An old bag, they called her. Well, they didn’t say it loudly, but Laura Tallmadge had heard them. At seventy-five and a bit stiff legged, she held tight to her cane as she hurried down the street. Mr. Willy Jones would be waiting for her inside. She felt a little frazzled as she went through the door of the Woodbridge Senior Center. Had to stop to catch her breath and pat her hair. Escape was exhilarating even though it wore her out. She put herself in order.
There he was. Prompt as always and still a handsome man. William Eldon Jones became her lover after her husband passed. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. The two of them had talked before then. Looking without talking was more intimate than she knew was polite.
Her children wouldn’t understand such a thing. She couldn’t expect them to. They thought she was too prim and proper to know of such things. Laura snickered and put a hand over her mouth. If she were so ignorant, how did she bring four children into the world? Maybe she’d ask them that question someday. Or, maybe not. She wouldn’t want to embarrass them. She’d noticed how embarrassed her middle-aged children had become.
“Hello, lovely lady.” Willy said it with a kiss on the cheek. Her lemonade was waiting.
She slipped her light hand into his dark one and squeezed. “Hello, Sir.”
He pulled out her chair, and she eased into it. “Cheers.” She smiled and watched him raise his glass.
“How are things today with Martha Ann?” he asked with concern.
“Well, she’s the worst one of the four, always has been.”
“Isn’t Martha Ann your youngest child?” He shook his head as if he couldn’t imagine such a thing.
“She liked to play tricks. Danny was more reasonable but followed Martha Ann’s lead. Peggy wouldn’t open her mouth and would do whatever Martha Ann told her. Bobby might just as well be forgotten since he just liked to read about animals. Now, he’s off saving them in Africa.”
Willy reached over and gave her hand a pat. “He should come home and save his mother. You’re an endangered species.”
She laughed. It was Willy’s way of saying she was special.
For the next two hours, they played bingo and chatted with friends. Everyone at the senior center seemed to know they, she and Willy, were an item. A group of seniors walked across the street to Burger Bob’s.
It was late when she crept home. Well, not really late, but she had missed dinner.
“Mother!” Martha Ann said when Laura came through the door. “Where were you this time?”
“Just out,” she said.
“You simply can’t do this,” Martha Ann said. “You are Mrs. Tallmadge.”
“I can’t see why not.” Laura scampered up the stairs.
Martha Ann followed, more slowly.
“A diet would help,” advised Laura as she entered her bedroom and shut the door.
Martha Ann didn’t answer.
Laura heard her daughter walk down the hallway and bang on her own bedroom door. The door creaked open. She heard footsteps and the low, grumbling voice of Martha Ann’s husband. And, then they grumbled together like brown grizzly bears.
In her bedroom Laura saw that the lock on her door had been tampered with. First, she felt a wave of sadness. Next, a little remorse because there were times they knocked, and she refused to answer. They might have thought she’d died, wouldn’t that be a shame. She settled on tiredness, knowing she would have to get it repaired.
She didn’t know how long she could put up with their control. She wanted to escape.
Laura Tallmadge kept her room the way she liked it. She had to keep it locked. Otherwise, Martha Ann would rearrange, always complaining, and throw things out. Martha Ann would stomp around and say, “All this stuff, all this worthless stuff.”
“It’s my stuff.” She was sick of the same old argument.
Martha Ann would stomp off. “You cling to all that junk that should go in the garbage.” She would grumble to her husband, and they they’d grumble together.
Laura Tallmadge slipped into her cool sheets and thought about Willy Jones. She thought of his strong brown arms and pink toes. She thought of afternoons, when they drew the blinds of his condo and sometimes dozed for hours. Mr. Jones, she thought. I just might give in.
In the morning, the atmosphere was oppressive with Martha Ann cracking eggs for a big scramble. Egg shells littered the sink. The stove was a mess. Martha Ann threw an egg at her son, Josh, over some argument. He caught it and winked at his grandmother.
Winking back, Laura knew to choose cereal.
Josh smothered a laugh, and his grandmother swallowed hers.
There was no time to see Mr. Willy Jones that afternoon.
“Come, Mother,” Martha Ann said. “We’re going out.”
“Out? Where, out?” Laura was caught off guard. She hoped she didn’t have an empty expression that could be taken for senility.
“I know I told you.” Martha Ann frowned. “I’ve made an appointment to see that place.”
“I didn’t think that would come up so soon.” Laura thought of the things she needed to do. Oh well, she thought. Mr. Willy Jones would be glad.
Martha Ann drove her mother to the place, and they were given the grand tour. It was a grand tour of old people sitting. It was a parade of seated people, lined up here and there. She wondered if they ever thought of escaping.
Back in the car, Martha Ann asked, “Well?”
“Well, what?” Laura asked back.
“Did you like the Williamsburg decorating?”
“I guess so. I noticed the fabrics were all vinyl.”
“They were still pretty and brocade-like. So, do you like it, Mother?”
“I’m not quite sure.” Laura became busy calculating how many pieces of luggage she owned. She’d have to borrow a duffle bag from Josh but knew he wouldn’t mind.
Martha put the car into reverse with a jolt. She pulled out of the parking lot with a screech. “What will I ever do with you!”
“I used to wonder about that myself.” Laura didn’t say what she was thinking. Of all her children, Martha Ann had been quite a handful.
That evening at home, there was a lot of talking on the telephone, and Laura had to wait. Finally, the coast was clear, and Josh gave her the signal.
Later, she dialed Mr. Jones’ number from her room. As she knew he would be, he was glad.
He said, “I’m going to rush to across the street to the market and cook up a celebration dinner. How does baked chicken with greens sound?”
“That would be lovely, Willy.”
“My darling.” He said those words with affection.
She felt a warm glow in her heart as she slipped down the stairs.
Later, Martha Ann broke the news. “We’ve all decided, the four of us. Peggy agrees and so does Danny.”
“Peggy doesn’t have an opinion. Danny has always been reasonable. Bobby can’t be reached in the jungle.” Laura took to the stairs to grab another suitcase.
“I knew you would understand.”
“I’m all ready.” She enjoyed that moment, watching her daughter’s expression.
“We’re not going now. The place isn’t ready for us.” Martha Ann’s mouth hung open.
“Dear, please close your mouth. It’s distasteful to peer down your throat.”
“Mother, you can’t go without making arrangements.”
“They won’t be necessary. My friend is picking me up.”
A haughty look appeared on Martha Ann’s face. “You just don’t get it.” She spoke to her mother as if she were speaking to a child. “They’re not going to take you just like that.”
“Pity,” said Laura. “Never mind. I’m not going there anyway.”
“Ugh.” Martha Ann made another peculiar sound, something like a howl.
She smiled. Her escape must be done with confidence and composure. “Send my regrets to the place.”
Outside, Mr. Willy Jones had arrived by taxi.
Laura went through the front door.
“Mother,” Martha Ann wailed. “Where are you going?”
Willy took her by the hand. She raised her head and looked at her daughter firmly in the eye. “We’re going to get married.”
About the Author: Kathleen Rowland lives with her husband Gerry now that Jeffery, Johnny, Ted, Marla, and Janny have flown the coop. Her daughter-in-laws, Mary Angela and Jan, and grandchildren Clare, Mary Grace, D’mitri, and Roxanne are also special visitors. When Kathleen is not writing, she likes to sail with Gerry off Newport Harbor, leaving their dogs, cats, and bunnies at home. Visit Kathleen at her website and her blog.