Tony Dalby finds himself on the wrong end of his 80s, confined to a nursing home, with his days as a dancer a thing of the past. The appearance of Drew into his life brings a welcome distraction, as well as a bit of mystery as to why Drew constantly visits the wheelchair-bound, comatose Jesse. As secrets are revealed, Dalby finds he may have a renewed purpose for living after all.
The old man didn’t expect his vehement refusal to accomplish anything. He knew he would end up doing what they wanted; he always did, just like the rest of the fragile, sickly, old bags of bones who called Sunnyland Acres home. What choice did he have? Those in authority were young and strong; he was eighty-six and since his heart attack his legs no longer held him up. He had no authority or power at all. Verbally contesting their stupid rules and giving the staff derogatory nicknames behind their backs were all he had left. Even so, he looked forward to the daily confrontations; they made what was left of his adrenaline start racing.
He watched their faces, gauging their reaction to his fierce “No!” Which one would reach the gritted-teeth-grin stage first? Would it be Mean Aide? He knew perfectly well the woman’s name was Melba; it said so on her name tag, but he refused to call her that. Or would the aide he nicknamed Big Butt (real name: Cora) beat her to it?
Mean Aide won. She bared her teeth in a death’s-head grimace and said in a voice sweeter than pecan pie, “Now come on, sweetie. You know you got to get dressed.”
“No. I don’t want to. And don’t call me sweetie. I am not your sweetie or anyone else’s. I am Mister Dalby.”
“Well, Mister Dalby, we got rules. You know we got rules. You got to live with them and so do we. And one rule is you get dressed every morning unless you’re bedfast.”
“Only if I get my shoes.”
“Slippers. You know that.”
“I hate those ugly old things. They’re plaid, for Godsake!”
Standing beside Mean Aide, Big Butt didn’t even pretend to smile. She snapped, “Honey, you’re an ugly old thing yourself.”
Tony Dalby stared at her with admiration. “You got balls, sister. Don’t you know I could report you for elder abuse?”
Big Butt snorted. She glanced at her coworker and said, “Do you believe this old goat says he was a dancer? Must’ve been a long time ago.”
“Yeah,” Tony retorted, “And a long time ago you didn’t have a rear end the size of Alaska. Anyway I wasn’t just a dancer. I was an actor, too.”
“In what? Commercials for Depends?”
That was all too true. Stung, his voice rose. “In my last stage role I wore four-inch stiletto heels, not plaid slippers!”
Mean Aide said, “Cora, let’s just get him dressed, slippers and all, and he can stew about it the rest of the day the way he always does.”
He made them sweat to get the ugly cardigan sweater and polyester pants on his thin body and the hated plaid slippers on his feet. Then they put an afghan—more damn plaid!—over his knees and wheeled him out to the sun porch to vegetate until time to wheel him back in. This being Sunday, at noon he would be lined up with the other wheelchair-bound residents for the weekly torture called Hymn Time, during which a skinny woman of great volume and little talent loudly banged out gospel songs on the out-of-tune piano, accompanying herself while she bellowed songs about Jesus, always dragging out the name “Jeeeeesuuusss.” He supposed her heart was in the right place but he wished she’d take it somewhere else.
But at least until Hymn Time, he would be left alone. He sat and watched the people come and go in the parking lot. For a concrete parking lot, it was rather pretty, with shade trees on the perimeter and large ornamental urns that frothed with summer color and spilled over with trailing vines.