It’s Never Too Late
“I’m under the doctor for the high blood pressure, so I take these blue ones, and the little red ones are betty blockers – or something like that.” Jacinta O’Reilly furrowed her brow as she shook her day-by-day compartmentalized pill holder under Mrs. Entwhistle’s nose.
Jacinta was apt to get a little confused in her old age, although, as Mrs. Entwhistle put it, she’d never been the brightest headlight on the highway. Now Jacinta paused to think.
“The only Betty I can think of is Betty Jo Smith, who used to teach Sunday School. Do you remember her?”
Maxine opened her mouth to answer but closed it again after a fierce look and a hissed whisper from Mrs. Entwhistle: “Don’t go down that rabbit hole.”
They were sitting in the day room at the Shady Rest Assisted Living Center. Mrs. Entwhistle and her best friend, Maxine, visited the Shady Rest every Wednesday afternoon. They were as old as many of the residents, but had been blessed with strong constitutions and resulting good health.
“Visiting is the least we can do; we’re so lucky,” Mrs. Entwhistle always said. But both of them dreaded it.
“It’s the organ recitals that get to me,” Maxine said as she drove them in her Lincoln Navigator. “You’d think they’d be glad to take a mental break from all their health problems and think about something new.”
She always brought a book to read aloud, but seldom got through more than a page or two before someone, often Jacinta, was reminded of an ailment that needed discussing. In detail.
But despite their frustration Mrs. Entwhistle and Maxine continued to visit, knowing how long the days were for the residents. Today Maxine had brought a book by Fannie Flagg that she just knew would be a hit. Instead, they were talking about Jacinta’s pills again. Betty blocker, indeed!
Never the most patient of people, Mrs. Entwhistle was tapping her foot. Maxine watched with apprehension as the tapping grew faster and faster.
“I think it’s time for us to go,” she said when she thought her friend had reached critical mass and was about to blow. “We’ll see y’all next week. Come on, Cora, you need to let Roger out.”
Roger was Mrs. Entwhistle’s aged Shih’Tzu and it was certainly true that he needed to go out more often than ever before in his long life. Mrs. Entwhistle frequently had to get up during the night and escort the old dog down the stairs and out the back door. She accompanied him on these midnight excursions because she’d seen coyotes in the woods behind her house and knew Roger would be a mere McNugget to those wild scavengers. She had perfect confidence that she, at age seventy-nine, could fend them off through sheer force of personality.
Mrs. Entwhistle was uncharacteristically quiet on the way home. Maxine darted glances over at her, knowing something was coming. And it did.
“Max, do you ever want to just get up and go?”
“What do you mean? Go where?”
“You know, just hit the road. Remember that movie, Thelma and Louise? Like that.”
“I hope not just like that! They drove off a cliff at the end.”
“True. True. I wouldn’t want to do that. But I think I would like to go somewhere, get away from my routine and experience something new.”
“What brought this on?”
“I guess it’s being with the Shady Rest folks,” Mrs. Entwhistle said slowly. “I’ve known all of them for years. They used to be interested in other people and what was going on in the world, but now all they can think about is their ailments and medications and doctor visits.”
“Well, when you don’t feel good, that does tend to occupy your mind, don’t you think?”
“Oh, sure, I get that. But it’s just sad. There’s more to this world than counting out your pills. I think I’d like to get out there and see some of it. One last time.”
Mrs. Entwhistle sounded wistful. She and Floyd had never been able to travel as they’d planned when he retired. In fact, except for the trip she and Maxine had taken to Hawaii courtesy of her Publishers Clearinghouse winnings, she hadn’t been much of anywhere.
“It’s not that I don’t love my home. I’m grateful for it,” she continued, “and I’m not talking about a big elaborate cruise or anything. I just wish I’d seen more of the U.S.A. when I was younger. Do you think it’s too late?”
“What exactly do you have in mind?” Maxine asked.
“Let’s just pack up the car and take off.”
“Do you have your heart set on a destination?”
“I’d like to see the Southwest,” Mrs. Entwhistle replied. “You know how I love the book, Lonesome Dove. I’ve read it four times. Well, I’d like to see that countryside. Tumbleweeds and pueblos and the like.”
Maxine’s face lit up. “I know! I have a niece in Santa Monica who’s going to have her first baby in about a month. Her mama has passed. You remember, my youngest sister, Lucille?”
Mrs. Entwhistle nodded. “Yes, that was sad. She was too young.”
They were quiet for a minute, reflecting on the vagaries of life and how fast things could change. Maxine’s sister had gotten up expecting a normal day and had a fatal heart attack. You just never knew.
