A Short Story by Stuart Greenbaum
Danny figured he was prepared for death, lots of it actually. It would be the nature of his new job – as a care provider at Fillmore Park Nursing Home.
But, damn, why so soon — a full-on encounter on just his second day at work?
“Come on!” was Danny’s initial, thoughtless reaction.
There he was, the poor ancient bastard, lying there in a fetal position, breathless … dead. His wrinkled face was as blue as his care provider’s new, not yet faded scrubs.
Danny hadn’t even been trained on proper protocol for the situation. Should he press the emergency call button to the nurses’ station? He did. And, should he also run to the door, out into the hallway and scream “code blue, code blue?” He did not, deciding that would be too dramatic and as futile as it was ironic.
What bad luck and worse odds, Danny lamented. Contrary to his schooling about skilled nursing facilities and with the exception of this moment, Danny had begun to appreciate that hardly ever did “urgent” qualify as legitimately urgent. A frantic “Shit, shit, shit … hurry, I’ve gotta use the bathroom” that came from Mr. Loggins’ room was the sort of situation he had already rushed to that morning. He heard, too, that Mrs. Farthgate in West wing woke up again screaming that her art deco brooch went missing. (FPNH administration suspected her absentmindedness or more likely her stoner grandson, whose amateurish righteous indignation when asked if he saw the item in question only heightened staff’s suspicions.) Other call-button emergencies that lit up the patient board at the nursing station that morning came from Lillian Hamish, who needed an escort, promptly, to her beauty shop appointment; a handful of exasperated “techies” claiming “The Internet is down again,” which it was not; and someone who woke up crying, “I had a nightmare I was all alone,” which Danny was informed is a common occurrence, sadly.
Although his care provider studies included a lecture on “Death and Dying,” it was in the abstract. Danny now realized his training and education had neither readied nor steadied him for real-life death. This deficiency could explain (though not excuse) why he killed time waiting for backup by gazing out the smallish window in the corner of the sterile, death-filled room. From his vantage point, he could see kids playing baseball on the little league field in the park across the street. He wished more than ever he could join them — maybe shag some flies, even get a turn at bat.
“Damn,” he recalled, life was so much easier as a kid … or last week.
Danny gently prodded the listless body, felt its wrist for the pulse, then shook and poked it again. Nothing. He paced anxiously, alternately peeking out the window at the ballgame and back to Mr. Youngman. Stunned to near incapacitation, he was noticeably relieved to see lead nurse Lexi Winters, RN, enter the room.
Lexi confidently approached the patient’s bedside, barely acknowledging Danny, who from experience she assumed to be just another clueless short-timer on the floor.
Compared to the dozen or so female coworkers Danny had noticed thus far, Lexi was exceptional in every way. She was younger, probably in her late twenties early thirties, for sure closer to his age than the rest of the more matronly staff. With her stylish short brunette hair, piercing brown eyes and edgy yet discreet makeup and accessorizing, she was very attractive as well as and very cool and very intimidating. All this, packed into a taut 5’-2’’ frame. She wore her scrubs as fashionably as possible, folded up a few times on the bottom, accented with black high-top Converse All-Stars.
Most notable to Danny about Lexi, she was certain and deliberate in her actions, not simply going through the motions as her subordinates seemed content to do.
He anxiously anticipated Lexi’s first move. She’d take control and it would be a good learning experience.
“How are you boys doing this evening?” she asked, making the slightest eye contact with Danny standing on the other side of the bed.
“Uh, not so good,” Danny managed, directing his shifty-eyed glare toward the late Mr. Youngman. “The old guy’s gone.”
“Time for your sponge bath Mr. Youngman,” Lexi casually announced as she removed her ring and placed it on the nightstand.
“What the …” Danny thought out loud (and anticipated vicariously for a brief second). But it was too late.
