This story is by Steven Stilwell and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The window was big enough that Margo could see the entire maple tree and courtyard from her rocking chair. The scene was framed by the eggshell white walls of her apartment and always reminded her that she was imprisoned.
She sighed and put her face in her hands. Her head was hurting again, like it had for the last week. Teetering, Margo rose from the rocking chair and grabbed her walker. Apart from the chair, Margo’s bed was the only other piece of furniture that occupied the room.
She hobbled into the bathroom, took a bottle of aspirin from the medicine cabinet and popped two of the bitter pills into her mouth.
There was a knock on the door and an aide stuck his head in. “Margo, your grandson is here to see you.” The door opened all of the way and Nick walked into the apartment.
“Hey Grandma, how’re you doing?”
“Horrible, it’s just horrible here.” Margo waited for the door to shut before going on, “They leave me locked up like I am some sort of criminal.”
“Oh, it can’t be that bad. They have groups, and activities, and the staff seems really nice. You could have a nice life here if you let yourself.”
“It’s all an act. As soon as you leave they’ll drop it, just you see. It’s all an act.”
Nick shook his head and looked around the room. “Do you want me to bring you anything from the house? Any pictures? Books?”
“What would I need any of those for?”
“I just thought you might like something to do, that’s all.”
“Oh, well that’s sweet of you but I’m plenty busy waiting for Chip.” Nick cocked his eyebrows at this and Margo went on, “Those damn aides have your grandpa locked up right across the courtyard, just like they have me locked in here.”
The puzzled look fell from Nick’s face and instead of looking at Margo he shifted his eyes to the floor. “Oh, well Grandma I can’t stay for long, I just stopped by to see how you were doing.” Nick walked over and kissed Margo’s forehead. “Please promise me you’ll try and do something. At least leave the room and go out and talk to someone.”
Margo nodded and said, “I’ll try love, I’ll try.”
As soon as the door closed Margo went over and sat down in her rocking chair. Outside in the courtyard the sun was shining and from the branches of the maple tree you could hear birds chirping. Nick might be right after all, thought Margo, it’s time for me to leave this room.
The maple leaves on the courtyard paving stones made the walk slick, too slick for Margo to safely navigate without her walker. The walker wouldn’t fit through her bedroom window, so Margo made due with a cane instead.
The cane slide on some leaves and Margo had to slow down to correct herself. It was still the cusp of October and most of the leaves were still on the giant maple tree that dominated the center of the courtyard. The few that littered the ground were wet and still seemed alive, making a carpet of orange and gold with tufts of emerald grass poking through.
Margo straightened herself, took a deep breath and plowed ahead, shaking but determined to cross the sea of slick pavers.
Chip’s room was right there on the other side. Margo could see his window behind the rows of rhododendron bushes and chrysanthemums that ringed the outside of the courtyard.
The door to Chip’s wing was unlocked. The moment Margo entered the dining room she knew something was off. The room was packed full of people, including Chip, who was sitting by himself at the far end of the room.
He jumped in his seat and looked around.
Margo waved her hands in front of her. “Chip over here.”
He cocked his head with an odd look on his face. Margo stormed over to his table and sat down. “Chip, why haven’t you come and seen me? They don’t lock you up in here like they do me.”
Chip’s eyes were wide and were darting between Margo and the aide’s station on the other side of the hall.
Margo’s eyes narrowed. “Chip aren’t you happy to see me? I walked all this way over here. I had to jump through the window and everything. Those damn aides wouldn’t let me out through the door. It’s like I’m in prison or something.”
Chip was staring at his food tray.
“It’s a good thing I ate before I busted out, or else they’d catch me in the lunch line. You know I saw them tackle someone the other day? No reason at all, and they were older than me. Yup, they just piled on them and started jabbing them with needles. I never saw them again after that. You’d think-”
Margo stopped talking when she noticed an aide in a white smock walking towards them. He smiled as he said, “Oh Margo, it looks like you’ve gotten confused and wandered out of your ward. How about Melinda and I help you get back to your room?”
Another aide had walked up behind Chip. She was smiling too. The off white of their teeth clashed with their bleached uniforms and made Margo’s head hurt.
“No, I’m staying. I don’t want to go back.”
“Come on Margo, don’t be like that. You know that you’re not supposed to be over on this side. Let’s get you back.”
“Why are you doing this to me? I just want to be here with Chip! Why are you trying to separate us?” Margo picked up Chip’s glass and aimed it at the smiling aide. The male aide grabbed her wrist before she could get any force behind the throw, and the glass thumped onto the table, impotent.
Margo used her free hand to grab the butter knife sitting by Chip’s plate. The aide jumped back in surprise. The blow hadn’t even penetrated the skin but that didn’t stop Margo. She jumped from her chair, and kept swinging.
Her head was pounding now but she ignored it and lunged after the male aide. The women was behind her, standing between her and Chip.
Neither of the aides moved for her. They just stood tense, waiting for her to tire herself out.
Margo was breathing hard now, her face was red, and her breath came in short puffs. The pain in her head was coming in sharp bursts.
It reached a crescendo and something inside of her popped. She lost control of her muscles and dropped the butter knife. Her vision was turning black and the last thing she saw before she hit the floor was Chip and the aides running towards her.
Al got out of the black town car and limped across the courtyard, his cane making the dead leaves crackle like discarded candy paper. The creep of November had turned the air brisk and dry, but not yet cold. It would be winter soon, he could feel it in the air.
The giant maple tree sat naked in the center of the courtyard. It’s once brilliant plumage sat dead and brown, heaped against the dull rhododendrons.
It had been a pleasant funeral, all things considered. Packed to the rafters, Al had been surprised to get an invitation. He’d been so surprised that he had almost decided not to go. In the end he had come around, out of sympathy. After all the woman had thought that he was her dead husband.
He’d had a chance to talk with her grandson at the funeral. She’d been widowed at forty, something about a car accident, and had never remarried.
Al understood. His own wife had been gone almost ten years, and that had been long enough. He sighed and continued his walk. His back was towards the memory ward as he caned his way to his own wing. Her wait was over, whatever that was worth, he only hoped his own didn’t last too much longer.
Al felt a snowflake and looked up. Thunderclouds were gathering in the sky turning it steel gray. The temperature had dropped considerably, and he was starting to shiver. Yes, it will definitely be winter soon, Al thought to himself. He forced himself to quicken the pace back to his room by the maple tree.