Shivering in the cold night air, my arthritic fingers reluctant participants in my struggle, I scrounged in my purse desperate to find the scrap of paper with the hotel address that had eluded me on my first ten searches. If I didn’t find it, and soon, I’d be sleeping beside some homeless guy in a back alley. Nothing on earth would persuade me to do an ET and phone home.
What a sucker I am. I’d sold myself on this outing as a fun adventure. A chance to show my family there was life in the old dame yet. And that’s how I had envisioned it, curled up in my twin bed at home under the ratty old horse blanket covering my daughter-in-law’s satin quilt. The blanket is a necessary eyesore as it protects me from the cool house temperature my son insists on as his contribution to a green world.
There safe and sound, lulled by the backdrop noise of the family’s boisterous arguments about who should do what when, I had secretly planned my escape: my moment of freedom.
On the first leg of my venture snug in my comfy train seat watching portly snow flakes descend majestically to mother earth, I was still confident of having a fun adventure. But now standing outside the tawdry bus station, panicking that I had left the paper with the hotel address (which I had prudently decided to locate before I hailed a cab) on my bedroom bureau second thoughts buzzed around me like angry mosquitoes. Loss of the paper threatened to be bad news on two counts: one, having forgotten the name of the hotel I didn’t know where to go, and two, if I had left the information at home my family would find it and be after me as swift as hunters after the quick brown fox.
So now, doubts and misgiving started to creep about my legs like mists on the moor. Here I was, free all right: free to freeze. I began to wish that I had stayed home to look after my grandson Teddy, as my daughter-in-law Jenny had suggested.
Only a few weeks earlier, expecting that as usual my calendar would be as empty as the Sahara, Jenny had been including me in her plans. “Mom can look after Teddy,” she had announced to the back of my son Tom’s head. “It’s only a few days.” Then, as an afterthought, flashing one of her girlish smiles my way. “You don’t mind, do you, mother?”
“Sorry, I can’t,” I said. “Not that week.”
“Why not?” my son tossed over his shoulder, his eyes still glued to the football free-for- all on T.V.
“I’ll be out of town.”
“With Deb?” Jenny asked. “She never mentioned it.”
Now I had their attention, a rare moment. Tom turned full around expectantly, Jenny was leaning forward, the newspaper clutched to her chest: “To Maggie’s?”
If not to my granddaughter Deb’s, then surely I was going to my friend Maggie’s. Where else could a 79-year-old woman of limited means go?
Moments like this, which regrettably occur ever more frequently, I want to leap up, pound my chest like Godzilla and roar, “I have a life.” There are hundreds of places I could go. My choices have not been whittled down to two. But I remain silent. In fact, two is a stretch.
“I’m going up to Toronto for the weekend,” I said.
“With whom? We’re going away and Deb is at school.”
“With me,” I said, attempting to give finality to my tone.
“On your own?”
“You got it,” I sang out.
A heavy gauze of silence descended on the room while this unexpected announcement made its way into my son’s and daughter-in-law’s psyche.
“Mother, it’s no time to start travelling on your own,” my son said in the petulant tone he uses when things go off track: a missed episode of his favorite TV shoot out or no fish and chips on the restaurant menu.
“Tom,” Jenny cautioned, as usual to no effect. Son Tom was in full swing.
“You’re not thinking of doing something crazy?”
For all but the onset of rheumatism, my son Tom seems to have passed me on the age grid. He is forever concerned about his reputation in the community having landed himself a reasonable job on our nondescript town council and become the director of a small but “up and coming” local firm which produces, of all things, cement garden ornaments. (Who can take anyone seriously who considers gnomes and poorly poured plaster nudes a requisite to a beautiful garden?) A year ago when I met up with him at a local charity concert sporting a new large-patterned red and orange dress, he was so outraged I worried he would have a heart attack.
The revelation that I planned to go to Toronto, thirty miles by train, alone, won me a call from Deb the next day. “Grandma, I didn’t know you wanted to go to Toronto. I’ll go with you but I’m in the middle of exams. Next month would work. You name the day.” Had she been sent as a martyr to the cause or was she just being her kind self?
“Thanks, dear but I am going the week of the 8th and I’m looking forward to going on my own,” and added coyly, “You like going on own, don’t you Deb?”
I could almost hear her searching her mind for a suitable answer. We had been comrades against her father’s controlling nature over the years. And now this, “Yes, I do, but, well I am…healthier,” she finally said.
But I would not be dissuaded; I wanted to go on an adventure and had come up with the idea from a mystery I read that it would be fun to go to a convention. I heard about a romance writer’s to-do in Toronto, open to all, so I signed up on-line. What got me in trouble later was the fact that not only was I not a writer but I had not read any romance novels. The only thing I had ever written was a short poem about the sin of bearing false witness, which I wrote at the age of 14, under the influence of a crush on the local minister’s son Jasper. That also went wrong. It turns out Jasper had described me as “a bit of alright body wise” until he read the poem after which he classified me as a sanctimonious ass.