Instead of the rubdown, he watched as Lexi began doing that swaddling thing children love when the bed sheets are wrapped snuggly around their body to create a cozy cotton cocoon. Danny watched, as transfixed he was perplexed by the inappropriateness of the activity.
“What are you doing? Shouldn’t we alert somebody? What’s your protocol when somebody croaks … er, reaches his expiration date, around here.”
“Oh please,” she responded.
“The heartless bitch,” Danny thought. And then before he could even process this indignation, he watched stunned as she went a step further in her callous disregard for the sanctity of life. She bent over the deceased Mr. Youngman and grabbed both sides of his waist. With fleshy, fluffy handfuls, she squeezed as if kneading rolls of sourdough.
Miraculously, the corpse discharged an involuntary, reflexive gasp. Danny’s jaw dropped and before he could affect a fitting response, the dead guy blurted out a yelp, which exploded into a full-on laugh.
“Mr. Youngman is initiating you.” Lexi said, pretending to be annoyed by the hoax.
The formerly deceased took an extra deep gasping breath, then another one, followed by this gentlemanly salutation:
“Good day to you, sir” he said, as he sat up in bed and winked first to Lexi and then Danny. “My apologies, son.”
“Blue Opossum strikes again,” Lexi announced, much to Mr. Youngman’s satisfaction. The undead wiseacre grinned like a Cheshire cat as an ashy pink hue returned to his face.
That was it: Danny’s introduction to Cyrus J. Youngman. Known throughout Fillmore Park by apparently everyone but the newest care provider as a prankster and, if one was to believe the old man’s tall tales, the “world’s greatest jewel thief.” Retired.
Cy, as he was known around the “home,” was a wanderer. Not in a dementia-manifested way, but in the friendly, “Just came by to see what’s up” way — poking his head into neighbors’ rooms, making his rounds up and down hallways and in and out of the lounge and outdoor garden. He used a cane for stability and resorted to his walker when pace mattered — such as mealtime. He might have stood five-and-a-half feet in his prime, five decades or so ago, but with shrinkage he now looked Lexi eye-to-eye. Still, his self-confidence, jaunty demeanor and substantial wit made him appear larger than life.
Cy had outlived his wife and his two children, too. He likened his inexplicable longevity to that of a cockroach or Twinkie. Though he had the financial resources and intention to grow old and die at home, a couple of years back he was strongly encouraged to avail himself of the services at Fillmore Park. This, according to staff scuttlebutt, had less to do with his declining health and more to do with some “mischievous behavior” or perhaps illicit activity that required the intervention of Adult Protective Services. Lexi was supposedly the only one on staff who knew the truth and no one dared ask her. Feeling a bit confined at first, he was making the best of the situation by all accounts.
The rest of the week involved some basic orientation and training, which kept Danny over on the East wing, so he had little contact with Mr. Youngman, whose room was on the other side of the building. He did see Lexi constantly hustling about – quick to compliment and care for every patient she came upon; and equally quick to assign more tasks to busy workers and admonish the inattentive ones. Danny mostly tried to avoid her direct line of traffic; but when their paths did cross he smiled sincerely, with all his might.
Things changed the following week, when the rookie was assigned the graveyard shift. He knew this schedule would be set for awhile at least, and actually didn’t mind so much – since with basically no social life he was pretty sure he wasn’t missing anything. Plus the shift was pretty quiet, except for the occasional calls for a lavatory assist and to calm someone down from a disorienting nightmare.
As it happened, the circumstances created a perfect storm of sorts: a whole bunch of free time and a golden opportunity to fill it. In room 3 West right down the hall from the nursing station where Danny sat, lived good old Mr. Youngman who, true to the marsupial whose name he assumed, was nocturnal.
Soon time and space converged and one thing led to another. A friendship developed, and Danny’s fascination with his new buddy’s nightly storytelling replaced his wariness of Blue Opossum’s mischievousness.
