Monday, July 3, 2017

The Home by Jonathan Yom-Tov

Mike's retirement home is going out of business unless he can find a drastic solution; by Jonathan Yom-Tov.

"You're dead, or you will be in a year tops." Sam looked up from his papers. "Actually, that's an unfortunate choice of words, especially given the circumstances. Sorry," he laughed weakly. "I meant the home will go bankrupt."

"That's terrible," Mike said. He ran his hand through his thinning hair. "I can't let that happen, I'll be out of a job. Isn't there anything you can do?"

"Me? It's not up to me. Your business model is the problem. It made sense years ago, but now, with life expectancy going through the roof, you're losing money on almost every customer."

"I don't understand. If they're living longer we should be making more money, not less. This doesn't make any sense."

Sam sighed and leaned back in his chair. The leather creaked as it sought to accommodate his new posture. He cracked his knuckles and put his hands behind his head.

"Look, Mike, when Sea Village was set up your average resident would die within two years of moving in. So at the time it made sense. You charged a lump sum at admittance plus a monthly fee. But, the monthly payment didn't cover your costs. You were betting that the resident would die before the admittance fee ran out. That worked for years, it doesn't anymore."

"So can't we just charge a larger admittance fee?"

"It's too late for that. Even if you started doing that today your current residents are still going to run you into the ground. Unless at least five of your residents drop dead tomorrow Sea Village will go bankrupt in less than a year. There's plenty of retirement homes around here, though. I'm sure you'll be able to find another job."

"Are you kidding? I'm fifty seven. I'm practically retired myself. Who's going to take me? There has to be something I can do."

"I can't think of anything. Anything legal that is." He winked at Mike, who was too dejected to respond.

"OK, thanks Sam. I'll see you later then."

Mike's drive to Sea Village was a confused jumble of cars, traffic lights and the occasional pedestrian crossing in front of his car without a care in the world. He stopped outside the home and tried to calm his shuddering breath. The hood of the car blurred into tears. Mike took three slow, deliberate breaths and stepped out.

Rudy was waiting for him at the top of the stairs leading to the entrance. His tall, lanky frame was wrapped around a nearly spent cigarette which he flicked into a hedgerow as Mike got out of his car.

"Mike, it's Mrs. Blumenfeld," Rudy called out before Mike even had time to cross the street, "she's locked herself in the toilet again. You have to come quick. She's been there for hours already and she's not taking her pills. She says she won't come out until she speaks to you. I know you like her Mike, but she's a real pain in the ass. This is the third time she's done this. What the hell's wrong with her?"

"It's my fault, we were supposed to play chess today at twelve but there was an emergency at the accountant's and I forgot all about it."

"Ah! Bitch, she's acting like a real bitch. Still, she's your problem now. Here, take her pills. And Mike, I gotta warn you, it stinks real bad in there, I think Mr. Feldman's dog had some pizza that didn't agree with him. I don't understand why he thinks the dog should go to the toilet, the guy's crazy!"

Mike pushed the door open and strode to the toilet. As he opened the door a nauseating stench assaulted his nostrils. He yanked his shirt up and covered his nose.

"Mrs. Blumenfeld, it's me, Mike."

"Mike, finally here. You're late for our appointment," Mrs. Blumenfeld drawled.

"Yes, I know, I'm very sorry, there was an emergency."

"Mike, take your shirt off your nose. I can't understand what you're saying. Take a deep breath and breathe the smell in deep like a man."

He gingerly eased the shirt off his nose and took a small breath, nearly gagging.

"Mrs. Blumenfeld, I'm sorry. I know I'm late but there was an emergency. Please come out."

"Come out? Why should I come out? I like it here."

"Mrs. Blumenfeld, please, it's not funny. You have to take your meds. Come on out and we can play some chess."

The door creaked open slowly. Mrs. Blumenfeld was leaning against the wall of the stall holding a long, unlit cigarette in a black holder. Her garish red lipstick clashed with her thick rimmed green glasses. She was smiling slightly, enjoying Mike's discomfiture.

"Late for our play date. That's no way to treat a lady, goychik."

"I know, I know. I'll tell you all about it later. Now take my hand and let's go."

Mrs. Blumenfeld pretended to puff on her cigarette, then held out her hand languidly. Mike took it and they walked slowly to the common room.

"You know, when I was younger people stopped to look when I made an entrance. Don't get old, Mike..."

"There's no future in it," he completed the sentence.

Mike and Mrs. Blumenfeld sat down at a plastic table by a tall window in the common room. He handed her the pills and she gulped them down one by one. The chess board was already laid out. Heavy pieces faced each other, four neat rows ready to do battle. Mrs. Blumenfeld took the white pieces and opened with the Sicilian, her usual, swatting the stop watch with every move.

"You're not up to your usual standard today, Mike. What's wrong?"

Mike looked around. Mr. Goldman was the only other person in the room, sitting two tables away and staring into space.

"Oh, don't mind him. Since his episode two weeks ago he's not going to mind, whatever you say."

"I went to see Sam, the new accountant, today. He told me we were going to go bankrupt soon."

"What do you mean bankrupt?"

"I mean it's all over. We're toast."

"You mean you're going to turn me out onto the street?"

"Of course not, we're going to find other homes for everyone," he didn't sound convincing, even to himself.

"Mike, I'm not an idiot. I paid a lot of money for this home and I don't have any more. No one's going to take me in for free. There must be something you can do to save this place."

"Yeah, Sam said I can kill some of the older residents, that'll save some money," he said glumly.

Mrs. Blumenfeld silently turned to look at Mr. Goldman.

"What? Are you crazy? I'm not going to kill anyone. I'll find a solution."

