This story is by Tom Chambless and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Today’s the day. It’s our anniversary, and I’m getting her a perfect gift.” Worried he’d wake everybody, especially June, Bill crept down the hall. The car keys hung in the same place as always, and Bill tiptoed to their nurse’s room then peeked inside. She kept the keys in there so he couldn’t get them. “In two days, I’ll be eighty-four, and the nurse thinks I’m old and feeble-minded,” he said at the door.
Keys in hand, Bill padded out the front door in his loafers, slacks, and a white shirt, then pushed the button on the fob. The car’s lights flashed once, and he liked making them blink. He got in and fastened his seat belt, backed out, and drove downtown.
He smiled in the rearview mirror showing his teeth, proud he never had dentures. “Eighty-four, and I still have my own teeth. Now, where’s the store June likes?”
Bill drove slow in the right lane down a four-lane street lined with trees and a landscaped median. He turned off the shady road and into a built-up business area, and every car coming up behind him had to pass. Bill leaned over the steering wheel and read street signs. “She loves Cincinnati. It has her favorite things.”
June did love Cincinnati and had told him so many times, but Bill and June didn’t live there. He drove along Sixth Avenue in Tacoma, Washington.
He hunched over the steering wheel, looking right, and left. He recognized a sign ahead. “Baskin Robbins,” he said aloud, then signaled and turned right. He parked and went to the door and found it locked, but the employee met him and turned the key.
“It’s your lucky day, sir. We’re opening now!” Bill smiled, nodded, and went inside while the young man held the door for him. He gave the young man the credit card on the end of the key fob chain.
Bill took his strawberry ice cream in a cup and sat behind the steering wheel eating it. When he finished, he disposed of his trash, then fastened his seat belt and cranked the car. Bill narrowed his eyes, looking around, and scratched his bald head. “What did I come here for?”
Bill drove and looked at stores until he remembered the anniversary gift for June. He laughed. A store ahead looked promising and turned into the parking lot. It had women’s lingerie on mannequins in the windows and other shiny items on display. Bill parked in front of the store window and gawked at the beautiful things.
One of the woman mannequins wore slick leather underwear and carried a whip. He wondered about that.
The door’s sign read, “open,” so Bill got out, tottered up to the door, and pulled the handle with difficulty. A young lady with dark hair, the tips dyed pink, and a nose ring, rushed over and helped him with the door.
He stooped as he walked and said, “Thank you, thank you,” with a broad smile and let her hold the door. The overhead lights reflected off his slick bald head. She smiled wide but more with her eyes, crinkling the dark eyeliner and glitter at the corner.
She let the door go and asked Bill, “What can we help you with today?” still smiling.
“Could you help with an anniversary present for my wife, June?”
“Were you looking for a special personal gift for her?” Pink-hair asked.
Bill nodded and smiled. “You know what I came for!”
“Follow me.” She led Bill to an aisle with small, rectangular boxes on shelves. She lifted one holding a long, tubular item. She handed it to him, and he stared at the pale thing in his hand.
She leaned close, and he got a whiff of her sweet perfume. She flirted with him, and now he didn’t care about her hair or her nose ring. Pink-hair smiled close up to his face, “Give this to her, and she’ll love you for it. We’ll even throw in the batteries at no charge.”
“She’ll love me?”
“June has a gorgeous smile, you know,” he said, smiling and nodding. She turned and crooked her finger, and he followed her to the checkout. Bill paid with the credit card, and Pink-hair helped him out the door.
He put the sack on the passenger seat and drove onto the avenue toward his home in Cincinnati, at least he thought so. Bill made two right turns and two lefts, and a truck squeezed him down an exit ramp. He wound up on the freeway in Tacoma, driving south in the right lane at a snail pace. Cars whooshed by him honking, and Bill jerked his head around, shaking, and gripping the wheel.
He signaled and pulled over to the breakdown lane and stopped, hung his head, and let out a long breath. In minutes, the Washington State Patrol spotted him and stopped behind him. After a brief wait, the police officer knocked on the passenger window.
Bill worked the button and lowered the window. “Sir! Are you in distress?” the officer asked.
“Can you help me get off this road?” Bill asked. His eyes had gone big as saucers.
“Your assisted living home reported this car stolen this morning,” the officer said. “Unbuckle your seatbelt and slide over to the passenger seat to get out.” Traffic zoomed by them with huge tractor-trailer trucks rocking the car.
Later in the afternoon, Bill walked into his home’s foyer carrying the sack with the item he bought. A tow truck had brought the car back, and it didn’t sit well with the staff. The nurse whose keys he took marched up to him from the side hall and asked, “How did you get into the room to get my keys?”
Bill looked puzzled for a moment. “Wait!” he said, excited. “Now, I remember! The duty nurse… your door locks when it shuts. So, I put tape on the latch before I went to bed, lengthwise, so you wouldn’t see it,” Bill said, proud of his cleverness.
“Your trick worked once,” the nurse said, shaking her head. “But you’ll not get away with this again.”
Bill frowned and looked across the lobby into the rec room. His friends smiled and waved. One man yelled, “Busted!” They laughed.
June came out of the rec room, pushing her walker. She waved and smiled, and Bill went to meet her. “June!” he said. “Here’s your anniversary gift!”
“What anniversary?” she asked.
“Our wedding,” Bill said, looking down at the sack, sulking. He handed it to her. “It’s to show I still love you, June.”
She took the sack, peeked inside, mumbled, “My name’s Anne,” and opened the rectangle box. A huge smile spread on her toothless mouth. Anne snatched the vibrator, raised it above her head, shook it, making the tip wiggle, and turned to the rec room. “It runs on batteries!” she yelled.
The charge nurse slapped both hands over her face and turned her back.
Her friends cheered, “You go, Anne!”
She turned to Bill, “Thank you, Albert,” she said smiling.