This week we’re happy to share an excerpt from Writer’s Corner columnist Darien Gee’s holiday novella, An Avalon Christmas. The novella is a collection of 12 interconnected short stories that continue in the spirit of her most recent novels, Friendship Bread and The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society. From Dec. 19-23, the eBook download is available at Amazon for free. For more information visit www.dariengee.com.
Melvin O’Malley is reading the paper when Mary McLean, one of the certified nurse aides, knocks on the open door of his room. In front of her is an empty wheelchair.
“I hope that’s not for me,” Melvin says dryly, not looking up. He removes the Arts and Entertainment section and folds it lengthwise, careful to crease the paper evenly down the middle. It’s an old habit from his commuting days, where he’d ride the train for an hour, cramped for space. Everyone did that back then, fold the paper into quadrants and read it section by section. He takes a sip of his coffee and pretends to keep reading.
“Not yet,” Mary says, smiling sweetly. “But if you don’t get up and get some exercise, I may be pushing you around like Mr. Peterson.”
Clark Peterson lives in the room adjacent to Melvin. He spends his days in bed watching television except when Mary can cajole him into taking a spin around the grounds in the wheelchair. Melvin doesn’t know why she insists on taking Old Peterson out (he’s actually two years younger than Melvin, a fact Melvin finds disturbing)—it’s not like he’s training to run the marathon. He’s waiting for the inevitable, like all of them.
“I already did my walk this morning,” Melvin informs her with a snap of his paper. “Half a mile.”
“Then it won’t kill you to take a walk to the common room …” Mary continues. Her eyes light up in excitement. “Because it’s time for the holiday exchange!”
“No, thank you.”
“Every participating resident is guaranteed a present,” she says. “Aren’t you the least bit curious?”
“Last year Eunice Weeks got a handheld sewing machine worth $80.”
“And she sewed Ron Taylor into his bed while he was asleep.” Ron almost fell out of bed the next morning as he struggled with his sheets. Ron’s daughter had been furious when she found out, threatening to sue Harmony Homes.
Mary’s smile doesn’t waver. “That was just a lover’s spat,” she says dismissively. “But what about Mrs. Shadle? A one-year membership to the fruit of the month club!”
“I hate fruit.”
“I’m just saying that there are some nice big ticket items under the tree. The rest are all small things, but very nice, I’m told. Come on, Melvin. It’ll be fun, I promise!” She’s begging him. No wonder Clark Peterson lets her push him around in the wheelchair. It’s easier just to give in than to argue.
The truth is, Melvin likes Mary. She’s a spry little thing with a blond pixie haircut and clear sparkly nail polish. She joined the staff at Harmony Homes a year ago and she’s a breath of fresh air compared to the dour-looking folks who run this place. She’s too young to know any better, still in her twenties, all full of optimism and cheer. He’d be annoyed if she weren’t so damn nice.
He stares into Mary’s hopeful face and for a second actually considers going. But Melvin hates any sort of group activity, even eating in the dining room. It’s bad enough that he’s here, surrounded by geriatrics who can’t take care of themselves or who forget their own name. The only thing they have in common is that they’ve all been abandoned by their kids. Kids with their own lives, too busy to care for their aging parents.
“Don’t let me get in the way,” he’d said sarcastically when his own daughter, Barbara, showed him the brochures. He glanced at the glossy pictures of smiling seniors, their hair washed and perfectly coiffed, their clothes clean and pressed. The reality? With the exception of himself and a handful of others, nobody else seems to own so much as a comb. A few people wear their clothes inside out, and many just stay in their robes all day. Nobody plays bocci ball or swings a golf club on the executive putting course out back. Nobody takes salsa classes or learns to cook Thai food.
“Dad, you can’t live by yourself anymore,” Barbara had tried to explain. This was happening because he’d almost hit someone with his car. It was an accident. And leaving the stove on. Another accident. But throwing a brick through his neighbor’s window after her designer-bred poodle, something called a Labradoodle, left a trail of soft dog poop by his Japanese maple … well, he told the police it was an accident, but he and the Labradoodle know better.