Danny was enthralled by every one of Cy’s stories, however mythic in proportion, including the illustrious accounts of his daredevil thieveries. Cy even teased him with a discreet peek at his tiny cardboard gift box sealed shut with criss-crossing strands of frayed twine, which the proud owner shook and whispered still contains some of the world’s most precious gems.
Soon Danny felt comfortable reciprocating this trust, and he began sharing his own stories with Cy. For instance, he confided in his old friend about his yearning, “love at first sight and every sight since” for Lexi. Because Danny was so darn sincere (“She is so beautiful and she cares so much about you old people,” he expressed multiple times), Cy found himself wanting to somehow help the dumb-love-struck kid. Not by playing cupid, that wasn’t his style, rather more existentially.
“Danny boy, don’t get your hopes up, but I think you might have a long shot at Lexi,” Cy proclaimed.
“Seriously, Cy?” Danny asked. “I wish I could think of something to say.”
“Yes, talking to her would be a good place to start,” Cy encouraged. “As the American humorist Robert Quillen said, ‘Progress always involves risk,’ you know ‘You can’t steal second with your foot on first,’” he added for emphasis, proud to have recalled the perfect quote on the spur of the moment.
”Quillen. It’s a proverb … Never mind. Let’s get to work.”
There was just no denying, Cy concluded in relatively short order, that Danny had issues. It was hard to put a finger on what exactly made the young man different, but one thing for certain concerned the worldly and wise Cy: Danny was dangerously sincere.
“Your stories are amazing, like how real life should be,” Danny said once.
To which Cy bristled, “Is that a compliment or are you daring to question their authenticity?”
“Heck no Cy, I just meant you’re a good storyteller and inspiring to me.”
“Okay, then, thanks.”
“Jeez, I doubt I could live half your life in two lifetimes.”
Danny’s pessimistic math triggered something in Cy’s calculating mind. The thought didn’t qualify as an epiphany so much as aha, what the hell, moment. Right then and there he decided to make this misfit kid his protégé or, more precisely, his accomplice.
With the potent application of their mutual delusion, all it took was a couple of weeks for the co-conspirators to hatch a masterful plan. The conspicuously bold endeavor would at once reaffirm Cy’s status as a great jewel thief and reward Danny with means enough to sweep the beautiful Lexi off her feet, so to speak.
Like any good shrink (or career swindler), Cy assessed what made Danny tick and, more pertinently, how he might best recalibrate him. He learned in those nighttime sessions that Danny’s emotional state was influenced disproportionately by a past misstep.
As the hapless Danny explained, and the cynical Cy reinterpreted: The kid was in love before, with a community college classmate. His attraction to her, make that infatuation, was strictly physical, since they had never actually spoken.
Just like with his crush on Lexi, Danny had not found the right moment, let alone courage, to share his feelings with this prior obsession of his affection. He hoped, with no basis whatsoever in reality, that she would, without any initiative on his part, fall for him. That never happened. The schoolyard ended, they both graduated. She got a job in another town, he heard, and moved away. In conclusion, to sum things up, there was no conversation or even knowing smiles, and obviously no exchange of digits. He was left with only an unrequited Facebook friend request … and heartache.
“That’s it … end of story?” Cy asked, trying unsuccessfully to mask his confusion. “Worse,” Danny claimed, sincerely disappointed. “I never heard of her again.”
He swore to Cy he would never again make the tragic relationship mistake of wishful thinking. Reading between, above and below the lines, Cy knew Lexi was to be the unwitting and/or unwilling beneficiary of the kid’s bold promise from that day forward to make his feelings known.
Cy tried to counsel his naïve friend of the risks in punching above one’s weight class in matchmaking. To “lower your sights,” “get some experience under your belt” and a handful of other clever boxing metaphors.
To no avail.
Danny’s adoration and sincerity were too formidable foes.
Cy knew what he had to do. He would prescribe a reality checkup for the kid. The radical treatment would come in the form of what he cleverly and accurately called a “confidence game.” The prognosis would be a cure for Danny’s mundane existence. Possible side effects, if all went according to plan: car sickness, probable but brief emotional stunting, and a huge dose of intestinal fortitude.
