Note: This short story I wrote in 2009 in response to the prompt “Twilight Years.” In 2013 I revised it and made it longer. Like many of my plots, this plot is a quest similar to Dr. Seuss’s Are You My Mother. I think the final version is a bit like a Hallmark movie or a Guideposts story if they printed fiction. Let me know what you think.
In Plain Sight
I should have been enjoying the beautiful day, while I was bobbing around in the pool in my sunhat. That’s what we do in the hot Alabama afternoons here at the Pleasant Arbor Retirement Community. My sister, Bette, and I moved to the Gulf Coast some years back, seeing as we’re both widows and our kids are scattered to the four corners of the earth. Bette wanted to move to Florida, but how cliché is that? We compromised, like we always do.
I love it here and don’t miss the snow and gray skies of “up north.” The best part is that the beach is a good magnet for family to come visit, and we both love to play hostess to our kids and grandkids and nieces and nephews! I have two daughters and a son and Bette has two sons, all married with delightful children. We joke that our favorite hobby is updating “brag books” with the latest photos.
This brings me to the stomach ache that was ruining my day at the pool. You see, about 8 months ago, my daughter-in-law and I had a falling out. Election Day was about 8 months ago, and that’s no coincidence. When she dropped the bomb that she was voting for the “wrong” candidate, I should have kept my mouth shut. But no, I had to try and change her mind. I tried to be reasonable, but she jumped all over me like I was personally trying to destroy the environment and take food from the mouths of babes. I admit that I didn’t respond with much grace. The fallout from all that unpleasantness was that we haven’t talked to each other since.
We avoided contact last Thanksgiving and Christmas without too much trouble—they had other plans anyway. They did send me a fancy Christmas card, but it was one of those impersonal things with their names embossed on it. I hate that.
The longer this cold war goes on, the more I dread seeing her again. My grandson’s graduation is coming up in a few weeks, and I really want to be there for his big day, but I’m torn. Just thinking about what happened last year grills my gills! She hasn’t exactly sent me any roses, either, and I think my son is mad at me too. I don’t know what to do.
Everybody here at the Retirement Community knows about my problem, but I’ve given up talking about it. It’s not hard to find a sympathetic ear, but unfortunately they’re all connected to sympathetic tongues. Folks are more than happy to tell you they have the same problem, only worse. That’s about as much help as a sprinkler in a rainstorm.
As I bobbed around the pool wallowing in these thoughts, I became vaguely aware of music playing. I didn’t pay any mind until Lorraine told me my cell phone was ringing. I just can’t get used to a phone that doesn’t sound like a phone.
By the time I hauled myself out of the pool, the ringing stopped, but the screen said the missed call was from Bette. I called her back rather than bothering with that voice mail thing. “Junie, hon,” Bette said, “I lost my sunglasses this morning. Maybe they’re at the pool, or maybe the Clubhouse. Could you bring them back with you?”
I rolled my eyes, but agreed to look. Glancing around, I didn’t see hide nor hair nor glint of sunglasses by the pool, but I was ready to gather up my things and go.
The Clubhouse was humming with activity. The craft club was busy as bees doing knitting, crocheting and what-all. The air conditioning inside about froze me and my teeth chattered as I went from group to group asking about Bette’s glasses.
No one had seen them. “Is Bette having another senior moment?” Peggy asked conversationally.
Grumpy and cold, I muttered, “That girl’s been having senior moments since she was 11 years old!”
Cynthia said, “Just want you to know I’m praying for you and your son’s family.”
“Thanks,” I muttered, my stomach twisting a little more. I didn’t want to talk about it, and definitely not with Cynthia.
Glad to be outside in the heat again, I waved to the maintenance guy cleaning up the fountain in front of the Clubhouse. “What a mess,” he said as he waved back. “This should have been done months ago.” The thing had become an eyesore ever since the pump broke and the algae started taking over. I sort of blamed the maintenance man for putting it off too long, but what do I know? Maybe the powers-that-be didn’t want to pay for it.
“We’ll be glad to see it clean and running again. Thanks!” I called back. “By the way, found any lost sunglasses?”
“Found some acorns, mosquito larva, and woolly mammoth bones,” he joked as he shoveled some slime out of the fountain. “No sunglasses.”
I made one more stop before going home. Bette might have left her glasses at Indigo’s house when the two of them were quilting together earlier today. I’m not sure where Indigo got her unconventional name, but I don’t think it suits her. I mean, she quilts, and you can’t get much more conventional than that. I personally don’t have the patience for quilting, but she and Bette love it.
After answering the door, Indigo and I had a quick look around her living room and kitchen. Nothing appeared to be out of place and we found no errant sunglasses, but as I turned to leave, her cat unexpectedly bolted out the door.
“Oh, no! He shouldn’t be outside!” Indigo ran after the cat in a panic. Personally, I think cats belong in the great out-of-doors, but I suppressed my sigh of irritation. Indigo has a collection of bird feeders and she jokes that she doesn’t want them to turn into cat feeders. Because I didn’t relish the idea of running around the yard in my swim robe, I was glad to see the cat didn’t go far. He hunkered down under the front steps, and we could see him; we just couldn’t reach him. Well, we could have reached him had we been more flexible. Indigo found a long twig and began erratically wiggling it in the grass and dirt near the edge of the steps. Hesitantly at first, and then with a pounce, the cat emerged to play with the stick and Indigo swooped him up. Disaster averted.
All the way home, I scanned the ground in case Bette had dropped her glasses. I love a mystery as much as the next person, but I was ready for this one to be over. Imagine my disgust as I opened the door to our house and saw Bette standing there with her sunglasses pushed back on her own head!
“Do you know how foolish you look?” I blurted out irritably. She looked at me with a questioning look. I grabbed the glasses off her head and handed them to her. “Here—I found them!”
“Oh, thanks! Ha!” Bette chuckled. “Good job, Junie! Sorry about that.”
“Yeah, well, I’ve been all over creation looking for them. Chasing cats, braving the cold…” It was my sister’s turn to roll her eyes at my exaggerated irritation.
“Sorry! If they were snakes they would have bitten me.” she said. Then she grew thoughtful for a moment and added, a little slyly, “I guess that makes two of us.”
“What’s this now? I do not have glasses on the top of my head!”
“No, but you’ve been making yourself sick worrying about your family problem when you know the solution is sitting right in plain sight. Plainer than the glasses on my head.”
I huffed a little but didn’t dignify that comment with an answer. Bette was always finding a way of changing the subject from her to me. I guess she doesn’t want to be the only silly-looking sister.
Bette was gone shopping after I finished my shower, and I was glad. I didn’t want an audience when I did what I should have done months ago. I got out my cell phone and dialed my son and daughter-in-law.