By Lynda Simmons
Sometimes all love needs is a road trip, a rubber chicken and a touch of magic
Vicky Ferguson loves her husband Reid, always has, always will. But with two kids to think about, it’s time for the free-wheeling, sports car loving pilot to put his feet on the ground and lay down some roots. Reid can’t imagine life without Vicky but neither can he see himself pushing a lawn mower or driving a mini-van. They’re on track to a divorce neither one wants until a last request from beloved Uncle Albert puts them on the road together one last time.
“Which brings us to the issue at hand,” the lawyer said and opened a file. “I have here the last will and testament of Albert Ferguson. Handwritten but perfectly legal.” He leaned down and picked up Albert’s old leather suitcase. It was the only thing the old man ever carried – the true master of travelling light. Lyle set the case on the desk, undid the straps and slid back the zipper. Reached inside and came up with a pair of Groucho Marx glasses, complete with bulbous pink nose, bushy eyebrows, and a formidable mustache.
Reid sat forward. “Not the glasses,” he said, a smile already tugging at his lips.
Lyle nodded solemnly and put them on, carefully adjusting the nose over his own before picking up the paper again. The lawyer’s delivery was perfectly straight, if a bit nasal. “I, Albert John Ferguson, being of sound mind and body— ”
Reid glanced over at Vicky. She was staring at the lawyer, eyes wide, lips pinched tightly together, holding back her laughter.
“Do hereby bequeath all my worldly goods to my favorite nephew and niece, Reid Allan Ferguson and Victoria Ann Ferguson, to be used as they see fit. This includes one hand buzzer, one whoopee cushion, one pair of Groucho glasses.” He reached into the suitcase again. “One rubber chicken –”
“I’ll take that.” Vicky’s face turned pink when the lawyer paused and looked at her over the nose of the glasses. “For the kids,” she added, and turned to Reid. “Unless you want it.”
“Not at all.” He pointed to the suitcase. “But I’ve got dibs on the fl y-in-the-ice-cube.”
“One fly-in-the-ice-cube,” Lyle continued, and set it in front of Reid. “One can of worms—”
“Snakes,” Reid cut in. “They’re snakes.”
The lawyer slid the can toward him and Reid popped the lid. Three long colorful snakes sprang from the tin and flew over the desk, squeaking as they bounced against the walls. “They were always his favorite.” Reid smiled at Vicky. “Do you mind if I take them?”
She held up the whoopee cushion. “Not as long as I can have this,” she said, and Reid understood why Albert had loved her, too.
“You can go through the rest on your own later,” Lyle said, taking off the glasses and setting them aside. “But in return for his worldly goods, Albert has a favor to ask.”
Reid raised his head. “A favor?”
“More of a decree really.” Lyle cleared his throat and resumed reading from the will. “In return for my worldly goods, Reid and Vicky must promise to take my remains to Seaport, Oregon. ”
The chicken’s head bobbed as she sat up straighter. “But I thought he’d already been buried.”
“Not quite.” Lyle lifted a plain white shoebox out of the suitcase and set it on the desk in front of them. “He’s been waiting for you.”
Reid stared at the box. “That’s Albert?”
“Ashes to ashes.” The lawyer picked up the box. “I know it’s not much to look at, but it’s practical, sturdy, and holds up to five pounds of loved one, no problem.” He looked from Reid to Vicky. “The point is Albert didn’t want a fancy urn because he wasn’t planning to spend much time in it anyway.”
Reid shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
Lyle smiled. “Your Uncle Albert wants to fly one last time.”
Day of the Dead
(With Interim Director, Josh Smythe)
“What time is it?” Mr. Bailey asks.
He’s the husband of the deceased. First name, Jeff, retired teacher.
“Ten fifteen, sir,” I say and extend my hand. “Josh Smythe, Interim Director. If you need anything at all today, just let me know.”
He nods and looks past me to the rows of people gathered in the Music Room where the Celebration of Life for his wife, Bernice, will be getting underway shortly.
“Your wife was clearly popular here at Willow Tree,” I say and give him a small empathetic smile.
“Sure,” he says and turns, watching someone sign the guest book. There is no casket here, nor ashes nor anything else depressing. Just Dixieland favourites in the air and photographs of Bernice on an easel. High school graduation, wedding day, the birth of her first child. Pictures that bring her life to life, reminding us that she was more than a senior with dementia.
Our company has been organizing Celebrations like this for years. The families are always delighted with the results and find the fee more than reasonable. In light of recent events, however, today’s Celebration is provided free of charge for the Rutledge family, including refreshment table, guest book and three vases bursting with the red roses Bernice loved. Instagram and Facebook have all reacted positively to the shots and Twitter is coming around. At last check, even @Hangemhigh was giving us props for kindness and positivity. Yet Bernice’s husband seems untouched, distracted. In fairness, I suppose I would be too if my wife had been found frozen to death in the snow.
