Melted vanilla ice cream slowly dripped down the crackled waffle cone as the old man drifted off into sleep, creating a pool at the crease between his thumb and index finger. A few minutes passed before a cold tickling sensation woke the man from his fluctuant slumber, and he jerked his fragile hand up as if it were a frightened animal. “Jeepers!” the old man exclaimed in a gruff voice, only loud enough for himself to hear. The ice cream cone flew a couple feet into the air, and splattered on the fraying grey carpet.
It was a common occasion, for the man always slacked on his sleep Thursday nights. Friday nights became his central muse after being placed in one of the city’s local retirement home, Elder Gardens. As a result, his restless eighty-seven year old body remained awake each Thursday night in anticipation of the thrills to come the following day. Every Friday night, the staff at Elder Gardens treated the retirees to bingo, an endless buffet, and freedom to leave the home without assistance. Though this satisfied a typical retiree’s adventurous needs, the old man thirsted for more. The name tag on the excitable old man’s button-up read Franco Moretti. He was an Italian firecracker, inheriting his wits and charm from his suave father. Franco was a real hit among his friends at the home, always the center of attention. However, popularity and attention didn’t fill his bucket. He felt his rusted bucket beginning to tip, and he needed something fresh to fill it before his time was over.
Franco slowly gathered himself, picked up the dismantled ice cream cone, and walked over to a trash can, his feet lightly scuffing the floor. A caretaker noticed his small mishap and rushed over to help clean up the rest. “Thank ya, ma’am. I keep on finding myself doing this every Friday,” Franco sighed, disappointed, “I should get some more sleep.”
“It's okay, Franco. You’ve had a long night. You seem that you had quite a bit of fun earlier,” the caretaker affirmed, giving him a playful wink.
“That I did,” Franco smiled.
Franco carried himself over to the elevator and pressed the button. He hummed an old Sinatra song to himself for a few seconds, silencing as soon as the doors opened. Franco illuminated the button of his floor, and turned around to look at himself in the freshly squeegeed mirror. He groaned at the sight of the unforgiving bags under his eyes, heavier than usual. He slowly turned around, rubbing circles on his eyelids with his sticky fingers. When Franco finally reached his room, he stuck his card in the key slot and shuffled in. As he began washing his hands, his mind entered a world of dreams and imagination. He thought up an elaborate plan to escape Elder Gardens, venture out into the big city, and live one last night full of excitement and thrills. I’m tired of this bland oatmeal life, Franco thought. Let's get this show on the road.
The clock began to approach midnight, and Franco gathered his gear for his anticipated night of adventure. He pulled his ribbed white socks up to his knees, tucked in a fresh silk button up and slid on his favorite slacks and suspenders. He slapped on a tweed newsboy cap and popped on a pair of tan oxfords. Franco creaked open his room’s door and scurried down the hall. The hallway was clean, but retained a musty smell that typically accompanied the elderly. As Franco approached the stairs to escape the building, he halted for a second to bid farewell. He inhaled the musty floral scent that lingered in the air, and let out a weak sigh. You won't see me cryin’ if this is the last time I see this place, Franco thought, with a touch of resentment.
Franco eagerly pushed the heavy door open and entered the outside world. A breeze of frigid air cooled his nerves and he marched on through the wind, fighting it as it tried to push him back. Elder Gardens wasn’t very far from downtown, but for a fragile old man like Franco, walking was a chore. However, he refused to take any chances with public transportation, avoiding anybody who might suspect his departure at all costs. Every now and then, Franco would trip on the cracks in the sidewalk, slowing his pace down to a slow drag. After a tiresome walk down the poorly lit sidewalk, he arrived to his anticipated destination.
In the distance, a blue neon sign cast a bright glow on Franco’s face. As he approached, his face lit up. His mouth curled up into a boyish smile, and his eyes squinted, forming creases at the corners. A long line formed below, and an extra large man dressed in black guarded the door, letting in a couple people at a time. Franco searched for the end of the line, but it faded into a blur. He patted his pockets searching for his glasses, but all he found were a couple of aspirins and an extra battery for his hearing aids. Bucket of brussel sprouts, Franco angrily thought. He took a second to gather himself, straightened his arched back, and walked up to the nightclub’s bouncer. “You got an ID, sir?” the intimidating man asked, in a monotonous voice.
“Yes, I sure do,” Franco whipped out a brown leather wallet and brandished his ID.
“You sure you’re at the right place old man?”
