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Eloise didn’t sleep well that night. She had found the smiling faces of the gray-haired men and women in the brochure unsettling. On one hand she couldn’t picture herself sitting companionably with them, talking about the weather, comparing the current aches and pains, whether or not they were going to play bingo on Friday, et cetera. But David’s seemingly genuine concern had slipped in under the radar of her defenses. She hadn’t told anyone about the fall she had taken the other day on her walk — more of a stumble really — and nothing got bruised except for one knee plus her sense of dignity. But still, it had rattled her for the rest of the day. Rattled her still.
Finally giving up on sleep as the sky started to lighten, she made herself a cup of tea and sat out on the porch swing, wrapped up in the faded red plaid bathrobe that had been Charlie’s. She had worn it every day since he died, taking care to patch the thinning spots on the elbows, stitching up the fraying cuffs. She had spent so many mornings on this porch, across the landscape of births, deaths, all the life in between, facing the glorious bright beauty of the sun rising up over the foothills. She sighed. She hated the feeling that she was old. That was it, after all, wasn’t it? Those people in the brochure were old. Older than Eloise felt, at least most days. But they did look happy, and — and what else? Carefree? Something like that.
Oh seriously, Eloise, she chided herself, in their brochures are they going to put pictures of miserable old people who have been abandoned by their children? Still. Maybe she should take a look. She knew she couldn’t stay in this house forever. With everyone gone it was getting to be more than she could handle. Maybe it was time to let it go.
“Well Charlie, what do you think?” She often talked to him from her thoughts after he died. It brought her comfort, and imagining what he would say helped her when she was pondering a question or when there was a decision to be made. She sipped her tea thoughtfully, watching the sky slip from dusky blue to pale with streaks of salmon-pink. It was hard to imagine not having this porch, this view.
“I’m scared, Charlie.” There. She said it.
The check that had arrived in the mail hadn’t been huge by some standards, but it was more than enough. Certainly more than she had ever seen in one place. Charlie hadn’t told her he had taken out a life insurance policy after they got married. The lawyer broke the news to her as she sat across the desk from him a few days after the funeral. He told her to expect a regular beneficiary check from Social Security too. That was three years ago. He gave her a recommendation for a financial planner, who helped her invest the money. Eloise was impressed with how much her accounts had grown. She hadn’t told anyone about it, not even David and Priscilla. She knew Charlie would want her to save it for a “rainy day.” Well, now it was beginning to feel like a monsoon.
It began to rain just as the taxi reached its destination. The intrusive, loud roar of an airplane passing close overhead forced Eloise to wait a few moments before thanking the driver as he retrieved her suitcase. She smiled at him and handed him a tip.
“So where are you going, ma’am?” he asked.
“France,” she said, smiling back at him.