Copyright is held by the author.
“MEN HAVE such a hard time adjusting here, don’t they?” Dolly says, watching Thomas enter the dining room at Tranquility Place. It’s breakfast time and he inspects and pokes and turns up his nose at all the offerings at the buffet. All four women, sitting at the table by the door, turn and stare at him.
“I’ve met him,” Gwen says, and once she has their attention she adds, “That’s his real hair.”
They study him more closely then. “And no false teeth either,” she says.”
“My, you certainly know a lot about him.” Dolly sounds a bit jealous, which pleases Gwen.
“He’s a talker,” Gwen says, “I simply asked how he was doing and I got his whole life story. He’s quite hard of hearing though,” she informs them as he approaches their table.
“May I join you ladies?” Thomas asks. He holds a tray with only a cup of coffee on it.
“Oh yes,” yells Gwen, “please do.”
“So what’s to do around here?” he says, seating himself, looking bored as a teenager.
“Oh, there are activities going on every day,” Joan tells him, shouting so he can hear her.
“No, I’m not interested in that sort of stuff.”
“But I haven’t told you what sort of activities…”
“Any group stuff is not for me,” Thomas says, stopping her short.
“Do you like to take walks, Thomas?” Nancy asks. She has a quiet voice. Thomas sips his coffee, unaware that she has spoken. “Do you like walking?” she tries in her loudest voice.
“Talking?” he says and laughs, “my kids say I like talking too much.”
“What about walking?” Dolly says, walking her fingers across the table and winking at Nancy.
“Walking, yes, I love walking.”
“Well there are lovely trails all around the property, all leading down to the river and back.”
In the afternoon, the ladies who gather for cards spot Dolly and Thomas setting off through the garden, heading down to the river. Eye brows are raised, though no one says a word.
“Everyone loves Dolly. She’s the life of the party. here. She wears the nicest clothes, her makeup is always just so, and she gets her hair done every week. And she has a car,” Nancy is telling Thomas, “she takes us to all of our –“
“She has a car?” Thomas says, his ears keen, without a hint of impairment.
Yes, everyone loves Dolly, but once it becomes apparent that she’s the favored one with Thomas, things begin to change in her circle of friends.
”Joan,” Dolly says one morning, “did you want me to drive you to your doctor’s appointment?”
“No, no, my daughter is picking me up,” says Joan.
And, on another morning – “Oh, Gwen, didn’t you need me to take you to the pharmacy?”
“My niece is coming by this afternoon, she’ll take me,” Gwen says.
And when Dolly calls enticingly – “Nancy, Marsden’s is having a sale.”
“Oh, I can’t, not this month, dear,” Nancy says sadly, for she doesn’t like snubbing Dolly as the others have told her to do.
“Well,” Dolly says, joining Thomas for lunch, one afternoon, “something’s up with the other girls. I’ve upset them in some way, I can’t figure it out.”
Thomas, though not oblivious to the workings of the female group dynamic (he does have five daughters, after all), is not the least interested. “So, tell me about your car,” he says.
They set out early in the morning. Dolly is always up for an adventure, and readily agreed when Thomas suggested making this trip. They don’t say a word to Mrs. Thompson, at the front desk, choosing instead to slip out a side door. In the parking lot they study the maps Dolly keeps in the glove compartment – the jockey box, Thomas calls it.
“We need to get on 95,” he says.
“Well, I believe that requires we take 495 somewhere around here,” Dolly says, indicating with a manicured finger, “that will take us to 95.”
“You’re good at this,” Thomas says. He has difficulty following all the lines on the page – the routes and numbers and directions. Dolly has everything under control as she pulls out of the parking lot. She makes her way to Route 2 and from there, and through several round-abouts, she eventually comes to 495. Thomas is elated. He has convinced Dolly to drive him home, and she even knows the way, something he has surprisingly forgotten, after years, no decades, of making the trip from there to his daughter’s in Ayer, Massachusetts.
