A curmudgeon and his eccentric new roommate join together to plan an epic escape in this charming, poignant tale.
Joel lives in a nursing home, and he’s not one bit happy about it. He hates being told when to eat, when to sleep, when to take his pills. He’s fed up with life and begins to plan a way out when his new roommate, a retired soap opera actor named Frank, moves in and turns the nursing-home community upside down.
Though the two men couldn’t be more opposite, a fast friendship is formed when Frank is the only one who listens to and stands up for Joel. When he tells Frank about his burgeoning plan, they embark together on a mission to find the perfect escape, and along the way will discover that it’s never too late for new beginnings.
Filled with colorful characters, sparkling humor and deep emotion, The Great Unexpected is the story of friendship, finding oneself later in life and experiencing newfound joy in the most unexpected places.
|Publisher:||Park Row Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.29(w) x 8.01(h) x 0.91(d)|
About the Author
Dan Mooney is a 32-year-old amateur filmmaker and air traffic controller, and a friend to many cats. He wrote his first piece of fiction for a child-operated local newspaper at age ten and has been writing ever since. He lives in Ireland. Me Myself and Them is his first novel.
Read an Excerpt
"Miller," Joel whispered across the space between their two beds. "Why aren't you dead yet?"
Miller, in a coma for over two years, said nothing. Instead his knobbly, decrepit old chest just rose and dropped, barely perceptible under the thin cotton sheets.
"Fine. Be that way," Joel told him.
Miller ignored him.
Joel Monroe had objected to Mr. Miller's presence when they'd first brought him in. Not that anyone paid his protests even the slightest bit of attention. A year before they wheeled in the corpse-that-was-not, Lucey had lived in that bed. He had gone to sleep every night knowing she was there and woken up every morning to see her already up and about, dressing herself, cleaning, pottering here and there and chatting quietly with the nurses as they came in and out with breakfast.
She had made living in a nursing home seem bearable, fun even, instead of the parade of indignities and insults it had turned out to be in the aftermath of her death. She decorated the place. Flowers in old vases she had collected from yard sales, photographs of their little family, the three of them at the beach, a tiny little Eva in his arms. She placed brightly coloured throws on the beds which cheerfully canceled out the sterility of the place, made it nice. It was what she had been doing all their lives together: making things nice for him. She brought light where she went, and her laugh warmed any room she was in. To Joel's eyes she had never shown any evidence of her advancing years, for she was as bright and energetic as always, a force of nature showing no signs of abating. He, on the other hand had wasted away slowly while they were there, then rapidly after she had died. It was a cold place without her. Now the photos still hung on the walls, but Joel had paid them less and less mind as time rolled by. Occasionally he might glance at baby Eva in his arms and wonder what he had done to deserve being trapped in this place, trapped without his Lucey.
The ignominy of having her replaced by Miller was an insult that had stuck in Joel's craw. He had told them that he didn't want Miller. He didn't want anyone.
But after a while, he was, in fact, easy to get used to. He didn't chew too loudly, didn't care what programs Joel played on the television, didn't engage in pointless small talk, or interrupt the football when it was turned on. Outside of the times when the nurses came in to check on him, move him around and clean him, he was perfectly charming. Shocking conversationalist, but a fine roommate. That didn't stop Joel from resenting the staff for foisting Miller on him in the first place, but at least life was easy between them.
"If you're not going to eat your breakfast this morning, do you mind if I have your eggs?"
Miller, of course, said nothing.
"You talking to Mr. Miller again. Mr. Monroe?" Nurse Liam asked, as he bustled in with Joel's breakfast on a small foldable table. The orange juice hardly rippled in the young man's steady hands. Youthful, unblemished, not at all gnarled up like his seemed to be.
"Rudest man ever," Joel grunted. "Hasn't opened his mouth since he got here."
Nurse Liam smiled slightly at the joke. It wasn't new. Nothing in the nursing home was. Everything was old and overused and on the point of breaking. Everything, down to the furniture, showed its age and its weakness. Joel tried not to think about it, but it seemed that wherever his eyes went there was infirmity and uselessness.
"Time for your breakfast Joel," Liam told him, as if he didn't know.
"I'm well aware of what time it is, Nurse Liam," Joel replied testily. "I've been living here for five years. Eight in the morning has never been anything else other than breakfast time. For over eighteen hundred days and counting, it's been breakfast time at eight o'clock."
"All right, all right. No need to get cranky. Just making conversation."
"Well if that's your idea of making conversation, boy, then you have a great many things to learn."
Liam sighed and tried to force a tight smile as he nestled the mini-table across Joel's lap. He was used to Joel; he might have even liked him. Sometimes. A little bit.
Liam hated to be called boy, which naturally enough, meant that Joel found frequent opportunities to deploy the word. It wasn't that he didn't like the young nurse, quite the opposite; he had always enjoyed the young man's company. It was just something about the way that he, and all the rest of the staff at the home, spoke to him during mealtimes, or when the medicine was being dished out, or at bedtime. A sort of false tonality, a singsong quality that Joel was sure was supposed to be upbeat and cheerful but somehow felt like the voice a teacher might use when checking a ten-year-old's homework. He opened his mouth to have another pop, but thought better of it. Nurse Liam was one of the increasingly small number of things about this nursing home that Joel actually liked.
