Rest Home Runaways
|Genre||Lesbian General Fiction|
|Length||76,900 words/264 pages|
|Pub Date||August 2014|
Before she can alert her uber-capable wife, Treat, a trio of lady octogenarians appropriates the rest home van to rescue Mac, embarking on an adventure that makes national news. But Morgan knows something they don't: Mac is taking orders from her mom's ghost, trying to make good on a promise he made years ago. Worried sick, Morgan sets out on the 126-mile drive from Fresno to Santa Cruz, praying she finds Mac before he hurts himself—or worse. The chase is on, but the mission becomes one of more than miles; Morgan must also undertake a journey of the heart.
Mac scowled at the scatter of puzzle pieces on the round wooden table. It was ridiculous to even try. The damned macular degeneration robbed him of any clarity, except out of the corners of his eyes. Morgan had given him the puzzle, hoping it would bring purpose to his life. He couldn’t blame her. She was trying to make the best of a bad situation. No one wanted useless elderly parents moving in.
He cocked his head to the side, giving his left eye a shot at the confetti of interlocking pieces. It wasn’t one of the thousand-piece puzzles they did together when she was a girl. Same kind of picture though: windmill, bunches of tulips. Morgan always liked the ones of faraway places.
“Try that one,” Effie said, pointing to a blue edge piece.
He picked up the piece and locked it into place. “Bingo.” At least he and Effie were in this together. He couldn’t imagine going through this humiliating stage of his life aloneÑeven if she did make him fit the pieces together, as if she weren’t actually doing the puzzle. But they were coping as best they could, yes siree Bob. “I’m going to put some water on for tea. You want some?”
“I’m good,” she said without looking up.
“Well, don’t do anything crazy while I’m gone.”
She wrenched her attention away from the puzzle long enough to stick her tongue out at him then went back to scanning the pieces.
Since the remodel, Morgan and Treat’s house was all angles, etched glass, and fancy blond wood furniture. Mac supposed all the houses in the trendy Tower District of Fresno had been similarly done up. The artsy section of town made a point of disassociating itself from the rest of the city’s conservative style. He supposed that’s what had attracted his daughter and herÉwife. Boy, that was hard to get used to. Not that he didn’t like Treat, but two women getting married? Of course, things hadn’t been going too well between the two of them. He’d heard the whispered arguments, seen the sad looks. But it was none of his business. Morgan had made that clear on more than one occasion.
He walked past Morgan’s god-awful collection of Mexican folk artÑall skeletons and gaudy colorsÑinto the kitchen with its high-maintenance granite countertops and impractical open shelving. Bright canisters marked Flour, Sugar, Cornmeal sat by the stove, all of them empty, save for the coffee one, which was always full of some special organic blend or other. The coffee maker itself looked like something made for outer space. Above the stove, Rosie the Riveter held her fist in the air: We can do it! She made Mac feel tired.
He filled the stainless steel kettle, flipped the front burner to high, and searched through a drawer of assorted teas for the one he’d finally figured out was actually tea. It was some gourmet brand they liked. Not all that different from good old Lipton’s in his opinion.
“You building a boat in there?” Effie yelled.
Ignoring her, he plucked out a tea bag, dropped it into a mug, then returned to the living room. “God knows what all those other teas are,” he said, joining Effie at the puzzle. “Saw one called Women’s Liberty. It’s supposed to promote healthy hormone balance.”
“If it helps with night sweats, I say more power to her. Remember how I used to wake up drenched in the middle of the night?”
Mac dimly recalled Effie flinging the sheets back and charging out of bed to stand under the ceiling fan. “I guess.”
They stared at the puzzle for some time, neither of them finding a match. Effie pointed out a couple, but they weren’t fits. Mac drifted off into his thoughts. Was that a new liver spot on his hand? A bruise? He barely recognized his hands anymore. His knuckles had gotten huge.
He pushed his chair back. “Water should be boiled by now.”
“I’ll get it. I’ve got to go to the bathroom anyway.”
He watched her get up from the table and shuffle her way past the windowsill of wilting African violets to the kitchen. She was still an attractive woman, had kept her figure more or less, except for that soft little belly and her hair turning into a dandelion puff. Of course, he’d never say that to her.
“You old coot!” she called from the kitchen. “The kettle’s barely even warm!”
“Is the whistle top on it?”
“Wasn’t, but is now.”
Mac massaged his forehead. Time had gotten so wobbly. A minute could last an hour. A whole day could slip by in a second. It was because there was nothing to do here. Sure, there were things that needed fixing, the spring on the door of the outside shed had a hinge that could use some adjusting, the downstairs bathroom sink had a drip, but he didn’t have any tools here, not even a hammer or a screwdriver. And he couldn’t drive to pick any up; they’d taken his license over a year ago. The bitter irony of it. He’d owned and run Ronzio’s Hardware for over forty-five years and now didn’t have a tool to his name! Of course, Treat had a motley collection out in the garage, but it was against Mac’s principles to go rooting around in someone else’s toolbox, a woman’s no less. Resigned, he picked up the puzzle box top. There was a small bridge in the upper right-hand corner he hadn’t noticed earlier. He searched for pieces of gray stone. That couldn’t be so hard. He spotted one and locked it into place. “Got one!”
