Imprint writing contest - 2nd place
Plum - by Harris Alterman
The Jolly Creek Retirement Home isn’t very jolly. I think they named it that so people aren’t scared to visit. It’s not working very well. Living here wasn’t my first choice; in fact it wasn’t a choice at all. My kids Michael and Jess said it was best that I move here after my wife Lily died. I told them it was nonsense. And here I am. They were worried that being alone in that big house would make me lonely. But moving here hasn’t exactly helped their fears. As soon as I make a friend they either move to another home or buy the farm. And if Michael and Jess were concerned about me being lonely, then they would probably visit more often. Those dopes. And I have a new nurse every week. Every time it’s,
“Good Morning Mr.Plum!”
“Oh please, you can just call me Duncan.”
“Ok, do you want the TV on or off?”
“Ok, I’ll be right back with your lunch Mr.Plum.”
They’re nice girls but to them I’m just another “old person.” I get it.
I need some fresh air, or at least some different air. Lily and I travelled to 45 different countries and we have smelled everything. We smelt the morning mist in Ireland and those dirty deli carts in Dubai. The clearest smell I’ll ever remember is when that waiter in India spilled curry all over Lily’s favourite green dress. We both just laughed about it and she smelled like lamb for the next week. Jolly on the other hand has smelled like the moldy contents of a forgotten Tupperware container since the day it opened its doors. They’re probably feeding us those moldy contents too.
I miss war. Most people don’t say that but at least during war you get to run around. The activities they give us here usually involve cards or watching a movie while most of us fall asleep and drool. I don’t drool yet, but I do sleep. I wish they’d take us for a hike. See some trees. I know it’s impractical and most of us would just sit at the trailhead, but it beats a game of Go Fish.
When they aren’t making us do “activities,” I sit in my white and barren room. You can’t even tell what colours the walls are though because the lighting is so dim. Thank god I can look through this big window at the park across the street. There’s a great big soccer field and just beyond that is a playground. I have it memorized. Two sets of swings between two tall pine trees. There’s one main structure with monkey bars, a swinging bridge, and that green slide. I took Lily to a park on one of our first dates because at the time I didn’t have any money. Turns out that going down slides works just as well as taking a girl to dinner.
I can see a bunch of children over there now. One of the little girls has a green summer dress on but I’m too far away to see if it has any curry stains on it. They’re all screaming about something but I can tell it’s a happy screaming. Probably a game of tag. They’re all leaving now, but they were only there for ten minutes. How can you leave after only ten minutes?
“What are you kids doing? Play more tag!”
They can’t even hear me but it was worth a try.
“Mr.Plum it’s time for dinner.”
“Oh, can I just sit here for 10 more minutes?”
“Sorry Mr.Plum but everyone eats at the same time.”
“How about 5?”
“Oh alright…what’s for dinner?”
“Tonight we have rice and vegetables or cottage cheese.”
The remains of moldy Tupperware. Ok that’s it; I’m breaking out of here.
“I’ll be right there. Let me just grab my walker.”
This doesn’t qualify as a meal. And this isn’t a way to live even if I am 92. For now I’ll sit here and play their game, but tonight I’m done. I’m going to that park and I’m going down that green slide. Here comes dessert and I bet I’ll never guess what it is. Applesauce. What a surprise. Everyone else seems not to care and they slurp it down like obedient drones. Especially Earl. That guy probably hates applesauce too but still he eats twice as much as anyone else.
Bed time around here is 8 o’clock but tonight I’ve tucked myself in by 7:45 just to make the nurses think I’m a happy camper. I’ve put extra blankets over myself so the nurses can’t tell I’m wearing my sweater, corduroy pants, and slippers. Here comes the nurse. I better put on my tired face.
“Aww, you’ve got yourself into bed and it’s only 7:45, you must be exhausted.”
“Oh yes, I’m just pooped, I’ll probably sleep for a few days.”
“Goodnight Mr.Plum,” she says as she switches off the lights.
“Just call me Dunca...”
I can hear her footsteps as she walks down the hall away from my room. Well you old crumb, this is it. First things first, have to get out that window. I haven’t had this much adrenaline since…since...Oh lord. This window is much harder to open than I thought. Come on Duncan, what are you an old man? Oh wait, it’s locked you doofus. Better toss my walker out first. The rule is usually feet first but sometimes you have to make exceptions. Ok now the legs. There’s one and here’s the other. Oh goodness, I’ve cut my leg on the edge of the window. I can see a bit of blood trickling into my slippers. Now we’re talking.
It’s much harder to see the playground when it’s dark out, but I know where to go. Even with a blindfold I could still do it. That’s not a bad idea. Maybe I’ll do that next time.
I would always hear stories of old people wandering into traffic so I better look both ways. Then again, this road only leads into the Jolly parking lot, so people only drive on it when they come to visit. It’s 8 o’clock and the road is empty. It could be 1 o’clock and it would still be.
Are those headlights? Oh Cracker Jacks. Who would possibly be driving into this parking lot? I would hide but the nearest bush is too far to dive behind. And while diving into bushes does sound exciting, the dive itself might kill me. Oh lord they see me and they’re slowing down.
“Excuse me sir, do you need any help?”
“No I’m fine thank you, just enjoying the night air.”
“Are you sure? I think your leg is bleeding.”
“Oh don’t worry son I think it’s just some…..Ketchup from the dining room.”
“Oh really? Ok have a good night.”
Can’t believe he bought that one. And they say young people are supposed to be smarter than us? Looks like “Old Man Duncan” still got a brain.
Now begins the really fun part. The concrete is behind me and the grassy soccer field lies ahead. Boy it smells fresh out here. No more need for these old slippers I suppose. Bet you’ve never seen a soccer player with a walker before. Well someone has to be the first one and I don’t see old Applesauce Earl doing it anytime soon.
I can see the outline of the green slide peeking through the two pine trees. I would stop to swing on these swings but there are more important things to be done. Plus it’s hard to pump your legs when your legs feel like cottage cheese. I’ve reached the edge of the playground and I have to say it’s much bigger up close. This is where I say goodbye to my walker. The ropes on the swinging bride should keep me up but who knows, I may topple over. That’s part of it.
As I look back through the two pine trees and across the green field, I can see the light in my room has been turned on. They found out faster than I thought. Oh boy better get a move on. My knees feel like they might give out at any second. Come on you Nancy, just a few more steps ‘til the slide. I can see the white light of their flashlights coming towards me.
“Mr. Plum? Are you out there? Mr. Plum? Is that him? Mr. Plum?”
This time I won’t yell out to correct them. They’ve probably already phoned Michael and Jess and I’m sure they’ll pay a visit now.
I sit down and prepare to push off. The feeling of the cold green plastic is seeping through my pants. Sure beats a warm bed any day. I know they’re going to find me in a few minutes and put me back in that room of mine. They’ll probably lock my windows from the outside from now on and probably have someone monitoring me more frequently to make sure I don’t escape. I only get one chance to do this.
I think Lily would find this whole situation pretty funny. Maybe even funnier than the smell of that lamb. Oh no, I’ve giggled and given myself away.
“There he is! That’s Mr.Plum!”
“It’s just Duncan,” I say.
Here I go.