THURSDAY: The Greenway


Copyright is held by the author.

ROSE WATCHED Virginia enter their independent living building three floors below, nosing her electric scooter through a group of chatting residents of The Greenway, men in baseball caps who she could tell were having a hard time hearing one another from the way they kept stepping closer and then stepping back, nodding. Once Virginia passed through the entrance, Rose might have five minutes before the doorbell rang and she inserted herself into Rose’s living room. Rose considered sneaking out with her Jack Russell Terrier, Wally, down the back stairs, but she always struggled to get his protective spiked vest over his collar. Virginia called Wally “our little punk rocker.” Rose hated that.

The elevator bell chimed down the hall, and the whirring whine of Virginia’s scooter approached Rose’s door but then, thankfully, passed.

Rose’s daughter, Jean, kept phoning or messaging to ask Rose if she was going to the movie nights or knitting club meetings or Dixieland band concerts. Rose wasn’t interested in following other people’s suggestions about keeping occupied and diverting herself; what she desired now was time and space to process her thoughts and feelings including her late-in-life fears which mostly centered around bears and bobcats. The suburban forest at the edge of the campus was thin enough in places so that she could see through to a housing development of mostly young families. Still, there were also tightly packed clusters of red cedars behind which bears and bobcats could easily leap out and get to Wally before they made it back inside to safety. Jean’s sensible points about the nonexistent chance of Wally being attacked by a bear or bobcat while she had him on the leash didn’t matter to Rose. She carried bear spray. She put a bell on Wally in addition to his spiked vest. It’s not that she gained anything from her fear of bears and bobcats, but it was specific and manageable.

Rose walked over to the cushioned bench against the long edge of her window. Although there was a lot about The Greenway that she was still getting used to, Rose enjoyed her third-story perch looking out on the large American flag drooping above the crescent parking lot. From this angle, Rose’s private, high-end retirement community in the Berkshires seemed more drably institutional than privileged to her, but she liked the mild buzz of the delivery vehicles coming and going and watching from a distance as The Greenway residents inched around the campus in walkers, alone or with staff assistance. Some of the more able-bodied walked their dogs, like she did four times each day, or played doubles on the newly installed set of pickleball courts. The courts were just out of Rose’s sight, but if she opened her windows, which she seldom did – Wally hated mosquitoes – she could hear squeaking sneakers and raspy shouts of encouragement.

The Greenway marketed the hope that one’s final years could be a pleasant, secure, incremental progression from independence to assisted living, and finally to a palliative hospice. Rose knew this ordering of chaos and disintegration was highly unrealistic, even a hoax, but she was willing to spend considerable money for even the possibility of simplicity and relative comfort. After four crushing years of caring for her husband Louis following his stroke, she wanted her life to be as burdenless and obstacle-free as it could be. Louis’ decline over those years had been steady and unrelenting, but his sudden death still didn’t seem possible to her. For so long, Rose’s life had been both weighed down but also held upright by the rhythms of Louis’ needs — bathing, medication, appointments, solace, and companionship. Three months before he died, Louis sold his patent for the high-pressure industrial valve that he had worked on for years, but they would never be able to enjoy their new wealth together. Jean brought Wally to her a month after Louis died. Rose protested that she wasn’t ready for a dog, but after only a few days, Wally and Rose were inseparable.

Wally — warm, comforting, indispensable — hopped up on the bench and stretched himself across from Rose’s knees to her ankles. She couldn’t move and didn’t want to.

The doorbell startled Rose awake thirty minutes later and she opened the door to Virginia, who pulled a Milk-Bone from her pocket as she walked with a slow, achy swagger over to a chair by the kitchen table. “Am I spoiling you, Waldo?” said Virginia, not listening, when Rose told her once again that her treats were giving him diarrhea. “Who’s spoiling you?” Virginia asked as she held out the biscuit. Virginia’s face was rosy circles, but her dyed-brown bob reminded Rose of an old-fashioned leather football helmet.

Wally devoured the Milk-Bone, crunching it with his snaggly teeth. Pieces dropped from his tiny jaws, and he licked them frantically from the carpet, leaving a wet spot. Virginia always got him worked up like this. The only reason Wally likes Virginia is that she gives him treats, Rose kept telling herself.

