Have you ever had that feeling that you have lost track of time? That you were a day behind. You are not alone. It happened to newly retired Suzanne too.
Running a tad late Suzanne sat down, surprised to take the last vacant seat at the table for the ‘Older Singles’ group, a community group she had seen advertised on social media. As soon as the woman next to her began speaking the image of Dory, the forgetful but garrulous motor mouth from the movie, Nemo, sprung to mind.
Dory appeared to be getting on in years, yet Suzanne noticed she was still attractive, with neat makeup and crimson-red lips that manoeuvred masterly around words much like the plump, muscular fingers of a secretary striking the keys in a speed-typing test.
It was always fun to meet new people, but Suzanne barely registered anything Dory said, the one-way conversation lost amid the rising chatter of a busy café. At first, Suzanne had been transfixed by those rapid-fire lips until she realised it would be impolite or socially weird to stare at someone she’d only just met. She decided it was unlikely she would connect with Dory in any meaningful way and turned toward the opposite end of the table. After all, she was here to make new friends.
Joining a social group was just what Suzanne needed to suppress the lonely feelings gathering momentum in her chest. As a recent retiree who had relocated from the other side of the country, she needed a friend, or two, as an antidote to loneliness. Being the newcomer to this group, Suzanne sipped her Latte and looked for an opportunity to speak to someone whose interests might align more with hers.
Minutes passed, and a lady dressed in white linen and dripping in gold stood up and introduced herself as Janine, but told the group they should call her Neenie, as she preferred that.
“I’m a writer,” Janine announced. A box-dyed platinum blonde curl fell across her cheek and Greta brushed it away with a well-practised flick of the back of her hand. It was a move that Suzanne suspected might even be interpreted as flirtatious by some of the gents at the table. Curiously, the men were unmoved and stared into their cups as if searching for guidance on the best response.
As a former journalist for the print media, Suzanne was keen to hear more about Neenie’s interest in writing. “So, you’re a writer, Neenie? Suzanne ventured across the table encouraged by the prospect she might have something in common with a member of the group. “How very exciting. Which genre is your speciality?” Neenie looked confused as if she didn’t hear the question.
A confused look wasn’t altogether unknown to Suzanne, given her quiet voice and a café crowded with conversations. Suzanne pondered whether older people grew tired of asking others to speak up when their hearing inevitably deteriorated with age. Even so, Suzanne was still curious and wanted to know more about Neenie’s writing.
“What sort of things do you write?” Suzanne questioned Neenie again, much louder this time.
“Oh, romance, fantasy, true stories, comedy. Everything. I’ve written a book,” Neenie said.
“You sound quite accomplished in writing across a range of styles,” Suzanne stated.
“Oh I am,” Neenie gushed, nearly knocking over the teacup as she thrust her arms loftily over the table for extra emphasis. When the arms settled again, Suzanne probed further.
“Have you published any of your work?”
“Yes, in magazines, or the book you mentioned. Have you submitted your manuscript to any publishing houses?”
“Oh, Um…. No,” Neenie looked away in the distance. “I – I think I am just too shy about my talent.” After a further pause, she continued: “I attended a writer’s club once, but they told me I was too advanced for them.
“That’s ridiculous,” said one of the gents at the end of the table with a name tag that read Tom.
Ignoring him, Neenie continued. “They suggested I write a book. So I did. It is about a girl called Covid…” Now it wasn’t just the gold bracelets that were rattling, Suzanne thought. “The girl was born in China, and travelled to Australia.”
“That’s ridiculous,” repeated Tom.
Suzanne became concerned. The way things were progressing, she’d stand a better chance of connecting with the potted Palm near the café entrance, than anyone at the table.
“My husband was ill for many years and I cared for him.” Neenie turned to the group to explain. “After he passed away, I thought the time was right for me to come out.
An elderly lady named Olive, with laughing eyes interjected immediately.
“Come out, you say? Jolly good for you,” Olive giggled kindly. “Yes. It’s more accepted to come out nowadays, isn’t it? Thank goodness it’s not like the old days anymore. These days you can be whomever you like, a female, a male, or anything in between.”
Hearing Olive’s words, Neenie’s jaw dropped causing her upper denture to lose its suction on her gum. “Oh No. No. Not like that. No, no,” she spluttered. She began to say something further, but her dentures clattered together like a ghoulish skeleton, at which Neenie covered her mouth with one hand and slotted the wayward denture back in place with the other. For once, even Dory was silent. Then, after an eternity of silence, Neenie spoke again.
“I simply meant I decided to come out to social events to meet people. A new man, perhaps.”
Bernie, the elderly gentleman with thinning hair and a hearing aid in each ear, seated beside Olive, broke another awkward pause. “Did you say, “New- man?” I think it’s actually pronounced “Newman.” I drove out there once. In W.A. isn’t it? Not much there except for a dirty, big mine. Don’t think I’d go back.”
Suzanne groaned inwardly and Neenie looked confused again.
“Excuse me,” Suzanne felt a sharp tap on her shoulder. Twisting around, she was confronted by a stiff white uniform wearing an official badge. Indignant, the white-uniformed voice declared, “You’re in my seat. We reserve this table every Wednesday.”
“Every WEDNESDAY?! Suzanne suddenly felt her cheeks redden. “Oh, dear, I must have lost track of days. I have just retired. I thought today was Tue….”
“This is a private outing – for our dementia care residents,” the white uniform stipulated, tapping a badge on her lapel which read ‘Golden Days Nursing Facility.’
With her cheeks hotter than Dory’s lips, Suz grabbed her handbag and ran, not stopping to reflect that Neenie’s book would probably be as unfinished as the cup of latte Suz had left steaming on the table.