Dry pots of flowers, sun-scorched are waiting to die, just like us. Not me. My gnarled, arthritic fingers curl into angry fists. Mentally I am sharp, a crossword puzzle ace, scorning the TV blaring in the corner, zombifying the residents but I can feel my mind slipping too, twisting and turning on the edge of a precipice while I desperately cling to it. Escape is the only option. Physically my legs are someone else’s, betraying me, making me stagger like a drunk. My son dumped me here, discarded like a once-loved toy; it’s Colditz without the tunnels, but I have found my way out. I am the leader of the group, ex-army; there are five of us, determined to leave. Who wants to live like this? It’s the army but with no hope of discharge, up by eight, breakfast, morning coffee, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, bed at nine-thirty, every day, each day the same as the last, numbing your mind. What day is it? Doesn’t matter. Sure, it’s punctuated by occasional singers, a magician once, visiting dogs and days out but you can’t just go out for a coffee or a meal without filling in endless forms. No spontaneity. I miss my neat bungalow, the garden of regimented flowers, my friends at the bowling club, satisfying clack of bowl hitting bowl. I miss my life.
“Just think of all the new friends you’ll make,” my son said, patronisingly. For an instant I was the child, listening as decisions were made for me. A laugh bubbled up at his bald head, scant hairs snaking across it while my steel grey hair was bushy thick as always. I had friends but they don’t visit me, afraid perhaps of being netted by the home, a convenient excuse for their families to install them here.
We’d escape just before dinner. I had already stolen a door key. One resident, Al, had pleaded a headache, a distraction technique, while I had snatched the key from the desk, its cool metal heating up in the warmth of my hand.
With a nod from me, we rose in two-minute intervals leaving behind the comfort of the winged chairs. The staff bustled organising dinner, plates clattered and thumped on the tables. We rendezvoused in the hall, whispered exchanges of information and reassurance, small rucksacks crammed with food and clothes, bulging, straps straining. We were ready; freedom lay just beyond the white plastic door, entrance to the world we once knew. The frosted glass tantalised us offering a misty view of people walking past, life which we ached to re-join.
Edith sniffed the air. A rich smell of beef and gravy curled seductively under our noses. It morphed into a beckoning finger, which I tried to ignore. Turning the key in the lock, I glanced back at my fellow escapees. They had all toddled off to the dining room. Perhaps tomorrow…
Val is retired and enjoys writing short stories, some of which have been published. She is a member of Globe Soup and regularly enters competitions.
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