This will be the last chapter I post online. I appreciate the feedback I’ve gotten, thank you! Going forward, I’ll be periodically chronicling my progress – any ‘ah-ha’ moments I may have, as well as struggles I run up against.
But mostly, I’ll be adding regular features such as writing resources, book reviews, interviews with other writers/bloggers and more. I hope you enjoy the new direction I go…feedback is always welcome!!
Oldsters – Chapter 3
Eddie turned his attention back to his laptop, painfully disgusted with the lack of writing he’d gotten done in the last few days, but after a few minutes he got up, tucked the computer under his arm and went inside, leaving the ice tea on the table.
He picked out a blue-striped shirt with a white-collar and gray slacks from his closet. Then he chose a brown tie dotted with blue and gold, slipped on his shoes and looked in the mirror. He didn’t mind the reflection staring back at him – he looked good for his age. At 72, he spent enough time outdoors to keep a tan, and took enough interest to keep his white hair and beard well-trimmed. It also helped that through the years he and his wife, Meredith, had stayed active – regularly hiking on the weekends, and biking most evenings.
Today, Meredith would have called him dapper, and for a moment, he allowed himself to think of all the years she had spent choosing similar outfits for him, first when he was a reporter at the Chicago Tribune, and then later, when he taught journalism at Michigan State.
Then he frowned, realizing that while she might have been pleased with his appearance today, she’d be disappointed that he had jilted his novel in favor of daytime television and gin rummy marathons with Nick. He quickly pushed that idea away, glancing at his watch; it was almost time for lunch, and Nick would pitch a fit if they didn’t get there early enough to avoid what he called the blue-hairs.
Walking across the lawn an hour later, Eddie headed away from the duplexes known as the Willows, and toward West Oak Village, the apartment complex where Nick lived. Avalon was a hybrid retirement center of sorts. The Willows and West Oak Village were independent living facilities; everyone living much as they had before. Nearby, Lexington Hall was a cluster of apartments that provided residents daily assistance in cooking and housekeeping. And finally Avalon Health Center, which was a skilled nursing center, much more of what most people pictured when they thought ‘retirement center’.
God’s waiting room, Eddie thought.
The entire community sat on 20 acres in Bloomington, and was well-known, even in nearby Chicago, as providing a somewhat luxurious lifestyle for seniors.
Eddie had lived at Avalon for three years, originally moving there with Meredith, after her diagnosis left them not much hope and not much time. She had been confined to the Health Center, so Eddie took a small apartment at West Oak to be nearby.
Meredith died within the year, and while he’d originally planned on moving back to Michigan, one day he just decided to stay – and after a few months, moved into the more spacious duplex at the Willows. His children didn’t understand his decision, but Eddie never put much stock in what other people thought. If he was honest with himself, he didn’t want to leave the place where he and Meredith had last lived together.
Eddie walked with purpose across the manicured lawns to Nick’s apartment, pushing aside the dark thoughts that were beginning to gather. Entering the building, Eddie walked to the back wall and pushed the button to call the elevator.
Riding up, he hoped his friend was ready to go. Like Nick, Eddie liked to get to lunch early enough to avoid the wheelchair crowd – and anyone else who was even a bit worse off than himself. He didn’t feel guilty for thinking this way; it was common among his peers. As long as he surrounded himself with people who had at least as much of their sanity and dexterity as he did, it was easier to pretend that the hands on the clock weren’t making their final rotations.
Eddie could hear the baseball game blaring from Nick’s television coming down the hall. He knocked three times before the door swung open, revealing Nick, shirtless, beer in hand.
“Little early, isn’t it?” Eddie asked, closing the door behind him.
“Nah,” Nick said. “It’s Saturday, and baseball’s on. It reminds me of being at the park.”
Eddie noticed playing cards and an overflowing ashtray on the small dining room table, a lingering odor of stale cigars permeated the room. He walked over to the large window and raised the screen.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“Airing out the joint,” Eddie said. “Smells like a damn brewery in here!”
