When the Trolley Picked Me
I pulled into a parking space at
the grocery store and turned off the car, cringing as I listened to the
interview with Muriel Tanner. My recorded voice sounded as tremulous about
introducing the subject as I’d felt.
You want to ask me about being diagnosed with Alzheimers, right?
I could still see her expression during the interview, pained but pleasant. Muriel Tanner was always pleasant. There was something very open and inviting about her. That was part of her charm, part of the reason so many people had consented to be interviewed by her over the years. Sitting in the car, I shook my head as I listened, in awe that such an influential woman had allowed me the interview I knew would be a turning point in my career—and in awe that her voice remained so even, her response so candid.
For the past 50+ years I have lived my life by my strengths. And now…
I remembered that pause. She’d flinched, and her hand had rubbed the velvety arm of her sitting room chair for a moment.
Now I’m learning to live by my weaknesses.
How do mean, Muriel?
I’d started tearing up at some point here, and I’d looked away to compose myself. Now, as I sat in my car, the tears fell freely. Why were such cruel diseases allowed to affect such beautiful people?
I mean that I’ve had a very full life—very full. And I think of it as a trade off. When my memory fades, I’ll look back… I know I’ll remember the best things. Those meaningful moments in my life are etched —
Something struck the side of my car. I swiped at my eyes and looked out the window, my frustration with Muriel’s situation redirected. What had just run into my new Prius?I’d left the dealership yesterday, having signed all the paperwork ten minutes before 8 pm, and here it was 4:55. Not even 24 hours, and I had my first nick!
The shopping cart rattled away from my back fender as I got out of the car, scanning the parking lot and fuming that someone had left it to roll away. I rubbed my thumb against the smooth sheen of the fender and breathed a sigh of relief. Not a scratch. Grabbing my purse out of the passenger seat, I spun the metal basket around and glimpsed the name on the handle. In bold black lettering, it read,
I looked at the strip of small shops beside Huey’s Market for one named Earth Trolley. It sounded like a green-living store for crunchy shoppers.
“Lyn!” someone called from behind me as I gripped the cart and headed to the entrance of the market. I turned around, surprised. I’d been in my apartment less than a month. Hardly anyone knew me yet, even at work.
An old man sitting on an oval-shaped power chair motioned to me and lifted his sleeved arm.
“My jacket’s caught in the intake vent.”
I just stared because this bald man with little wisps of white hair around his ears was sitting on something round that made a noise like a hair dryer. The seat was wide enough to be a small couch, and it looked like it was floating beside me. I did a double take, a triple take. There wasn’t anything holding it up! No wheels. Nothing.
I looked around me for two reasons: First, there had to be another Lyn he was talking to. And second, I wanted to know if anyone else was as surprised by this floaty chair-thing as I was. But I didn't see anyone else. I was standing in a grassy field. Flecks of light hit the blades of grass, sunny to shady and back again.
The movement of the light was coming from the sky, so I looked overhead and gasped. Above me was a massive, faceted mirror. The sun was slightly behind the mirror, peeping through the billowy clouds at the edge of one of the reflective plates. I saw a circular piece of the mirror separate from the floating metal in the sky.
“Earth to Lyn: My sleeve!” pressed the old man, peering at me expectantly. He didn’t seem to notice what was going on around us at all. “You didn't bring my other jacket, did you?”
And that’s when I began to question whether I was right in the head. I could see half his sweater was stretched behind the silvery vehicle now. I stepped toward him hesitantly.
“My foot's nowhere near the pedal, babe; but we'd better not turn it off. It's been giving me fits all week. It might not start up again.” His familiar way of speaking to me was just another baffling aspect of this mind-blowing situation.
I had a lot of questions at that point, but I just stuck with the first one. I queried politely, “Excuse me, but—do I know you?”
The old man’s blue eyes grew large in his face. I watched the color drain from his wrinkled cheeks.
“Lyn?” He reached over and touched my arm.
