Someone had attached plastic streamers to the handlebars of Vivee Driscoll’s wheelchair—gaudy neon yellow and electric blue ones, just like those in the colorized version of her cinema classic, Girl on a Bike. A glance at the wall, and an original movie poster from the film almost mirrored the scene before Marni: a much younger Vivee, tearing down a hill on her bicycle, a crazy, youthful smile on her face. Film noir heavies in trench coats, club-wielding coppers, and an escaped gorilla were in hot pursuit of that Vivee Driscoll. The present day model was a tiny china doll with a head of thinning white hair, confined to a wheelchair and dozing in the shaft of sunlight spilling through the window of Room 209 in the east wing of Whittier Hill Retirement Community.
A flotilla of Mylar balloons drifted in the corner, some already loosing their oomph. A bouquet of long-stemmed red roses fared better. There were birthday cards along the sill, atop the heating unit, the deck shuffled and reshuffled whenever a nurse or visitor shifted the curtains Marni imagined. She moved quietly, carefully, past the dozing birthday girl and reached for the latest card tumbled over, righting it. At one bookend of the cards was Vivee’s Emmy, which she’d taken home in the 1970s for an ABC movie-of-the-week based on John Greenleaf Whittier’s eerie poem of the same name, The Dead Ship of Harpswell. Marni had watched a grainy copy of the flick online weeks earlier, when she took the volunteer position.
“Oh, it’s you, thank goodness,” Vivee said, straightening in her chair.
Marni smiled. “Who else were you expecting?”
“That pain in the rump,” Vivee sighed. “The one with the mustache. Always staring at me. The one that looks like him.” She waved a hand at the wall. “That gorilla.”
Marni snickered. “You know that’s only a poster.”
Vivee’s eyes widened. “Not that … the man in the monkey suit. Actor … oh, what was his name? Albert or some such nonsense. Like him, always gaping at me when he visits. Like he’s a fancy jeweler and I’m the Hope Diamond. I’ve got half a mind to tell him to take a picture—it’ll last longer!”
“Sure he wasn’t a dream, Vivee?”
Vivee sighed. “Who do you think I am?”
“You’re the Vivee Driscoll, star of the big and little screens. And it’s almost time to celebrate your one hundredth birthday, my dear.”
Marni reached for Vivee’s sweater, a lilac button-down, and draped it around her shoulders.
“A century old,” Vivee sighed. “It’s official. I’m an antique!”
Marni wheeled Vivee to the elevator, and from there down to Happy Days Ahead, where the event awaited its star. She’d always disliked the name of the function room—the days ahead were short and likely to be ones filled with discomfort. It wasn’t like there were prospects to be had among them, however many or few. No Hollywood agent was going to call up or come racing down the corridor, dodging wheelchairs and oxygen tanks, with a lucrative contract for some new film deal thrust ahead of him. Vivee Driscoll had last acted before the cameras twenty years earlier—a cameo in a sitcom. A novelty. An ending.
A different kind of cast party awaited them in Happy Days Ahead. The small crowd broke into applause at their entrance, and a few camera phones flashed for pictures.
There were more balloons and a big sheet cake, which displayed a recent photograph of Vivee, photocopied across edible rice paper. A parade of partygoers in wheelchairs wore hats, as did the half dozen staff members and a mix of strangers—likely the representatives from the Vivee Driscoll Fan Club, who’d helped to organize the party.
“There better be ice cream,” Vivee groused.
“Coffee ice cream, just like you requested,” Marni said.
Marni made a pass through the lobby. The reception desk, at that moment, sat unmanned. At first, Marni didn’t think Kathy’s absence odd. Reception didn’t link up to a prison—Kathy was entitled to leave for bathroom breaks and to enjoy a slice of birthday cake at Vivee’s celebration like anyone else on staff.
Then Marni passed the sign-in book for visitors laid atop the marble table, located just inside the front entrance, and an invisible finger stroked her spine. The book sat out of alignment. The top page was gone, torn out according to the jagged leaflet still attached, marking the vandalism.