Ike woke up with his heart pounding. He drew in a sharp breath.
What day was it?
Was he late for the plane?
He looked around quickly, letting himself fall back into his pillow when he saw his wife of many years, Marylyn, standing at the dresser rifling through his suitcase. Everyone had always called her Mary—even Ike—but in his mind he always knew she was really more like her real name, “Marylyn”.
“I can’t find the one I wanted you to wear,” she lamented without turning. “You know—the white one with the palm trees on the front? It’s the most comfortable for the trip. Oh, wait, here it is!” She held up the shirt triumphantly as she turned to beam at Ike. “Better get up, we have to get going,” Mary (short for Marylyn, Ike thought) advised. She came over to the bed and tugged at Ike’s arm. Ike sat up and his wife dropped the shirt over his head. Ike obediently shoved his arms into the sleeves.
Ike pushed back the covers and swung his legs out of bed. They were stiff and his heart was still running a little fast. He thought about his frequent trips to the gym in the past week and ruefully chastised himself for working so hard to get in shape for this trip. He also quietly cursed the overzealous instructor who had pushed him so hard.
“What’s that, dear?”
Ike shook his head. His wife studied him for a moment then smiled a small smile. “I’ll get your shaver,” Mary (short for Marylyn) said as she turned and left the room.
Ike ignored the thrumming in his temple and swiped across the cold metal surface of the bedside table for his glasses. He heard a nauseating clatter as his glasses hit the floor. He quickly reached for them, wondering if he could use the “five second rule” for stuff other than food and somehow negate the fall. He turned the spectacles over, checking them carefully, then sighed in relief when he found them without crack or scratch.
Ike slid the frames onto his nose, the nose pads not sitting quite right—not like his old pair. Those had fit him perfectly, broken in and adjusted over the years to accommodate every distinct angle of his face. These were thicker and heavier. They always slid down his nose.
Ike trudged to the bathroom, trying to work his cranky left foot loose. He cursed the instructor again as he passed his wife. She looked at him then handed him the shaver and watched him make his way into the bathroom.
“Need any help?” she asked.
“Why would I need help shaving?”
“What’s that dear?”
“No,” Ike said more loudly, “I don’t need help.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll be getting your bags ready. Just call if you need me.”
Ike cringed slightly as the squeaky buzz of the razor reverberated in his head like a bee that might sting him at any moment. The shaver pulled more than it shaved and when it finally did sting, Ike dropped it. It landed in the sink, jumping around like a mechanical beetle as it rattled loudly against the metal sink. Mary popped her head into the bathroom
“You all right dear?”
“Fine,” Ike grunted as he quickly picked up the shaver.
Ike stood in the middle of the airport, scanning around for his carry-on bag. He remembered packing it—remembered the feel of the well-worn leather when he closed the clasp and the way he could only just fit his wallet, passport, and plane ticket in the front pocket and still snap it shut. Ike twisted his head around, looking behind his suitcase, but the bag was nowhere in sight.
“What do you need?” Ike’s wife asked, glancing around the area with him.
“My travel bag,” Ike said.
“Your what, dear?” his wife asked, continuing to scan the area.
“Travel bag,” Ike enunciated a little more loudly. “I think I left my travel bag at home.” The thrumming, like distant thunder, started up in Ike’s temples again.
“But you didn’t bring your travel bag, dear,” his wife informed him calmly.
“Of course I brought my bag,” Ike objected, his wife’s calm only serving to frustrate him slightly. “I wouldn’t go on a trip without my travel bag.” He hadn’t—ever—not once that he could remember. Ike stood up from the hard metal chair with the stuffed plastic seat and took a step or two to the side, his left foot staying half a step behind where he meant to place it. He stumbled slightly before catching himself on the chair and continued his search. His wife tugged at his arm to get his attention.
“It’s all right dear,” she said. “You don’t need your bag.” Ike looked up at Mary (short for Marylyn).
“What about the tickets and my passport?” Ike asked, the car engine thrum in his head grew louder as it moved to the back of his head where it nestled into a dull ache.
“The tickets did you say? Oh, don’t worry dear. I have everything we need in my purse.”
“You have my passport?” Ike asked.
“I have everything,” his wife reassured him. Ike drew in a deep breath as Mary (short for Marylyn, he reminded himself) took his hand and led him to the counter to check their luggage.
Ike felt the shuttle stop and opened his eyes. His wife smiled down at him from the where she sat in the seat next to him. Ike lifted his head, still feeling the cool numbness where his head had rested against the shuttle window, and tried to straighten up. His wife tugged at his arm to help him sit up.
“Are we there?” Ike asked.