Effie returned to the table. “Well, bully for you.”
Mac scanned for more gray stone. He was hot on the trail. He began sorting all the possible bridge pieces into a pile. They looked a lot like the slats on the windmill. Or were they wall pieces? His eyes began to sting. He rubbed them. He coughed a couple of times.
An intermittent shrilling blasted from the kitchen. He was momentarily confused. Teakettle? Hearing aid? No! Smoke alarm! He bolted up from the chair, his thighs banging painfully into the table, had to slow down around the carpet’s edgeÑif you weren’t careful you could catch your shoeÑthen tore into the kitchen.
It was filled with smoke! More coughing. More stinging eyes. He grabbed a dishtowel and reached over to turn off the burner. Success! Except the room was billowing black clouds. Morgan would kill him.
“You said you put the whistle top on the kettle!” he yelled to Effie.
Then he remembered. Effie was dead.
Morgan stood in her gutted kitchen and sniffed. It still stunk of smoke. They’d pulled the sheetrock, cabinets, and Pergo, and still that damn stench. Her recent cataract surgery made the exposed beams with their vein-like wiring and the splintery subfloor look all the more jarring. Like standing inside a corpse, she thought. She flipped on the big square floor fan and cranked open a window.
The idea of standing inside death fit her mood. It had been a hellish two weeks. Coming home to a house billowing black smoke; rushing her coughing, wheezing, disoriented father to the doctor who was more concerned about her dad being left unsupervised than he was about his symptoms. “He needs twenty-four hour care,” the white-coated thirty-something said, steepling those ten arrogant fingers whose sole purpose seemed to be to accuse her of elder negligence. Then there’d been all the calls to the home insurance agency who suggested “a little TSP and good ol’ elbow grease” would do the trick, as if just a potholder had caught fire. Add to this the zillion calls to adult live-in facilities with their mile-long wait lists, while her dad’s house, still on the market after two long years, was as unsold now as the day they’d put it up for sale. They were going to need that money to pay the astronomical fees for eldercare. Then, miracle of miracles, there was a spate of deaths at Sunset VillaÑnot her first choice for an adult live-in facility, but doable, at least until something better showed up. Of course, the officious director who’d contacted her hadn’t called it a “spate of deaths,” she’d phrased it, “beds opening up,” but anybody could tell what that meant.
And now he was there.
And she was here.
And she’d become the kind of person who put an elderly parent in a home.
The way he’d looked at her as she was leaving him thereÑnot desperate, not begging her to stay, but resigned. Her hero-of-a-dad, the man to whom all of Fresno had once come to get things fixed, Mac Ronzio of Ronzio’s Hardware, family-owned since 1949, stuck in an unfixable situation.
It wasn’t as though she’d moved him in against his will. The teakettle incident had scared him too. Still, watching him meticulously arrange his few belongings on the dresser top had just about ripped out her innards: comb, photo of him and his beloved Effie, the little blue ceramic bowl for his change, the one Morgan herself made for him in third grade. The items looked so lonely in that foreign landscape.
Morgan returned her attention to what was left of her kitchen. Was it too wasteful to turn up the air conditioning with the window open? She decided not and cranked it open, wiping leftover greasy fingerprints of soot onto her jeans. Then she dropped what felt like her ten-ton purse onto a stack of clean sheetrock in what used to be her beautiful, sunlit breakfast nook, and stared at the mess that was her life. Apparently it wasn’t bad enough that every other aspect of her life was floundering; now her kitchenÑthe hearth of the home she loved so muchÑwas also a wreck.
She stepped cautiously over the snaky orange extension cord into the small laundry room, weaved her way through stacks of crammed boxes filled with flatware, pots and pans, dishes, and the rest of her kitchen junk, and opened the fridge. She hadn’t eaten since, well, lunch when she’d ordered a side of fries instead of coleslaw with her BLT. But one couldn’t worry about calories at a time like this. She pawed through the meat and cheese drawer of the fridge and found half of a block of smoked mozzarella under a baggie of suspect sliced ham. She ignored the sliced ham and broke off a chunk of cheese. She was a terrible daughter, a terrible person. She placed the chunk in her mouth and began chewing without tasting. Putting her father in an old folks farm. How could she?
