She'd never driven a car before, but somehow Alice figured she'd be all right.
Except that she was driving in a blizzard.
The snow was coming down so hard she could hardly see the road anymore. It was like she was going through a long tunnel, white on all sides, with nothing ahead of her but a circle of black and the driving snow. She'd already slid three times when she put her foot on the brake, once almost skidding into a tree. Luckily, there were no cars on the road in this weather.
What was I thinking, going out in a blizzard?
She couldn't stand it anymore -- she had to get away from that nursing home. When the weatherman on TV predicted a big storm, it was her chance. Everyone except a skeleton crew of staffers had left early. She'd gone to the nursing station when nobody was around and rifled through a few purses till she found car keys. She meandered down the hallway with her walker, trying to act normal, then slipped out a side door and went down to the parking lot. She pressed the unlock button on the key remote till the lights went on in a black Ford Explorer. She ditched the walker and got in.
David, her deceased husband, had always been the driver in their family. Alice sat next to him for so long that she thought she could figure out this driving business.
Getting out of the parking lot had been easy. Now that she was on the road, however, she was feeling weaker.
What have I done? Where am I going to go? I'm just an old lady who has no place in this world.
She'd been alone for ten years after David died, and her only daughter had put her in that home. She felt like she'd been around too long, lived past her time. She didn't understand modern life. All these gadgets and gizmos, everybody rushing so fast they didn't have time to sit and have a cup of coffee with you. She liked to talk, but nobody listened anymore.
Alice shivered as the wind buffeted the car. She was wearing pajamas, a bathrobe and slippers. I sure hope this car has enough gas, she thought, then looked at the gas gauge for the first time and saw it was on Empty.
Well, that's it for me. I'm done for.
Just then she saw a light. At first it was only a small glow on her windshield, but she turned the car toward it and it got bigger. It was a diner, one of those old-fashioned ones that looked like a railroad car. Its windows threw out a warm, bright light, and Alice could see people inside.
She pulled the car into the parking lot, although -- funny thing -- it was empty. Where did all the people inside come from? No matter, she felt safer now. The diner reminded her of the Coffee Break Diner in her hometown -- Alice smiled at the memory of that friendly, happy place.
She got out of the car and almost fell on the ice, realizing she shouldn't have left the walker behind. She made her way carefully, holding on to the car till she could grab the railing leading up the steps to the diner.
Her feet and hands were cold, and she had snow in her eyes. She pulled herself up the steps, then swung open the door and she was in the warm glow, smelling the coffee and hearing the play of many voices.
It was exactly like the Coffee Break Diner. There was the broken clock on the wall, its hands stopped at midnight. There was the long counter trimmed in chrome, with the red stools next to it. There was the jukebox, all silver and red, and the song it was playing, what was that? "It's My Party", the Leslie Gore hit. Alice hadn't heard that song in years. She shuffled over to the counter and sat down at a stool, rubbing her hands to warm them up. A beehive-haired waitress came up with a steaming mug of coffee, and put it in front of her.
"I figured you'd want this," she said.
"You read my mind," Alice said, taking the mug in both hands, and letting it warm her. She took a big drink of the hot coffee, and it tasted better than anything she'd had in the nursing home.
"A slice of apple pie would go well with that," the waitress said.
"That sounds wonderful."
The waitress went off to the kitchen and came back with a large piece of apple pie. Something about her looked familiar, but the smell of hot apple pie distracted Alice. She ate a forkful and closed her eyes in ecstasy. It was the best apple pie she'd had since she was a girl.
"Good pie, isn't it?"