In Getting in Trouble, an elderly man who forfeited his driver’s license to a judge years ago becomes hungry and decides to drive to the store for some cereal. Now, if he could just figure out how to unlock the car.
About the Author
Ed Meek lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. In addition to writing great short stories and poetry, Ed teaches creative writing, helps adults prep for the GED, and writes book reviews and articles.
Ed is the author of three books of poetry and a collection of short stories entitled Luck, all of which are available on Amazon. His work has appeared in The North American Review, The Paris Review, Cream City Review, and many other publications.
You can learn more about Ed’s published works and the services he offers to writers at his website: edmeek.net
Getting in Trouble by Ed Meek
It isn’t being left home alone I mind. I was on my own for a long time. What I mind is that my wife treats me like a child and hides the car keys when she goes out. Like a blue-footed booby, I’m grounded. And neither one of us is extinct—yet!
Plus, there are no Rice Krispies . . . what I always have for lunch. Decaf for breakfast. I don’t go for all that “have a big breakfast” stuff. I’m six feet tall and weigh 130. Every year I lose a little weight.
Anyway, Ellen, my wife, is here in the morning if I need any help, but she leaves at eleven to do volunteer work at the museum or the church. She takes the bus. She cares more about those people than she does about me. The nurse comes by in the afternoon. I’m just alone for a couple of hours, and the fact is, I don’t go anywhere. I stick around the house, work in the yard, rake or weed the garden. The paperboy, nice kid, always says hello, delivers the paper in the afternoon. Ellen comes back by three, and we have tea together.
So at noon on this particular day, I open up the cabinet to get the cereal, and there isn’t any. I figure I’ll take the car down to the market. Why not? I spend the next forty minutes searching for the keys. I swear I spend half my waking hours looking for lost, misplaced, and forgotten items. I leave magazines in the bathroom and forget I left them there and go searching around the house, clomping up and down the stairs until I can hear my heart whomping against my chest like a bunny thumping its hind foot. I have to sit down and calm myself. Talk the bunny down to get my breath back. Sometimes I get lightheaded and have to lie down. Next thing I know, I’m waking up two hours later, and the nurse is sitting there knitting.
Some guys get sexy nurses. I get the knitting nurse, the overweight nurse, legs like stumps. Why I need a nurse, I have no idea. All she has to do is dole out some pills I could easily take myself if they were labeled so I could read them. She takes my blood pressure and my temperature. Big deal.
I find the keys in Ellen’s bureau in the top drawer under her underwear, the sexy underwear. Why would she have sexy underwear? She must have a boyfriend she meets at church because she ain’t wearing them for me!
I stuff my wallet in my back pocket and head out. It takes me a half hour to figure out how to get the car going. It’s a new car, a VW Passat. It has this remote with a key on it that doesn’t even look like a key. I can’t see the symbols on the remote, and I guess I keep locking and unlocking the doors because I can’t get them open. I finally get the hatch to pop, and I climb in the car that way. It’s a wagon with a hatchback. Why do they have to make these cars so small?
I can’t get the key in the ignition. Finally, when I get the car going it barely moves, chugs down the street until I realize the emergency brake is on. That’s the kind of mistake I hate to make. Maybe Ellen is right, I don’t deserve to drive the car. I’m a menace to society, and I ought to take the car out on the highway, bring it up to ninety, and find a good tree. What the hell am I alive for if I can’t drive myself to the store?
I drive slowly, and I know people are angry at me. They hit their horns and curse and give me the finger. I just smile and keep going. I have to read the signs, and I need to get close to see them. I want to get onto Main Street and follow it to the four-way intersection and go right where the big rock is. I get to the four-way, and by the time I make it through there, I’m sweating because there is always a lot of traffic and no traffic lights. Why don’t they put up a light? All these impatient, rude people. Americans don’t respect their elders. I worked hard for forty years servicing machines at IBM, and I deserve a little respect.
I pull into the lot. I park at the back, facing out—less chance of getting hit by all the maniacs. I get out of the car and try to figure out how to lock it, hitting the buttons until I just give up. Bushes and trees grow behind the parking lot. Birds are chirping away. I see a cardinal, bright red with his black mask, perched in a maple tree, whistling, calling for his mate. He is a northern cardinal. See? I still remember some things. I feel like a bird myself: spindly legs, sharp beak, baldhead, and beady eyes. You’ll look like this if you live long enough.
