Ashley stared at the red numbers projected onto her wall by her bedside alarm clock: 11:58. For two nights now, the phone rang at precisely 12:15. Each time she answered, there had been a pause and then the connection broke. Intrigued by the timing (not many people call after midnight) and the origin of the call (The Morrow House, an assisted living facility) she anticipated the shrill staccato that would disturb the gentle snoring of her beagle, Elvis.
As if sensing the internal restlessness of his motionless companion, Elvis, curled at her feet, raised his head and gave her a tilted head glance.
“Come here, boy,” she whispered. That was enough to convince him to bathe her face in slobbery kisses before collapsing in her arms; his exposed underside the not-so-subtle invitation to rub his belly. She didn’t know the precise moment when she became lonely enough to look forward to a late-night hang up call, but she suspected it may have been when the door clicked behind Brent as he carried the last of his belongings to his Chevy Blazer. The thought had crossed her mind to beg him to stay, but as much as she wanted to, she could sense he wanted to leave more. So she let him go.
Six years together disappeared in two carloads. For the first few months, Ashley expected him to come back, realizing the error in his choice. Now, going on the fifth month, with divorce papers on her nightstand waiting on her signature, she’d learned that setting one free with the notion he’d return was just foolish hope harbored by the naiveté of a romantic heart.
She’d never make that mistake again.
The sharp ring of the phone cut through the silence, startling Ashley. Elvis barely raised his head.
“I know you’re there. Please talk to me.” She detected two shallow, raspy breaths that made her question her sanity. I’m asking for trouble.
“Edith. Is that you?” A man asked.
Ashley let out a surprised gasp. “My middle name is Edith.” She rarely admitted it because, although she was named after her great-grandmother, she found it too old-fashioned. “Who is this?”
“David. They won’t let me come home to you. They say this is home now.”
She remembered driving by The Morrow House and from the outside, it looked like a warm, well-kept building.
“Do they take good care of you?”
He sighed. “I suppose.” He dropped his voice to a whisper. “But no one took care of the Colonel like you did.”
“What is your favorite meal?”
“Always turkey dumplings.”
“Oh, I love to make those. Most people use chicken, but turkey adds more flavor.” Without expecting it, she blurted another question. “What about dessert?”
“I don’t get sweets much but if I could sneak another bite of lemon meringue pie…” He paused. “Someone’s coming.”
Before she could answer, the call disconnected. In an instant she knew what she’d do. She had recipes for turkey dumplings and lemon meringue pie, passed down in her family for generations. “We’re going to give David a taste of home,” she said.
Elvis wasn’t impressed. Drool pooled under his loose lips and his eyes twitched beneath closed lids.
She rolled onto her side ran her fingers down his back. It wouldn’t be long before his steady snore would lull her to sleep.
The next afternoon, Ashley left work early to cook the surprise dinner. Elvis acted the attentive companion sitting in the middle of the kitchen, always just a couple steps away from her. She knew it was the turkey that kept him there, waiting for a dropped scrap.
By five o’clock she backed into a space in the parking lot of The Morrow House. She lifted the cardboard box holding the pie and a huge stockpot of dumplings. She tapped the door closed with her foot. Elvis had tried to follow the turkey into the car, but thankfully, Ashley caught him before he pounced onto the seat. He didn’t know she saved a bite for him in the refrigerator.
She climbed the five steps leading to the main entrance door. Before she had time to contemplate how she’d get the door open, a woman from inside held the door for her.
“I’m Susan. Welcome to The Morrow House,” She smiled, revealing teeth whiter than Ashley had seen on a woman of her age. “Mmmm… that smells delicious.” She closed her eyes during a deep inhale.
Ashley smiled. She found it curious that people did that when admiring a scent. It was as if sight impaired the olfactory experience.
“What room number?”
“Oh. Uh, well, it’s kind of strange story…” Ashley didn’t even think to ask for a room or last name.
The woman listened and tilted her head to the side with her eyebrows scrunched together. “Interesting story. I don’t think we have a David here right now, but I’ll check with the others to be sure.”
Ashley walked around the tiled lobby, gazing at the family photos intermixed between canvas paintings. Next to the foyer she’d passed through with the box of food, she stopped to read a bronze plaque. It was dedicated to David “Kernel” Kearney, who had donated a large sum of money to the home when he passed away in 1979- five years after his wife, Edith had died. “No one took care of the Kernel like you…” she remembered the man’s words on the phone. Then, she heard ‘Colonel’, but maybe… couldn’t be.
Ashley heard footsteps behind her, and the woman apologizing for not locating the man she described, but the last engraved paragraph of the plaque prevented her from turning around.
In deepest appreciation of the Kearneys and their children, Rose, Arthur and Sheila, in 1980, we renamed the old West Town Care Center ‘The Morrow House’ as David Kearney requested. We continue to honor his vision of maintaining a care home that provides hope for tomorrow while celebrating the joys of yesterday.
“David Kearney was a great man.”
She turned to face the woman. “Did you know him?”
A proud smile lifted Susan’s coral painted lips. “Why yes, I worked here long before we became The Morrow House. In fact, it’s the only job I’ve ever had.”
Ashley shook her head, stunned. “Did you know Sheila?” She pointed to the name on the plaque.
Susan smiled. “Sweet woman; the youngest of the three. We were sad when she passed so suddenly.”
A tingling numbness traveled from the base of her skull, down her right arm. “Was her name Sheila Brookman by any chance? Did she die of an aneurysm in 1989 at the age of 57? Did she have a daughter she named Betilda because Sheila and her husband, Armin, couldn’t settle on ‘Betty’ or ‘Matilda’- both beloved deceased family members?”
“Why yes… how did you know?”
“Sheila was my grandma,” Ashley whispered. “I’m Betilda’s daughter, but she goes by Tillie.”
Susan reached out and latched onto her arm, leading her to sit in an armchair a few steps away.
“I think my great-grandfather led me here.” Ashley glanced up at Susan and was met with a smile. Not the I-think-you’ve-lost-your-mind,-but-I-don’t-want-to-be-the-one-to-tell-you kind of smile, but a ‘knowing’ smile.
“How would you like to serve supper? I think your large batch of dumplings would make our twelve residents feel at home.”
Ashley nodded. “I’d like that very much.” For the first time in months, she felt a reason for ‘being’ and had hope for tomorrow.
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Inspiration for this story:
One night a few weeks ago, I received a phone call after midnight from a local assisted living facility. Curious, I answered the phone, but no one was there. I didn’t think about it again until I drove by the place a few days ago and the sign triggered my memory of the name on my caller ID.
My imagination took over and I wondered, “what if a resident was calling for family?” I pictured a man calling the last phone number he could remember, only to reach a stranger. Then, my twisted side thought, “what if they strike up conversation and then she surprises him by visiting, only to find out there was no resident by that name.” And then my twisted side really got into it and added, “wouldn’t it be weird if she realizes it was her great-grandfather who’d passed away many years before?” Finally, my sappy side waded through the weirdness and suggested, “but wouldn’t it be great closure of a sad time in her life, with her husband leaving her, if she experienced a new kind of love in helping others in the place her great-grandfather wanted to be place of hope?”
So this is what happens when an innocent idea is corrupted by dueling views of a twisted and sappy wanna-be writer, haha 🙂
Thanks for reading this rather lengthy story. As usual, I have no idea how this story will be received, but If you’ve got a comment to share, I’d love to read it!