"These little kids solve a big, like, supernatural mystery, or whatever. If you're interested, it's on Netflix. Have you heard of Netflix?"
Daisy Flanagan patiently realizes, "She thinks I'm senile."
"One of the best parts? It all takes place in the eighties, so I think you'd really enjoy it."
"I was in my forties in the eighties."
It’s like being the new kid at school again. Moving to a new town, being forced to meet the other kids who have all known each other their whole lives. A table of them sits in the corner now, playing poker and chuckling every once in a while. Of course, most of the people in this place are in their own individual worlds.
Old people in chairs dot the landscape here. Mostly alone with books or knitting. Some just lost in thought. Maybe truly lost. On the verge of being sent to a…separate floor.
Daisy's daughter didn’t have any better option, she tells herself. She can’t blame her.
Assisted living. Rest home. Call it whatever you want, this is probably where she's going to die.
That’s okay…That’s okay…
People used to die at home surrounded by their loved ones. Plenty of people Daisy's age and older bemoan that times have changed. But she remembers the room where her grandmother died.
Some older boys had told Daisy ghost stories a couple of weeks before her grandmother passed away. Tales of banshees screaming you awake at three am. Thieving ghosts lurking under your car, waiting to grab at your ankles in the dark. They just wanted to see the little girl in the pigtails cry. Did she give them the satisfaction? No.
Daisy pictures the days just after the funeral, creeping down the hall for a glass of water in the middle of the night. Walking past the open door of her grandmother’s empty room. The image of vacant old eyes and an empty smile consumed her, almost against her will, as she slinked by refusing to look. What if her grandmother was really there, somehow? What would her ghost want? Could it see everything Daisy did? Would it somehow compel her to come closer into the room? To sit at the bedside? If it could do those things, it might follow her back to her own room and stare at Daisy as she slept. It might never leave.
Daisy loved her grandmother, but the day she died was the first day she thought, “I love you, but I hope I never see you again.”
Of course…it wasn’t.
"So no," Daisy thought to herself, "I'd rather die in this nursing home than pass that fear onto my own grandchildren. To each their own. But let this fear die with me. I’ll brave the rest home."
The nurse smiles, and somehow Daisy reads exactly what she’s thinking: “Mrs. Flanagan is lost in thought or worse. I’ll just let her rest.”
“Okay, Mrs. Flanagan, I’ll just let you get some rest.”
On the money.
“Can I get you anything?”
“First of all, please call me Daisy. And I’d love a cup of tea, if it’s not a problem.”
With nothing more than a nod, the nurse rises and walks out of the room. Not too shabby. Daisy wonders what else she could have asked for.
How bad could this place be? There’s a roaring fire, plenty of books, a TV playing some talking head complaining about one thing or another…
"Well…I’m sure I can find the remote," Daisy tells herself. "Old people…"
If nothing else, she always promised herself she wouldn’t let the world completely pass her by. Getting old and cranky is inevitable…if you don’t die young, that is. But she refuses to complain that young people are destroying the world, or that society’s rapid evolution is something new.
There are ancient hieroglyphics complaining about kids. We’ve been locked in this spiral since the beginning of time.
"I won’t fight it. It’s a losing battle. Why would anyone fight a losing battle?"
A sudden image of a tired old soldier flickers in Daisy's head before it’s interrupted,
“Hey new kid.”
Pivoting to find the source of the whispered taunt, Daisy winces, having wrenched something in her neck. Pain is constant at this age. Constant. She reminds herself to take things slow.
“Over here, hey. We’re down a man for poker, would you like to buy in?”
Down a man? Around here, there’s really only one thing that could mean. Day 1 and death is already here to greet Daisy, just like this woman wearing a green visor in the corner, smiling and waving her over. She looks young. Nursing-home-young, that is. Like she’s not old enough to live here. Not yet.