Cy had already been made painfully aware of his patient’s history: Danny, age 29 (chronologically, anyway), was a simple guy — not a simpleton, but definitely not complex. After high school, he spent several years travelling and wandering (Europe, South America, Burning Man, Coachella, the usual), taking the occasional odd job (car wash, Pennysaver ad sales, food service). When he ran out of excuses and friends to “kick it” with, he enrolled in community college. Two-and-a-half years later he graduated with an A.A. degree. Not yet done with higher education, but also not prepared financially or mentally for more college, he enrolled in, excelled at and graduated from a professional care provider program. And then, got a real job with Fillmore Park.
Work-wise, things were looking up for Danny. Otherwise, the more things changed the more they stayed the same.
He lived in a studio apartment, a walk-up in midtown, which was sparsely furnished. He had little disposable income, which complemented and dictated his minimalist lifestyle.
The only decoration of consequence in his apartment was a giant bulletin board hanging in the middle of the room’s largest wall, opposite his twin bed. Behind the board was a violent dent that Danny punched in the sheetrock in a rare, spontaneous display of emotion. It happened after he got the call, completely unexpected, that his father had died. (They weren’t that close, yet he was all the family Danny had left, which was another likely reason he and Cy bonded.)
Pinned all about this corkboard was his button collection. Not the political kind typically collected, but the clothing kind: plastic, wooden, horn, metal, shell; tiny to large; two-hole and four-hole. It was actually quite astounding – upwards of 200 buttons attached to the display using stickpins.
Danny had collected other things in the past but found buttons to be the one thing he collected and didn’t accidentally use. He tried stamps, but used them to pay bills. His coin collection was mistakenly used for bus fairs and laundry. That oversight came at no small price. Interesting rocks inadvertently became weapons of choice to pitch at rats scrounging through the dumpster in the alley below his window. Matchbooks lost their value when he would absent-mindedly yank out a match to light his occasional cigarette; plus they were just too hard to come by nowadays.
But buttons … he found a new one almost every day, everywhere. On sidewalks, in gutters, at parks, on grocery store floors, all about the laundermat of course. At work, Danny supposed, that would be a bonus.
Unbeknownst to its new and only button collector, Fillmore Park was in fact the site of one especially conspicuous button, which ironically was coveted more for its impending absence than its possession.
For this reason: It was attached to Lexi’s favorite, skin-tight cotton blouse. Like a sentinel; posted below the crest of her cleavage, just above the horizontal and vertical apex of her perfect and disproportionately substantial breasts; where — to the chagrin of all observant male coworkers and a few female — it was holding on ever-precariously for its life. (To the inanimate object’s credit, it was doing all it could to handle the stress and tension of doing double duty as the guardian of discretion and ultimate teaser of prurient minds.)
One indiscriminate stretch or sneeze or laugh … and pop. The breath-taking flight of fantasy would become the second most infamous “wardrobe malfunction” of all-time.
Unrelated to the above second-coming of Janet Jackson’s scandalous Super Bowl appearance, there’s this about Danny. Though his friends and family still call him “Danny,” he decided before turning 30 to make a conscious effort to go by Daniel or even Dan. He was becoming a grown man, he decided, and this acquired maturity deserved a more proper name. Though he didn’t bother to tell anyone before or after they called him “Danny,” he figured, like with a lot of things, the thought counted.
Cy agreed to help “Danny Boy” or “Danny Delusional,” as he alternately and mostly affectionately called him, with a plan loosely based on shock and awe. The brazen strategy was to skip right over conventional courtship and instead impress (more like blindside) Lexi, who unfortunately was barely aware of her suitor’s existence, with a marriage proposal and a stunning engagement ring. In actuality, the plan was very uncomplicated, considering it took the two most of the nighttimes of two weeks (minus Wednesdays and Thursday, which were Danny’s “weekends”) to plot.
