Copyright (c) 2017 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
The hallway looked to be infinite with dimly lit doorways on each side, fading into darkness as the passageway sloped. I looked for the source of illumination but found only a mysterious glow around each doorknob. Behind me, the floor and walls looked unfinished with tile, stud and drywall rising from nothing to an invisible barrier that kept me from moving in that direction.
I began to walk and then to run, searching or fleeing from an unknown. As I passed each entrance, the doors changed. The round, brass and chrome knobs, with key inserts in the center, gradually became ornately decorated with locking mechanisms below in rectangular plates of brass. Others still farther along the hallway were made of dark iron and even wood. Those in the distance contained not knobs but latches. The decorative quality of the doorknobs and the doors appeared to increase the farther I journeyed. Modern bright and pastel technology gave way to an engraved and gilded quality that looked to be of Victorian, Colonial or even earlier craftsmanship.
Most doors appeared to be locked although I didn’t try them all. It was when I had returned to almost the beginning of the passage where the walls and the hallway were unfinished that I perceived light coming from beneath a door that strangely I hadn’t noticed before. I turned the brass knob … and the door opened.
It only took a moment for me to realize where I was, approximately halfway down Junior Hall inside Cloverdale High School. I stood next to a double row of metal lockers. Mike Blueberry and Jason Scott stood on either side alternately dumping and picking up book and spiral tablets. I looked down. I was wearing jeans and a black t-shirt with the album cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced?” silk screened on the front. Just by watching the faded Levi 501’s and the tie-dyed shirts that moved past as well as the tantalizing just-above-the-knee (tugged down for school) mini-skirts that drafted, napalmed and then helicoptered our attention I discerned the year had to be 1968.
Jennifer Kruger appeared, strolling down the hallway toward us with a blinding smile and dangerous curves that made even the most popular senior boys apply the brakes on their out of control desires. “Who does she go out with?” Jason gasped as Jennifer moved past us like an angel looking for someone to rescue … let it be me.
“Girls like her don’t go out with guys like us,” Mike said as if that fact was common knowledge.
“Who do they go out with?” Jason couldn’t stop staring. I didn’t blame him none of us could.
“They go out with college men … guys with lots of money.” Mike replied.
I was vaguely aware that I was in a dream. I’d been here before … many times. The sudden realization that I could do anything in a dream … even fly if I wanted … struck me as an opportunity I couldn’t overlook. Just be cool I told myself as I walked toward Jennifer. She was clustered with a small group of girls in senior hall laughing and talking to Janna Wood another one of the un-dateable sophomores that were every boy’s forbidden fantasy. Just as I was about to reach out and tap her shoulder, Rex Roker pushed past, his almost three hundred pound lineman’s bulk brushing me aside like a tumbleweed. “How about taking in a movie Friday night?”Rex was looking at Jennifer with his little pig eyes attempting to dazzle her with a too-big smile stuck in his square jaw. “Planet of the Apes is playing at the Royal.”
“I’ve seen it,” Jennifer said, “and besides … I’m grounded.”
Rex hefted a flabby arm over her shoulder and gave her a hug. “Let me know when you’re available,” he smiled as he swaggered away.
I was close enough to see Jennifer’s deep violet eyes roll upward behind his back. She and her girlfriends all giggled. I suddenly lost my nerve and turned back. A large white rectangle like a doorway appeared in the wall between Mike and Jason. I was off the ground floating and speeding toward it … knowing that my dream was coming to an end. The noises of voices chattering became a buzzing sound as I passed through the light… and apparently through the cinderblock wall.
I was in bed at home and I reached a liver spotted sixty-five year old hand out to shut off my alarm clock, wishing I had the time and energy for five minutes more sleep.
Alpine Meadows was an assisted living center that my uncle had recommended. His oldest sister had resided there for eight months before she finally died from heart failure and the complications of old age. “It’s expensive,” he told me. “But you can’t take it with you.” I wanted something nice for my mother. After being a stay at home mom for years and putting up with my father and my three brothers and two sisters she deserved a good place. Not that my life was bad. We were a closely knit family and my father made a decent living selling insurance, eventually opening his own brokerage. My parents were the type who spent everything on their kids and almost nothing on themselves. The 1966 Cadillac parked in mom’s garage was my late father’s pride and joy, still less than eighty-thousand miles, but it was forty years old. It was 1969 before my mother had an electric washing machine and she’d never owned a dishwasher in her life. She wore the same blue dress to church for years even after my father died and continued to bake bread and bottle her own pickles even when I was the last child left in the house.
It wasn’t until she began to exhibit signs of dementia that my brothers and sisters insisted that I be given power of attorney to look after her affairs. I was recently retired and had been divorced for ten years. My siblings must have thought I needed something other than an old electric guitar with rusty strings and even rustier dream of rock stardom to occupy my mind. I discovered that in addition to a monthly social security check that she lived on, mom had several bank accounts, safety deposit boxes, stock certificates and land deeds. I was afraid I might be missing something, some vast looming debt that would balance things out, so I had an accountant friend investigate and tally up my mother’s finances while I sat in a kind of daze.