She broke off another chunk, even though she was still chewing the first, her face wet with tears. Staring at this new chunk and hating herself for wanting it, she reminded herself of one of the positives of this terrible move: she and Treat were getting their house back, or what was left of it. Her dad living with them had put a terrible strain on their relationship. The two of them had had virtually no alone time. It didn’t help that the only available room to put him in was directly across the hall from theirs, which had pretty much put a stop to making love. Morgan would freeze up at the slightest sound from him. So they were doing it less and less, choosing instead to watch TV. It was justÉhard.
She plopped down next to her purse on the pile of crisp new sheetrock. Even before the kitchen incident, she’d known something had to changeÑand not just because her relationship was suffering. Her dad was becoming disoriented. She’d come home from work and hear him talking to himself, or worse, to her dead mom. It was heartbreaking.
And Sunset Villa wasn’t that bad. They had a nice staff, experienced. One might even call it classy with its landscaped courtyard and Victorian dŽcor. And she’d visit. A lot. The one bright spot of being furloughed was that she’d have plenty of time.
She looked at her watch. Fernando would be back from lunch any minute. But where was Treat? They were going to discuss cabinets. Morgan wiped the tears from her face and heaved herself off the sheetrock. Treat had promised to get off early so she could be in on the discussion.
Morgan stuck the last bit of cheese back in the fridge. Something must have come up. No doubt, something to do with Marky Gottlieb, Wonder Woman of Harmony Systems who, if their literature was to be believed, was “Unifying America’s Workplace One Success at a Time.” The two seemed to be in constant meetings these days, “brainstorming sessions” Treat called them. But how much brainstorming could it take to put together a sensitivity training for Treat’s crew? Yes, Morgan understood that Treat was under a lot of pressure from corporate since having lost not one, but two, large, woman-owned accounts, and yes, she understood that Martha’s Organics would be moving their merchandise in next month and corporate was breathing down Treat’s neck to civilize her overly-testosteroned staff, but honestly, in weaker moments, Morgan was beginning to wonder if Marky was the reason Treat had started going to the gym and carrying around baggies of cut-up carrots and celery instead of her usual fried pork skins.
Morgan took the teakettle’s rooster-shaped whistle top from the windowsill and stuck it in the shoebox with the serving spoons and spatulas. She was just being paranoid. If there was one thing Treat was, it was loyal.
She wandered into the living room where her dad’s puzzle lay scattered on the table and began sweeping the pieces into the box, accidentally sweeping up a fortune-cookie fortune she’d gotten earlier in the week from yet another dinner of Chinese takeout: Happy thoughts makes a happy life.
The front door jangled open.
“Hey, hon,” she said. “I was just about to give up on you.”
“That’s okay, hon,” Fernando replied.
She looked up. Treat’s contractor nephew was standing in the open doorway. He looked exhausted. “Hey, Fernando,” she said. “Treat’s not here yet.”
He glanced up from his Android, his eyes ringed with dark circles. “I just got her text. She’s running late.”
Morgan made herself smile. There was probably a text waiting on her phone too. “Still no sleep? Is little Gustavo still colicky?”
“It’s Alma who’s getting no sleep. But my mom’s coming over today to give her a break.”
“You want something to drink?”
“I’m good. Had a big soda with lunch.” He pocketed his phone and rubbed his bloodshot eyes. “Treat said we should go ahead and start. She’ll catch up later.”
“All righty then. Let’s get to it.”
They discussed cabinet styles and features, replacing the old hot water heater with a tankless and whether or not they wanted a lazy Susan by the stove. Still, no Treat. Morgan tried not to be annoyed, but life was hard for her too.
She tugged at the collar of her T-shirt. A hot flash was blooming in her chest and would soon been crawling up her neck and sprouting a mustache of perspiration. “So, you have what you need to give us a couple of estimates? One with the tankless, one without. And maybe, for the hell of it, let us know what a skylight would cost. I’m sure we can’t afford it, especially if we go tankless, and the insurance won’t cover itÉ” She hated the way her face flushed during hot flashes.
“I just need to take a few measurements.”
“Great. I’ll be upstairs if you need me.”
He looked up from his clipboard. “I just realized, no Mac. Today was the day, huh? You took him to that place.”
That place. It was all she could do to keep from bursting into tears again. Damn her hormones! “Yup.” She could feel beads of sweat popping out on her lip.
Fernando cocked his head, his Mayan features a portrait of kindness. “Alma and I will take Gustavo by for a visit later in the week. That’ll perk the old guy up.”
Morgan managed to get out, “Dad would love that,” before snatching up her purse and all but charging up the stairs, stopping only to grab her laptop from the living room couch.
Once in the bedroom, she tossed her purse and laptop onto the end of the bed and belly-flopped down next to them. If only I could stay here a whole week, she thought, her weary muscles sinking into the luscious memory foam topper Treat had bought them for Christmas. Her lower lip began to tingle. No! She hauled herself up, swung her legs off the bed, and dragged her feet into the bathroom. Sure enough, little blisters were beginning to gather on the edge of her lip. Tomorrow there would be an oozing canker sore in the shape of South America. It never failed.
