The Essence of Senescence Milo Twyla
～ Chapter 3 ～
Halting abruptly in front of the glass doors, the quintet scanned even more flocks of retirees outside on the lawn in front of them, similarly engrossed in their scheduled activities, oblivious of others. Paved pathways punctuated the expanse of lush, green grass ahead, where sporadic ash, cedar and yew trees provided crisp shade.
The blue sky was unearthly vibrant, painted with subtle, ultramarine hues. Clouds were absent as was wind, the air balmy and still. Although it was bright and warm, the sun was nowhere to be seen.
Instead, a comet streaked through the sky, causing deep waves to ripple as it parted the blue expanse, like a whale in the ocean. The icy rock was either terrifyingly large or alarmingly close and moved above at a steady but brisk speed. Its course was impeccably straight, and its white tail was unbending as it flew over the building and directly ahead.
Portable card tables were clumped together, accommodating elderly players and their chosen games – Scrabble, Draughts, Gin Rummy, Chess, Poker, Blackjack and Backgammon. Beside them, yet more pensioners were reclined in chairs scattered on the manicured grass, whilst busy sewing, knitting, embroidering, crocheting, weaving, whittling or merely chatting, everyone busy and distracted, immersed in their own thoughts.
Zephy was the first to rally her nerves and, with adrenaline still surging through her veins, proceeded speedily ahead and away from the building. Irresolute as to how to blend in with the throng, Cosette, Hattie, Ernie and Jules gauchely shadowed her.
They passed a spry choir rehearsing and a posse of amateur photographers, before manoeuvring past a ring of artists studying a mature yet voluptuous woman posed on a central pedestal.
The bloodied fivesome cowered into themselves fearfully as they were overtaken by a pack of ageing joggers and power-walkers, who didn’t once glance at them. Neither did the congregation of seniors stretched out in yoga and tai chi positions.
Interspersed amongst these seemingly content residents were a significant number who were clearly miserable, depressed, even wrathful. Yet their gloom was of negligible effect amidst the prevailing cheer. The more they had whined and raved, kicked and screamed, the worse their circumstance had become, such that most simply withdrew into themselves, sulking solitarily, forgotten in apathy.
Adjacent, even more residents were tending to the huge and heavenly, communal gardens, where flowers were in bewitching blossom. Grubby, gloved and aproned elders stooped and knelt over rows and rows of vegetables, fruits and herbs. In the distance, enormous orchards of pomegranate, apple and fig were being harvested and cultivated by colleagues.
The path then reached a T-junction, where signs pointed in opposing direction: left to the greenhouse, horse stables, golf course and astroturf, right to the tennis courts, swimming pools and sports building. Zephy smoothly piloted the ‘team’ to the right as they walked further away from ‘West’s Sunset Retirement Community’.
At last, the exterior of the main building became visible to them: extremely wide, with five, tall floors above ground. No trace was to be seen of the interior’s primordial limestone and black rock. Instead, the exterior was completely modernist, mainly glass. Discreet, not clamouring for attention, it camouflaged itself amidst its surroundings, reflecting the outside bustle and canopy of vegetation.
Once the building had been viewed, Zephy, Cosette, Hattie, Ernie and Jules marched on, past another bevy of OAPs, sitting under a melancholy willow tree, meekly petting partnered therapy dogs. Those seated all seemed fragile, emotionally exhausted and seemingly in mourning, with puffy, downturned eyes, tear-stained cheeks, dressed in monochrome colours.
The dogs were equally apathetic, groped, jostled and suffocated by sobbing. Although justifiably vexed and doubtlessly resentful, the dogs were all docile and perpetually obedient, their uniform harnesses labelling them ‘therapy angel’.
In the midst of canine solace, the oldest mongrel of the pack perked up and stared directly at the fleeing flock of five. This dog was a mottled haze of charcoal and silver fur, Its platinum-speckled moustache fanning out at three hundred and sixty degrees around Its snout.
The hound bolted towards them, Its sharp, monstrous teeth biting into Hattie’s skirt hem, growling as It impeded her advance. Hattie struggled to shake It, not wanting to attract attention, but finally kicked It off, sending It soaring into a chair leg, causing It to cry out a heartbreaking wail. A huge, psychopathic smirk dominated Hattie’s face as she sauntered off triumphantly.
Fortunately, none of the mourners had noticed, overcome with their own grief. However, glaring furiously at Hattie’s back, Zephy crouched down to the dog. She gazed deep into Its shimmering, golden eyes and rubbed Its spotted belly, inspecting It for injury as she caressed It with her gentle and petite hands. She found no wound nor soreness and, still stroking It, whispered tenderly, “You’re not dead yet, ya tyke. Up you get.”
Wholeheartedly intending to slash Hattie apart, limb from limb, Zephy uncoiled herself and took a few determined steps forward. But she immediately detected the canine mimicking her every move, protectively hugging her ankles, aware of her planned confrontation. “No, you can’t come with.”