“Yea, had a couple of guys from down the hall over last night. Played some Texas Hold ‘Em, and one of the guys – I think it was Larry Stroud – had some Cuban cigars his son brought him for his birthday.”
“Well, let’s go – I don’t wanna get stuck in some long line behind some dame who can’t make up her mind between the beef stroganoff and the Chicken al’a King.”
“Okay, just gimme a minute to throw a shirt on,” Nick said, now wondering if he should have invited Eddie over last night.
“I would have called you last night, but figured you’d be working on the book,” his voice trailing off as he walked down the hall towards the bedroom. When he came back, Eddie was sitting in a chair, watching the game.
“Hey, did you hear me? I said I would have asked you to join us last night, but I thought you’d be writing. You ready?” Nick asked, pulling on his jacket and grabbing his Fedora hat off the hallway table.
“Yeah, let’s go.”
Eddie was grateful that Nick let the conversation drop as the two men headed down to lunch. Eddie was often gloomy or ill-tempered about the book he’d been writing for the past year, and he appreciated that Nick had learned to leave him alone if he didn’t want to talk about the progress, or lack of progress he was making.
The two men became quick friends three years ago when Nick was recovering from his second stroke at the Health Center the same time Meredith was admitted. Nick had been just a few rooms down from Eddie’s wife, and Dr. Whitfield had introduced the two men one day. They had somehow got on the topic of poker, and ended up playing a game of gin rummy later that day. From then on, the two men played cards regularly.
Eddie assured Nick that there was no use in the guilt he felt about getting better while Meredith’s condition was rapidly deteriorating. And after the funeral, Nick insisted the men keep their regular card game dates, and Eddie knew it was to prevent him from sinking too far into his grief.
Today, the dining hall was only half full, and Eddie was thankful that the lines were short. The two men made their selections and took their food to a table next the window. The room was understated, but dignified. The walls were painted a pale peach and the tables were covered with white linen, flanked with Louis XIV chairs upholstered in green and rose. Eddie huffed as he pushed aside the crystal vase that took up the middle of the table.
“Christ, they give you these huge plates and expect you to fit them, your glass, silverware all on this small table, along with the salt and pepper and then this moronic vase. Who needs flowers on the table? The gardens are full of them all around the place,” he snarled.
“I think it’s to bring some of the outside in, Eddie, you know,” he motioned to a couple of women two tables down, both of which were confined to wheelchairs with oxygen tanks attached. “Not everyone gets the chance to get outside every day.”
“Since when are you so sentimental?”
Nick laughed, buttered his roll and said, “Since when are you so offended by nature?”
The two men ate in silence for a while, each lost in his own thoughts. After a while, Eddie looked around the room, then back at Nick.
“Are Bette and Ray coming down?”
Nick shook his head, and when he didn’t add anything, Eddie pushed for more information.
“Why not? What’s going on?”
Nick placed his fork on his plate, took a drink of his coffee and wiped his mouth with the linen napkin. Looking across the table, he finally spoke.
“Bette said Ray wasn’t feeling well, so she decided to stay with him. She came down a while ago and took some food back up to him.”
Eddie sat forward in his chair and stared at his friend.
“Is it bad?”
“Well, it’s not good – you know that Eddie.”
“I mean is it worse, is he…”
“I don’t know, to tell you the truth. It’s hard you know, because Ray is so, so goddamn English and stoic. It’s hard to imagine him really out of commission,” Nick said.
Eddie didn’t say anything.
“What’s up Eddie?”
“Well, I want to tell everyone at the same time,” he started.
“Tell everyone what?”
Eddie thought for a moment, and decided that telling Nick may help, so he did. And when he was done, he pushed back his chair, took his napkin out of his lap and placed it on the table. “Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go,” he said, standing up.
Nick looked at him. “Do you think this is a good time, if he’s not feeling well?”
“This could be just the thing he needs. There’s a chance we could really pull this off now, so yes Nick, this is the perfect time.”