Taking a quick glance at the angry panel chattering on the TV, Daisy finally decides, "Well, what the hell…What else do I have to do?"
Knees popping, she rises from a cushy recliner and makes her way to the table, four pairs of eyes watching her long journey across the small room.
A man in sunglasses with one lens missing teases, “What’s taking you so long?”
He’s holding an unlit cigar. Lighting it must be a habit he’s not afforded anymore.
A small frail looking lady with gaudy rings on each finger affectionately slaps the sunglasses-wearer on the arm. She may be tiny, but she's apparently deadly.
“Can it, Mickey.”
She raises her voice as Daisy lowers herself into the empty chair to Mickey's right, “Don’t let him bother you, it would have taken him twice as long.”
“Bum knees. As in both,” adds Mickey, with a smile, holding up two crooked fingers. Noticing Daisy's curious glance at his broken sunglasses, he explains, “Oh, and missing an eye. My son says this looks better than an eyepatch.”
“It’s not what you think, by the way,” offers the woman in the green visor, gesturing to the chair, “he’s probably just late, but he won’t mind.” Sitting across from her now, Daisy thinks the woman is probably in her late 70’s, though in incredible shape.
“Robert is never late,” comes a surprisingly strong voice from a nervous looking turtle-of-a-man to Daisy's right. In contrast to the woman in the green visor, he’s in perhaps the worst shape of anyone here. His rounded spine looks like it might be painful, but the eyes behind his coke-bottle glasses feel alert, albeit nervous.
It’s a table of misfits.
Over a few hands of poker, Daisy comes to know each of them. She finds it hard to ignore that she's likely sitting in a dead man’s chair, though, and that nagging thought colors the experience. Who knows, these might be her friends now. Her constant neighbors. The people she'll see every day…until suddenly another chair goes empty. And another, and another. Someone is bound to be last.
And then, there were none.
The risk is always there, of course. Daisy had no way to anticipate her husband suddenly passing away in his mid-fifties, did she? Maybe that’s different…She's carried him with her now for three-plus decades…He’s been dead nearly longer than she knew him in life. But he was her love. Her soul-mate… If there is such a thing.
And these people at the poker table? They’re personable, they’re friendly, but a voice in the back of Daisy's head tells her not to be too invested.
She imagines they’re thinking the same thing.
Fox News becomes some baseball game, but Daisy hardly notices. She's laughing harder than she ever could have imagined possible in a place like this.
Mickey is clearly the joker of the group. He reminds Daisy of her grandfather, a traveling salesman before such a job became obsolete.
“Sold cars for 40 years,” he shares, and it’s like a puzzle piece neatly sliding into place. She was right.
Beside him, the little lady, is Penny, complete with her handfuls of jewelry. After losing her husband, evidently she and Mickey have become…well, in a nursing home they just call it “companionship.” But the way they make eyes at each other, it’s clear there’s love between them. The thought gives Daisy hope, as she uncomfortably adjusts the chain around her neck, carrying her husband’s wedding band.
Thankfully the turtle-man has a name too, so she can stop referring to him by the insulting, yet unavoidable nickname. Herman Hill.
It actually sounds like a name for a turtle, doesn’t it? Maybe an old '50's cartoon?
And then there’s Mirabell in the green visor. Something of a leader. It’s not just that she carries herself as if she were twenty years younger, it’s her demeanor. Her confidence. You can tell a lot about people by the way they play poker, or so Daisy's late husband used to tell her, and Mirabell is always the dealer.
Herman seldom bets. If he does, you know he’s got something. Or at least he thinks he does. He’s comfortable playing the slow game. Again: turtle.
Mickey is boisterous and likes to initiate a bet, just to have something interesting to do, especially if it’s against Penny, who probably wouldn’t be playing at all if she wasn’t enjoying the time with her friends so much.
For that matter, neither would Daisy. Poker was a game her husband played with his friends and coworkers while she entertained “the wives.”