I didn't pull away because the way he did it was so kindly. I felt his concern. This poor old man wasn't dangerous, at least. Now the next question was, which one of us was delusional?
“It's me, sweetheart. Jim. Are you all right?”
He was talking to me, so I answered, “I'm all right.”
Then I noticed the piece of mirror I’d seen in the sky was coming to the ground. It was a shiny, chrome bowl, and as it landed, another floaty chair like the old man’s whirred and came down from it. In the corner of my eye, I made out more of these mirror bowls descending gradually from the big mirror.
The sky is falling, I thought, and I wanted to laugh. Instead, I watched dumbfounded as the second chair hovered over the grass and floated forward, toward Huey’s entrance.
But the grocery store wasn’t there. There were rows and rows of trees, like an orchard; and there were people walking beneath them.
“Where is this?”
I didn’t know I’d said it aloud until the old man answered, “Lyn… Sweetheart, get back on the Windchime.”
He held out his gnarled hand to me, and I shook my head. My legs were giving way. I needed to sit down. I leaned against the cart, but it rolled forward and I lost my balance. As I fell, I let go; but before I hit the ground, I saw my head reflected in the shiny, chrome edge of the old man's chair. I saw short, white curls and a pair of hazel eyes, big as saucers, stare back at me. They were my eyes... with wrinkles.
I stood up again with a start to find myself alone in the parking lot. No old man, no floating chair, no shopping cart. No weird spaceship mirror over my head. My heart was beating quickly. I couldn’t come up with any solutions for the weird hallucination. I hadn’t watched any sci-fi movies recently. With a new job and a new town, I hadn’t had time to watch anything.
My knees knocked against each other as I approached the crosswalk in front of the store. My body seemed to be reacting to the episode worse than my mind. Maybe it had to do with my blood sugar; I did feel a little faint.
A car slowed to a stop. I looked at the driver, and she waved to me to cross. I tried to give a friendly acknowledgment, but my hands didn't want to cooperate. It felt like I'd just missed being in a car wreck; the adrenaline was pounding through me. But I was fine. Everything was fine. I shook my head and felt irritated at the way I was behaving.
Just inside the automatic door, I noticed one of the carts was by itself, sitting against the wall and turned the wrong direction. So, I coddled my obsessive-compulsive side and took the misfit buggy. I placed my purse in the child’s seat and pushed it forward with my elbows, looking for my list. Once I found it, my hands clamped onto the handle. The lights flickered, and everything was turned around for a minute. I was certain the welcome desk had been on the other side of the entrance when I cut through an empty aisle to look for a soda to raise my blood sugar. Instead, I was passing the desk and heading toward circular tables spread with produce. This was only my second time in Huey’s, so I wasn’t sure. I pretended not to be confused and kept going.
“Here, Mom…Mom! Where are you going? Wait!”
I looked around and met a woman’s eyes. She looked to be in her 30s. She had one hand on her hip, and she was holding a toddler on the other side. Quicker than I could register what was happening, she lifted the kid and plopped her in the seat of my buggy.
“I thought you were going to walk off and leave us,” she said. “You push Jaelyn while I look over my list. I need to get some bananas. I hope they're not too green this time.”
I watched her walk ahead of the shopping cart and noticed the store was like a warehouse. The floors and shelving were plain and white. There were thin, transparent rectangles of plastic placed on some of the shelves with electronic characters that faded, changed, and gradually became brighter. They displayed a line of letters and numbers on them that reminded me of the keypad I would swipe my credit card through at the register. I looked back, realizing I hadn't seen any registers, when the child in front of me touched my hand with her chubby fist. She raised her big blue eyes to me and smiled.
“Nana eat cooo-key?”
I could hardly pull my eyes away from that little face. She was so cute. And she looked like all the pictures of my little sister, Chelsee, especially around the mouth and chin. But nobody in my family had big blue eyes like that. I felt like I should know her, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. Where was I?
I let go of the cart, let go of the handle with the crisp lettering.