The sky is blue with wispy white puffs. I inhale. It should be fresh air, but the exhaust and smoke from all the cars make me cough. Why do people have so many cars? The young couple that lives across from us has two SUVs and a little two-seater that Mr. Dot-com keeps in the garage. They must be multi-millionaires. He explained his business to me, but I didn’t understand a word he was saying.
I hear a horn and turn my head toward it and see a car waiting to get into the space where I am standing. What the hell am I doing in this parking lot? I look over the car and see the Star Market. My stomach grumbles. I remember. I came here to get some kind of cereal.
By the time I get into the market, I’m dizzy. I stop and take a few deep breaths. I pull a cart off the row and lean on it for support. Yeah, I’m just like the rest of these old geezers—leaning on their carts as if they are walkers. If you pulled the cart out from under us, we would drop to the floor and croak. It’s pathetic.
I know where the cereal aisle is—it’s near the fruit and vegetables. I turn down it. Now what did I want? I stare at the hundreds of boxes. Tigers, squirrels, bears, and birds smile back at me. Cheerios, Waffle Crisps, Grape Nuts, Captain Crunch, Fruit Loops. I used to like those. When I was a kid, we ate everything. There wasn’t any of this healthy food talk. I was always hungry. There were four kids in our family. My father would come home with gallons of milk, and it would all be gone the next day. At school, I’d drink three cartons of milk and eat three lunches. What did it cost? Nothing, pennies, a quarter for lunch. I get a flash. It’s a blue box I’m looking for. Krinkles? No, it’s snap, crackle, pop—Rice Krispies! I find them between the Healthy Granola and something called Go-Lean Kashi. What is that—Indian food? I pull a gigantic box of Rice Krispies off the bottom shelf. It feels so light. I shake it to make sure there’s cereal in there.
What else? Milk. How about bananas? I should have made a list. Ellen’s a big list-maker. She makes multiple lists and compiles them into a master list. Sometimes I get up at night and find her sitting downstairs scribbling: things to do, things to buy.
I get in the fast checkout line. I pat my pants pocket. Thank God I brought my wallet. I reach in to pull it out, but it gets stuck. I should throw away all those cards and addresses and notes. I have to write down all my passwords. All those passwords drive me nuts. I finally get my wallet out. Quite the ordeal. Do I have any money? I have two bucks. I should get some money out of the friendly automatic bank. That’s okay. I have a credit card. Of course, I can’t read the credit card machine and need help from the cashier—a Middle Eastern woman wearing a scarf. She has a red dot on her forehead. That means she’s married. She takes my card and runs it through the machine. The guy behind me is steamed. I’m holding him up. The cashier, whose name is Amal, gives me the slip, and I sign it. I take my goodies and head for the door.
The sun is blinding. I’m halfway across the lot before I realize that I don’t remember where the car is. I always park near the edges so I won’t get hit; therefore, the car is probably near the back of the lot. It’s gotten pretty hot since I went into the market. The heat makes it hard for me to think. I scan the cars. The sun shimmers off the metal. I’m a little woozy. I remember seeing some birds when I parked. A cardinal. What kind of car is it though? That’s a good question. I reach into my pocket and pull out the keys and hold them out in front of me: VW. That’s it. I walk to one side of the lot and head toward the back, and I find it! A brand-new VW Passat wagon. What a nice looking car! It’s a shiny silver color. It doesn’t take me long at all to get it open and get in, but I’ll tell you, by the time I’m sitting in the driver’s seat, I am exhausted. Reaching down, I feel a circular knob for adjusting the seat. I turn it back, relax, and fall asleep.
When I wake up, I check my watch. It’s just after two. That means the nurse will be at the house looking for me. I’ve got to get back there. My shirt is wet. I feel my chin, and sure enough, there’s drool. I drool when I sleep. What can I say? I’m a slob, a moron, a child. I’m lucky I didn’t pee in my pants. I check just to make sure. Nope, they’re dry. Thank God for the little things. The other problem is that now I am starving. I haven’t had lunch, and that means my blood sugar is low. It makes me nervous.