“Well, actually, I’m not quite sure. Is the club where that bouncer got sucker punched by an elderly man?” Franco replied, with a touch of sarcasm.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, sir. You better get outta here before you miss your bingo game,” the bouncer bravely teased.
Franco looked down at the ground, sunk his head and began to walk away. The bouncer returned his focus to the line and let in a couple more young clubgoers. Before the bouncer could even react, Franco whipped around and socked the man in the face. He gave him a couple more blows to the head before he looked down and growled, “Bingo ended at nine.” The crowd around him stood in awe, whispering among themselves. Franco prepared to defend himself against the horde, his feeble hands already aching from the shots he delivered just seconds ago. His sullen eyes grew wide as a round of applause filtered through his ears.
He rubbed his eyes and reached up to his hearing aids, double checking them to make sure he wasn’t starting to hallucinate. A few people gave him some cheers of support, and he gave a shaky holler in return. A perky twenty-something girl stepped up and opened the door for him, boasting a bright smile. Franco nodded, strolled into the dark room and gave his eyes a few seconds to adjust. Inside, the mob of partiers continued to drink and dance, oblivious to the fiasco that had occurred outside. The place smelled strongly of cologne and alcohol, taking him back to his days as a young man. His mind flashed back to his swing dancing days, envisioning his lovely dancing partner jumping around and twirling in his arms. His plastered smile faded into a drooping frown, and a tear ran down his cheek into the corner of his mouth. Franco’s mouth salivated as the salty tear entered his mouth. I wish I could have just one last dance, he somberly thought. He wiped his face with a shaking hand and reluctantly wandered over to the bar.
Franco temporarily erased the gloomy memory from his mind and took a seat. The bartender walked over and asked him what he’d like to drink. As Franco started to order his drink, words poured out of the mouth of a grey-haired woman sitting a few stools down. “He’ll have an Arnold,” the familiar voice smugly insisted. Franco opened and closed his eyes a few times, finding himself once again in a moment of disbelief. He reached his hand out and held onto the woman’s petite hand as his head rolled back into an uncontrollable laughter.
“Leona... Joy... Charleston... Never in a million years would I think to lay my eyes on that face again. My oh my, have I missed that face,” Franco laughed once again, shaking his head.
“I hope you still like Arnold Palmer’s. They always were your favorite.”
The bartender slid his drink over to him with a friendly smile. Franco raised the glass to his mouth and took a sip. The taste of the tart lemonade and smooth iced tea flooded his mind with memories once again. Images of Leona in her striped pink skirt and pinned up brown hair brought a smile to his face. He recalled his late night Arnold Palmer’s at the local diner, their beloved movie theater dates, and last dance together at the swing club they used to dance at every night.
Suddenly, Leona’s warm hand broke Franco from his trance as she dragged him away to the dance floor. She left Franco for a quick moment as she gracefully shuffled over to the DJ, returning as the upbeat rave music came to a halt. The music of brass instruments soon flowed out of the speakers, sending Leona’s delicate hips swaying back and forth as she lightly kicked her foot around. Franco picked up the rhythm and followed her movements in return. People began to flock around the dancing couple as they slowly performed their iconic swing dance together, swinging their stiff hips and shaking their hands in the air. As the song came to an end, Franco gripped Leona by the hips and lifted her a couple feet into the air. The enchanted crowd roared at the couple’s daring stunt, ending their moment in the spotlight.
Franco led Leona back to their seats at the bar, and they sat in silence trying to catch their breath. For a second, Franco reminded himself the elaborate night of thrills that he had planned, and the lengths he took to escape his bland life at Elder Gardens. However, as Franco dwelled in thoughts of disappointment, he was reminded of his true source of happiness. He thought of the one thing that he wanted before his last day on Earth and turned to his side, looking into Leona’s glistening blue eyes. “Leona, wa- wi-, will you--,” Franco coughed.
“Yes, Franco. I most definitely will,” Leona giggled, understanding his broken speech.
Leona grabbed Franco’s hand and they eagerly scurried off into the streets. About a block later, the couple walked into a ice-cream shop. Franco ordered himself and Leona a vanilla ice cream cone, requesting extra sprinkles on top. They sat down on some ripped leather seats by the shop’s window as they shared their ice cream cone, laughing and catching up on the last few decades of their lives. Franco looked into Leona’s eyes one last time and gazed down at the ice cream cone, thinking to himself, This time, I’m not letting go.