“I’d love to stand in for Lucille, see the baby and maybe help out a bit if Lucy Junior needs it. I know Lucy will miss her mother so much when the baby comes.”
“Santa Monica is near Los Angeles,” Mrs. Entwhistle said. She pulled out her phone and conjured up a map with a certain smugness at being able to do so. Her phone had caused her many hours of frustration and confusion as she was learning to use it, but she felt confident in her skills now.
“You know what? We could take Route 66 all the way like they did on that television show. We’d see some scenery and the route is far enough south that we shouldn’t get into terrible weather if we left right away. What do you think?”
The more they talked about it, the more they liked the idea. “We could take my car,” Maxine said, “it’s big and comfortable.”
“The gas, though,” Mrs. Entwhistle said.
“Yes, but we’ll be splitting the cost,” Maxine said. She was sensitive about what it took to drive her behemoth of a car down the road. “And my car really isn’t all that inefficient. I only drive it on short hops, so of course, it guzzles gas. But on the road, I bet it would do fine.”
“Hmm. Okay. We certainly couldn’t take my car, it’s pretty well toast. If I didn’t have the scooter, I couldn’t get around at all.”
Mrs. Entwhistle had gotten herself a pink scooter as a result of her friendship with Dex Shofield, intern and co-conspirator at the newspaper where they’d both worked, the Pantograph. Dex cut a dashing figure on his motorcycle. When Mrs. Entwhistle’s old car finally died, he convinced her to try a milder version, a Pink Vespa, herself. She loved it. She liked to say that she rode her scooter with gusto, and if gusto couldn’t come, she rode alone – a joke that never got old as far as she was concerned. She knew her contemporaries uttered dire prophecies about what would befall her for riding a scooter at her age, but that just made the experience sweeter.
“Oh!” Mrs. Entwhistle was struck by a thought. “What about my job? Jimmy Jack counts on me.”
Jimmy Jack McNamara was her editor and boss at the Pantograph where Mrs. Entwhistle worked as a reporter – the oldest reporter ever, she suspected. She’d had –let’s say creative differences with Jimmy Jack, but over time they’d developed a working relationship that both respected.
“I’m sure Jimmy Jack would let you have a vacation,” Maxine said. “You’ve been working there for over a year and have never taken time off.”
“Yes, but I don’t want just two weeks,” Mrs. Entwhistle said. “I want an open-ended time to go wherever we want, and not be worried about getting back for work.”
“Well, you know what that means.”
“I’d have to quit?”
“I guess you would.”
“I need the paycheck, though.”
They thought for a while. Then Maxine said, “Do you suppose the Pantograph would want some travel articles?”
It turned out Jimmy Jack was amenable to the idea of travel articles. He’d come a long way since the days when all he wanted to do was put out the paper with as little effort as possible. Mrs. Entwhistle had been happy to revise her initial opinion that he was indolent, indecisive and ignorant. She felt a secret pride that she’d brought him along.
“It might be just the thing to broaden our horizons,” he said when Mrs. Entwhistle broached the idea to him. “Most folks around here go by car when they travel, so it would be of interest to our readers. Do you have a planned route and destination?”
“Well, we thought we’d head for California,” Mrs. Entwhistle said. “We’ve never been there, and Maxine has a niece in Santa Monica who’s going to have a baby. She’d like to see the young’un and maybe help her niece a little bit. We thought we’d take Route 66, like on that old television show.”
Jimmy Jack looked blank and Mrs. Entwhistle remembered he was too young to remember the program. “Never mind,” she said, “It was about two young men who set out in a Corvette to drive across the country on Route 66. Before your time.”
“Do you think it’s safe, though?” Jimmy Jack asked, worry creasing his brow. “I mean, the two of you aren’t as young as you used to be.”
Mrs. Entwhistle regarded him in frosty silence long enough to make sweat pop out along his hairline. “None of us are, for that matter,” she finally said. “I think Maxine and I are the best judges of what we can do.”
“Oh, of course you are, of course,” Jimmy Jack said, “I just meant…”
“I know what you meant.”
“Well, anyway, travel articles would be great, just great. If you feel up to it…” Another frosty stare. “I mean, of course, you’d feel up to it, you could take your laptop and just send me a story whenever you like.”
Mrs. Entwhistle took mercy on him and graciously agreed to file stories whenever the spirit moved her while she continued to get her regular paycheck. Satisfied with the outcome of their meeting, she hurried home to call Maxine and tell her their path was clear, at least that aspect of it.
Roger met her at the door, his filmy old eyes searching until they found her face. Then he attempted a happy shuffle, but it made him cough and he had to settle for wagging his tail.
“Oh, dear, Roger. What will I do about you?”