TOURISM • by Tree Riesener

They got this sign hanging in the social room, cute, with a picture of a beat-up but well-loved children’s teddy bear. Says on it, “Everybody loves fat old wrinkled teddy bears.”

We’re supposed to think of us, cause a lot of us are dumpy and for sure we’re wrinkled and getting on.

All I can say is, when you’re as old as we are, you know what the ugliest girl in the school felt like.

Still, on the whole it’s not so bad here. The dining hall’s cheerful, and they sit all the ones can’t feed themselves anymore at a separate table so the rest of us can enjoy some conversation. For instance, last night we discussed what would be worse than being old. We decided weighing 600 pounds would be except you’d have a little hope you might someday get thin.

The home’s pretty much our world, but every once in a while they take us out in a van to go shopping at the dollar store. Good as going on vacation used to be. We bring back some souvenirs for those too feeble to go out, tell them what the sights are like.

Hank Mortimer got ahold of one of those throw-away cameras and took some photos of the strip mall, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Payless Shoes and other sights so as to share the journey with those too bad to go, but he wasn’t ever able to get them developed. Probably just as well. It’d be too hard for them can’t travel any more but still remember.

Anyway, you can armchair travel to strange places just looking at the home’s pile of old magazines, like trying to understand a foreign language. I was looking at a Cosmopolitan, trying to grasp what the world outside is like now for women. The non-stop orgasms sounded exhausting and to be perfectly honest, I was glad I didn’t have to try anymore.

But you can tell those youngsters know what’s ahead for them. Women, especially, try to work on themselves a lot, thinking they can stop the steady advance of age. The array of stuff they have to buy is unbelievable.

I remember hair spray but what’s the difference between volumizing mousse, shaping mousse, sculpting gel, texturizing gel, spray gel, smoothing gel, and air-infused styling foam? I’m not even going to start on Hydro-Power eye shadow. I ask you. Might as well be in a foreign country.

Forget about beauty treatments. They don’t even encourage us to coax our bodies with vitamins and operations here. Pretty much the quieting pills is all we get. This is a death camp for old adults, like the sunshine camps for terminally ill children except they never put us old wrinkled teddy bears on television.

Nor is this one of those fancy homes where they serve cocktails before dinner. The county pays for us. When they think our time’s coming near, they got a deal with the bus company to drive us out of state and dump us somewhere. They say it’s to go to a hospice but word gets back.

When that happens, the rest of us get a distraction, ice cream or something and a golden oldie movie. Nobody feels much like talking and sometimes you hear people crying out on those nights.

Choice gets less and less along with your strength. I’m one of the lucky ones can still walk, and since I don’t see any reason not to stay put, they don’t have one of those security anklets on me yet. I been moving my daytime seating nearer and nearer to the door that’s not kept locked, looking innocent as pie.

My only chance is going to be some day when the weather’s down near zero. I’ll wait until there’s some furor or other and slip out, take a walk down near the river. They’re used to me wandering around the halls at all hours of the night and day, so it’ll be some time before they raise the alarm. In this thin little dress, slippers, not even a robe, I think I’ll have enough time.

They say it’s an easy death, like that Arctic explorer up at the North Pole with Scott. He was injured and slowing them down too much in the race with life and death, so in the middle of a blizzard, he said to the others in his tent, “I think I’ll go out for a walk. I may be gone for some time,” and he just never came back.

He’s always been considered a hero but they’ll make it look like I was getting senile. Won’t make any difference to me by then. Who knows, I might even rate a mention on the evening news.

In the meantime, I enjoy sitting here in the lobby, watching the diaper deliveries come in, planning my last journey. I was always a great traveler. Thought nothing of jumping in my car and traveling over to Pittsburgh, up to Altoona, once even as far as Graceland.

This time I’ll have to wander out into the storm, but I’ll have all the details well in hand, and I’m just going to think of it as my last road trip, heading up north this time.

Tree Riesener is the author of an collection of fiction, Sleepers Awake, winner of the Eludia Award from Hidden River Arts. She has also published five books of poetry: Liminalog, Angel Poison, Inscapes, The Hubble Cantos and EK (forthcoming in 2017 from Cervena Barva Press).

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