The dog cocked Its head, asking “why?”
“Because where we’re going... it’s not for you,” Zephy tried to explain, but the dog continued to gawp at her, puzzled yet obstinate.
“The least that would happen is a Chanel shoe up the arse from that same psycho zoosadist.” She attempted to dissuade the mutt for Its own benefit, but It was unfazed and unflinchingly adamant that now It would accompany and defend her, Its champion.
Zephy relented. “I guess I’m being a fucking hypocrite, telling you you can’t come with me, right?”
The dog’s floppy tongue lolled out as It panted and simpered in agreement.
“Whatever. Do what you want.” Zephy marched off, leaving the lionhearted pooch to shimmy out of Its uniform harness and valiantly skip after her.
Side by side, dauntlessly they trooped up to the other four runaways, who were stood in the middle of crossroads, conspiring their next step. To their right, more pensioners played bocce, croquet and shuffleboard, swimming pools and tennis courts in the background, whilst the fruit orchards were to their left.
Filling the obtuse angle between the two directions, sky-high, gnarled banyan trees towered and knotted together. Their aerial roots streamed down like dreadlocks and their ground roots slithered out like serpents. Ayahuasca vines scaled the thick trunks, whilst begonias, oleander, rhododendrons, nettles and lavender heathers invaded the furrows and crevices.
“We should just leave that nasty nutter! Those who fall behind, get left behind!” Hattie declared, unaware of Zephy’s imminent arrival.
“No. She saw what–” Jules’ speech cut off when he noticed Zephy approach.
“Bitching about me already?” Zephy teased, causing Cosette to snigger, and Hattie to jump and swivel around to face her.
Zephy then grew serious as she turned to Hattie alone and, unable to restrain her rage, roared, “The treatment of animals has always been a pertinent, revelatory indicator of the fundamental nature of one’s soul. How can one accept the presence of any morality within, if you abuse those beneath you, who lack similar advantage?”
Zephy gathered breath, but did not pause. “We all know that a psychopath’s first victim is always an animal. So I guess it’s no longer much of a shock, that you literally slaughtered someone ten minutes ago.”
Nostrils flaring, she continued, “I consider myself a pacifist, preferring peace and harmony, tolerance and magnanimity towards one’s adversaries. But when met with depravity like yours, I truthfully believe that the Universe would reward me for the complete eradication of your toxic presence from this Earth.”
Zephy finally paused, before grating out from clenched teeth, “Yet, no matter how much I want to skin you alive with my nine-inch blade and make a lovely rucksack... I won’t. Because it’s likely very soon that you’ll be senile, incapacitated and at the mercy of someone superior. You will surely face your deserved karma then.”
A less obstinate, iron-willed person would have cowered and retreated, but not Hattie. Instead, she stepped up to Zephy, looking her up and down scathingly. “Your sorceress ensemble tells me that you know all about the future with your witchy precognition and...” Hattie quickly abandoned her abusive retort and tirade, her evaporating temper and disgust replaced by mounting dread.
Just noticing It, she pointed at the dog. “Who is that?” She was horrified and unnerved that the animal she had previously quashed was now resurrected, and stood guard at Zephy’s heel, seemingly back for her blood.
Zephy’s face illuminated with an idea and she answered Hattie’s rhetorical question. “That is ‘Huw’. Pronounced ‘who’. Spelt H.U.W.” She nudged past the gang, but halted and grinned at Hattie. “And if I was truly clairvoyant... I’d’ve brought earplugs!”
As Zephy and a newly-christened Huw strolled on ahead victoriously, Hattie repeatedly shook her head in denial. “I’m hallucinating. It must be the passive marijuana fumes that constantly envelope that hag.”
Huw settled at Zephy’s boots, whilst she studiously surveyed the space in front of her. For the first time in Zephy’s long life, her vehement, assertive and often meddling gut intuition was absent, leaving her feeling familiarly unanchored and vulnerable.
She stood static, her anxious eyes darting about erratically, searching for any clue as to which path they should travel. She found nothing, yet still did not panic nor dissolve into mayhem, but instead closed her eyes and inhaled a deep, deep breath. Her battering heart slowed, whilst her taut muscles slackened and she pleaded for a sign. Show me the way. Show me the way. Show me the way... Please.
The usually heavy and lifeless air faintly sparked with vitality as a silky breeze suddenly brushed against Zephy’s cheek. It swelled into a frisky gust, then into a tempestuous gale and soared straight ahead. Huw’s fur flurried about, and Zephy’s silver hair whipped and whirled as she raised her calloused hand to caress the invisible, ethereal current. Her distress immediately dissipated, comforted instead with elation.
Her twinkling eyes followed the loose, airborne leaves being carried away by the squall, into the forest of banyan trees. Realising that her plea had been answered, her body ignited with gratitude. “Thank you,” she whispered, clogged with emotion.