Friday, May 21, 2004

For Dazed

Here is, as promised, a story for Dazed, based on the first sentence she provided for me. It's a little longer than I'd planned - 1,000 words, rather than 500 - and a little jagged, but it's done.

-------------------------------

Today, I was buying gas, and an older man (dragging his oxygen tank behind him) pointed a gun at the cashier behind the bulletproof glass and demanded money. As I surreptitiously tried to finish up my transaction at the pump without attracting attention, I wondered, again, about the strange series of events that had gotten me to this place at this particular time.

It was a quiet morning in the library when I met him. He was tall, dark, and cool – just like an iced coffee – and he walked with such an air of confidence that, to a person, everyone in the library stopped to stare as he walked up to my counter. I put down the copy of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” I’d been reading and looked up as he approached.

It was his eyes – cornflower blue – that fired the first salvo in the war for my heart. I caught my breath as he smiled a languorous smile and said, “Can you help me?” He was looking for a book to read on the plane ride out to visit his infirm grandfather, but his plea for help caught at my heart. “What are you looking for,” I managed to squeak out, to which he replied, “How long do you have?”

We talked for an hour – my entire lunch break – and, by the time I had to go back to work, he had a list of book recommendations and I had agreed to fly across the country with him less than 24 hours later.

In the course of our initial conversation, he told me that he was going to fly to Florida to visit his retired grandfather at the Nueva Coco Loco retirement community the very next day. He was concerned because his grandfather (he called him Gramps) had been getting very forgetful of late and hadn’t remembered his own late wife’s name during their last conversation.

He told me the touching story of how his grandparents had met in Sicily as children, how his grandfather came to America first, and worked hard in a meat packing plant in Brooklyn to earn enough money to bring his beloved Estella over from the old country. They were blessed with 50 years of happiness before her untimely death the year before, from which Gramps had never fully recovered. At the end of the story, moved to tears by the tale of Gramps and Estella, I asked him if he’d like company on his trip. His reply was to dial the number for his travel agent.

We landed at the airport, picked up the car, and were soon on our way to Nueva Coco Loco, where we’d already arranged to have Gramps ready to travel so that we could all go out to lunch together. When we pulled up to the front of the main residential tower, I could see croquet games, a group of gardeners, what looked like lawn bowling, and small groups of older people walking – some with the aid of a walker or wheelchair, some under their own power. Before we could even come to a complete stop, Gramps was opening the car door and getting in. “Who’s the dame,” Gramps asked. “She’s a good girl, Gramps. You’ll like her,” was the reply. “OK, then, let’s blow this joint, kids,” he said, and we did.

As the rental car sped along the Florida highway, all was silent in the car except the rhythmic whirring of Gramps’ oxygen tank and the sound of the tires on the pavement. My friend would occasionally break the silence with a question – “This one?” and “How about this one?” Gramps’ only reply was a terse shake of his head in the horizontal direction until we approached a small, slightly run down gas station. “Stop here,” he said.

Relieved to be stopping (I’d unwisely had several cups of coffee on the plane, thinking I’d be able to use the bathroom at the retirement residence), I started to get out of the car when my friend asked if I could fill the tank up while he and Gramps went inside. I agreed, reminding myself that there was no reason I should get to go first, and humming a Cole Porter tune as I began the gassing up process. It wasn’t until the tank was nearly full that I saw, out of the corner of my eye, Gramps – oxygen tank in tow – heading for the counter with a gun. Wave after wave of panic swept over me like an avalanche and my mind tried to reconcile what I was seeing in front of me with some kind of logical thought. The only thing that came through clearly was that I needed to finish up and get as far away from that place as possible. It was at that point that I heard the first sirens and I knew that things would never be the same.

Much later, after hours and hours of questioning at the police station, several calls to my frantic parents, and a brief stint in a holding cell with a large woman named Madge, I was released. I blinked my eyes against the bright Florida sun, amazed to think that an entire night had passed since my adventure at the gas station. Suddenly, from every direction, there were reporters' voices raised with questions for me, microphones pointed at me, and lights shining in my face. Bewildered, I tried to push my way through the horde, but they were having none of it. The urgent questions came fast and furious and I was unable to distinguish what was being said until I heard one woman’s voice ask, “So, how do you feel after all of this?” I thought for a moment and said the only word that came to mind.

“Dazed.”

No comments: