Here's how Sadie's story begins.
Saturday, October 22
In all her eighty-six years, Sadie Sparrow had never been as miserable as she was this dreary Saturday afternoon. Not even Ed’s death could compare to being cast aside by her only daughter, packed up and stuffed against her will into a tiny room in a place that she’d never even seen, hidden way out here in the country, in--
“Here we are, Mom,” Dana said, turning her fancy foreign car onto a gravel road flanked by crumbling pillars and armies of trees in full autumn glory. “The Hickories—isn’t this too cool? It’s so exclusive that they don’t even post a sign outside.”
Sadie was silent. Sure enough, there was nothing but a plaque on the right pillar, bearing the numbers 21470, apparently the address of this place.
They drove into the woods. There were no buildings in sight; for just a moment she wondered if there might not be a rest home here at all, if Dana intended instead to do away with her old mother and leave the body here to rot under the leaves. She tried to remember the name of the country road they’d been traveling—Larkspur or Purslane or Rasputin or something like that—and the number on the pillar, but by this time she had forgotten both, and had to give up on her daring escape plan which would have concluded with her leading the police back to the scene of the failed crime.
Miss Marple she was not.
“I really think you’re going to love it here,” Dana said cheerfully as she steered her way down the winding road. “It’s by far the most elegant place I found. Just wait’ll you see it. You’ll flip!”
“I’m sure it will be lovely.” As Sadie’s own dear mother would have noted, the icebox door was open, and she had no intention of shutting it anytime soon.
“And I don’t know if I mentioned this,” Dana added, ignoring her mother’s obvious lack of enthusiasm. “They’re about to hire someone to write the biographies of any resident who’s interested in telling her life story—you know, as a gift to leave her children and grandchildren.”
“Isn’t that nice,” Sadie said curtly. “Since children and grandchildren are too busy these days to get their elders’ stories firsthand.”
Dana sighed her Nothing I Do Will Ever Be Enough sigh.
The landscape matched Sadie’s mood. The little road was lined with craggy old shagbark hickories, white oaks, scrub elms, and wild cherries. They were all junk trees, as far as the world was concerned, although Sadie had always been fond of shagbarks, especially on a day like today, after a good rain had turned their disheveled bark almost black, and especially at this time of year, with their big golden leaves clinging stubbornly to the branches that had held them all summer long.
And then, rounding the fifth or sixth bend in the road, she spotted their destination—and it quite literally took her breath away.
“There,” breathed Dana, almost reverently, “isn’t it magnificent?”
The Hickories was an enormous stone-and-concrete building nestled halfway up a forested hill high enough to qualify as a mountain in southeastern Wisconsin. As more of the building came into view, Sadie was reminded of photographs she’d seen in a coffee-table book about Wisconsin’s own Frank Lloyd Wright: layer upon low-slung layer of white concrete rectangles that looked like a stack of gift boxes set aside after wrappings and presents had been removed. Thick columns of stone seemed to pierce the boxes at perfect right angles, making the trunks of the surrounding trees look wildly contorted in comparison.
“Yes,” Sadie conceded, grudgingly allowing her heart to soften a bit. “It really is.”
She noticed the fragrance of burning wood then, and sure enough, there in the center of the building she spotted smoke snaking out of a squat stone chimney.
“It’s beautiful,” she added.
“It’s just what the doctor ordered, Mom.” Dana smiled for the first time since they’d pulled away from Pine Grove, the retirement home where Sadie had lived for almost a decade. “I just know you’re going to love it.”
No, what the doctor ordered—the Great Physician Himself, in fact—is a daughter who loves and respects and honors her mother enough to take her into her own home and care for her until she dies.
But short of that, Sadie had to admit, this place looked about as nice as a nursing home could be. It definitely made a good first impression, even when they’d driven beneath the lowest concrete tier into what turned out to be a warmly lit parking garage. It didn’t look like the other nursing homes she had visited over the years, as one friend after another had landed in various iterations of this despised last stop before heading into the Great Beyond. This was by far the grandest one she’d ever seen.
As Dana wheeled her towards a pair of glowing copper doors, Sadie found a new reason to worry: How in the world could she afford this place? Had anyone thought to explore the money angle before signing her up to move in?
The copper doors slid open to reveal an elevator car paneled in glossy dark wood and topped with a crystal chandelier. Crystal!
Sadie decided that the finances were Dana’s problem.
She makes plenty of money in that job of hers. Let her pay for it.
For the first time since the Fourth of July, when Dana had begun earnestly talking up the virtues of nursing-home living, Sadie felt a flicker of hope in her heart.
To find out how it ends, click here.