Second Star to the Right…

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No matter what Captain Kirk says, it isn’t space that’s the final frontier.

It’s age.

I’ve been a resident at the Barrie Retirement Home for fifteen years now. I spend my time reading, doing crossword puzzles, playing cards with the other old gals, and taking up my position in front of the huge glass window that looks out on the retirement home’s parking lot. There’s a row of rocking chairs lined up in front of that window, and most of us spend our afternoons in front of it, slowly rocking back and forth, and gazing out at the driveway and at the woods beyond it.

And waiting.

We’re waiting for something… for someone. Usually family. We watch as they drive up to the entrance and park their cars. We watch their body language as they disembark, their faces closed, their walk to the front door slow, reluctant. They don’t want to be here, fearful that old age is catching, and they look at their watches even as they approach the automated doors.

Who can blame them?

I don’t want to be here either.

Mrs. Darling’s teenage grandson said it best as he was leaving last week. “Thank God another visit to the window lizards is over.”

His father saw I’d overheard and he turned scarlet. “Shut up, Tommy.”

To the boy’s credit, he had the grace to look embarrassed.

But why should he? It’s the truth. Window lizards. That’s what we are. Time has stolen our vitality. Our sole purpose in life now is to hold onto it. Hold onto it for another day. And for what? So that our wizened, leathered bodies can sit in front of this window, watching life as it comes to visit – and then, too soon, depart?

Some existence.

Shifting in my chair, I laid the crossword puzzle book down on my lap and glanced over at Peter, who’d fallen asleep in his rocker.

I like Peter.

He must have been a looker in his youth; there are still vestiges of a once attractive man around his eyes. Those blue eyes, now slightly dulled, still sparkle when he tells a story, and no one tells a story better than Peter. He once showed me a faded photograph – taken on his wedding day – and I was surprised to see he’d been a redhead back in the day. Such beautiful hair. Even the aged photograph couldn’t dim its vivid carrot color.

That was then, though.

Like all of us, Peter had experienced too many visits with Lady Time. She’s a harsh mistress, that one. Shows up without invitation and, in the end, spares none of us. Not even Peter, whose sleeping, slack face bore evidence of time’s stamp.

He must have sensed my study of him; he began to stir and slowly roused himself.

“What time is it?” he asked in a hoarse, old man voice.

“Does it matter? You going somewhere?”

Peter grinned. “Always the comedian, aren’t you?”

Painfully, he adjusted his body in the rocker, and his eyes gazed wistfully out the window. “You never know, though,” he said softly, his words more for himself than me.

“Know what?”

Peter looked at me. “I might be going somewhere. I was never meant for this.”

I snorted. “Who was? You think I booked a room at Hotel Barrie with my travel agent?”

“I’m going to be leaving soon.”

I laughed. “You can’t even get from that chair to the toilet without help. So, Mr. World Traveler, where do you think you’re going?”

He leaned forward in his chair, his eyes searching the woods beyond the parking lot.

“What are you looking for?” I was intrigued, in spite of myself.

“My gang. They should have been here by now.” He frowned. “I used to think that to die would be an awfully great adventure… but it’s not. It’s a tedious endeavor.”

With a palsied hand, he rubbed his forehead. “Why can’t I remember the words? If I could remember the words, she’d reappear, and once more we’d go off together, and such grand adventures would await us.”

“Who would appear – your wife?”

He shook his head. “No, no… Wendy died years ago. It’s the other… she’s the one who would come back. She deserted me when I married.”

Sighing, I picked up the puzzle book. I was used to Peter’s ramblings about the mysterious creature who turned her back on him when he married his wife. Generally alert, Peter sometimes went off on tangents of fancy that made me worry if dementia was settling in. I’d heard the doctor’s whispered comment to another physician as they passed Peter’s room one night. “Mercury poisoning, I’m afraid… it’s affected his brain.”

Perhaps the doctor was right. Peter’s ramblings about a gang or secret organization waiting for him was the stuff of madmen.

“Evelyn, have you ever flown?”

I glanced up from the book. He was looking at me intently. “Sure… before I became this old, I used to visit my daughter on the coast… flew out there every summer.”

“That’s not what I mean… have you ever flown?” His voice was urgent. “I used to love to fly. I’d soar above the rooftops. It was such an adventure! The cool night air, the feel of it against my skin, the stars so bright, so close…I could almost touch them…

“I loved my wife, Evelyn. I wouldn’t trade those years. I wouldn’t, do you hear me?” He sat up, agitated.

