Senior Hour by Daniel Gatlin
Dorothea checked the pillow beside her. Old habit. Her Robert had been gone for seven years this November. She rose slowly, ignoring the pain in her left knee as she put on her slippers. Holding steady to her walker, she boosted herself up and began the long march to the bathroom.
Can’t put it off any longer, she told herself, now examining again the situation she had gone to bed knowing. There was only a half roll of toilet paper left, a watered-down bottle of hand soap, and about two squeezes worth of toothpaste in her shriveled tube. These had been gifts from the church, along with a few cans of food, that the Deacons had managed to scrape together from the empty pantries in the sanctuary. But now the churches were closed. She couldn’t rely on some good Samaritan’s generosity. The Samaritans had to think of their own these days.
“You hear about this senior hour, Dee Dee?” her sister had told her last night on the telephone. “Stores open up a whole hour early for us old birds. Guess there’s some good to being our age.”
Dorothea had laughed to be polite, but knew that her sister–81 and still back home in Texas–had a more ideal situation. Her sister’s children lived close by. They would be there, offering their own cache of horded supplies after hysteria had forced them to stock up weeks ago. Their invalid mother and father would be well cared for.
But what was Dorothea to do? Her children all lived out of state. Her youngest hadn’t been home to visit in years. Her oldest, Robert Jr., had his own family to care for. He had called half-interested about a week before. Checking in, but not really. Dorothea had told him about the church visitors, and may have embellished on the supplies some to put her distant son’s mind at ease.
“That’s fine mom. Just fine,” he had said. Hanging up soon after because the family had dinner plans.
Dorothea had her own plans to worry about now. She dressed herself, and skipped her morning coffee. She didn’t want to be late to the stores. The news had already done their job in prepping her for the madness she was about to embark upon.
She pushed her walker through the mud and down the block. She had to stop every so often to rest a spell, before trudging on. She was met with several angry honks and inching forward cars as she crossed the two pedestrian walks towards her bus stop. Try as she might, she couldn’t go any faster. Oh no. There went the 6:15 bus. I think there’s another in a half hour. But would she make it to the store on time?
The bus stop was full of others who had missed the 6:15. Young people mostly. Wasn’t there an official order to stay indoors? None of these people seemed to mind the impending doom that the TV kept going on about. No, folks here were laughing and talking about what they were doing with all of their time off. They crowded the bench–most too busy on their phones to notice that she was there.
Luckily, she had her walker to sit on. She placed her purse in her lap, and waited. And waited. Every so often she’d check her watch to make sure she hadn’t entered into some bizarre Twilight Zone time paradox. Nope. The bus was just late. Simple as that.
The 6:45 rolled in around 7:10. Everyone crowded to either get on or off. Dorothea was going to need assistance. But first she had to get up. She placed her purse on the wet cement, and hoisted herself as quickly as she could. She grabbed her purse and scooted herself to the door. The bus driver was livid.
“I got a schedule to keep, mam!” he barked at her. He reluctantly stood up from his seat and yanked the walker from her hands before she was ready to let go. Dorothea struggled to pull herself up the steps. All the time she was thinking: Why would he say mam if he intended no respect?
She’d give him this. He did drive fast. She arrived at her destination not twenty minutes later. However, because the bus driver was in such a rush he ignored Dorothea’s first request to stop. Now she was going to have an extra block to walk back to the store. Ignoring the hurtful comments of the other passengers and driver, her feet eventually found the pavement outside again. The walker was placed beside her and the bus hurried on. To what? She wasn’t sure. Even at the end of things people always wanted to stick to their schedules.
Dorothea began her second trek of the day. Her wristwatch had been her closest ally. She still had fifteen minutes to spare. Not bad for an old bird. Like the TV had warned her though, there was indeed a hysterical line just beyond the store’s front entrance. Hundreds of people with their carts at the ready and their phones in their hands. No one was talking to no one. No one seemed to notice her approach.
She saw a few old birds like herself standing in the line. But there was also plenty of young people. How will the store know who to let in first? She wondered this thought sadly to herself. Don’t they know the seniors get their hour first?
She scooted her walker to the locked front entrance. There came some comments from behind about where the line began, and how long they some people had been waiting. But Dorothea had to know for herself. Had to check. Her sister had never steered her wrong before.
One of the employees came to the door and stepped out to check on her. He looked more concerned about opening on time though than he did answering her questions.
“Sir? Sir? Isn’t there a senior hour?” she asked, shakily. “A time for us to come in and buy what we need?”
The man looked at her with a stoic face. “Mam, that’s only on Wednesdays. I need you to go to the back of the line. We’re about to open.”
Dorothea stared down at her wristwatch. A traitorous little Thurs was there in the center of the clock face.