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"I've been telling you for years. You should just kiss that place goodbye and move down here."
"Yeah, right. Like moving to Florida is going to make my life any better?"
Angela Dunn had called her brother to complain about losing the job she wanted to a pimply faced teenager barely out of diapers. Instead of sympathy, all she got were smart remarks. Tony was always like that. She should have known better than to call him. But who else was there?
After thirty minutes of putting up with Tony's brotherly advice, Angela's arm was getting stiff from holding the phone so she leaned back on the bed and rested on a pillow. Getting old was such a pain.
"What's keeping you up there in Kokomo? The weather stinks, you're stuck in a dead-end job, and in case you haven't noticed, you're not getting any younger."
Tony talked as if he was an expert on his sister's life but the truth was he knew next to nothing about her. Sure, he knew she was a sixty-something community college dropout who lived alone, ate too much chocolate, and pushed sinks and toilets at a local hardware store. And if he gave it any thought at all, he might have guessed that she hadn't dated much since her husband of fifteen years cleared out their checking account and took off with a blonde yoga instructor. What he didn't know was how lonely she was, how often she cried herself to sleep, how she let people take advantage of her, or how she wondered why life had been so cruel to her. A girl just didn't discuss such things with her brother. Or anyone else for that matter.
"Listen to me, Angela. One of my neighbors is moving to Africa for a year and needs someone to housesit while he's gone. You couldwork for me and live in his trailer. It'd be rent-free and you wouldn't need to bring anything because the trailer is completely furnished. You could even bring that weird dog of yours. There's a dog-walking area in the park and a vet down the street. Whaddaya got to lose?"
Not much, she thought. Most of her close friends and relatives had either died or moved away and, aside from Tony and his wife who lived in an over-fifty-five trailer park in south Florida, there was no one she could turn to if she got sick or had an accident. Some of the neighbors down the street and that group at the senior center might help in a pinch but they had problems of their own and didn't have time for her. She felt like she was standing on the edge of a cliff with no one to pull her back--no one who really cared whether she lived or died. But move to Florida?
Even though she'd spent several vacations in Florida, Angela never saw herself living there. It was crowded and polluted, the summers were hot and humid, and the highways were overrun with octogenarians shuffling pristine Escalades and Studebakers back and forth from one Wal-Mart to another. Even worse, bugs the size of barn cats crawled up walls and inside cabinets, and super sized snakes and alligators lived in storm drains, dined on domestic pets, and ran amok in the Everglades. And then there were the hurricanes.
Practically begging for sympathy, Angela reminded her brother of all the sleepless nights she'd spent watching 24-hour news channels track storms that threatened the Florida coasts. With nothing but her dog and a tub of Rocky Road to protect her, she whiled away countless hours watching Geraldo-type reporters brave the wind and rain just to keep couch-bound viewers up to date on where and when the raging tempest would make landfall. Apparently misplacing the few brains God had given them, those gutsy Emmy-Award-Winning-Wannabes bent into the wind, waded through knee deep puddles, and clutched day glow rain slickers tight against their writhing bodies as they shouted out the storm's latest quadrants, wind velocity, and probability of destruction.
"When was the last time a hurricane hit my trailer?"asked Tony. He was no stranger to sarcasm and took every opportunity to use it on his sister. Angela was never quite sure if it was his way of maintaining big brother superiority or just some sort of bullheaded machismo. Either way, it always hurt.
"I know, I know you're making sense," she told her brother . "It sounds like a good deal and all but where would I live when your neighbor got back from Africa?"
Angela was looking for a way out. So far, she couldn't come up with one. All she knew was that she had no close friends, no real future, and no good reason to stay in Indiana. Life had dealt her a bad hand and it looked like the odds of things getting any better were zero to none. If the only thing she had to look forward to was growing old, she might just as well move to the land of Medicare and AARP and wait out death with all the other old fogies. At least she wouldn't be alone.
"Quit worrying," assured Tony. "We'll cross that bridge when we get there. So how about it? Wanna join the South Beach set?"
"I think the blue-haired matrons are more my speed."
"Whatever floats your boat, little sister. Just give it some thought and let me know by the end of the week. Jeff leaves in six weeks and needs to know as soon as possible."
Six weeks? Even if she wanted to, there was no way she could pick up and move that quickly. There were things she'd have to do. She'd have to sort through everything she owned, throw out a bunch of stuff, figure out how to pack the rest, talk to the landlord, call the utility companies, and close out her checking account. What for? Just to move to Florida for a year? It hardly seemed worth the effort.
