This story was born of a personal challenge. I read in one of my ubiquitous writing books about a novel featuring an elderly man as the protagonist. My first reaction was an ageist one I’m embarrassed to say–I actually thought ‘why would anyone write about that?’ but the idea stuck with me and within ten minutes I was feverishly writing this story. (I was also inspired to write several more with older characters as the main character, so much for the idea that older characters can’t be interesting characters!) I should probably note that this is NOT a horror story–more like general fiction.
By Casie Blevins
Word count: 3220 (half now)
Oh my, she thought glancing around the room. She stood at the threshold of the lunch room on her first day at the Sandy Pines Retirement Home. Filling the room from one side to another were ornately decorated tables, complete with linen table cloths and unlit candle centerpieces. Most of the tables were full of women, something she expected to see, women being the longer lived of the species. Towards the back was a table of men, like an island of masculine gray hairs, and this was what drew her eye.
She would recognize him anywhere.
He sat facing her, eating sullenly, not noticing her at all.
It was his eyes, the angle of his chin, these things hadn’t changed with time. They remained the same, even after, how many? She quickly did the math, she was still sharp enough for mental computation.
My, oh my. Fifty-six years. Even after fifty-six years he remained the same.
Would he recognize her? She ran her fingers through her hair self-consciously.
Even if she hadn’t recognized him by his Indian brown eyes, she would have by his tattoos. He was thoroughly covered in them, and they never changed, now did they?
Well, that wasn’t strictly true.
They were faded, comic strips set too long in the sun. But that was ultimately an improvement wasn’t it? Yes, it was. All that hate, faded away.
She realized that she was staring and looked downwards, anxiously. Her first day here and she was already making a spectacle of herself. She sidled along the wall, edging her way towards the buffet, still sneaking looks at that back table.
So far she had gone unnoticed.
But how long could she keep that up? In this tiny community of old folks?
Maybe his sight was bad.
That turned out not to be true.
She had finished her meal, roast and a plate of veggies, standard fare for a joint like this, all while politely conversing with a table of similarly wealthy octogenarians and septarians like herself. She had stood up, placing her napkin next to her plate, and was in the process of nodding farewell to her tablemates when she became aware that she was being watched, studied. She could see his dark figure out of the corner of her eyes. She would know it anywhere. She was reluctant but compelled nevertheless to look up.
She sighed, turning in his direction.
“Hello, Daniel,”she said.
“Hello…Jenn,” he said stumbling over whether to call her by her proper name or by her nickname, Daisy, which had been his special name for her.
Memories were whirling around in her mind, little dervishes of good and bad moments, leaving her face redder than she liked and feeling transparent.
“So…you live here now?” he asked unnecessarily and she nodded. “Which wing?”
“Uh.” She felt shuttered all of a sudden, wanting to keep this information to herself and knowing that it would be pointless. He’d find out anyways, soon enough. “Robin.”
“I live in Sparrow.”
She nodded, greatly relieved that they weren’t, at least, next door neighbors. “Second floor?” she asked.
It was his turn to nod. “I like the view,” he said simply and she knew what he meant, having a view after so many years of being locked up must be crucial to his well being.
“You got out?” she asked stupidly, regretting it instantly.
He cracked a grin. “Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it here. You know.”
She did. Old folks homes were often like grown up daycare, or akin to prisons, in their limited scope of activities and freedoms, combined with the limitations of their own bodies.
She tried not to grin, not wanting to encourage him but didn’t quite manage it.
He took his leave. “Well, it was good seeing you…Daisy.”
Her heart gave a flutter at hearing the long lost name. Dammit. It was happening all over again.
She ran across him in the library the next day.
“You read?” she blurted out before she realized she was going to.
He gave her a wry grin. “Imagine that, huh? A convict with a taste for books.”
“And the old fashioned kind too,” she offered conciliatorily, praising him.
“It’s the only kind that matters.”
She had to agree with him. The print, the smell of the pages, the heft of the book, no book implant could compete with that, not with her, not ever.
“I got out in 2015, you know,” he said carefully, not looking at her. “After the great riot.”
She pretended not to know what he meant.
“It really shook me up, changed me. I lost friends.” He snuck a glance at her. “They didn’t die. I just changed, and they didn’t. I was…done with it all.”
She broke her silence. “Done with what? Assault and battery? Arson? Drugs?”
He slowly nodded, thoughtful. “Yep. Well, manufacturing them anyways.” He winked at her, confessing that his drug of choice wasn’t far from hand, even now.
It figured. If there was anything Daniel had ever been good at, it was smoking pot.
At least it was legal now.
She had to admit, her curiosity was growing. She saw Daniel frequently, he wasn’t one to stay in his rooms and neither was she. He was just as much of a flirt as ever and enjoyed a lot of attention, more so than most of the gents in the place. He hadn’t lost his touch. She guessed he’d been playing catch up after spending so much time in the pen in his youth.
She watched him a lot, her the new resident, a special diversion for the others by that virtue alone, though an oddity in that she preferred to stay off by herself. She rebuffed a lot of attentions for that reason and soon most got the point, leaving her to her own devices. She was a watcher who was content to watch and Daniel was her most interesting subject.
She learned his routines. Tuesday was Amanda’s day, Wednesday Michele’s. He appeared to have a standing engagement with both Clare and Anna on Monday, while Thursday and Friday appeared to be open ended days.
Saturday he played poker with the other men, the same ones that he always ate lunch with. Strangely enough given the activities of his week or maybe because of them, he spent Sunday on his knees.
He went to the library every few days and that’s often where they would find themselves, together, in easy conversation.
Most times he initiated the conversation, sometimes she did.
“You still sleep in your clothes?” she asked him one day, picturing it in her mind.
“You still paint the counters with toothpaste?”
It was a sort of a truce with them, this playful innocuous banter. They kept it simple, avoiding the harder topics.
“Why do you always eat with the men?” she asked.
“Why do you always eat at the table by the door?” he returned.
Admittedly, she didn’t know herself. Habit? Did she need an easy escape route in case things got too tough?
“Women chatter too much,” he offered.
One day she touched him, softly, on his neck.
“You used to have virgin skin,” she murmured.
“I used to be a virgin, too,” he said, “But you took care of that.”
She touched one other of the tattoos. “So much hate,” she whispered.
“Old news. Ancient history. Moved on.”
“Reading the same old book every time when you look in the mirror.”
“Avoid mirrors. Simple as that.”
She bit her lip. Could it be so simple? Was he really so changed?
She was struck suddenly with something. “Where did you get your money?” she asked.
“I wondered when you would get around to asking that.”
“Well?” she wasn’t embarrassed in asking. He had an 8th grade education, spent part of his 20’s and 30’s in jail on one stint or another and frankly she was surprised he was still alive, much less wealthy and living in a retirement home in his old age. “How old are you?” she asked.
“Eighty-one,” he said happy to offer her an easy answer.
Right, she knew that. Of course she did. Three years younger than her.
She didn’t give up easily. “Well?”
“In drug money.”
“A settlement. From the riots. I invested it. The rest is history.”
She was wide-eye. “Investments,” she said quietly, disbelievingly.
“Weren’t you… married?” he asked delicately.
“Oh. Yes. Many wonderful years. That’s why I moved. Too many memories.”
He nodded in understanding.
“You?” she asked.
“Oh. Yeah, for awhile. One kid. Wild as mad hatter. We called her Jersey.”
“Like the state?”
“Four kids. Spread all over the Great States. One’s in politics.”
“I heard about that.”
He looked away embarrassed. “I may have kept tabs on you, once or twice,” he admitted.
Her heart warmed.
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