It was sometimes difficult for others to tell when Joel liked something, since his behaviour changed not a jot.
Liam was in his mid to late thirties, a full forty years younger than Joel, but had about his face a certain quality of elderliness. It was something about his eyes, a sort of wariness that suggested he'd walked a harder road than perhaps he should have. Everything else about him was ordinary enough. He was a handsome type, with a long narrow face and a ready smile. He was tall but not looming and quite slim without appearing too skinny. There was nothing particularly special about him, except those blue eyes with their aged quality.
His hands moved deftly, with the steady calm and assurance of a man who had worked in his field for years. There was a touch of gentleness about them too, a familiarity with delicacy and breakable things. Joel wondered if he was the breakable thing. He supposed that he was.
Liam seemed to notice Joel biting his tongue, bottling up the urge to needle him further. His tense, forced smile relaxed into a more genuine one, and he cheekily tucked a napkin into the top of Joel's pajamas and then darted out of range before the older man could rip it clear and throw it at him.
"Insolent little ..." Joel started furiously.
"I'll bring you some tea," Liam told him, laughing as he backed out of the room.
Joel sulked. To think that he had decided against ribbing the man out of some sense of loyalty, and then the little shit had gone and stuck a bib on him like he was some kind of child. Worse again, he had almost forced Joel into uttering a swear word. Joel despised profane language.
"You believe that, Miller? Can you believe the arrogance of children these days? The disrespect of them?"
Miller breathed. In and out.
"Miller, do absolutely nothing if you completely agree with me."
Miller did absolutely nothing.
He was an agreeable chap in that regard. He frequently agreed with anything Joel had to say on a variety of subjects.
"Nice to have you on my side again, old boy. When he comes back in I want you to give him the cold shoulder like only you can. Don't say a word to him."
"Some tea, Mr. Monroe?" Liam asked as he made his way back in.
"We're not speaking to you," Joel told the nurse matter-of-factly.
* * *
After breakfast Joel cleaned and dressed himself. He had been neglecting his appearance lately, which came as something of a surprise to him by the time he realised it. All his life he had been somewhat fussy about his appearance. His clothes were a symbol of his position in society. A small-business owner. A working man. He wore his clothing as a uniform, that passersby might know his rank and station. Up in the mornings to prepare for work, he'd wash, shave and fix his hair, before donning his shirt and tie and making his way to the garage. A shirt and tie, despite knowing that he was going to be pulling on his overalls and getting dirty for his living. The overalls were a symbol of his rank too, his usefulness. A man in dirty overalls is almost never an idle man.
The early stages of retirement had been no different; he had dressed smartly, shaved every day. His rituals had continued unabated. Right up until when Lucey died. Something had happened to him then, a little bit of his life force had left with her, and suddenly Joel found himself in the visitors' room, at five in the evening, in his pajamas and his house coat, watching soap operas that he loathed, because it was someone else's turn to decide what channel they'd all watch on the common room television. For Joel the only thing worse than the outrageous stupidity of the story lines was the number of people who seemed to buy into them. Hilltop Nursing Home had accrued a small hard-core group of soap opera addicts.
Worse still were the days when he lay abed, not getting up, endlessly cycling through the channels on the small television in his bedroom, never happy with anything that was on, never happy with anything at all. Too unhappy and too unmotivated to just turn off the television and find something else to do.
When he had chanced across his reflection in the sneeze guard on the dining room salad counter at lunch the day before, he had been shocked to notice the fuzz on his cheeks and the stains on his pajamas. His cheeks had appeared extra hollow, skeletal even, despite the fact that he still had some meat on his bones. He hated that reflection. In reaction, he had decided to arrest his decline, and so, after he had eaten, Joel hauled himself from the bed and set about cleaning and dressing with determination.
He plucked his nose hair. He shaved his cheeks. He swept his hair back with the wax his grandson Chris had given him for Christmas nearly six months before. After he was clean, he dressed himself. A white shirt, a simple brown tie and a wool jacket. Brown slacks and brown shoes. He straightened himself up and gave himself a look over. Not bad, he decided. Not tremendous, by any means, but not terrible either.
Joel had never developed a significant stoop. His father, an occasionally vicious man, had been adamant about three things: good manners, no swearing, and fine posture. He rewarded any display of these three handsomely. And punished any failures furiously. As a result, Joel stood quite tall, still approaching six feet. His years of manual work and playing football had toughened him, and so his frame was still substantial, with only the traces of a paunch showing around the buttons of his shirt. He still had a lot of hair. For now, at least. His father had died bald. Joel tried to pretend that there was no satisfaction in that for him, but that was a lie. He had been a little bit delighted about it.
"Stay here and guard the fort, Miller. I'm going for a walk."
