This short story is fiction, but it’s based (very, very loosely) on real people who might…or might not…have bizarre fantasy lives. For many, many reasons, the names have been changed to protect those people. And myself.

Mardina has spent much of her time during the past few years in an assisted-living facility in northern Illinois, a place called Foxtrot Meadows.  A long, full life has robbed her of much of her eyesight.  And it has consigned her to spend most of her time in a chair.  Her legs are no longer as strong and powerful as they once had been; time and use have taken their toll.

With no family close by to be at her disposal day-in and day-out, Mardina moved to Foxtrot Meadows with the idea that its staff would be readily available when she needed help.  And she thought it would be nice to be around other folks who were of her generation and might have similar interests.  Over time, though, it became apparent the other folks around her were not nearly as quick-witted as Mardina.  And though she could call on the staff to do anything she wanted or needed, she tended not to impose on them…despite the fact that she was paying so she COULD impose on them.

What Mardina’s long, full life has not done is to rob her of her rapier wit and her sharp tongue.   That sharp tongue, coupled with a close relationship with her daughter-in-law and a late-in-life introduction to the marvels of Tennessee whisky, is what got her in the fix she’s in today.

Today, Mardina and her daughter-in-law, Carrie, are spending their fifth day having room service and listening to books-on-tape at the American Club Resort in Kohler, Wisconsin.   Fortunately, there are worse places to spend five days than at the American Club Resort.  Normally, room service from The Immigrant Restaurant is not available, but Mardina and Carrie schmoozed with the right people at check-in.  The general manager, Ian McClinton, a tall, ruddy-complected fellow in his early sixties,  fell in love with Mardina the moment Carrie wheeled her in to front door.

Even before their two-bedroom suite had been assigned to them, he had assured Mardina that he would be delighted to arrange for room service for as long as she wanted.  And the first evening’s dinner would be his treat, he said, adding:

“With your permission, I will arrange to have one of my favorites sent over this evening around 6:30.  I just love their 30-day aged prime tenderloin. It’s one of their specialties.  It’s served with garlic spinach, potato gratin, shiitake bacon, and truffle demi-glace,” he enthused. “And, I’m sure you will share my appreciation for my favorite appetizer, the pepper seared Atlantic sea scallops.  They are served with a potato purée, fava beans, crisp prosciutto, and a lemon crème fraîche.”

At his mention of scallops, Mardina cringed slightly, not enough for McClinton to take notice but quite enough to cause Carrie to smile, as she knew Mardina’s opinion of scallops was diametrically opposed to her appreciation for Tennessee whisky.  Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, though…especially not under the circumstances in which she and Carrie found themselves…Mardina thanked McClinton profusely for his generosity, adding “You must have read my mind!  Tenderloin is one of my all-time favorites!  And I love scallops almost as much as I love beef liver and onions!”  That last little comment would come back to haunt her on day two, when McClinton would arrange for an off-the-menu specialty to be delivered to Mardina and Carrie.

The reason for McClinton’s bubbling affection might could be traceable to Mardina’s affinity for Jack Daniel’s black label Old Number 7 whisky and the fact that Mardina had offered him a 1.75 liter bottle upon arrival.  McClinton, you see, was a connoisseur of Tennessee whisky.  Mardina, on the other hand, just liked the fact that a case of Tennessee whisky could open doors that nothing else could.  And she discovered she rather liked the taste of it, too, and the way it made her feel.

Back to the fix they’re in today.  Carrie had come to visit just six days earlier, planning to spend three or four days and then return to home to Nashua, New Hampshire.  But within an hour of Carrie’s arrival at Foxtrot Meadows, Mardina’s sharp tongue and her sense of humor got her in trouble. With a little help from Carrie.

On the day Carrie arrived, one of the newer members of the Foxtrot Meadows staff, Belinda Garcia-Abdul, knocked on Mardina’s door and, before being invited to enter, opened the door and walked in.  Belinda’s artificial cheerfulness had irked Mardina from the first day on the job, and today was no different.  Mardina enjoyed baiting her just to make her uncomfortable.  Good, clean fun!

“Mardina,” Belinda chirped, “I just wanted to check on you and see if there’s any little thing I can do for you this afternoon before I get off work!”  Belinda’s plumb, starch-white face with its painted-on rosy cheeks were hard for Mardina to see, but Mardina could barely make out that irritating, wide-mouthed, toothy smile.