“Peter, calm down. I know you loved your wife. Don’t rile yourself so.”

“But the other… she was so jealous. She stole my ability to fly.” Tears formed in the corners of his eyes. “If I could just remember the words, I know she’d come back… take pity on me. Oh, Evelyn! I so want to fly again… just once more. Just one last grand adventure!”

I didn’t know what to say, and so I reached over, placing my hand atop his, and we rocked in silence for several moments, only the sound of Peter’s weeping disturbing the quiet.

At some point, I must have fallen asleep in the chair because a gentle voice was calling my name. “Miss Evelyn?”

I opened my eyes and the kind, brown face of Louise Hayes was facing mine. I love Louise; she’s my favorite of all the health aides.

“I guess I fell asleep.”

She chuckled. “Yes ma’am, I guess you did. You ready to go back to your room now?”

“I think so. How about you, Peter?” I asked, turning to his chair.

It was empty.

I looked at Louise, and she was gazing at me sadly. “He passed while you were sleeping. I’m sorry. He was a favorite of yours, wasn’t he?”

My throat constricted with pain, and I could only nod. Peter! Gone! I blinked back tears, hoping his journey was one last grand adventure.

Louise bent down to retrieve my puzzle book, which had fallen to the floor.

“Damned housekeeping,” she muttered softly, brushing the cover of the book. “Look at all this dust on the floor.”

She handed the book to me, and I glanced down at it.

A small sprinkling of dust still clung to its cover.

Gold and sparkling.

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__________________
Word Count: 1206
Author’s Note: This story is written in response to a challenge to write a tale of indeterminate length based on phrases that are part of this week’s ‘Inspiration Monday’ from the blog, BeKindRewrite. The phrases used are: window lizards; mercury poisoning; secret organization; time stamp; and the final frontier. Thanks to BeKindRewrite for the inspiration prompts this week!

About Kate Loveton

Aspiring novelist. Avid reader of fiction. Reviewer of books. By day, my undercover identity is that of meek, mild-mannered legal assistant, Kate Loveton, working in the confines of a stuffy corporate law office; by night, however, I'm a super hero: Kate Loveton, Aspiring Novelist and Spinner of Tales. My favorite words are 'Once upon a time... ' Won't you join me on my journey as I attempt to turn a hobby into something more?
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35 Responses to Second Star to the Right…

  1. How wonderful – Tinkerbell returned to Peter and took him once again to Neverland. Forgiveness lasts forever.

  2. W. K. Tucker says:

    I picked up on the Peter Pan references too–Tinker Bell, the jealous woman.
    I would like to think that something wonderful awaits us when we die, most especially now that I am no “spring chicken” anymore.
    Not long before he passed away, my dad told me the happiest time in his life was when all us kids were little and Ma’am (that’s what he called my mother in later years) and he were raising us. Both loved gardening. When I think about them, I like to picture them together in a a place of eternal spring, tending their garden surrounded by a group of laughing children.
    I have yet to figure out what I’d like to spend eternity doing, but hopefully I have quite a few more years to figure it out. lol
    Loved your story, Kate. It was very poignant.

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Thanks, Kathy! I like the thought of your parents tending a garden as you describe it. That’s a lovely image. I have trouble thinking about the afterlife. A friend once told me her vision of it was soaring through the universe and visiting all the different planets and star systems since, she said, we would not have to worry about things such as time or distance. A nice thought.

      I suppose when I do think about the afterlife, I always remember a story my grandmother told me. My grandmother’s name was Mary. When she was a little girl, she slept with her own grandmother. One night her grandmother began to have difficulty breathing, and suddenly sat up in the bed and started weeping. My grandmother asked her what was wrong and she said, ‘Oh, Mary! It’s so beautiful! I wish you could see it.’ She passed away a few minutes later.

      So that was my grandmother’s story. She was convinced her grandmother had experienced a vision of heaven before she died.

      And who is to say she didn’t? 🙂

  3. Excellent work as always, Kate!

    I love the fact that you took a magical Disney story and gave it a modern twist. I don’t think any of us really want to face the reality of growing old and I found it both touching and poignant that Peter and Evelyn were both still young at heart, despite their ageing bodies failing them.

    The Peter Pan references throughout were wonderful. Such clever writing, I loved it! ❤

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Hi Heather! Thanks for the kind words. ❤ Growing old really is the final frontier and not one that can be missed by those of us who live long enough. I thought I was writing a story about old age, but I think I was also writing a tale about what it once meant to be young – to have big adventures, to soar through life, to believe in magic. I'm so glad you liked it!

