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End of Days

By Emily Beam

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They say in every old person there’s a young person wondering what the hell happened.

Honey, don’t I know it.

Around here all we got is a bunch of kids hiding behind wrinkle creams, alloy hips, low-budget dentures and horse-pills.  Around here, everyone’s waiting for two things:  a winning Bingo card and the Fountain of Youth—and I bet on neither. The cold, cloistered, clinical environment–it frays old nerves.  Every day’s a replay of the same soundtrack: cocky young professionals cajoling us to take the meds, remember the Poly-Grip, just rest a while.  Rest for what?

Some of us are old enough to be their great-grandparents. They think they can tell us what to do.

I’ve noticed that lately it’s getting worse. That is why I–Spring Chicken of Hallway 7–pushing eighty-nine and aging quite well, I might add, have decided it’s time to bust out.  Of course, the young nurses won’t be pleased. That’s why they don’t have to know.

“Hurry up, get your can in the van, Gertie,” Maurice hisses.

“I’m coming, I’m coming”, huffs Gertie, fumbling to get her cane in the vehicle. “You sure wasn’t in no hurry when you was trying to pick out the fancy bow-tie and hat. Where you think you’re going, to see the president?”

“Calm yourselves, both. We’ve got plenty of time. Looks like Otis is doing a good job keeping them busy.” I smile as I peer through the window to Otis’s room.  He’s on the floor, surrounded by panicked nurses, screaming something apocalyptic about “seeing the light.”  No doubt they will be there all night, fighting off the Four Horsemen and scrubbing the lipstick-numerals “666” off his forehead with rubbing alcohol.  When the nurses look out the hallway (probably for the doctor), Otis glances my way, one eye rolled eerily back into his forehead, and winks.  Good, old Otis.

I climb in the front seat of the van and start the engine with a purr. This is going to be the pill.

After miles of listening to visually-impaired Horace inquiring “Are we there yet?” we finally reach the hot spot, abuzz with life and energy–the modern day Fountain of Youth—the Creekside Outlet Mall.

We slowly but surely make our way out of our vehicle and parade to the entrance. Horace rushes forward, walker and all, and cries out, “They’ll never catch me alive!”

Bert catches him right before he gets to the edge of the sidewalk.

“Hold on there, pal, this ain’t World War II,” Bert says.   “And you gotta look both ways before you cross the street.”

“Both ways?” Horace huffs.  “That stuff’s for chumps. My elite hearing will keep me safe.”  He tries to take one more step forward. Bert rolls his eyes and pulls him back with one arm as a monolithic black tri-axle zooms by.

All eight of us–Horace, Bert, Gertie, Henrietta, Maurice, Henry, Elaine and I–enter the mall and stand there for a moment, shoulders un-slumped, backs straight, heads lifted high. It is as though new life has been breathed into us.

“Well, see you,” Maurice salutes us and advances with all the celerity and agility of a Sherman tank on his power scooter with its little yellow safety flag.

“Where you going so soon?” I call after him, smiling.

“Off to have some fun. Can’t be seen with a bunch of old farts, you know.”

Henry and Elaine step forward with their arms linked.  “Me and the Mrs. are off to do some browsing.” Henry smiles seductively at his wife.  “Our anniversary is coming up and I don’t intend to be late this year.”

Elaine looks up then winks at me with a new sparkle in her eye.  “This is a positively wicked idea, Marg!”  She squeezes my wrist with a hot hand and they are off.

I spend my time walking round, visiting shops and such. An Orange-Julius here, a Yankee Candle there. At Macy’s I try on a blue blouse designed for gals a quarter my age but put it back when I hear the young clerk giggling behind the counter. She’s got about as much on the ball as these nurses, I laugh, and before long the minutes turn to hours.  I am just about to begin rounding everyone up when I notice an unhappy police officer talking to a little man in a Hover-Round, a yellow flag flapping above it in the wind.  It’s Maurice. I walk over.

“I know there’s no age limit on fun, sir, but there’s an elevator right over there—“

“Excuse me,” I ask, “What seems to be the problem?”

“Madam, I found this gentleman riding the escalator in his chair—up and down.”

“I didn’t do nothing illegal,” Maurice butts in.  “Sign says no strollers. Don’t say nothing about power scooters.”

“I’m very sorry officer. It won’t happen again, I assure you.”

The officer, satisfied with my apology, mutters, “Have a nice evening” and walks away.

But Maurice is nearly choleric. Not done yet, he shouts at the cop, “This is discrimination against the elderly and you’ll be hearing from my lawyer!”

Outside the entrance of Victoria’s Secret I round up Horace, Maurice, Elaine, and Henry. Elaine is carrying a hot-pink bag with the letters ~VS~ on it.  She points to it when Henry looks the other way and smiles.

Four down, two to go.

