughters couldn’t, or refused to. But last night he sounded just like Blair and Katherine, pushing her away from the life she loved, and into this independent living community – she almost choked saying it to herself. She turned and walked through the living room to the small kitchen, past the dining alcove and down the hall to the bedroom. She made this trip twice and walked back to the window. Was this it, she wondered? The rest of her life contained to this thousand square foot box, with the picturesque lawn from the brochure taking the place of her Chicago? She closed her eyes, and the sights and sounds of the city as it was so many years ago swirled in her mind like autumn leaves.