“We’re here,” his wife announced as if Ike hadn’t spoken.
Ike shoved his glasses further up his nose trying to peer through the thick lenses and looked out the far side of the shuttle to the white stucco building. The front was lined with large windows and Ike could just make out the blurred shapes of dining tables and chairs inside.
Ike followed his wife off the shuttle and into the lobby of the hotel. Mary (short for Marylyn, he confirmed) took Ike’s arm and led him to a group of chairs in the middle of the lobby.
“You look tired, dear,” Mary (short for Marylyn) said. “Why don’t you sit while I talk to the girl at the desk?” Ike felt his heart hammering in his chest and nodded as he half-fell into one of the chairs, his left foot failing to support his weight. His wife patted his shoulder and went to check them into their room. She returned after several long moments and sighed heavily.
“I’m afraid the room isn’t ready just yet,” Mary (short for Marylyn) said with a crease in her brow. “They suggested we look around a little while we wait. Want to go for a little walk?”
“What about our bags?” Ike asked.
“The what, dear?”
“The suitcases,” Ike said firmly as he gestured to the two suitcases by his feet.
“Oh, they said to leave them here and they’ll take them to the room when it’s been cleaned. Come,” Ike’s wife invited, holding out her hand to him.
Ike thought about his tired leg and was going to say that he’d rather sit and wait, but then he realized walking might loosen his sore calf muscle. Besides, the lobby chairs were deucedly uncomfortable.
Who decorates a hotel with hard metal chairs with stuffed plastic seats?
Ike finally nodded and pushed himself out of the sturdy chair.
Ike’s wife linked her arm in his elbow and led them out the far end of the lobby and out the double doors that led to the garden. The two of them ambled along the path, passing a couple playing croquet and two older gentlemen flicking a ball back and forth on the ping-pong table with a steady “plunk, plunk, plunk”. One of them grabbed the ball when Ike and his wife passed, pausing to watch them. Ike and Mary (short for Marylyn, he recalled) continued past and the plunking of the ball started again.
Ike watched as a serving girl passed in her starched white uniform, her sensible shoes making soft hushing sounds as she walked by. Ike caught the clean scent of laundry coming off the bundle of towels she carried. He turned to watch her go and she gave him a smile.
Ike and his wife rounded a bend in the path and stepped beyond the manicured foliage out onto a wide expanse of grass. Groups of sturdy metal chairs with stuffed plastic seats dotted the lawn like spots on a ladybug. Ike felt the weight of his left leg and went to sit in one of the chairs. Ike’s wife sat down beside him, placing her hand on his where it rested on the arm of the chair.
They sat in silence for a time until, finally, a lobby attendant walked over to where Ike sat with his wife. The attendant wore navy pants and a white polo shirt. Ike heard the soft rub of the attendant’s shoes on the paved walk and glanced down at them—they looked like something a mountain climber would wear. The mountain climber attendant stopped in front of Ike and smiled down at him. Ike looked up.
“Hello,” Mr. Mountain Climber said in a friendly tone. “They told me to find you and let you know your room is ready. My name is Kyle.” (Ike didn’t know what that would be short for and was wondering how he would remember it for next time). “I’ll show you where your room is.” Ike gratefully pushed himself out of the uncomfortable chair and followed Mr. Mountain Climber down the path to their room.
“I’m getting hungry,” Ike said as he unzipped his suitcase and began pulling out the contents. A pair of underwear dropped to the floor and his wife stooped to pick it up before Ike could even begin to figure out how to get them himself. She placed it on top of the pile of clothes overflowing Ike’s hands. “We should find something to eat.” Ike dropped the pile of clothes into the drawer and it exploded into an unruly knot of twisted fabrics. His wife began pulling at the knot.
“What do you need, dear?” she asked as she re-folded one of Ike’s t-shirts and laid it neatly in the drawer.
“Food. I’m hungry.”
“Sorry, dear,” Mary (short for Marylyn) said, “they don’t serve supper until 5:30.”
“Isn’t this an all-inclusive? Shouldn’t there be food everywhere?”
“Maybe I can find you a snack,” his wife said. “You unpack and I’ll see what I can find.” Ike nodded.
Ike looked up some time later when Mary (short for Marylyn) opened the door of the room. She carried a couple of boxes of apple juice—the kind with straws glued to the side of them—and a sandwich in a plastic half-box topped with the sort of plastic wrap that tears instead of pulling off neatly.
“I found this,” she said with a tired smile as she set the items down on the small, round table by the window. She glanced at the contents of Ike’s suitcase that now lay strewn across the bed. “What are you doing?” Mary (short for Marylyn) asked, looking up at Ike.