My mother had a net worth of a little less than two million, three hundred and eighty-six thousand dollars, not including her house and car, and she was eighty-nine years old. I was determined to drag her away from the fourteen-inch Philco color TV, watching old Lawrence Welk re-runs, with the snowy picture that rolled and give her a better life for however many years she had left.
My uncle was right Alpine Meadows was clean with a friendly staff and even a chandelier hanging from the ceiling of an elegant common room. The manager, Mrs. Childs, let me talk to the cook and showed me a list of last week’s menus. The place was actually within walking distance of my apartment and I could visit mom every day. I was ready to sign the papers right there but the manager smiled and said to think about it for at least a day. I liked that. People with integrity are rare in today’s world. It was while walking back from the room that would be mom’s, a kind of studio apartment with a tiny kitchen, living area, bathroom and bedroom that I happened to glance inside a room with an open door.
Something about the dark violet eyes that stared at me from under a quilted bedcover made me stop. I knew her or thought I knew the woman lying in the bed. Her hair was darker than I remembered and with streaks of highlights that gave her a somehow youthful appearance. The wrinkles under the eyes reminded me of my own and I knew we had to be almost the same age. “Jennifer Kruger?” I gasped.
“Jennifer had a stroke a few months back that has unfortunately left her unable to speak but I believe her maiden name was Kruger.” Mrs. Chiles smiled. “Would you like to visit for a minute? Jennifer doesn’t get many visitors.” Mrs. Chiles looked at Jennifer as if seeking her approval and Jennifer nodded.
I instantly felt awkward. I’d known who she was from school but we weren’t exactly friends. What was I supposed to say. Remember me? I was that skinny kid who used to ogle you and bang my head on a locker when you’d walk past in the hall. I walked shyly into her room. “Hi, I’m Ray Simmons,” I said. “You probably don’t remember me … but we went to high school together.”
Jennifer squinted her eyes as if trying to see me clearly, for a moment I saw a frown forming on her brow then suddenly she smiled. I hadn’t felt this much warmth since I was thirty … perhaps never. Her smile was the same brilliant bouquet of flowers that I remembered and it erased the tiny lines under her eyes. I was awestruck by how beautiful she was even after all these years. She reached for a lined yellow notepad and pen resting on a table next to her bed and wrote carefully with smooth and slender fingers while I waited. There were lots of flowers in her room white and blue gardenias but no photos. I remember you the note said when she held it up grinning. I was trying to catch my breath and couldn’t think of what to say.
“I’m thinking of putting my mother in this place as a resident,” I stammered. “Mrs. Childs was just showing me around.” Jennifer glanced behind me and I could have sworn the two of them exchanged some kind of secret communication.
“I’ll leave these papers on my desk and you can call me know tomorrow and let me know what you decide,” Mrs. Childs grinned as she walked away. Jennifer stared at me for a long minute before she picked up the pad Tell me about yourself she wrote.
“I retired three years ago,” I told her. “I worked most of my life as a carpenter building houses except for the two years I spent in Viet Nam.”
She folded over the page on the pad and wrote again. Wife and kids?
“A boy and a girl,” I told her. “Mike and his wife Misty live in Columbus Georgia and he is a dentist. Susan and her husband Jeff live in Hawaii. She gives dance lessons while he teaches school.”
She stared at me a smile forming on her lips when she noticed my hesitation. “My wife Karen and I got divorced three years ago,” I shrugged my shoulders.
Jennifer wrote on the pad again and I was surprised when she held it up. Who won? Her eyes seemed to be looking right through me.
“No one really wins in a divorce,” I told her. “I guess you could say at best it was a tie.”
Jennifer seemed to accept my answer. I didn’t know what to say to her. Then suddenly words spilled from my mouth like hot coffee. “What about you? Did you live around here after High School?” She shook her head slowly as if wondering how much to tell me. Finally she picked up the pad and hesitated as if wondering what to write. You wear it well she wrote. I looked down at my faded Levis and black t-shirt with a tiny hole near the hem where I’d splashed a drop of acid while changing the battery in my car. I glanced at her and she shook her head before she began to write again. Not your clothes … life!
Two of the caregivers came in the room to tell her that lunch was ready and I knew they wanted me to leave while they helped her out of bed. “I hope to see you again,” I stammered. Jennifer smiled and then turned away.
The long hallway with the endless doors on each side was once more before me. This time I knew exactly where I was going. Sure enough I found myself inside the school gymnasium when I opened the door with light glowing from the crack at the bottom. The lights were dim and live music was playing … an after basketball game Victory Dance, although Cloverdale High School’s Stallions had lost again. There were almost twenty couples dancing on the floor to a local band’s rendition of Tommy James and the Shondells’ Crimson and Clover.