We stroll past a “hair salon-slash-tattoo parlor” when everyone comes to a stuttering halt. Jaws drop as a man with a million tattoos and piercings walks past. His hair, lime-green and stiff as our joints, sticks up a foot in the air.

Horace’s eyeballs pop their sockets.

“Man the flying saucers.  Who knew we’d been invaded by aliens.”

Elaine shakes her head disapprovingly.

“What kind of crazy person would ever do such a–”

Just then, a short woman with a cane emerges from the shop.   Half her hair is hot-pink and blasts skyward in every direction. A large ring hangs from her nose, like a bull’s.

We all gasp.

“Gertie! What have you done?”

Gertie smiles, poses and pats her new hair.

“Ya’ll like it?”

Maurice bursts out in laughter, “You old coot. You look like—”, he is laughing so hard he can’t finish “your scalp farted cotton candy.”

Elaine gasps, “Oh Gertie, what will your grandchildren think?”

Gertie pauses for a moment and strikes a reflective pose, “I suppose they might be a little shocked.”

“You bet they’ll be shocked. Here, borrow my hat until we can work that out. And about the ring.”

“Relax,” Gertie says. “It’s only a clip-on. You think I’d let that girl near my nose with a needle? Hell, she probably can’t even spell diploma.”

Elaine sighs with relief as Gertie disengages the clip from her nose.

She shoves it in her pocket and says, “I’m keeping this – cost me $7.50. Girl said they’re all the rage. Just might get one for the belly-button.”

“So be it,” I nod, “now we need to find Henrietta.”

We walk the mall twice with no luck until our joints throb and decide to rest on a bench near the kiddy playground.

Just then, a boy storms out of the tunnel screaming to his mother, “Mommy! Mommy! There’s an old lady in there!”

“Good Lord, no,” I mutter.

“I found her,” Gertie laughs and points to the window at the pinnacle of a yellow tube spiraling nearly to the mall ceiling. It is Henrietta.  She is on her hands and knees, waving to us and mouthing, “I’m stuck.”

“Hold on, I shriek. “I’ll go get help.”  Then I look back at her. She flashes a smile. She looks different somehow, I can’t place it. I shake my head and go looking for help. And wouldn’t you know it; the first person I come across is the police officer who stopped Maurice from riding the escalator.  He isn’t happy to see me and spits venom into his two-way.

After about an hour of prying, pounding, cutting, and bawling kids, the firefighters and the police officer safely extract Henrietta from the yellow tunnel, which slumps in a pile like a deformed banana.

“Thank goodness,” I mutter as Henrietta limps towards us smiling.

The police officer was not smiling.

“Now ma’am I understand that there’s no age limit on fun,” he glares at Maurice, who crosses his arms and glares back.  “But, how’d you get in that tunnel?”

Henrietta opens her mouth to explain, but her dentures are missing.

“Where are your dentures?” Elaine gasps.  Then, the same little boy who discovered Henrietta in the tunnel pops out of the ball pit and screams, “Eww, Mommy, look–it’s somebody’s teeth.”

On our way back to the van Henrietta explains that she saw an early-bird coupon for her favorite restaurant lying on the ground. When she went to pick it up, a gust of wind from a nearby ceiling fan blew it into the entrance of the tunnel.

“I wasn’t letting that baby go to waste,” she laughs, “When I finally caught it I realized I was stuck. I tried to call for help but my dentures slipped down the slide to the ball pit.”

When we all slump into the van, I start the engine and we head back home.  I look through the rearview mirror and see all of the smiling faces.

We stop at a red light. I look back at Horace who is staring dreamily out the window, smiling.

“Horace, what about you?  Looks like you had a good time? Where did you go?”

“Yeah, you buy anything Horace?” Gertie asks, leaning over the seat.

“No”, he chuckles, “I didn’t buy anything. Nothing in those stores could please me.”

“Then what you so smiley about?”

Horace sighs and looks at us distantly. “I met a lady-friend,” he sighs again.

Smiles break out on our faces.

“Awe, Horace.”

“What’s her name?”

“A lovey name. It suited her well. Her name was Macy,” he sighs.

Bert pats me on the shoulder and whispers, “Horace’s eyes must have gotten the best of him. I kept an eye on him the whole time. He never talked to anyone except a mannequin.”

“Just roll with it.”  I smile as we continue driving.

“You should have seen her,” Horace reflects. “Simply celestial! Lily white skin, amazing curves for her age.  Not much of a talker, you know, but she just couldn’t take her eyes off me.”

Horace mumbles her name in contented adulation all the way home.

Macy, Macy, Macy.”

Even though we have to return, those few hours of freedom do more for us than a thousand bottles of Ensure. The nurses, so distracted by Otis’s impromptu Armageddon routine, never realize that we are gone.

And, although it might do them some good to see what real fun looks like, absorbed as they are in their videogames and newfangled gadgets and such, we get the pink out of Gertie’s hair, just before the grandkids come to visit.

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End of Days