Dolly takes all the right highways, but she’s directionly challenged, something she neglected to share with Thomas, and she’s concentrating so hard on her driving, she pays little attention to her speed. The flashing lights in her rear view mirror are unexpected and unnerving. Trying her best to remain calm, Dolly pulls her car over, bringing it to a stop in the breakdown lane.
“Good morning, ma’am,” the State Trooper says. “Ma’am, do you know how fast you were driving?”
“Well, I hardly think I was speeding, officer,” Dolly says.
“No ma’am, you weren’t speeding, but driving 40 miles per hour on a major highway is also considered a danger to the public. May I see your license and registration?”
After this humiliation, Dolly wants to get off the highway. “Let’s take the next exit,” she suggests, cleverly hiding her jitters. “Let’s stop for a cup of tea.”
The sign ahead indicates, ‘Cape Cod, next exit.’
“Cape Cod!” yells Thomas, “We’re going the wrong way! We don’t want to go to Cape Cod!”
“Oh dear,” says Dolly, shaking, as she veers to the exit ramp.
“Dad’s lost,” Sarah says when Alice answers the phone.
“What? How can he be lost?”
“I just went over to see him and no one knows where he is. He didn’t sign out, but he’s not on the grounds. Another resident seems to be missing too.”
“Uh-oh,” Alice says. “Is it Dolly? Is Dolly missing?”
“It is Dolly. How did you know?”
“Dad told me about Dolly. She has a car. He was hoping he could convince her to drive him to Maine.”
“He told you this? Why he didn’t tell me?”
“Think about that, Sarah. In his mind, you put him in Tranquility Place. Besides, you live a mile away, I live in Canada – who is the safer one to tell? I’m sorry, I should have let you know, but I never imagined they’d try to drive all the way to Maine.”
Dolly’s daughter in contacted, the make and model of the vehicle is called in to the Highway Patrol.
The route they are on is heavily congested. They inch along with the Cape traffic, touristy signs and shops clog the roadside. Finally a respectable looking restaurant appears ahead and Dolly does not hesitate to pull off the road into its parking lot. Lunch is lovely. Thomas orders a Manhattan, “just like the old days,” he says. Dolly sips her tea and manages to regain her calm for the driving still ahead. Back out into the traffic, eventually finding their way back to 495 – North, this time – ‘Maine or bust!’ says Thomas. Once on 95 he sees a sign indicating the distance to various towns and cities.
“135 miles to Portland?!?” he yells, “but it’s 2:00 in the afternoon and Portland is hours south of where we’re headed!”
Thomas is quite excitable, thinks Dolly. It’s difficult keeping the jitters down when he bellows so. All the driving, the yelling, being stopped by the police has left her exhausted. She just wants to go home.
“I think I should drive,” Thomas says, looking over at her speedometer.
“But you have no license,” she reminds him.
“No, but I drive very well on the highway,” he tells her, “it’s only on the country roads that I tend to cross into the oncoming lanes. Besides, I can get us there a lot faster than you can.”
It’s tempting, though if he were to get into an accident there would be lots of trouble, and probably no insurance coverage. Still, she is so very tired.
“What do you say?”
“You are persistent, Thomas,” she says, and against her better judgment, Dolly guides her vehicle slowly and carefully to the breakdown lane just as, once again, the flashing lights appear in her rearview mirror.
It’s late in the day when Dolly and Thomas walk through the doors of Tranquility Place. The usual crowd is gathered waiting for the dining room to open for the evening meal. Everyone stares and finally, unable to contain themselves any longer, Gwen, Joan and Nancy circle round the pair. “Where have you been?” they all speak at once. “We were worried.” “Everyone was worried.” “What happened? Are you all right?”
“We’re fine,” Dolly says, glancing back at the parking lot, happy to see no evidence of their police escort. She smiles and, looking at Thomas, who winks and nods, she adds, “we just drove to Cape Cod for lunch.”
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