“I can’t find my toiletries bag,” Ike said irritably.
“What are you looking for?” Mary (short for Marylyn) asked.
“My toothbrush,” Ike declared in a tone that verged on being sullen. “I can’t find the bag. I was going to put them in the bathroom,” he said, flinging his hand in the general direction of the bathroom. His wife glanced in the direction of the gesture.
“Those are in the other suitcase.” Mary (short for Marylyn) pulled another, smaller suitcase onto the bed and unzipped it. She took out a toothbrush and black shaving bag and handed the toothbrush to Ike. “Here,” she said. Ike took the toothbrush and examined it.
“That’s not my toothbrush,” Ike said simply and handed it back to his wife.
“You got a new one a few days ago, dear,” Mary (short for Marylyn) explained. She took the toothbrush and the small toiletries bag into the bathroom.
“I want my old one!” Ike called after her. His wife returned from the bathroom empty-handed and smiled a weary smile.
Ike struggled to the surface of the pool, gasping for air as he stood up, only to find he was standing in waist high water.
“Good try,” Mr. Mountain Climber said with a smile. He sounded patronizing to Ike’s ears, and Ike frowned as Mr. Mountain Climber came over. Ike watched him while he explained the stroke—again—as if Ike hadn’t heard him the first time.
“I don’t know what’s wrong,” Ike said shaking his head. “I used to do this all the time. I was a lifeguard, for crying out loud. How could I forget how to tread water?!”
“Just be patient,” Mr. Mountain Climber said. “We’ll get you back in shape. Try again, just think about keeping your arms moving.” Mr. Mountain Climber squatted in the water so that he could demonstrate the arm movements. Ike only watched him. Mr. Mountain Climber stood up. “Your turn,” he said cheerfully. Ike turned and headed for the steps that led out of the pool and onto the deck.
“Maybe tomorrow,” Ike said. “I’m going to read a book.” Ike lowered himself onto the plastic deck chair next to the one his wife occupied. Ike looked around for a lounging chair, but he didn’t see any on the deck.
“Are you done swimming already?” Mary (short for Marylyn) asked, her brow creasing as she studied Ike.
“Yeah. Where’s the book I brought?”
“The what, dear?”
“The book,” Ike said slowly, enunciating the word carefully.
“Oh, it’s in my bag.” Mary (short for Marylyn) reached into a large bag that rested against the leg of her chair and pulled out a thin novel. She handed it to Ike. Ike pulled open the pages of the book, studying it for a while. The writing looked like hieroglyphs, the letters blurring around the edges. He tried to focus his eyes, but gave up after a couple of minutes. He tossed the book in the general direction of his wife’s bag.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Forgot my glasses,” Ike grumbled.
Ike lay with his eyes closed, trying to remember what day it was.
Shouldn’t they be going home soon?
He felt like there were things waiting for him at home—things that needed to be done, but he couldn’t quite recall what they were. He lay on the firm mattress, trying to dredge up his “to do” list from the myriad of thoughts that floated in and out of his head. He couldn’t.
Ike opened his eyes, noticing the heat for the first time. The air around him pressed in on him and dried his nose. He tried to breathe in a deep breath but only succeeded in setting off a cough that rattled like a loose chain in his lungs and made his chest hurt by the time he had finished coughing. Ike looked up to see his wife standing beside him.
“You okay?” she asked. Mary’s (short for—what was it short for?) face was pale and drawn like it looked sometimes when she hadn’t slept well. She had always looked so frail when she hadn’t gotten a proper sleep, Ike recalled.
“I think I’m getting sick,” Ike sulked. “Some vacation this has turned out to be! I’m thirsty. Is there any water?”
“Water? Oh, sure,” Mary (short for—ahh, Marylyn) said, going into the bathroom and returning with a plastic cup full of water. Ike took a large gulp, sputtering and spewing a spray of water across the bedspread when he started coughing again. His wife took the cup from him and set it down. She disappeared and returned with a towel. Mary (short for… ) put the back of her hand on Ike’s forehead for a second. Ike thought it felt wonderfully cool.
“You’re warm. Just lay back and rest,” she said quietly as she wiped the water from Ike’s chin. Ike gratefully closed his eyes.
“I want to go home,” Ike said, not opening his eyes.
“I know,” Mary replied quietly.
Mary pressed the button on the side of the hospital bed to lower Ike’s head before sitting down in the hard aseptic metal chair that she had occupied for the past several days. The nurse came in a few minutes later, checked Ike’s pulse and read the machine beside the bed then left again without saying anything. Mary watched the nurse leave, looked at Ike, and let her wet face crumple into her hands.