“There’s plenty you could do for me, Garcia-Abdul,” Mardina snarled, “but you’ll have to learn some manners first! Next time, knock and WAIT FOR AN INVITATION before you come in!”   Mardina’s smile belied the ferocity of her words.

Belinda, in her most patronizing tone, responded “Now, now, honey, let’s not get your blood pressure too high…”

Before she could finish her sentence, Mardina growled “Use that tone of voice with me again, witch, and I’ll have Carrie break a bottle of Jack Daniels over your head and slash your throat with a broken shard of glass!”

Belinda did not appreciate Mardina’s sense of humor.  That lack of her understanding of the humor in the situation, in and of itself, would not have been such a problem but, coupled with the fact that her father was chief of police in the town, it quickly became one. Carrie didn’t help matters when she then jokingly grabbed a bottle of Black Jack by the neck, pulling it from the case sitting next to her chair and holding it menacingly above her head.

Belinda reacted badly to Mardina’s words and Carrie’s misplaced supporting humor.  She wheeled about on her heels and ran through the door, screaming “You people are crazy!  I’m going to have you arrested!”

Mardina and Carrie looked at one another in bewilderment at this unexpected turn of events.  Mardina was the first to speak. “Listen, she IS a witch!  And she’s not kidding.  Her father is the chief of police and I’ve heard she’s a chip off the old block.  We’ve got to get out of here!”

Carrie thought for just a second before suggesting Belinda could be calmed and made to be reasonable if they would just go after her and apologize.  Mardina knew better.  “Carrie, I’ve been playing with her since she started working here and, let me tell you, this witch just now snapped!  There’s nothing we can do but GO!”

Carrie acknowledge that Mardina was right; even if they could convince the chief that it was all a joke, it would take time.  And Mardina would then have to deal with Belinda even after Carrie returned to New Hampshire, no doubt an unpleasant experience.  A split second decision ensued and, in a flash, Carrie darted down the hall in the opposite direction to get a wheelchair.  She helped Mardina get in the chair, pulled the remainder of the case of Jack Daniels onto Mardina’s lap, then added the remaining, unopened, case on top and pushed Mardina and the liquor at full speed toward the lobby and out the front doors.

Depending on one’s perspective, luck was in their favor as they dashed out into the parking lot.  There, right in front of the door, sat a large black Lincoln Towncar that had just discharged its passengers who were there to visit relatives at Foxtrot Meadows.  Carrie opened the front passenger door, startling the driver, a bald man who weighed four hundred pounds if he weighed an ounce.  “We need you to take us someplace right now,” Carrie said. The driver slowly rose from his seat and waddled around the front of the car as Carried helped Mardina into the front passenger seat and buckled her in.  “Helpe me get this wheelchair in the trunk,” she ordered, and the driver did as he was told.  Just as he was shutting the trunk, though, he heard the engine rev.  Carrie had rushed around the front of the car, jumped into the driver’s seat, put the car in gear, and hit the gas, shouting to the stunned driver “We’ll leave your car at O’Hare! Thanks for letting us borrow it!”

“Time for a little Thelma and Louise action, Carrie!”  Mardina obviously relished the insanity that had just happened.  “Stop at the first gas station you see!  Does this car need gas?  If so, fill it up.  And whether it does or not, get the ATM card out of my purse and get some cash.  We’re going to need it!”

The first night, they stayed in a Holiday Inn Express in Rochelle, Illinois, just an hour west of Foxtrot Meadows. “I hope the driver tells them we’re heading to O’Hare,” Carrie said as they drove west on Interstate 88.  Carrie drove a couple of miles off the interstate before they started looking for a motel, expecting the state  police to be on the lookout all along the Interstate.  She parked the Towncar around the back of the motel, tucked as far out of sight as possible.  Once she’d registered, she helped Mardina into the wheelchair and to the room.  That night, they ordered Ethiopian food, kitfo for Mardina and gored-gored for Carrie, and had it delivered.  Mardina hadn’t been familiar with Ethiopian food before, but she quickly determined neither dish suited her, so Carrie walked down the corridor to the vending machine, where she bought chips and a cold turkey and cheese sandwich, the label for which claimed it was made fresh that day.  Mardina opted to have a little Jack with her sandwich, which made it easy for her to get to sleep but hard to get up the next day.