For my adventure, I had chosen a writer’s conference. There are not a lot of things you can pretend to be at my age. If I had gone to a gardening convention, I would be expected to know about beetles or the name of those tall spiny purple plants. And I was confident that my acting skills were up to pretending to be a writer, I had been acting the Granny for years with great success. I had selected my travel wardrobe carefully: glamorous, lots of color and flashy jewelry.
To my relief, I finally found the paper with the hotel address, hailed a taxi and headed for the conference center confident my worries were over. After signing in and lugging my suitcase to my room, I changed into my flamboyant red outfit and went to the Meet and Greet room. It was buzzing with delighted delegates all with little Tell Me a Story nametags. Had I joined them, sipped wine and eaten canapés with the rest, all would have been well.
Trouble is I cannot pass up an opportunity for a prize—even those contests that are just a marketing ploy to sell you a time-share in some place I’d never go. When I saw a table with a huge sign offering delegates a chance to win a laptop and weekend at a Spa, over I went. As soon as I filled out our home phone number, I realized I should have given my cell number. Too late, I was grabbed from behind. Oh no, I thought, I’ve been discovered. Only later did I realize the woman had slyly taken my half competed form with my phone number. At the time, I was scrambling for something to say.
“It’s you,” the young woman squealed, warmly crushing my arthritic fingers, her voice gurgling with cheeriness. She clearly was delighted to renew my acquaintance but I had no idea who she was. My memory is not as sharp as it used to be, but with the young woman’s brilliant red hair, slender figure and Madonna smile, this was not a person you would forget.
“Don’t say anything,” she whispered to my armpit. “Pricilla Rosebud, I’ve read everything of yours. I recognized you instantly. You look so like I knew you would.”
For once, I was speechless. “Well dear,” then noticing the tag, “Gypsy May, I am complimented…”
“I know you’re incognito,” Gypsy whispered, glancing around surreptitiously. “I won’t tell a soul if you promise to have a drink with me later. Mimosa, of course, your favourite.” With a leer, and squeeze of the arm, she was off. Rosebud? Was that supposed to be a reference to Citizen Kane? That seemed unlikely.
A drink was needed and quick and no mimosa whatever that was, a good stiff rum and coke. I moved towards what they call a no host bar (a euphemism for ‘you pay&rsquo, and ordered. When I turned to case the joint, sipping my weak but expensive beverage, I noticed a clump of people in the corner watching me none too subtly—so much for Miss Sealed Lips.
I quickly slipped into the hall, and whipped off my glasses, with which ironically I cannot read, and scanned the program. Oops, there I was, Rosebud, the main speaker the next morning.
This presented a quandary. I had paid my conference fee, and was hungry but hanging about was chancy. As I sidled towards the buffet lunch, I caught people smiling knowingly at me and then one after another they came up to offer drinks. With only two hands I was hard pressed to take all I would have liked to. “I enjoyed your latest,” one person hissed. It was like being royalty albeit riskier. If Rosebud were appearing next day surely her agent or someone, who’d recognize her, would be around.
What a story to dine out on, I thought, but of course that was only if I could get out alive. Armed with two drinks, one tucked into the side of a plate piled with hors d’œuvres I slipped out on the balcony. I glanced below to witness clusters of people below gesticulating and smiling as if we were part of a conspiracy. I was sorry that I had no hat to wave or perhaps better a helicopter to make a dramatic exit. Then when someone from behind whispered, “I thought she was only about 30?”
This was not one of those moments you could extricate yourself from gracefully. I could hardly announce to the swelling crowd, I am not Rosebud, only to be asked: Who are you? It was time to make a break for it.
I headed for the back door and, fearing I would be caught in the hall, went up to my room, ordered room service, and watched the proceedings on the closed circuit TV. Next day, Rosebud appeared. With her large hat and veil, she could have been me, with stockier legs. I even wondered if she were a he.
On Sunday, when I arrived safely home, chuckling at my adventure, which unfortunately could only be shared with the cat and my friend Maggie, Jenny’s eyes told me they needed some news. I confided that I had gone up to Toronto to buy Christmas gifts. Jenny took my bags, “You old sweet. You’re always doing things for us.”
Just as I was painfully making my way upstairs, my hand in my pocket fingering the conference tag, Jenny called out to me. “Someone called here looking for a Ms. Rosebud, what an unlikely name. Tom thought you’d know what that was about.”
“Me?” I squealed, tripping on the top step. “Why me?”
“You’re the film buff,” she said. “Isn’t the term Rosebud from a movie?”
Melodie Corrigall is a Canadian writer whose stories have appeared in Blue Lake Review, Six Minute Magazine, Mouse Tales, Short Humour Site, Halfway Down The Stairs, Write Place at the Right Time and Switchback (http://www.melodiecorrigall.com).
© 2014, Melodie Corrigall