“I called Care-Free Home Pros and they can come by for a quote whenever you want,” said Virginia. When Rose shared with Virginia a few weeks earlier that she had gotten dizzy in the shower after having a second glass of wine with dinner, Virginia insisted that she install a shower seat as she had. “There’s no bouncing back from falls at our age,” warned Virginia, nodding in the direction of the hallway where she had parked her scooter. Virginia turned over Rose’s new tea box, a gift from Jean monogrammed with Rose’s initials, and shuffled through the printed photos of Wally and of Rose’s grandchildren playing together on their last visit here. Virginia set the box and photos aside as Rose got up to make them some tea. White Rose filled the kettle at the sink, Virginia slipped one of the photos into her pocket.

Since Virginia had started coming over – at least twice each day – Rose began noticing all of the high shelves in her apartment and that the room with the trash chute was at the very end of the hall. Whenever she had bent down to adjust Wally’s vest, Rose avoided resting on her left knee. Had she always done that? Rose now also dreaded showering. The white fiberglass floor between her shower drain and the bath mat looked so slick that she could only inch across it in small, terrified, steps, crouching down self-protectively until she was close enough to reach out for the towel bar. Wasn’t it less than a year ago that she was regularly lifting Louis’ fifty-pound wheelchair in and out of their Subaru?

On her last walk of the day with Wally, just before dusk, Rose’s throat felt itchy and warm and she decided to take some Nyquil and go to bed early. Rose slept until just before dawn when the pale blue, motion-detector night light flicked on. Wally must have set it off when he went to the kitchen, but there was no slurping, no jangling of his collar. Rose heard someone talking on a distant phone. The ninety-six-year-old woman above her had the sleep schedule of a three-month-old. Rose tried to lift herself to scan the room for Wally before the light switched off and it was completely dark again. Her forehead was damp, the back of her throat coated with mucus. When she finally got up on her elbows, the whole bedroom lurched forward and started spinning. The silhouette of her dresser with a picture of Louis from before his stroke, the large mirror, and her overstuffed closet kept passing by Rose and on what felt like the fifth or sixth pass, she saw Virginia floating above her wearing the maroon-red scrubs of the nurses in the assisted living unit and dangling the spare key that Rose had given her just a few weeks after Rose moved to The Greenway. Virginia had given her hers. Rose thought they were just being neighbourly. Virginia’s voice spread out across the ceiling and down the walls of Rose’s bedroom. She was telling Rose that Wally ran over to her as soon as she opened the door. Poor thing. She would take care of him. She was going to call the doctor for her. She must have Covid. Why didn’t Rose tell her? What was wrong with her? Why was she so weak and selfish, she wanted to know as she circled.

When Rose woke up again, she still felt warm, but perhaps somewhat better. Light filtered through her blinds, but she didn’t know what time it was because she couldn’t find her phone that she usually kept on her nightstand. Rose walked into her living room calling for Wally, and there was Virginia watering one of her plants. “We’ve already been out for a walk,” she said, turning and smiling at Wally who was playing with a squeaky toy that Rose didn’t recognize. “And he pooped. Twice.”

“Why are you here?” Rose asked, blinking and unblinking her eyes.

Virginia looked at Rose with a pitying pout. “I rang the bell three times and didn’t hear anything except for poor Wally. You should have heard him whimpering. He sounded so upset so I thought, I’d better just let myself in and check on you.” The tea kettle gurgled and Virginia removed it from the burner. “‘How are you feeling now?”

“Better. I’m better.”

“I’m not sure I would agree with that assessment, Rose.” She poured boiling water into two cups. “You have an appointment at the day clinic at eleven.”

“The clinic? This morning?”


“But I don’t need to see a doctor.”

“Jeannie 100-percent agrees with me that you should see a doctor.” Rose’s phone was sitting on the long bench.

As Rose watched Virginia take two tea bags from the monogrammed box, the stunned, wiped-clean feeling from the NyQuil broke apart slightly. “I wish you hadn’t done that, Virginia.”


“Are you sure you don’t want me to take Wally?” asked Virginia when they arrived at the clinic. “I’m pretty certain they don’t allow pets.”

“They don’t mind.”

“They told you that?”

“The nurses said I could bring him. Yes. They let him stay at reception. They love him.”

“Is that so?” asked Virginia. “Well, message me when you’re done, and I’ll come get you,” said Virginia whirring away to the mailroom like a disapproving sergeant in a jeep.