Around nine in the morning in Hilltop Nursing Home, the corridors started to come alive as much as they could in a place where death is potentially around every corner. Having had breakfast, the residents began their days, and visited each other's rooms. The nursing staff, having only just started their shift with the delivery of breakfast, would be full of energy and enthusiasm. That would wane, of course, it always did. Sometime, after they had to convince Rose that the house across the street didn't belong to her brother, or when they'd had their first row with one of the residents' family members over what medication their residents should be taking, or when they had to change their first adult diaper of the day. The positivity with which they began every day would fizzle out. Nurse Liam usually kept his good spirits, and the little Filipino lady, Angelica, whose laugh could be heard from one end of the building to the other, was hard to wear down too, but Joel had seen it a time or two. Given long enough, Hilltop wore everyone down. Life. Life wore everyone down, didn't it?
And of everyone, this was most terribly true of The Rhino. Life had made her into something else. Something hard and unrelenting and, though Joel would never admit it to anyone else, something a little bit scary.
Florence Ryan, or The Rhino when her back was turned, was both the head nurse and the owner of Hilltop. It seemed something of a misnomer to call such a little woman The Rhino; her size indicated something altogether daintier. Her size was a lie. She was named for her relentlessness and her purposeful charge through the halls that scattered residents and staff alike.
Hilltop had belonged to her parents, and she'd grown up here. Worked here all her life, studied to be a nurse, inherited the family business, and now she ruled over the establishment with an authority Pol Pot would have been proud of. Like a blizzard she moved through the nursing home, with a kind of relentless, cold energy. Always threatening to destroy whatever she came in contact with. Even Liam and Angelica stood to attention when The Rhino was on the move, their good-natured smiles replaced with sterner expressions, almost severe, as though old Rhino herself was somehow contagious. The families of residents, vocal in their complaints when dealing with other nursing staff, stepped lightly when dealing with The Rhino, moderating their tones, fawning a little, and when she had finished wringing them out like a wet rag, The Rhino would plunder onwards, furiously.
He remembered with a chill the day she had found a family member smuggling in a bottle of whiskey for Old Tim Badger. Joel had watched as she seemed to grow in size, swelling outwards, Old Tim's son shrinking before her, contracting into himself until it looked like he might just shrink out of his own clothes. She had brandished the bottle of whiskey like a club. Joel could have sworn she'd grown a full two feet taller by the time she'd finished with him, while Old Tim's son looked like he might actually cry. Literal tears. Joel shuddered at the thought.
He tried to look nonchalant as he scanned the hallways for sign of The Rhino, but all he saw or heard were the sounds of the residents and staff happily going about their day.
"I don't think she's in yet," Una told him from her doorway.
"Excuse me?" Joel replied.
"You're looking for Mrs. Ryan, and I don't think she's here yet."
Una Clarke had been a resident at Hilltop longer even than Joel had. She had been friends with Lucey. They'd played bridge as a team. A handsome woman, she hadn't yet surrendered to the malaise that seemed to grip everyone in Hilltop at some point, and dressed herself well. She had never been a wealthy woman, and some of the clothes she still wore had once been Lucey's. It set Joel's teeth on edge, but there was nothing he could do about it.
"I was absolutely not looking for Mrs. Ryan. I have no interest whatsoever in the comings and goings of that woman," Joel lied, while trying to surreptitiously check for her out of the corners of his eyes.
Una chuckled at him lightly.
"You're looking very well today, Joel. You scrub up quite well when you bother to get out of your pajamas. What's the big occasion?"
Joel bit back a retort.
Una was wearing a neat navy cardigan with large golden buttons that Lucey used to wear on Saturdays when they would go to the market. Saturday morning was always the market. Lucey dragged him along once, and he had been surprised to find the vibrancy of the place charming. After that he had looked forward to it. A little early morning date with his wife. She in her cardigan and he in his. She'd usually pick up some strange fruit or vegetable and work it into their dinner. He didn't always love that, but complaining to Lucey had been pointless. She'd listened to enough of it over the years that she let it wash off her, smiling at his grumbling and cooking whatever she pleased anyway. That little smile was a beautiful thing.
The cardigan looked well on Una. He hated that it looked well on her. He wanted to tell her that it looked nice on her. He also wanted to tell her to stop wearing his wife's clothes.
"Felt like it," he mumbled instead. Una wasn't the enemy. Come to think of it, Joel was struggling to identify who the enemy was.
"Makes a lovely change. It's nice to see you motivated."
Motivated. He didn't feel motivated. He felt something else.
It was something darker, malevolent but intangible. Something he couldn't explain that seemed to be resting just beyond the edges of his senses, waiting. It wasn't the first time he'd felt it, but there was something more immediate about it now, something more imminent. A bleakness that spread like a cloud around him, thickly, invading his space, his mind. He hoped it would pass.
"Yes. Well. Thought I could do with a shave and all that," he said, trying to come up with a way to end the conversation.
"I remember that jacket. Wasn't that a special occasion jacket?" she asked.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Great Unexpected"
Copyright © 2018 Dan Mooney.
Excerpted by permission of Legend Times Ltd.
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