For the next couple of days, Angela spent every wakeful moment trying to decide whether to take Tony up on his offer. Maybe he was right. Maybe moving to Florida would be a good thing. All she ever wanted out of life was to find someone who really cared about her. Her feelings. Her desires. But no, all she ever got was disappointment and heartache. Maybe living in Florida would change all that. Maybe it would be a whole new beginning for her. But what if she got all the way down there and found out she didn't like living in a trailer? What if she didn't like working for Tony? What if Tony's friend cut his trip short? Then where would she live? And what if her worst fears came true and a ferocious hurricane came down from heaven and swallowed up the whole state of Florida?
She spent so much time stressing over the whole thing that people at work began to notice--including the kid who took her job.
"So, what's up, Angie? You haven't been yourself lately."
Where'd he get that Angie bit? She hated nicknames. She really didn't want to tell the kid anything but he'd have to know sooner or later so this was as good a time as any. "I'm thinking about moving."
"Oh. Yeah. I heard some of the girls talking about it. Tired of the old pad or just looking for a bigger place?"
What a jerk. On the money she made, she could barely afford the house she was living in. Why would he ask if she was looking for something bigger?
"My brother wants me to move to Florida." She tried to make it sound as if she didn't care one way or the other.
"Wow. That's huge. But I guess lots of geezers like you move down there. Something about the sunshine and warm water being good for their old bones. Or like maybe they're just lookin' for that Fountain of Youth." He snickered at his own joke.
Angela wanted to deck the guy but he was her boss so all she said was, "Yeah, something like that." The older she got, the more difficult life became. Wasn't it supposed to get easier?
When she returned home later that day, she found a registered letter stuck into the screen door. "Super. The post office doesn't even bother getting signatures anymore." She was talking to herself again. It was something she'd been doing a lot of lately. Sometimes it bothered her; other times she just passed it off as another senior privilege.
She walked into the house, laid her purse on the kitchen table, grabbed a can of soda from the refrigerator, and sat down to read the letter. It was from her landlord.
"In accordance with recent Health Department rulings, dogs, cats, reptiles, and all other animals (excluding small birds and fish) will no longer be allowed to share occupancy of this house. Please make arrangements to immediately remove such animals or procure other living arrangements within the next sixty days."
"Is he crazy? That dog is my life. There's no way I'm getting rid of him."
Ever since her husband took off, Angela's most meaningful relationships had been with dogs she rescued from local shelters. The latest, a klutzy Aussie-mix that answered to the name of Gizmo, had one brown and one cataract-clouded blue eye. When he first came to live with Angela he banged into all the trees in the yard but after a couple of weeks he learned to avoid them and eventually got to the point he could do his business without getting into too much trouble. He had been in the yard all day but when he heard Angela's caterwauling, he barked to be let into the house.
"Can you believe this?" She waved the letter in the dog's face as he ran through the open door. "Our nitwit landlord says I have to get rid of you."
Angela always talked to her dogs. After a hard day's work, it was nice to come home and have someone to talk to--even if it was only an animal. Tony once told her that dogs couldn't really understand humans but she never bought into his skepticism. All of the dogs she'd ever owned not only understood what she was saying, sometimes they even tried to answer her. That was more than most humans did now a days.
Gizmo stared at Angela with his good eye then curled up at her feet and went to sleep. Obviously, he wasn't too concerned about the whole situation. He seemed to know his mistress had everything under control.
"What makes him think I'd give you up just to stay put in this miserable dump? No way, buddy! I'll live in a tent first."
Angela inhaled the rest of her soda then tossed the empty can toward the trash can. After teetering on the edge for a split second, the can fell in. Next, the letter went flying across the room. A direct hit. For someone who'd never been able to sink a basket, she was showing true Olympic potential.
She grabbed the phone and called her brother.
"Looks like I'm moving to Florida."
"I knew you'd see it my way," chuckled Tony. "I even told Jeff you'd do it. Don't worry, sis, it'll end up being the smartest thing you've ever done."
Angela wasn't so sure. After all, Tony had said the same thing when she got married.
Bright and early the next morning, Angela walked into the hardware store, hunted down the teenage assistant manager, and resigned her job.
"What will we do without you?" pimple face asked.
Even though she disliked the kid, she felt like she was letting him down. She'd worked in that store for fifteen years and just walking away made her feel disloyal. It also made her feel like she was destroying her only safety net. Maybe this wasn't the right thing to do after all. She hung her head and mumbled a feeble apology then ran out of the store before the boy could talk her into staying.