After topping off the tank at a gas station convenience store just down the street from the hotel and buying some snacks for the road, they took Interstate 39 north to Interstate 43, then headed east to Interstate 894, then north to Interstate 94, then east back to Interstate 43, and finally to Wisconsin Highway 23 into Koehler.   And, as you already know, that’s where the love affair between Mardina and McClinton and Jack Daniels Black began.

The second day’s meals were equally lavish, though not what they might have wished, thanks to the off-hand comment about liver and onions the night before.  At least the potatoes, the grilled carrots,  and the tomato soup were good.  Carrie had to wrap the liver and onions in newspaper and throw it out in the trash can near the back entrance to the building to avoid the word getting back to McClinton that his special efforts were for naught.

Because the meals were so large and lavish, they skipped lunch each day, opting instead to have a light breakfast and a few snacks during the day.  Day three was another epicurean delight, the waiter arriving early, at 5:30 pm, with grilled Australian rack of lamb, potato flan, English pea purée, mint and red wine reduction.  The fourth day Carrie ordered double orders of an appetizer dish for each of them, consisting of big island kampachi sashimi, jalapeño, lemongrass aïoli, ponzu, black sesame powder.  Insisting that Mardina try the food before saying she did not like it, Carrie was able to change Mardina’s mind about raw fish that night; Mardina was almost a raving fan after just one taste.  Yesterday, the meal consisted of Maple Leaf Farms duck breast and Hudson Valley foie gras, with sweet potato, haricot verts, almonds, and cranberry reduction.

Today, they dined on seared Chilean sea bass, cauliflower purée, heirloom carrot, arugula and mint pesto.  Before finishing her meal, Mardina declared to Carrie: “I only thought I was not a fan of epicurean delights!  From now on, I will dine on only the finest foods!  And, of course, a bit of Jack Black to aid the digestion.”

They had just finished dinner when Carrie’s sister’s husband, Jules, knocked.  Carrie had called her sister the second night, assuming her sister would have been terribly worried because the police certainly would already have contacted her and she would have been awfully worried.  She used the telephone in the room to make the call; she had turned off her cell phone before getting on Interstate 80 to avoid leaving a GPS trail.  Carrie’s sister, Jameela, had not heard from the police.  As the conversation progressed, though, Jameela became more and more alarmed, worried, and upset.  Carrie insisted everything would be fine and not to worry, but she couldn’t answer Jameela’s question about what Carrie and Mardina planned to do.  “You can’t stay at the American Club forever, Carrie.  How are you paying for that place, anyway?”  Carrie did not want to worry Jameela any more than necessary, so she did not mention she had picked up a credit card someone coincidentally named Carrie James had left at the gas station in Rochelle and had used it to register at the American Club.   She was Carrie James as far as McClinton and his staff knew.  Before the call was finished, Jameela had persuaded Carrie not to do anything else and to stay out of sight until Jules got there.  “Jules loves road trips and a dash of adventure,” she said, “so he’ll love helping you out of the fix you’re in.”

Jules has a plan.  He will sleep on the couch for the night.  Jules brought several pairs of latex gloves they all will need to wear between now and the the morning.  Tonight, they will meticulously wipe down the counters, the bed posts, the tables, EVERYTHING in the room. Very early in the morning, just before 4:00 a.m., Carrie will carefully wipe down the Towncar of prints, inside and out, then will drive the car to a boat ramp in Sheboygan, put it in gear, and have it slowly drive into Lake Michigan.  Jules and Mardina will be in his car, right behind her, and will pick her up and head west, on backroads, as fast as the speed limits and conditions allow, to reach Interstate 35 at Des Moines.  They will drive south on 35 until they reach Dallas, then on to Interstate 45 to Madisonville, where they will head southeast to a small tract of land Jules bought just in case he needed a hideaway.

Jameela, who began taking lessons to get her pilot’s license shortly after Mardina and Carrie had the liver and onions, will fly down and will land on the airfield Jules and Carrie will prepare soon as they arrive,  just after they complete construction of the new family compound, which will consist of ten bedrooms, twelve bathrooms, an indoor-outdoor pool, a ten-acre vegetable garden, personal gym, and a heliport.

I think the Jack Daniels Black Label has seeped through the keys and into the writer’s fingers.  Hmmm.  How will we find out how this “fix” really ends?  How do they get out of this, really?  How did they get into this fix, really?  At this point, no one knows, not really.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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