Margaret Costello sat in front of the television holding a gamepad. “Another good day for Princess Peach and the Mushroom Kingdom,” she thought to herself, while taking a sip of herbal tea, a special brand that contained high doses of gingko biloba. She turned off the video game and got out a pencil, checking a box on a list labelled Cognitive Isometrics. The next item on the list was Sudoku. Margaret checked that box too, but decided to skip her morning numbers session as she often found it irritating and a source of frustration. “I need to do things I enjoy,” she thought to herself as she looked out the window. “Enjoy the Spring, flowers blooming, leaves on the trees coming out, a robin with its four pitch song, looking for a mate.” After the bird quit singing she looked around the room and her gaze fell upon photographs of her daughter and grandchildren. “Jennifer,” she sighed. “With those sweet things, Max, Eldon, and June.” She then looked up at the mantle above the fireplace where she kept a photo of her husband Tony. “Why did you have to leave me so early. You’ve been gone so long I hardly recognized you my Tony boy.” She stood up and picked up the framed photo and kissed it, dusting the surface with her sleeve before returning Tony to his perch.
After washing out her teacup, Margaret took down a list from the refrigerator and reviewed the week’s orders, with the names of her neighbors, their room numbers and specific items: Helen, 350- Efferent Plus; Ida, 354 – hearing aid batteries; Amelia - Pepto Bismol; Trudy, 351 - bananas and orange. Enough for one trip. She was one of the few residents of Sunnyside Acres who had a car and a driver’s license. Margaret dropped the list in her purse and put on her coat. She shut the door to her apartment, looked up and down the hallway, took a deep breath, expecting yet another panic attack. The anxiety started to grow in her chest as she looked at the seemingly endless row of doorways, all looking the same, each only differentiated by a three digit number and a plaque with a name of the occupant. She repeated the number of her own apartment several times under her breath, 352, 352, 352, an act which immediately calmed her nerves and allowed her to stride down the hall to the elevator with great confidence.
Margaret signed out at the front desk specifying her destination as Safeway and passed her wristband over the scanner. “Come back soon,” the receptionist reminded her. “Dinner is at five.” “What’s she talking about?” Margaret thought to herself. “Dinner’s always at five.” She looked over her shoulder as she left the parking lot at the three buildings that comprised Sunnyside Acres; her own residence at Sunnyside House, the Assisted Living Facility next door that included a Memory Center, and the Sunnyside Nursing home at the end. All three buildings were identical from the outside and had similar lobbies and dining rooms. “Wonder if folks notice when they move down the line…Hopefully not.” Margaret got into her white Chevy Metro. As she started the car, she disabled the dashboard tracking application, which went by the name of Henry the Navigator. She hated Henry. Just the sound of his voice made her cringe. Margaret took a right out on to Division and in a few minutes arrived at the stop light in front of the Safeway. She was in a lane that could turn right or go straight. She thought about the last time she had dared to go straight down the road beyond the Safeway.
The city limits were not far away. The road was lined by flowering shrubbery and trees. She had taken Division into the countryside, past the last row homes, and to a park. Margaret had pulled off the road at a spot she had been to before. Where she had once taken the grandchildren, Max, Eldon and June, when they were younger, and liked to be with their grandmother. It was at one end of a bridge that passed over a slow moving creek lined by cattails on one side and a weeping willow on the other. The sound of the moving water was soothing. But it was when she left the park by the river, thinking of her grandchildren, that she turned the wrong way and got lost. Eventually she had to turn into a stranger’s driveway, knock at the door and have them call Sunnyside who in turn called the police who threatened to take away her driver’s license. That was her final visit to the park. That’s when she first met Henry.
Inside Safeway, Margaret grasped the shopping cart firmly observing her fellow shoppers as potential hazards in an obstacle course. The Pharmacy was at the back of the store and easy to find with its large sign that rose above the aisles. She placed her orders for refills of Aricept and Namenenda, as well as the Mind Pro Advanced Memory Formula. She was told that it would take a few minutes, so she set out to find the other items. They were out of Efferdent Plus so she settled for plain Polydent, a practical decision. The hearing aid batteries were more difficult to locate and she eventually had to ask a clerk for assistance. In the produce department she easily found Trudy’s fruit as well as some for herself. Then she went back to the pharmacy and collected her medications, crossing each item off of the list. Margaret left the store through the automated checkout lane, passing her wrist band over the reader. Outside in the parking lot she was uncertain where she had left her car but simply pressed the button on her key chain and the tail lights came on. As she got in the car she checked her wallet one more time to make certain she still had the shopping list where she had written down her room number. She backed out of the parking spot, put the car in gear and headed out towards Division. She paused at the light and once again thought about turning right and taking another trip back out into the countryside, to the park by the creek and the willow tree. The tree was likely to be green already, or at least crowned with green shoots. The birds along the creek were different than the ones outside her apartment. The light turned from green to yellow when she heard a car horn honk. She looked up to see if the light had turned red but then felt the impact. Margaret’s knuckles turned white as she grasped the wheel and then she felt herself floating in the air before falling into her bed, her head resting on a pillow. After a short period of time she woke up to the sound of a siren and a flashing light. She looked into the face of a young woman who was holding her hand and spoke to her in a soothing tone.
“Everything’s going to be alright,” Stephanie assured her. “You’re going to be just fine.” Margaret tried to smile but felt like the world was spinning around her. She thought about the list in her purse and decided she didn’t need to look at it again as she repeated her room number like a mantra: “Three fifty-two, three fifty-two, three fifty-two.”
Casey Bush is a longtime Portland poet whose most recent collection Student of the Hippocampus was published in 2017 by Last Word Press (Olympia, Washington). He is a senior editor of The Bear Deluxe Magazine which explores environmental issues through the literary and graphic arts.