The next three weeks went by in a blur. There were so many things to do that Angela didn't have time to get nervous about what lay ahead. The utility companies returned her deposits, the bank offered to keep her account open in case things didn't pan out in Florida, and when he gave back her security money, the landlord asked if his letter had offended her in any way. Everything was going along smoothly. The only thing left to do was pack.
Digging through years of accumulated junk, Angela discovered outdated 8-track music cassettes, magazines with page corners folded back to indicate articles she meant to read but never got around to, several well-chewed rawhide bones, and dry cleaning tickets for clothing she had already picked up. There were pieces of mismatched, beat-up furniture, several tattered dog pillows, three sets of plastic dishes, two crock-pots, four electric coffee makers, faded curtains, and oversized sheets and blankets that didn't even fit her bed. As for clothes, there were four different sizes, none of which fit, and sweaters she never wanted to see again even if she ever had to move back to Indiana.
After packing the few things she decided to keep, she delivered some of the better discards to the senior center and then, like any self-respecting American woman, washed, tagged, and got the rest ready for a yard sale.
During the "Huge Moving Sale," Gizmo spent the day at doggy day care where he joyfully sniffed butts, slurped doggy ice cream, and tore rubber toys to ribbons while his mistress worked her fingers to the bone at home. Unlike Angela, he didn't have to stand around as neighbors and strangers quibbled over prices or complained that his treasured possessions weren't worth half what he thought they were. No sir, that privilege was reserved exclusively for his mistress who at one point got so flustered by a jeweled-belly-button teenager who called her stuff "junk" that she ended up telling the girl to take whatever she wanted for free.
Sometime around noon, Angela noticed a small girl walking around the yard. She was a pretty little thing, probably no more than six years old. She wore white silk pants, pink tennis shoes, and a long sleeved pink tee shirt with a fuzzy white teddy bear emblazoned across the front. Her red hair was done up in pigtails held in place with matching white bows and a white patent leather purse hung from one shoulder. Walking from one table to the next, she looked like a four-foot-tall fairy princess wandering through a magical kingdom of old furniture, Melamine cups and saucers, and costume jewelry. Angela looked around to see if a pumpkin and six white mice was parked anywhere nearby.
At one point, the girl reached into her purse and pulled out a half-eaten chocolate bar. Even though it was late October, the weather was still warm enough to melt the candy. As the girl removed part of the wrapper, some of the chocolate got on her fingers. She nonchalantly licked most of it off, but obviously not enough, because within minutes Angela started noticing brown smudges on the books and CDs laid out on one of the tables. Grabbing a handful of paper towels, she ran over to the girl who by this time had succeeded in smearing the candy on her purse.
When Angela tried to wipe the chocolate off the girl's purse, the child screamed and threw it to the ground. Two bracelets, four Dolly Parton CDs, and an antique spoon commemorating the 1963 Indiana State Fair fell out.
The little girl's mother noticed what was happening and ran to her daughter's rescue. "Take your hands off my child," she screamed.
"I wasn't touching your child," replied Angela. "I was just picking up the CDs and bracelets she took off the tables."
"How dare you call my baby a thief."
Angela hated confrontations of any kind. They made her feel lightheaded and all queasy inside. Twice in one day was too much. "I wasn't calling her a thief. All I was saying was that..."
The woman grabbed the child's hand and stomped off before letting Angela finish.
When the last of the shoppers was finally gone, Angela counted the money. She was amazed. All those nickels, dimes, and quarters added up to well over six hundred dollars. She couldn't believe it. Why had she held on to that junk for so long? There were times she could have used a little extra money. For a brief moment, the idea of running yard sales for a living crossed her mind. Then she remembered the belly-button teenager and the sticky-fingered little girl and decided that working in her brother's business would be much less stressful--for everyone.
Angela boxed up all the yard sale leftovers and carted them off to the Goodwill store. Maybe someone else would get some use out of them. The good Lord knew she didn't want any of them. From here on in, she was going to simplify her life. She didn't need baggage of any kind weighing her down.
After retrieving Gizmo from the doggy day care center, she stopped off at the Colonel's for a bucket of chicken and then headed back to the empty house. Early the next morning she loaded the dog into her jam-packed SUV, slammed the tailgate shut, walked around to the front, and got into the driver's seat. Knowing there was no turning back, she took a deep breath, put the key into the ignition, and started the engine.
Then she laid her head on the steering wheel and cried.