"Look at him, he won't mind. This is what he does all day, just stare into space. He can't hear anymore, I'm not even sure he can see anything. You think this is better than death? If I ever get to that state I want you to kill me."

"I'm not a murderer, and even if I was one's not enough. Sam said we need to get rid of at least five. I'm telling you I'll find a solution, it's going to be OK," he fixed his gaze on the board. "Your move, let's finish the game."

"It's over, goychik," Mrs. Blumenfeld plumped the bishop back on the board. "Check mate."

"Oh goddamit!"

"It's late, I'm going to my room to get some rest. I'm having a little bash with the guys from the first floor later. Don't wait up." She blew him a kiss and hobbled away to the elevator.

Mike slumped in his chair. Mr. Goldman was still staring into space. He hadn't moved at all. Someone should have taken him up to his room already. He thought of tracking down Rudy and telling him to do it, but Rudy would just find some excuse to get out of it. Mike sighed and got up. He walked over to Mr. Goldman and wheeled him to the elevator.

"What am I going to do with you Mr. Goldman? What am I going to do with all of us?"

Mr. Goldman's room smelled slightly of disinfectant. A photo hanging over his bed showed a slightly younger Mr. Goldman sitting on a lawn surrounded by his kids and grandkids. Mike hadn't seen much of them since Mr. Goldman checked in years ago. His daughter had come by once and one of his sons came once every year over the holidays, but that was about it. Still, he'd made some friends at the home and spent his days playing elaborate practical jokes on the residents. Sometimes they were even funny.

Now he was a pitiful sight. The doctors said he would never recover.

"You've had good run, Mr. Goldman. What do you think of life now? Still hoping for more or have you had enough?"

There was a bottle full of sleeping pills next to the bed. Mike picked it up and rattled it a couple of times. No one would know, no one would care. Hell, Mr. Goldman might even be grateful. He remembered his father fading away slowly. Three years during which he was no longer really alive, just a piece of flotsam hanging between life and death. He'd always told Mike to kill him if he'd ever ended up in that state but when the time came Mike couldn't do it and his father hung on so tight that Mike wondered if he really wanted him to.

"Ah, who am I kidding, I'm no murderer."

He pressed a button to call a nurse and turned to leave the room. His phone rang. It was Rudy.

"What is it now?"

"Mike, you know I told you about Mr. Feldman's dog?"

"Yeah."

"Well, it's worse than I thought. Someone left the door to the medicine room open. There's pills all over the floor. I think the dog must've swallowed a bunch of them. There's a trail of shit all the way from the door to the men's room to one of the stalls. It's like the Yellow Shit Road in here."

Mike sighed. What a day. "Rudy, relax. Get it cleaned up, I'm coming over."

"I'm not cleaning this shit up. It's like the St. Valentine's day massacre, except with shit instead of blood. I slipped and fell on it and I'm all dirty. It's fucking disgusting Mike."

"OK, so call a maid. Did you lock the medicine room at least?"

"Yeah, it's locked. Just get down here. I'm going home to get cleaned up."

Mike trudged down the stairs. Another mess to sort out. What a day, what a day.



The alarm clock went off and jolted Mike from sleep. He turned it off and felt for his phone. He squinted at the screen as it came into focus. There was an email message from Sam.

Mike,

Good news. I think I have a solution for your problem. I have some meetings this morning but I'll call you when I'm done.

Sam

Mike collapsed back to the bed and lay still for a few minutes, letting relief wash over him like warm ocean water. He was saved. He hummed as he got out of bed and made himself breakfast. It was a good thing today was Friday, because tonight would be party time.



There were three police cars outside the home. Mike parked in his usual spot and got out of the car.

"Mike, Mike, over here!" Rudy whispered. He was hiding behind one of the trees on the sidewalk.

"What is it?"

"Just wanted to let you know before you go in: someone died."

"Oh, who is it this time?"

"Mr. Sykes, Mrs. Helms, Mr. Wright, Mr. Bloomberg and Mrs. Schonberg."

"What? Five people? How the fuck did that happen?"

"How should I know? I got here this morning and the nurse told me she found them dead in the common room. She thinks they all overdosed on pills. I called the cops over. They don't seem too happy."

"No shit they're not happy. How did five people die at the same time?"

Mike crossed the street and climbed the stairs. He could feel his heart pounding with unfamiliar tempo. Three cops stood in a small circle in the entrance corridor. One towered over the others. They all turned to face him as he walked in.

"You Mike?" It was the tall cop. He wore a dark scowl and a neatly pressed blue uniform. His shirt seemed barely able to contain his enormous pectorals.

"Yes."

"I need to ask you some questions. Let's step into your office."

"Sure."

The cop turned and started walking, Mike followed. He tried to calm his breath which was getting more and more irregular. He could feel himself getting sweaty. As he passed the door to the common room he saw Mrs. Blumenfeld. She gave him a slow wink. Probably trying to reassure him. Then, to Mike's horror, she pointed to the common room and made a cutting motion with her hand over her throat. She was smiling the whole time.

4 comments:

  1. Excellent story. Contains everything, humour, drama, horror, the lot; and so well told. I loved it, Jonathan. More, please.
    Beryl.

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  2. Great romp on the dark side - well paced with a rainbow of emotions. I loved Mrs Blumenfeld and the hapless Mike. Very strong writing, thank you, Ceinwen

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  3. First class with excellently drawn characters. Mrs. Blumenfeld was not going to give up her home from home without a fight.
    Mike McC

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  4. Oh my goodness! A piece of arch manipulation, but at the same time raising one of the big big big questions of the 21st century about our longevity.
    B r o o k e

    ReplyDelete