In a nutshell: 1) Cy would swipe an engagement ring from a jewelry store for 2) Danny to present to Lexi as an obviously over-the-top and endearing expression of his affection. Less conspicuously and more rewarding — depending on which accomplices’ perspectives — Danny would be jolted from the unhealthy constraints of his timidity; and Cy, the “legend in his own mind” who no one ever accused of being especially selfless or too humble, would use the heist to boost his reputation as the world’s greatest jewel thief.
To pull it off, Cy (the notorious Blue Opossum) would use the art of misdirection by “playing dead” to distract the jewelry store proprietors. Then, during the ensuing hubbub, he would perform his slight-of-hand to boost a ring. (And not to worry, the master thief assured his duly concerned young apprentice, his precisely choreographed maneuvers would evade surveillance cameras and disarm the security guards, et cetera.) Danny would wait in the getaway car, in his scrubs and if any nosey person asked, he’d explain that he was the old man’s private duty care assistant.
Cy identified the local outlet of Shane Company as the “mark.” He explained the choice to Danny — in his best impersonation of the eponymous and famously corny proprietor Tom Shane, “Now you have a friend in the diamond business.”
The Thursday of the caper arrived. Danny waited in the far corner of Fillmore Park’s visitors’ parking lot. As designed, Cy exited the West wing’s unalarmed back door and made his way down the sidewalk, lifting his walker as he took a shortcut through the flowerbed. Danny got out and folded and loaded the walker into the back seat and Cy into the front passenger seat. So far, the plan’s execution was flawless.
Because they would miss breakfast at Fillmore Park, they agreed to make an unscheduled stop at Marie’s Donuts on the way to Shane Co. Fortunately the plan was not time-sensitive. Plus, it was an “outing” for Cy. Danny pulled up to the drive-through window and ordered two glaze twists for himself and one cake donut with chocolate and colored sprinkles on top for his partner. The woman inside the shop peered through the tiny sliding window and smiled at the familiar customer in the passenger seat. The donut-loving jewel thief smiled back.
More discreetly, Cy made sure he would not be missed back at Fillmore Park. He smartly hung his handmade “Occupied” sign on the bathroom door in his room. Although, if staff happened to visit too shortly after he snuck out and then returned hours later, the lengthy occupation might arouse suspicion. He was playing the odds, as he did his entire life. Whatever happens, happens, Cy conceded. Anyways, he had to remain focused on the matters at hand – the delicious donut and executing this morning’s caper, his coupe de grace.
It began exactly as planned. Cy maneuvered his walker along the sidewalk up to the front door of Shane Co. A sales clerk buzzed the door open. He entered. Then a slight mishap, from which Cy recovered like a pro. The tennis balls on the legs of his sophisticated assistive mobility device had lost traction as he crossed over the threshold and then again as he transitioned from the hardwood floor of the foyer to the carpeted area. No one seemed to notice as far as he could tell.
“Good day to you, my dear,” Cy announced to the sales clerk as she walked up to greet him.
“Good day to you too,” she demurred. “What brings you to Shane Company today?”
“Yes, I would like to see an inventory of your most spectacular engagement rings.” The clerk enthusiastically obliged.
“Lovely,” Cy said. There it was, ripe for his picking, in the middle of the middle row of the velvet pad. Cy estimated it to be two carats of spectacularness, which was surrounded by a halo of tiny sapphires, all set in an antiqued platinum band.
Before the clerk named Carol could even ask which designs might be to his liking, Cy on-cue uttered his carefully scripted, incomplete line:
“Excuse me, I don’t …”
Visibly in distress, Cy attempted to grab hold of the countertop, which flipped the pad and its contents all about, before collapsing off his chair, landing in a fetal position on the store’s plush oriental carpet. By the time Carol ran around the display case to assist the elderly patron, he had turned blue.
“Somebody call 9-1-1,” she screamed. “Please hurry, he’s … blue!”