I watched in fascination as Jennifer Kruger broke away from a group of girls and walked toward a water fountain. Her golden auburn hair shimmered under revolving strobe lights and her radiant smile was almost like a spotlight. I wasn’t the only one staring, every guy lined up against the wall gazed at her with crushing hopeless expectation. Somewhere in the far distant future I was lying crossways in bed with covers twisted around my neck and a pillow lying on the floor but this was a dream … and I could do anything.
I stood behind her and I suddenly felt light headed. She was bending over to get a drink and the gold and blue cheerleading skirt she wore rose to mid-thigh. I stared transfixed at the back of long slender legs covered with nylon stockings that reached from the floor to heaven. I was still in a daze when she rose and turned around suddenly; her lips and mine were only inches apart.
“Wow!” you scared me,’ she giggled. She stared at me for a second or it could have been hours. I was helplessly lost somewhere in her dark violet eyes … and it was getting dark. The band had just started to play a new song Get Together by the Youngbloods and the slightest trace of a smile hummed along in the fascinating corners of Jennifer’s lips. “Did you want to ask me something?” I was close enough to catch the scent of Tuvache’s Oh! de London perfume as I pointed toward the water fountain. “Can you excuse me please … I’m thirsty,” I stammered.
I despised myself as she turned and walked away. People like me should be marched seven abreast into the oceans before we get a chance to breed or mankind will be forever lost. I saw the square rectangle of light lingering in the air next to the band’s strobe light. I was off the ground and flying toward it even as I bit my lip. How could I blow a chance like this … even if it was a dream?
The clock radio next to my bed was playing Dream a Little Dream of Me with Cass Elliott’s silky vocals when I woke up in bed. It was moving day and I had a few things of my mother’s to move into Alpine Meadows. Although the assisted living center contained all the essentials, beds, lamps, and sofas things like photos, cherished knickknacks and other mementoes of a life well lived were what made any place a home. I was disappointed to see that Jennifer’s door was closed as I walked past, carrying a cardboard box filled with books about birds. My mom seemed a bit sad although she tried to cover it with comments about how clean the place was and all the new friends she was sure to make. We talked for a while and then she said she was sleepy.
No one could have been more disappointed than me when I walked past Jennifer’s room a second time and the door was still closed. I was almost to my truck parked outside when Mrs. Childs called from the doorway. “Do you want those empty boxes back? We really don’t have room for them here and they’ll just be thrown away.”
I didn’t have any use for a bunch of cardboard boxes but I went back for them anyway. It was when I was carrying them through the large common room that I noticed Jennifer. She was seated in a comfortable looking lounge chair watching Midnight Cowboy on a big screen TV. Several other residents noticed me stop and stare. When Jennifer turned she gestured for me to come. I tried to take ten years off my age as I sucked in my gut and walked over. She smiled at me as she picked up the yellow pad and her pen. I hope one of those boxes is big enough to smuggle me out of this place she wrote. I laughed. “You’re not very big, but still I think it would be a tight fit!” I loved looking at her smile and then added. “Is this place really that bad?’
She took her time writing the next message as if wanting to say only truthful things. It’s not bad, but there is really nothing wrong with me. My daughter doesn’t want me to live alone because I can’t talk on a telephone if I get into trouble and she lives in Minnesota.
“What about one of those life alert buttons?” I couldn’t help it … I watch too much TV.
Do you have one? She grinned as she held up the pad.
“No, I don’t want the EMP’s busting down my door every time I roll over in my sleep,” I told her.
She looked at me the same way she had the night before in my dream …. Somewhere in another part of Alpine Meadows I heard someone laugh as she wrote. Did you want to ask me something?
“I don’t think so,” I told her truthfully. “Why do you ask?”
She moved the pad so that I couldn’t see what she was writing and tore several pages out and wadded them up before she finally showed me what she wrote. You look like you’re keeping a secret.
I don’t know why I told her, maybe it was her eyes or the beguiling scent of Oh! de London that lingered in the misty corners of my mind. The next think I knew I was blurting it out. “I had a dream about you,” I stammered. “Actually more than one.” I looked around to see if any of the other residents were listening then let it all gush out like an earthen dam with water surging over the top. “I’ve dreamed about you since High School.”
Once my dark secret was out I thought surely she must thin I was some kind of perverted psycho if not some weird senior citizen stalker. She turned her eyes shyly to the pad she was writing on. Why didn’t you ever ask me out?
“I was afraid,” I told her. “You had every guy in the school wanting to date you and I was a nothing.”
Caregivers were beginning to push the residents toward tables on one side of the common room. I looked at my watch it was almost noon. “Would you like to have lunch with us?” An overweight Hispanic woman asked as she helped Jennifer to her feet. I was aware that they were not going to allow her to walk unassisted … although she looked more than capable.
“No,” I told her. I was trying to see Jennifer’s face but they turned her away from me. I picked up the pad Jennifer had left on the lamp table next to her chair. “You forgot this,” I said. Jennifer didn’t turn around when one of the girls gave it to her. I’d only given it a glance but the words she wrote lingered in my mind on the drive home and even as I crawled into bed. Man up she wrote. Your future, and mine … depends on it.
TO BE CONTINUEED ….