She popped a couple of lysine capsules, peed, and popped a couple more for good measure, then returned to the bed, plumped the pillows up against the headboard, and powered up her laptop. Happy thoughts! She was not a bad person for putting her father away. Tons of people did. The adult care facilities were full of people’s parents. Which, speaking ofÉ
She reached for her purse, pulled out her iPhone, and auto-dialed her brother. He picked up on the second ring.
“Hey, Morgan. What’s up?”
“I just wanted you to know we got Dad all squared away,” she said in her chirpiest voice.
“Sorry. What was that?”
“I was just calling to say I got Dad all squared away.”
“Oh, good. Good. Thanks for taking care of that.”
Did he even know what she was referring to? “In the retirement home,” she added.
“Right,” he said. “That was today.”
“Are you in the middle of something? Would there be a better time to talk?”
“No. This is good. I’m just on my way to a show a houseÑStay in your own lane, asshole!”
Morgan pictured him, Bluetooth stuck in his ear, zigzagging through traffic. “I’ll e-mail you his address and phone number. He’d love to hear from you.”
“Sure. I’ll get Lanie to send flowers.”
Flowers. Was he kidding? “Mike. This is Dad we’re talking about.”
“I know. I know. I just have a hard time being around the old guy. I never know what to say.” He paused, then added: “I’m not like you, Morgan.”
“Not like me in that I’m an excellent communicator, or, not like me as in I’m a spineless dishrag?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Mike, I haven’t been caring for Dad because I have nothing better to do with my life. I have a full-time job, a relationshipÉ” Morgan willed her voice to sound strong. “In case you’ve forgotten, Dad’s got macular degeneration in both eyes now. He also talks to Mom like she’s still aliveÑand let’s not forget, he set my kitchen on fire.”
There was a pause on his end. Morgan hoped she was getting through.
“While we’re talking all things Dad,” he finally said, “would you tell the renters in his house they might want to start looking. I think I have a bite.”
Finally, some good news. “That’s great! We’re going to need that money for Sunset Villa.”
“Oh, I was meaning to talk to you about that. Nancy and I are thinking of putting in a pool.”
Morgan punched the end call button and leaned back into the pillows. Happy thoughts. Happy thoughts. She shut her eyes.
She forced her eyes open. How long had she been sleeping? Five minutes? Fifteen? She scooted up to sitting, blinked a few times. Fernando was standing in the doorway making a point not to look at her. Had she been snoring? “What can I do for you?”
“Sorry to disturb you, but I tried yelling from downstairs.”
“It’s fine.” She cleared her throat. “What do you need?”
“We forgot to talk about the cabinets in the pantry.”
“Oh, right.” She covered a yawn with the back of her hand. “I’ll be right down.”
“Take your time.”
Morgan stared briefly at a pile of clean laundry on the chair waiting to be put away, thought, One of these days, then headed downstairs.
Fernando and she were mid-pantry discussion when Treat walked in the door. “Fernando! How’s my favorite nephew?”
“Tia,” he said, chuckling. “You say that to all of us.”
They hugged like they hadn’t seen each other just last week, Treat, short and stocky, and the slighter but still muscular Fernando.
“Yeah, well. You really are my favorite.” She tussled his curly black hair.
Morgan knew how much Treat loved him. She’d been looking out for him since he was a squirt, giving him a place to hang out when his alcoholic father, her brother, got abusive, helping him to get his contractor’s license, and now she was godmother to little Gustavo.
“I think we’ve picked out some nice cabinets,” Morgan said.
Treat slung her arm over Morgan’s shoulders and kissed the top of her head. “Sorry to be late, bonita, but it’s been a hella bad day.”
Treat’s arm around her felt so good. She rested into it.
“Those punks at the warehouse causing you grief again?” Fernando asked.
“Those cabr—nes, man, treating the lady customers like they don’t know shit.”
“Exactly.” Treat turned to Morgan. “How’d it go with Mac?”
Morgan pinched out a smile. “Hard, but he understands. And you saw the place; it’s nice.” Why did she feel like she had to defend herself? Even the doctor thought an adult live-in facility was a good idea.
Treat’s nod did nothing to ease Morgan’s guilt. She knew Treat’s opinion about putting Mac in a home. Mexicans didn’t do that. They cared for their own. But surely she had to see it was the right thing to do for their relationship? Happy thoughts. Happy thoughtsÉ“Shall we talk cabinets?”
Fernando pulled out his book of cabinets to bring Treat up to speed.
Treat reached for it and there was a sharp PING! Something hit the floor. “Shit, man. I’ve lost so much weight my wedding ring keeps falling off.” She bent over to sweep it up. But just the sight of that smooth gold ring bolting for the door made Morgan want to puke.