As Interim Director of Willow Tree Long Term Care, my main job right now is damage control. Getting out ahead of yesterday’s fiascos to direct the public discussion and keep a couple of tragic accidents from blossoming into a full blown public relations crisis.
Since the news broke yesterday morning, I’ve been living on Twitter and Facebook, answering accusations and accepting responsibility every time my phone vibrates.
Willow Tree Cares is the message we want to get across, as well as corporate’s official stand: we had no idea that former administrator Gina Baron was so deeply troubled.
Troubled? She’s a bonafide nut job that one. Drawers full of candles, strings of pearls in every pocket and more pictures of her mother than can possibly be healthy. I heard she was in some kind of trance when they found her. On her knees, weeping, begging her mother for forgiveness. Took cold water in the face to snap her out of it.
Naturally, rumours started right away. Drugs, alcohol, sado-masocism you name it she was supposedly into it. But I don’t trade in rumours, just the truth as we would like it to be known. And our truth is that Gina Baron is undergoing psychiatric evaluation.
Maybe she shoved Mrs. Rutledge out the door, and took Mr. Bailey down to the cellar as well. The world may not know the truth for years, but they definitely know that a Celebration of Life will be held for Rick Bailey as soon as we have the body back.
“Mr. Rutledge, would you like anything before we begin?” I ask. “We offer gluten-free, dairy-free and nut free choices, all in bite-size portions and prepared right here in our kitchen.”
“Call me Jeff,” he says. “And stop trying to sell me on this.”
He heads back along the hall to where the local reporters lurk. Letting them in speaks to transparency, and the CEO is conducting a press conference this afternoon anyway. Making it clear that we’re co-operating fully with the on-going investigation and that improvements to security are already underway.
We need to reassure not only the families of our residents that Willow Tree is a safe and happy place, but also the families of those with loved ones on our waiting list. And more importantly, the investors who had the misfortune to be here during yesterday’s events.
Fortunately, I convinced them to come back this morning, to see for themselves the strength and resilience of the Willow Tree brand. I seated both of them not fifteen minutes ago, and am pleased to see them enjoying the refreshment table as they wait. Willow Tree will get through this, is the take away for today.
A line of residents shuffles toward the door. “Come in,” I say. “And enjoy the buffet.”
Over their heads I notice Mr. Rutledge, Jeff, isn’t with the press after all. He’s talking to the wife of the guy who died in the basement. Anna Bailey. Husband, Rick. Cause of death, unknown.
“Good to see you again,” a woman says to me and extends her hand. “I’m Joyce. The Bingo Lady? I’d like to speak to you once more about continuing the bingo games —”
“I’m sorry,” I say. “We knew Gina was running unsanctioned programs for a while, but you’ll understand that everything has to be tighter now. Of course, you’re welcome at the Celebration. I’m sure you knew Bernice well.”
She says nothing, just moves past me and squeezes into a row as the CEO signals that we’re about to begin.
Anna and Jeff are heading back this way. They’re both smiling, and their shoulders are touching as they walk. The romantic in me hopes that something is going on there. The cynic suspects that they’re pleased to be free of their spouses, and both agree we could have charged for the refreshments at least.
I’m composing a tweet about love and eternity when someone races past me. It’s one of the investors, pale and sweating and heading for the bathroom. A woman also pushes past me, heading for the ladies room. The old man behind her isn’t as quick. He throws up in a potted plant.
I turn back to the room. A stampede is heading straight for me.
“What is this?” I shout.
“Food poisoning,” a nurse shouts back.
And my twitter feed explodes all over me.
Lynda Simmons is a writer by day, college instructor by night and a late sleeper on weekends. She grew up in Toronto reading Greek mythology, bringing home stray cats and making up stories about bodies in the basement. From an early age, her family knew she would either end up as a writer or the old lady with a hundred cats. As luck would have it, she married a man with allergies so writing it was.
With two daughters to raise, Lynda and her husband moved into a lovely two storey mortgage in Burlington, a small city on the water just outside Toronto. While the girls are grown and gone, Lynda and her husband are still there. And yes, there is a cat – a beautiful, if spoiled, Birman.
When she’s not writing or teaching, Lynda gives serious thought to using the treadmill in her basement. Fortunately, she’s found that if she waits long enough, something urgent will pop up and save her – like a phone call or an e-mail or a whistling kettle. Or even that cat just looking for a little more attention!
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Lynda-Simmons/e/B001KI3Z4O