Family Day is just about the best thing that ever happens at Sleepy Meadows. It comes twice a year – in April and October. Any more than that, and I guess the excitement would be too much for the weak hearts of some folk.
I love Family Day because it’s one of the only times both of my kids, Sadie and Karl, come around to visit, along with my three grandkids. The rest of the time, we stay in touch on the telephone or Skype. Which is better than nothing, I guess. But nothing beats the real life warm hugs and laughter of the people you love.
This time around, I wake up with a strange, nervous feeling. Something different is going to happen on this Family Day, I just know it.
“Baloney!” says Richard, wearing his usual scowl. “Face it, Albert – the only unusual thing that’s going to happen on this Family Day is that they’re going to serve real meat instead of the mushy, ground-up garbage they serve every day.”
“My name is not Albert. It’s Al,” I say. I hold up my Magic Eight Ball. “And I’m telling you – today is different. I asked my Magic Eight Ball if something special was going to happen on Family Day, and it said ‘Signs point to yes.’”
His scowl deepens. He grabs my Magic Eight Ball from my hands, shakes it, and asks, “Magic Eight Ball, is Alastair off his rocker? Are they finally coming to take him away, haha?”
The Magic Eight Ball’s answer floats into view. Don’t count on it.
“My name,” I say, taking back the Magic Eight Ball, “is not Alastair.”
A few hours later, I must admit that I’m disappointed. I mean, it was a lovely Family Day. Sadie and Chase show up with their spouses, and my grandkids are full of stories to share with me about school and sports and family vacations I wasn’t invited to. But nothing out-of-the-ordinary has happened. Richard was right.
I hate when he’s right.
I look around for Melissa, hoping to shock my kids with the announcement that she’s my new lover. (Of course, I’d be lying, but sometimes, you have to shake people up a little, heehee). But she’s busy with her own daughter and grandkids. Richard is one of the only residents with no visitors. He spends most of the afternoon shuffling around, muttering to himself. Probably debating some political policy.
I feel kind of sorry for the guy.
After dinner, I seek him out, to ask if he wants to hang out with my grandkids and me while I help them with homework in the dining room. That’s when I see him out on the back patio, talking to someone. Richard has a visitor.
Later, he tells me that the visitor is his son, Collin. He’d missed most of Family Day, but manages to swing by at the last second.
“Dad!” he tells Richard. “I got a job! I landed a great role in a film.”
Richard sneers, looking Collin’s outlandish outfit up and down. “Don’t tell me you’re still trying to become an actor? When are you going to get a real job?”
Collin’s scowl looks just like Richard’s. “A real job doing what? Sitting in front of a computer screen in some high-rise office?” He shakes his head. “I’m not like you, okay? I need…more than that. More excitement.”
“Excitement doesn’t pay the bills.”
“I pay the bills just fine.” Collin lets out an exasperated sigh. “Look Dad, don’t you ever regret that you didn’t have much adventure in your life before you…”
Before you ended up here, I silently finish his sentence.
“Never felt like I needed adventure,” Richard says. But a wistful look comes over his face as he says it. I know how he feels. Like our time for adventures is already over. We’re permanently stuck here, in this kennel for unwanted, unneeded parents.
Collin’s face lights up then, like he’s just had a great idea. “Hey dad, let me store something here for a day or two. It’s a prop, for the movie I’m in.”
“Store some movie prop, here?” Richard looks at his son the way he’d looked at me earlier. Like he was off his rocker.
“I have to transport it to a new location this weekend. Just thought you and your friends might like to um…play around with it. You know, have adventures with a real movie prop.”
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve—”
“Rock Paper Scissors?” Collin interrupts. “Best of five wins. If I win, the prop stays here for twenty-four hours.”
To my surprise, Richard agrees. The two hold out their fists and battle it out. Ro-Sham-Bo!
Collin wins three in a row. And Richard looks a lot less grumpy when the two at last hug goodbye.
I go to bed, thinking, that must be it. That’s the big unusual thing that was going to happen today. Richard playing Rock Paper Scissors with his long-lost son, the movie star. Then the next day, Richard, Melissa, and I wander out to the garden, and we see it.
“Is that…a telephone booth?” Melissa’s eyes are huge. “What the heck is that doing in our garden?”
Richard chuckles. “That must be my son’s movie prop. I lost – well, kind of a bet. So now he’s keeping it here for a day for everyone to see.”
As the two of them start talking about the crazy things kids do sometimes, I start checking out the prop. On the outside, it looks just like an ordinary, old-time phone booth. The kind you still see in movies happening in London. I wonder if it even has a telephone inside. Pushing open the door, I step inside the booth.
Next thing I know, the phone booth starts to spin. Around and around I go, until everything is a blur. Then there’s a flash of bright light, and a whiff of smoke.
Then, there’s nothing.