My hands shake as I start up the car. I have to get home before the nurse calls my wife. I can feel my blood pressure building. I need pills to keep that down. I need pills to thin my blood, so I don’t have a stroke, and I take a handful of other pills for who knows what else. My memory deteriorates when I haven’t eaten and when I’m under stress. I would consider this a stressful situation. There’s a cell phone in the glove compartment of the car, but I don’t know how to use it. I figure what I’ll do is, I’ll stop and call at a payphone just to let the nurse know where I am. There’s change in the car. There’s a pay phone at the gas station near the four-way, and that’s where I pull in.
I park the car beside the phone. It occurs to me that all gas stations look more or less alike. Sounds like the first line of a book. I put in a dime but don’t get a dial tone. I put in another dime. Nothing. A nickel. I’m thinking maybe it doesn’t work, but when I put in a third dime, I get a dial tone. I start to dial but then I remember I have to dial the area code too. I hang up and put the money back in and dial again. The nurse picks up.
“Wilkens’ residence,” she says.
“Hi, it’s me,” I say.
“Yes, I went to the store. I’ll be right back. I’m just a couple of miles away. I have the car.”
“Yes,” I say. “I needed to go to the store.”
“Well, I’ve already called Ellen,” she says. “She’s on her way home. I called the police too. Why don’t you just tell me where you are, and we’ll come get you.”
“Uh huh, well, I’ll be home soon.” I hang up.
I’ll tell you something. Sometimes I just hate women. They worry too much. They make a big deal of everything. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have taken the car, but I was hungry. I am a grown man. No, I don’t have a license anymore. It was taken away by some idiot judge who blamed me for an accident I had no control over. I skidded through an intersection on an icy road and smashed into a motel. Big deal!
I find myself pacing, breathing heavily. Calm down and take a deep breath, I say to myself. Walk it off, and by the time you get home, you won’t be angry anymore, and you can have something to eat.
But as I’m walking, I suddenly realize that it doesn’t look very familiar. This must be a new neighborhood. The houses are huge! That’s what drives me nuts, the way they are always changing everything. How is a person supposed to find his way around? I’ve been walking for about ten minutes when I remember I left the car at the gas station at the four-way.
Now I’m in trouble. I stop at a corner and grab onto the stop sign for support.
That’s when I start to get the fear. It’s really an irrational feeling that comes over me when I don’t feel as if I’m in control. I have to take deep breaths and focus just to keep myself from bursting into tears.
A kid on a bike stops beside me. “You okay, Mr. Wilkins?”
I’m not sure who he is for a second then I get an image of saying hi to him. He’s the paperboy! “Tell you the truth, son,” I say, “I’m not feeling so good.”
“Do you want a ride?” he asks.
I look at his bike. It’s an in-between size. Not as big as the bike I had when I was a kid but not one of those tiny trick bikes that some teens ride either.
“You sit on the seat,” he says.
I climb on the seat keeping one foot on the curb for support. This is one time it helps that I’m tall and thin. Soon I’ll disappear—just like the blue-footed booby.
“Hold onto my waist,” the kid says.
I put my hands on his hips and stick my legs out so my feet don’t hit the ground. He pushes off with one foot and turns the pedal with the other. We swerve from side to side. I tap the pavement with my feet and all of a sudden, we’re off—gliding down the street. What a great feeling! The old bird has got his wings back now. I’m flying just like I did on my bike when I was twelve. I’m smiling like crazy. I remember what it felt like to cruise with the wheels spinning beneath you and the wind in your hair. The street is all downhill. We take the corner wide, and the boy is pushing hard with his feet and pulling with his hands. He is one strong kid. I see my house! He pulls up onto the sidewalk beside the lawn and stops, and the bike falls sideways, and we both roll onto the grass.
We’re lying there laughing when Ellen and the nurse come out. Ellen has her hands on her cheeks. The nurse has her fists on her hips. They are both closing in on me. Oh boy, am I in for it.
About the Story
Getting in Trouble was written by Ed Meek. The following is from the author:
The story is loosely based on my father-in-law who became very forgetful in his eighties. Once when we were walking, he turned to me and said, "Where the heck are we?" We were walking on the street where he lived. I've also read that old people are generally pretty happy. Also, in older couples, I've noticed that the woman is usually in charge.
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