This story is by L.E. Gibler and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Her family had abandoned her. That was all Leslie could remember on rainy days when she sat alone and considered what was left of her isolated existence. However, rainy days were few and far between as summer stretched on in the panhandle of Florida. On days with sunshine, she was prone to ramble about the confines of her little condo. Occasionally she would see another retiree, but by the next day it would all be forgotten.
It happened that one sunny day, an aspiring businessman – some in those parts might still call him a carpetbagger – came to Leslie’s retirement home. His morals had abandoned him the first night of an empty stomach, and though he was well educated, it was his charm that made his life one of dubious ease. Unfortunately, the more his hairline receded, the fewer opportunities his greasy charm offered him and the more his questionable credentials came into play.
Jack had come to the retirement home in search of the most isolated person he could find, and that person was Leslie. She was sitting out on the lawn, under a bright pink umbrella, eyes closed against the summer sun. He came to share the meager shade, already adjusting his tie as sweat began to pool, but not drip, along his collar.
“Hello,” she said happily, blinking up at him. It always made her day to have a visitor. “Can I help you?”
“Why indeed you can, ma’am. My name is Jack Berry.” He saw no light of recognition cross her face, and continued on. “I’m not sure if you remember me, but my mother sent me here to see how you were doing.”
“Oh, how wonderful,” replied Leslie, not even pausing to consider who his mother might be. “Would you like some tea, darlin’?” She rose from her seat, joints mildly protesting, and she waited for him to follow her towards her condo. As he took a seat on her couch, he noticed a large photo album on the coffee table, and the rusted cogs began to churn.
She came from the kitchen and handed him an ice cold glass of tea before sitting down beside him. “So what can I do for you, young man?”
“I’m just here to see how you are,” he replied with a kindness and charm that had swayed many before.
“Are you sure?” she asked, doubt finally starting to darken a corner of her mind. “My family never visits, they’ve forgotten about me.”
He saw his opportunity and took it. In one smooth motion he slid across the couch and took her weathered hands in his. “No we haven’t, Nana, I’m sure you just don’t remember.”
“I suppose,” replied Leslie, gently shaking her head to try and clear her confusion. “What did you say your name was again?”
“I’m Jack, Nana, your grandson.”
Leslie conceded defeat when it came to her inconsistent memories. Just because she couldn’t remember she had a grandson named Jack didn’t mean she didn’t have one. Instead, she let the happiness of having a visitor replace her doubts.
“How have you been Jack?”
“Oh, I’ve been doing really well, Nana.” He then proceeded to weave an elaborate tale of his supposed ventures for his rapt audience that he ended just as his tea ran out. He rose without even considering a refill. “It has been a pleasure, Nana, I’ll come again tomorrow.”
Leslie waved to him until he was out of sight before going back to her spot of warmth. When the sun began to set, Susan, her main caretaker, came to see how her patient was doing. Taking a seat beside her, she was surprised to find Leslie still awake, still smiling.
“How are you feeling today? You look like a cat in cream.”
“I had a visitor,” replied Leslie joyfully.
“Who might that be? Not another one of your beaus,” teased Susan.
Momentarily confused, Leslie shook her head. “No, no, it was my grandson.”
“Is that so? We’ll I’m pleased to hear that. If you need anything darlin’, you let me know. I’m off to check on your neighbors.” She smiled to see the old woman so happy, and didn’t give it a second thought.
The next day, Jack paid another visit. Again, he reiterated that he was her grandson, and he took up the thread of the narrative he had begun the day before, telling tales even more elaborate than before. He continued to come throughout the week, gathering more and more information on “Nana”, until finally bringing with him some paperwork. He set it out on the coffee table while Leslie made her customary sweet tea.
“What is that?” she asked as she sat down, closer than before. She peered eagerly over, hoping for pictures he had long promised of the rest of her family and where they were now.
“Just some papers I need you to sign. You see, Mother needs your signatures on some documents so she can pay for Joni’s college.”
“Who is Joni?” A cloud passed across her face, even as larger ones began to cluster along the horizon.
“My sister, Nana, don’t you remember?”
The sky outside began to darken as a storm rolled in off the ocean. The rumble of distant thunder rattled Leslie. She startled, staring at Jack and seeing him as the stranger he was. Fear made her jumpy, and she started to scoot away from him across the couch.
“No, my family left me.” She bumped into the arm rest; looking down at it, her hand resting on familiar checkered fabric. “They left a long time ago.”
“We didn’t leave you,” he said, making no move to bridge the distance. “I’m right here.”
“No, no,” she muttered, getting to her feet, but still not sure of where to go. “I don’t know you.”
His immediate reaction was to follow her, but he stopped himself from getting too close. This wasn’t his first rodeo, after all. He had picked up the papers at her first sign of retreat, and with forced patience he set them back down on the glass tabletop.
“I’m going to leave the papers here, Nana. If you remember, please sign them. It’ll mean so much to me and Joni, and Mother. And don’t worry, I’ll be back to visit you soon.” Despite his best intentions, the words came out with an undercurrent of malice. “I promise,” he added, trying to soften his tone before finally showing himself out.
Leslie didn’t watch him leave. Instead, she floated like a ghost back towards the couch, taking a seat by the window, her mind in turmoil. When Susan came by to check on her charge later, the first drops of rain were just beginning to fall. She shook her short gray hairs dry like a poodle as she showed herself in.
“And how are we today, Leslie?”
Leslie quickly stashed the papers Jack had left behind under the photo album, muttering as much to her guest as herself about the rain.
“Not in so good a mood, huh?” Susan sat down beside her, taking her hand and checking her vitals as efficiently as ever. “Did your visitor come today?”
“Yes, he came, but I don’t know him.”
“I thought you said he was your grandson.”
“He couldn’t be, my family has left me.”
“Well, don’t you worry,” said Susan, letting go of Leslie with a swift pat of her hand before standing. “I’ll be here for you today, tomorrow, and all the days after.”
“Will you?” asked Leslie, something like hope trying to shine through.
Susan’s heart gave a quick beat of sympathy, and despite her usual business-like methods, she spared the old woman a kiss on top of her silver head. “Don’t you worry, now get some rest, that storm looks like a doozy.”
Soon after Susan left, the storm erupted across the complex. Sheets of rain poured down, blanketing the lawns in rivers of water. Gusts of wind blasted against the windows, and bright bolts of lighting split the sky, followed by the deep rumble of thunder. Through it all, Leslie sat alone on her couch. Slowly, even as the lights began to flicker, she pulled the photo album and the documents Jack had left towards her. The power went out, but as each lightning bolt crackled, she gazed anew at past birthdays, weddings, and holidays now lost to her. Tears began to steal gently down her weathered face.
“My family has abandoned me. They have forgotten me, just as I have forgotten them.” She held her pictures close to her chest one last time before putting them back on the table. Gathering the papers, she threw them in the trash. As long as the storm raged on, she knew who she was, and she knew the isolation was all that was left for her. When the rains finally moved on, she walked out into the humid night. There would be no visitors for her tomorrow.