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Chapter 1



Alice Williams stood on the balcony of her second story apartment and gazed at the park across the road. In between cars and trucks rumbling by, she saw small children as they played on the swings. The teeter-totter squeaked as it bounced up and down, and squeals of joy floated to her on the breeze.


Her gnarled fingers gripped the rail so tight her knuckles whitened. This was it. The last time she would stand here as Independent Alice. From tomorrow, she would forever be known as… she couldn't think of the right word. That happened a lot these days.


In the distance, she watched, mesmerized as the orange sun dropped slowly out of sight until only a few fiery fingers still licked at the horizon. When the breeze lifted her fluffy white hair, she shivered and rubbed the goosebumps on her arms.

Inside, boxes stacked four high lined the walls, ready for Goodwill. Her possessions would soon belong to strangers. Still, it was just stuff. Her suitcase held her most treasured items.


She ambled into the tiny kitchen, picked up the telephone and dialed. I can't always remember what year I was born, she thought, but I can remember this number. Priorities are important. "Hello, Pizza Hut? It's Alice Williams on Main Street. You have my address. I'd like a big fat pepperoni pizza delivered to my home. Yes, thank you, a stuffed crust, just like me. And one, no wait… three of your chocolate mousses. Tonight is the last time I get to choose what I eat, so this is like the Last Supper for me. Tomorrow I fall off the Grid-of-Life. No, I'm not going to be actually dead, just metaphorically speaking. Oh, m-e-t-a, never mind. Yes, I have been a good customer, and thank you, I sure would appreciate my desserts for free. Bye bye."


The sides of her mouth lifted as she thought of her doctor reading her next cholesterol results. Too bad, she thought. Today, I'm still the boss of me.

The elevator chugged its way to the ground floor while Alice held the handrail in a death grip. When the doors flew open, she shuffled out to the curb to wait for the delivery boy. A police cruiser drove past her, and a girl with long black hair looked at her with large, solemn eyes. They were headed for the fancy end of town.


Another kid in trouble. What was wrong with them? The thought of breaking the law brought images to mind of striped clothing with a black iron ball chained to her ankle. She shuddered.


A grey, battle-fatigued Toyota screeched to a halt beside Alice, missing the bus stop sign by an inch. A lanky teenager with stringy blonde hair walked to the passenger side door and grabbed a pizza box and plastic bag. "Here you go, lady--eight bucks."


Alice raised one eyebrow. "Are you trying to be the pizza boy from Home Alone? You nearly took out the sign."


He grinned as she counted out eight one-dollar bills, and then dropped a handful of silver coins into his hand as a tip. His long fingers curled up, and he stuffed the money into his jeans pocket. "Sure, why not. It's the only fun I get when I'm working. See ya next time." As he accelerated away, black smoke puffed out the exhaust pipe, and she batted her hand under her nose.


Next time. Hmm, I wonder if I can call Pizza Hut from the prison, she thought. She envisioned the boy coming to her window and slipping the box in through a narrow opening.


As she walked back toward the entrance, she noted the jungle of paspalum and dandelions in front of the building, the chipped bricks on the exterior, and the peeling paint around the window frames. She shoved the exterior door open with her shoulder. "You're falling apart, too," she told the lobby and poked at the button for the second floor.


Her key stuck in the lock as she tried to get back inside her apartment. "I won't miss you," she told the lock. With a final wrench of the key, the door squeaked open. "Bella, my darling, I'm back." And then she remembered. Her beautiful black bundle of fur now lived with her daughter, Karen. She'd been a tiny kitten when Alice had moved into this apartment. Now they had been forcibly separated.


Sadness cloaked her shoulders, and she felt her eyes moisten. She blinked and slapped the box onto the kitchen bench. "No. Come on Alice, you can do this. You're no wimp." She pulled out a slice of pizza and picked at the stringy cheese as it tried to hold on to the mother ship. Her mouth watered at the smell of the spicy pepperoni and the tangy red sauce. "Eat that whole pizza and then gobble down those chocolate mousses until you feel sick. That'll give you something else to think about."


An hour later, she had showered and changed into her nightie. She glanced around the apartment. With her paintings and photos removed, it was just a shell, no longer a home. She wouldn't miss the faint smell of mildew or the constant drip-drip of the bathroom tap.   

Alice plumped her pillow and wriggled around in bed, trying to avoid the spring that poked into her spine. She wouldn't miss the lumpy old mattress either. When Jack died, she'd sold their pillow-top double bed because she couldn't bear him not being on the other side. A giggle escaped her mouth as she wondered if there were any single men at the retirement home. No. She'd been married and once was enough. Still, the thought of a boyfriend wasn't altogether horrible. Whatever happens tomorrow, I will not roll over and die quietly, she thought. I'll face it with my head held high and my dignity intact.

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