ESCAPE FROM CRANBERRY COURT
They didn’t expect her to live this long, so they stuck her in a nursing home and waited for her to die. In her day, she was a yoga instructor. She had to argue with the director to let her teach yoga to the “guests” as they were called. She was hoping for an opportunity to escape, but never thought it would happen like this.
She was reading the novel “Terrorist” by John Updike – every paragraph, she thought, so well-crafted – propped up in bed by a huge feather pillow – silver guard rails up, as if she were a baby in her crib.
The smell of smoke came drifting into her room. Nothing to be worried about, she thought, at first. Reminded her of backyard barbeques in their row house in Northeast Philadelphia.
Suddenly the ceiling sprinkler went off and she was doused with freezing cold water. A hideously loud alarm bell sounded in her room and the hallway. They weren’t kidding, she thought.
Her mind was clear and she realized this was the chance to escape she had been yearning for. What should she do? She lowered the bed rails, as she sang “Over the River and through the Woods” and stepped into her awaiting Deer Foam Slippers.
A small woman, with barely any hair, she began to pack, stepping up her pace. First, she put on her red wig, which made her look twenty years younger, and packed a small overnight bag Margaret had given her when she was in hospice here at Cranberry Court.
She slid open the closet door. Things were made easy for the elderly. She slipped on a warm Anne Klein coat, with lining, made sure there were hankies in the pockets, and then put on her galoshes.
What time was it, she wondered. One part of her brain that didn’t work so well was her sense of time. All the days were the same at the nursing home. Meals, activities, Bing-o, chair exercises, Miss Claire’s Yoga every other Wednesday. That was her. She kept time by looking out the window.
All packed, she placed the back of her hands on the door. Warm to the touch. Plumping up her red hair, she slipped out the door, feeling guilty for trying to save only her self. In the hallway, a horrid sight greeted her. She could barely see. Blackish-gray smoke blinded her. She dropped to the floor and began to crawl toward the red Emergency Exit sign, whose faded light shown in the distance. She wished she had knee pads as she once did when she played hockey.
Ground sticks, ground sticks, ground sticks, she thought as she imagined her bloody knees.
How much time did she have, she wondered, before she joined her dead friend Margaret underground. She refused to pray, preferring to remain an atheist in a foxhole. “My aching knees,” she kept thinking.
“Here, Kitty, Kitty,” she thought, not daring to waste breath by talking aloud.
“Please, Door, be open,” she thought, as she stood up and gave a great push with all her might.
Why didn’t it open? Was it stuck? She pushed the lever again. Nothing happened.
She tried again, this time with her elbows.
Click! Click! The door opened and out she walked, with faltering gait.
Where was she? She had no idea, but moved away from the burning building. Plumping up her hair, she trotted forward to look at the place where she’d lived for ten years now.
She gasped. Flames were shooting into the air. Truth be told, they were beautiful, mesmerizing, fascinating. Deadly flames that could possibly kill people, herself, her friends, the nurses, burned to death or smothered like in a Stephen King film.
“Run for your life,” said an inner voice. She felt like she was a Jewess running from the Nazis. On Saturday Movie Afternoon, they had watched “Defiance” with Daniel Craig. Jews ran into a thick forest to save themselves. If only she could meet Mr. Craig. She’d dazzle him with her shapely figure and he’d never guess she was one-hundred and one.
Darn! She’d forgotten to wear her earrings. She walked at a rapid pace, holding her suitcase against her chest. In a daze from the terror she had just witnessed, she realized she had almost lost her life. She looked at the heavens above and saw stars glimmering in the sky. Embers were popping and a series of explosions were going off.
“Dear God!” she called out breathlessly. “Protect me!” The fight of her life was at hand. She must find a place to hide.
Darkness covered the land. She kept walking in her galoshes, wishing she had a bread crumb path like Hansel and Gretel. Exhausted, she sat herself down on the soft grass.
In the distance, she saw a light. A man with a flashlight shone the light on her.
“Ma’am,” he said. “Are you from the nursing home?”
She wanted to say “no,” but nodded her head.
“Miss Claire,” she said. “Yoga master. But my legs ain’t what they used to be.”
“You’re on our property. Why don’t you come home with me. We have five acres of farmland.”
He helped her up and they walked toward the light on the front porch. As they came closer, they heard the moos of cows, and a small animal walked up to them.
“Meet Mitzi,” he said. “Our pet lamb. Go ahead and pet her.”
How lovely it felt to warm her hands in the curly fur of a warm-blooded animal.
“Oh, I’m Luke, like in the Bible,” he said.
“How do you like that?” she said. “The Bible has come to help me, after all.”
The first thing she saw as she entered the house was a roaring fire in the fireplace. Bright yellows and oranges and embers flying high up the chimney. A huge table made of polished walnut was set for twelve. Pink linen napkins awaited the diners.
“Don’t laugh,” she said, “but I feel I’m Snow White coming home for dinner with the dwarfs.”
They both laughed.
“Do you know what day it is tomorrow?” he asked.
“Well, it’s certainly not Christmas or our Christmas tree would be up. And Halloween is over. Our pumpkins all rotted from the inside – what a stench! – so it must be Thanksgiving.”
No wonder she’d been singing “Over the River and Through the Woods.”
“Well, Grandma, would you like to stay for Thanksgiving?” he asked, taking her overnight bag.
“I surely would,” she said. “Thank you kindly.”
After that, she would bargain to live there forever.