He might not have fared well in today’s world. Or maybe he would.
She'll never know.
"I love you, but I hope I never see you again."
The game takes hours. At a certain point, Daisy thinks to ask what, exactly, they're playing for. What has she bought into?
Mickey, of course, is ready with the line, “I win, I get to take all your pills.”
Another WHAP on the arm from Penny. Always with that little smile.
“I really think someone should check on Robert,” Herman mutters, going all-in.
“The way you’re playing, I think you’ll be getting up from the table in just a minute,” teases Mirabell, flipping over a full house.
Herman is out first, despite his careful betting. He's shortly followed by Penny, and then Mickey, who, minutes later, chortles as Mirabell sweeps up Daisy's chips.
“Better luck tomorrow.”
“Sure sure, always tomorrow,” grins Mickey. “Y’know, it’s no fair you put some gray in your hair just to sneak in and pick on the old folks.”
Mirabell shoots Daisy a look, and immediately she feel like she's in the cool kids club. She's never been in the cool kids club before. Micky catches Daisy's eye and points at Mirabell's vast pile of poker chips,
“You think she looks tough, wait ‘til you meet Robert. You've never seen someone so--"
"Speaking of Robert," interrupts Herman, pushing back from the table, "Can we please check on him, now?” He gets up out of his chair, and his height hardly changes.
Seemingly in answer to his call to action, the front doors of the facility swing open, automatically making way for a handful of men pulling a gurney.
Most of the old folks don’t even spare them a glance. This must happen all the time. Daily, maybe. Twice daily. Every hour.
But Daisy can feel what the group is thinking. They’re all in a silent agreement.
It’s not long before the men with the gurney come back. T his time there’s something lying on top, covered in a clean white sheet, tucked neatly on all sides.
They know before they could possibly know. And when an administrator comes to deliver the news, its confirmed: A man named Robert Dawson was found in his room, dead of a heart attack.
They apologize for everyone’s loss. Daisy can’t help but wonder how many losses they’ve endured. How many more are to come?
“Well hell,” Mickey blurts out at dinner, just quiet enough to avoid being overheard throughout the room. “Guess we should have seen this coming.”
Having known them all for such a short time, Daisy still expected Mickey to be saying some sarcastic, smart-ass line, but through his missing sunglass lens, she can see his eye is pink. The tough guy can cry.
“Mickey…Do you want to go for a walk?” Penny comforts her boyfriend. For such a little gal, she seems like the sturdier of the two.
“He told us as much, didn’t he?” Daisy hadn’t even heard Herman enter the room.
“Oh, don’t start with that again, Herman,” comes a quick shutdown from Mirabell.
“But he did!”
“Yes, but…Robert said, well…a lot of things.”
Just as Daisy starts feeling like an intruder, or some sort of peeping tom, Mirabell shoots her a knowing look, inviting her further into the fold.
“Daisy, this all might sound… Odd.”
She's never been more intrigued.
“Robert…our friend who– Well, he had shared some concerns with us. About this place.”
Mirabell’s delicacy found itself suddenly run over by Mickey’s fast delivery,
“He told us the staff are all, I dunno, vampires.”
“As in, actual monsters. Killing residents. Herman here believed him.”
The phrase “you could hear a pin drop” has never been more accurate. As a quartet, the poker group watched and waited for Daisy's reaction. This was clearly going to be some sort of make-or-break moment.
She thought again of her grandmother’s grinning, lifeless face. The true face of death, or what hides beyond, sneering jealously at everyone whose veins still course with fresh blood.
Do you believe in the afterlife, or do you not? Just being a skeptic isn’t good enough. Some people think skepticism means shutting down each and every story that defies explanation.
UFO’s are dirt on the lens.
Bigfoot is a guy in a suit.
Ghosts aren’t real.
But skepticism truly means being uncertain. An undecided voter.
Daisy thinks of her husband.
“I love you, but I hope I never see you again.”