Rose could feel her heart palpitating. When Virginia was completely out of sight, she walked down the hall to the office of the resident director, Kimberly. The poster on her door said, “The Greenway: Senior Living for the Best of Your Life.”

A white Styrofoam container filled with two small salmon strips and apple cobbler topped with whipped cream sat on Kimberly’s desk. Rose didn’t like how they put whipped cream on everything here, as if she and all the residents were easily placated children.

“I want to get my lock changed, ” said Rose. “Is that something you can assist me with?”

“Oh, dear.” Kimberly closed the Styrofoam container and put it on top of the bookshelf behind her. “Why would you want to do that?”

“I don’t feel safe anymore. I don’t feel safe around Virginia.”

 “You don’t feel safe? But I thought you two were friends.”

 “I think that she’s going to take Wally,” Rose said, her voice breaking and her eyes dampening as she spoke the words.

Kimberly stopped smiling. “Look Rose, honey, I know Virginia comes on a bit strong.”

“I think the woman has some kind of mental illness.”

“I have an idea: Let’s arrange a meeting for you two to sit down together with one of our therapists. Whenever you are ready. How does that sound?”

“It sounds terrible,” Rose said. “That’s the last thing I want to do.”

“But I’m sure you would feel better once you two have had a chance to communicate more fully.”

Rose turned her head toward Kimberley’s reflective glass-framed print of numbers floating in space. Why did she look so bent over and small? How had this happened?

“I don’t want therapy, I want my lock changed.”

A lawnmower came close to Kimberly’s window and for a moment it was so loud they could only stare at each other without speaking.

“I can see how upset you are,” Kimberly finally continued, “but to be honest, I don’t think a new lock is going to solve anything.”

“Why won’t you help me?”

“I didn’t say I wouldn’t help you Rose. I just think it’s best to stay open to people. But, yes, I will make some inquiries about a new lock and get back to you.”

Rose let Wally lick cobbler crumbs that had fallen off Kimberly’s desk onto the carpet and then left. Later, she would contact maintenance directly about the lock.


When Jean was 15, she sold marijuana occasionally because it got her invited to senior-class parties and funded front-row seats at Kiss concerts as far away as Syracuse that Rose mostly didn’t know about. One evening when Louis was away, Jean finally admitted to her mother that her pot supplier was harassing her, demanding money that he said she still owed him. Rose confronted the skinny, acne-scarred dealer as he idled in his Gremlin across the street from their house, flicking cigarette ashes out of the window. She walked right up to him and stuffed five, twenty-dollar bills into his shirt pocket. Keeping her hand in his pocket and pressing her fingers against his chest, she told him, “Stay the hell away from her,” pressing hard once more before letting go. As she crossed back over to their house, Rose saw Jean staring out the front window, her eyes darting anxiously between her and the departing Gremlin. They never talked about this evening or anything about this period in Jean’s life again, even years later. Jean had no sense of humour about any of the mistakes she had made, thought Rose, or how much she once needed her mother, other than as someone to boss around.


Passing by Virginia’s apartment on the way back to her own, Rose stopped to remove the photograph of Wally that Virginia had stolen and stuck to her door. Rose started to peel back the edges, hastily and roughly so that they could get back to the apartment before Virginia heard them. Her phone pulsed again. Kimberly had already sent her a message copied to Virginia with the subject heading “Food for thought: Chat?” along with an article about the mental and physical effects of social isolation in the elderly.

Instead of responding to Kimberly, Rose quickly typed a message to Virginia, using two thumbs like her daughter and grandchildren did:

“Virginia, I wish you well but I don’t want to be your friend anymore. I am asking you now to respect my privacy and not talk to me or message. I have no intention or interest in communicating with you further. Rose Halpern.”

Rose looked down at Wally who yawned and stretched out on the carpet. She put the phone back into her pocket and let Wally’s leash drop. Back on her heels, Rose scraped off the remaining bits of paper slowly with her fingernail. Virginia needed to hear the scraping.


Image of Dan Shiffman

Dan Shiffman is a high school English teacher at the International School of Hamburg and a student in the MFA program at Lindenwood University.  His creative work has appeared in such places as New World Writing,  Hobart, and  X-R-A-Y Literary.  You can read more of his work at