It was too late.
Within moments, sooner than the emergency call could be made, she heard a muffled sound come from the floor.
A gasp, then, “Would you be so kind as to fetch me a glass of water, please?”
“Yes, yes, of course, oh my gosh, I thought …”
“So sorry to frighten you dear. It’s this new medication. Sometimes I have these most inconvenient fainting spells.”
“Oh thank goodness you’re alright,” Carol said. Cy excused himself again, and suggested that he better come back another day once his medication issue was resolved.
With Carol’s aid, he collected himself and walker and navigated out the front door. Not before scraping the metal legs on the doorframe and leaving a nasty gash in the process.
“Good day … please give my regards to Tom,” Cy said to the still-unnerved Carol.
“Holy shit! Everything is okay, I think,” he heard Carol respond to the chorus of shouts from concerned employees.
Danny was waiting very anxiously outside, parked a few rows away from the store’s entrance, with the motor running. He had witnessed all of the commotion in his rearview mirror, through the glare of the Shane Co. windows, between the various promotional posters. It happened so fast that Danny had to replay it in his mind in slow motion to fully digest the frenetic scene that had just transpired.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he blurted as Blue Opossum exited the scene of the crime.
Cy looked back over his shoulder and smiled at Carol before crossing the parking lot. “Don’t look back. Just go, Danny Boy. Go,” Cy ordered, once he and his walker were collapsed safely inside the getaway car.
This marked the successful completion of the first stage of the plan.
The two robbers were justifiably relieved; in Cy’s case, mentally and literally.
“Mr. Youngman? Mr. Youngman! Is everything alright?” the Fillmore Park attendant asked upon re-entering room 3 West. “You’ve been in there for a couple of hours.”
“Yes, yes,” a breathless Cy answered, adding a grunt for emphasis. “I must’ve dozed off.” Really, he was exhilarated by the whole inglorious experience. Yet happy to be home.
With the ring in his accomplice’s possession, Cy’s business was finished. It was now up to “Danny Delusional” to pop the question. What Cy couldn’t have anticipated was how his well-intentioned ruse would produce a very unintended consequence.
Danny couldn’t sleep that night. He rearranged his button board, trying to calm his nerves. Tomorrow, he knew he would be on his own for stage two of the plan — or suicide mission, he was starting to think.
Early the following morning, just before shift change, there was a hysterical scream.
“Oh my god! Where did you get that?” Lexi shouted, when Danny, who had more or less cornered her in room 5 West, revealed the ring. The innocent bystander in the room, Mr. Yamamoto, looked up from watching a “Seinfeld” rerun, one of his favorite episodes when Jerry and Kramer were “gaga” for Pam. The exciting live show in his room was enough to press the mute button.
Confused but committed, Danny pressed on. He clearly did not make the connection that the ring was Lexi’s to begin with, the same one she took off and placed on Cy’s nightstand. Even Lexi failed to make the connection, initially.
“Now what are you doing!” she blurted out. “C’mon, joke’s over. Get off your knees, you are not proposing!”
Just then, at that perilously vulnerable moment, poor, earnest Danny had a flash of insight: What he was doing was borderline insane, while he (hoping to hell) was not. “Damn-it-all Cy,” he thought. Regrettably and unfortunately, he was stuck on his horse mid-stream. No turning back.
“I am … sincerely,” he said with absolute sincerity. Emboldened by his fearless expression of emotion and the fact that the world hadn’t come to an end, he added a qualifier of sorts, “Ridiculous, right, but I …” then stopped.
All Lexi could do was smile wide, before gradually letting escape a succession of uncontrollable giggles, which spontaneously erupted into uncontrollable laughter.
“Cy put you up to this, right?” she asked after finally catching her breath. “Good one, for sure! … Seriously, thanks at least for returning my favorite ring.”
Danny forced an unconvincing smile.
“Okay,” he mumbled, defensively.