Is that actually true? Somewhere in the back of her mind, where she keeps information hidden from her conscious self, does she actually hope and dream and cry out for her husband to come back to her? No matter what form? Whether it means she's alive or dead, herself?
What’s the price of belonging? Or of friendship?
These four people, the poker-playing misfits with the bad spines, odd number of eyes, gaudy jewelry, and bad knees…What’s the cost of letting them into her life? Or of buying into theirs?
The cost of respecting the vulnerability of people clearly grieving while telling you something absurd, and asking you to take them seriously.
Daisy wonders to herself, "What am I doing here? Is a 'nursing home' a place for giving up, a place for dying, or the next step in an ever-evolving life? Another new place to test yourself, to learn, and try new things?"
Maybe it’s all of the above. Why not sink in?
“Okay,” she says. “I’m listening.”
They tell her about Robert, the military man, the retiree whose family grew tired of his regimented peculiarities, his traumas and paranoias, and shoved him out. Filed him away in this building with the rest of them.
They tell her about how he found a place at their poker table, and how he seemed to open himself up with them more than he likely had in decades. They tell her about his nightmares, and his bad heart, and the strange connection he’d made, that whenever someone had an episode of one kind or another, the facility’s groundskeeper was often nearby, watching with a distinct lack of compassion. Never offering to seek help.
They tell her Robert’s theory that the groundskeeper, and indeed the staff overall, were somehow poisoning the residents.
“Poisoning without poison” was how Robert explained it one day. Mickey theatrically rolled his eyes, recalling the phrase.
Who could blame anyone for being skeptical? Especially in a place like this, you hear all kinds of stories of how people lose reality at the end of their life. Daisy recalls overhearing her own grandchildren talk about how “grandma is still so sharp,” as if any minute now she might grow…dull.
What a compliment.
But the point stands…This…Robert…How could she ever be certain he wasn’t just suffering some extended episode? It happens. Should we hide from the fact?
Well, they plainly didn’t need her buy-in. Especially not Herman.
“I’d like to get my hands on his journal.”
“Herman,” Penny begins, only for Herman to power ahead, against her protestations,
“Just hold on, Penny, he told me he had written down each and every encounter he had with the groundskeeper. Deaths associated with staff. Times, episodes, and, well who knows what else?”
“You’re grasping at straws, Herman, and it isn't healthy.” Penny is a straight shooter, to be sure, though she stares down at her rings as she speaks up. “Robert might have been right, he might have been wrong… Sometimes people have heart attacks.”
“Penny, Penny, I’m not grasping at straws. I am no stranger to loss. None of us are, of course, but I don’t see the harm in looking at the man’s writing. Am I crazy here?”
Mickey perks up in his seat, right on cue, “Yes, Herman, yes. You are crazy. But what the hell can I say? I like crazy.” Penny somehow frowns and smiles at the same time.
“Well then, gang, we don’t have much time.” Mirabell, silent for the last few minutes, had apparently been waiting to hear everyone’s arguments before announcing the plan.
Daisy didn't know whether to be annoyed or impressed.
“Robert’s kids will have been notified, so we should assume they’re on their way. Of course they’re out of state, so I think we probably have until tomorrow around lunch. Maybe.”
The other three nod in agreement. Evidently Daisy finds herself the only one not on Mirabell’s page.
“I’m sorry, we have until lunch to do what exactly?”
Herman’s thick glasses turn in Daisy's direction, reflecting the fluorescent lights above. He looks like a mad scientist.
“We’re going to break into Robert’s room and get that journal.”
“And then we’ll try to catch a vampire…” quips Micky, “and probably die one by one.”
One more smack from Penny. With all those rings, it has to hurt, but Mickey just rubs his arm and smiles
“So what’ll it be, new kid? Are you in or out?”
Daisy pauses to consider, and then throws caution to the wind.
"Well…what the hell…What else do I have to do?"