  4. willow1945 says:

    I enjoyed this so much; well-drawn characters and the exact feel of life in a nursing home (my late husband was in one for months); I loved Peter’s desire to fly, and the lovely, magical ending. I’ll come back to this one.

  5. Kate Loveton says:

    Hi Stephanie! I’m so glad you picked up on the Peter Pan references! I think the story works even if people aren’t familiar with the story of Peter Pan, but I think it is more meaningful if they are. I loved your prompts last week! In fact, I love all the prompts you offer up. They always get the wheels in my brain turning in odd directions! 🙂

  6. Stephanie says:

    Think happy thoughts, Evelyn!!! Sad, and happy at the same time, if you look at it a certain way.

    Brilliant references throughout – Barrie!

  7. J. Sander says:

    Great short story Kate! Bravo!

  8. Stephen Thom says:

    This is a great one. You captured that existence really well, quite hard to read about, at the start, then it branched off into something different. I like the magi-realism elements, i like when they are tied into reality, that’s my type of thing. Kinda Peter Pan inspired, the names, JM Barrie? I can’t remember much about the Peter Pan story though so maybe not. Nice writing again, nice touches in making the dialogue fragmented and realistic. 🙂 🙂

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Hi Stephen. Your comments made me very happy – I was hoping someone might pick up on the JM Barrie reference. I didn’t want to clobber anyone over the head with hints, but – yes – it was a Peter Pan-inspired story. The gang ‘old Peter’ was looking for was the Lost Boys; the mysterious creature who left him behind when he married ‘Wendy’ was, of course, Tinker Bell; Peter once said that to die would be an awfully big adventure; and the dust – at the end – pixie dust? 🙂 But I hope I left the reader wondering whether Peter was in fact Peter Pan grown old or some elderly gentlemen lost in dementia. I found the idea of Peter (the boy who never wanted to grow up) reaching old age an intriguing one to write about. I’m so glad you enjoyed the story!

  9. So amazing! This story just made my day. Thank you so much for this! ❤

  10. Harliqueen says:

    What a short story, incredible writing once again 🙂

  11. Julia Lund says:

    Loved it, loved it! I like to believe that Peter really did leave for the second star on the right. A tale touched with magic realism. I have to admit that, after the present tense opening, my mind translated the rest of the telling to present tense, which gave the story an even more immediate impact.
    A beautiful story. Thank you.

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Thanks, Julia! I’m so glad you enjoyed the story. I liked your term ‘magic realism.’ I did want to insert some magic into a rather grim tale, and I’m glad I succeeded. And thank you for your helpful comment, as well – I appreciated it. 🙂

  12. My God, Kate – I can’t tell you how hard that was to read. It conjured up strong memories of my own parents’ descent from lucidity and their ultimate demise, Dad first then, some years later, Mum.
    I don’t know how you do it, Kate, but don’t stop, please.

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Hi Keith, I can remember visiting similar facilities when my husband’s grandfather and, later, his grandmother were living in one. I tried to put myself in Evelyn’s mindset. I have to say, perverse or not, when the prompt, ‘glass lizards,’ was offered up, I immediately thought of those rocking chairs filled with the elderly, stationed in front of a huge window, the residents staring out the window, their eyes very still – the same sort of stillness one observes in a lizard as it studies its surroundings. I could imagine a kid making a comment about it and not wanting to be there.

      Thanks for your kind words about the story, and for letting me know it moved you.

  13. I got my cup of coffee and sat down to have an enjoyable read. I wasn’t disappointed – this was terrific. I never know where your little gray cells will take me, but it’s always a wonderful journey. Barrie Retirement Home could be the place where my Mom lived until she died, and your description is spot on. It brought tears to my eyes. And then I teared up again at the end…second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Hi Noelle, I’ve always loved that line – ‘second star to the right and straight on ’til morning. I’m glad that while I only used part of the line as a title you understood what I meant by it. 🙂 I’m pleased you found parts of the story realistic and that it moved you. Thank you for letting me know! 🙂

  14. That was an incredible short story, I loved every bit of it!!! Very, very nicely done!

  15. markbialczak says:

    Damn, Kate.

    I’ll read your novel about the woman who lives in Barrie and sees so much as the residents go by and leave her mercifully behind.

    I know it’s prompted, but this is beautifully crafted,

    Wow.

    Yay.

    Clap.

    Dig it.

    I don’t think you or I are this old yet but our age relates to your words here.

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