“Where is that crazy klepto, anyway? He promised he wouldn’t …” Lexi paused.
Then another bout of laughter, bordering on hysteria, which continued for what seemed like forever to the dumbfounded Danny. By this time, Lexi’s reverberating, infectious laughter, along with Mr. Yamamoto pressing his alert button, had attracted multiple staff members who gathered anxiously at the open door to 5 West. Danny could only look away. To add insult to injury, he was forced to watch the pulsating Lexi alongside his stunted, pathetic figure in the reflection on the window that framed the world outside where he desperately wished he was at that moment.
And that’s when it happened.
That particular button on Lexi’s blouse had had enough. It could maintain its stronghold no longer. Off it shot on a striking trajectory, over the head of the kneeling Danny, bouncing off a wall, clanging on Mr. Yamamoto’s wheelchair, and past the dirty linen hamper, before finally coming to rest in that mysterious place where all things that don’t want to be found end up. (Danny, it would turn out, found that place.)
“Yipes,” “whoa,” “hallelujah,” “poor Lexi” were among the exclamations punctuating the gasps coming from those witnessing the button’s epic takeoff and ensuing collateral fallout — the liberation of Lexi’s captive breasts.
Remarkable as the scene was, remarkably Lexi was not upset or even embarrassed by the immodesty of the impromptu peep show, she appeared genuinely grateful. Thank goodness, she rationalized, for the tension-releasing distraction which had vicariously turned Danny’s awful states of confusion and humiliation into one of palpable relief.
Just as Cy had encouraged, Danny had bravely put himself out there. And just as Cy had hoped and even predicted, that risk was real progress for the kid.
“Thank you, Danny, for sincerely making my day, for busting my button, in fact,” Lexi said. “If I don’t see him first, you tell your old accomplice that if I ever get a real proposal I hope it’s just as wild.”
Perhaps it was the regretful look on Danny’s face as he gazed upward, or her annoyance with the curious onlookers (who should be doing care and chores), or something more ambiguous why Lexi helped Danny to his feet, grabbed and squeezed two handfuls of his waist, and kissed him on his lips.
Two doors down the hall, in 3 West, another surprise was about to unfold. Though the timing could’ve been better, Blue Opossum lay in his bed, motionless, waiting to startle whoever entered.
Later that evening, Lexi retrieved a package from Cy’s nightstand drawer and per the explicit instructions on the envelope, presented it to her equally distraught coworker. Danny retired to a quiet corner and opened the envelope to find a familiar little box and a handwritten note that read simply: “Danny Boy — Better luck next time. Cy.”
As was custom at Fillmore Park, Cy’s passing was recognized with a small service attended by fellow residents and staff and one guest, who Danny tried to make feel welcome. From their brief chat, Danny learned he was the son of Cy’s old business partner in the dry cleaning business. Though he listened respectfully as Danny recounted several of Cy’s stories of Blue Opossum, the guest claimed no knowledge of such “shenanigans,” mentioning only that the partners would make gifts of unclaimed pieces of jewelry. A “professional perk,” was their justification, he recalled.
When the service concluded Danny walked across the room and slowly approached Lexi. Her forced smile turned to genuine when he reached for her hand and into the palm of which placed the missing button to her favorite blouse.
As the months progressed, so too did Danny’s confidence in both work and life. Occasionally he would hear Tom Shane’s familiar voice on the radio – a sound that used to be an aural assault had become a welcome reminder of his late friend, Cy.
“Hard to believe he’s been gone a year,” Lexi said to Danny as she bent down to place some flowers on Cy’s tombstone. The sunlight glistened off the diamond engagement ring that was once Cy’s, then Danny’s, and now comfortably at home on her ring finger.
“Yeah, I still half-expect to be startled by a deep breath and hear Blue Opossum say, ‘Good day to you, son!’”
Illustration by Suzanne Cabrera, An Open Sketchbook Design Studio. Reprinted by permission.