Dorothy had a bad dream. She dreamed she grew up and grew old, and her children put her in a home. And then she woke up and found it was all real. There’s no place like a rest home.
Dorothy sat in her wheelchair, old and frail and very tired, and looked out through the great glass doors at the world beyond—a world that no longer had any place or any use for her. There was a lawn and some trees, all of them carefully pruned and looked after to within an inch of their lives. Dorothy thought she knew how they felt. The doors were always kept closed and locked, because the home’s residents—never referred to as patients—weren’t allowed outside. Far too risky. They might fall or hurt themselves. And there was the insurance to think of, after all. So Dorothy sat in her wheelchair, where she’d been put, and looked out at a world she could no longer reach…a world as far away as Oz.
Sometimes, when she lay in her narrow bed at night, she would wish for a cyclone to come, to carry her away again. But she wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Her children told her they chose this particular home because it was the best. It just happened to be so far away that they couldn’t come to visit her very often. Dorothy never missed the weather forecasts on the television; but it seemed there weren’t any cyclones in this part of the world.
Dorothy looked down at her hands. Old, wrinkled, covered with liver spots. Knuckles that ached miserably when it rained. She held her hands up before her and turned them back and forth, almost wonderingly. Whose hands are these? she thought. My hands don’t look like this.
A young nurse came and brushed Dorothy’s long gray hair with rough, efficient strokes. Suzie, or Shirley, something like that. They all looked the same to Dorothy. Bright young faces, often covered with so much makeup it was a wonder it didn’t crack when they smiled. Dorothy remembered her own first experiences with makeup so many years ago. “Been at the flower barrel again?” Uncle Henry would say, trying to sound stern but smiling in spite of himself.
Suzie or Shirley pulled the brush through Dorothy’s fine gray hair, jerking her head this way and that, chattering happily all the while about people Dorothy didn’t know and things she didn’t care about. When the nurse was finished, she showed Dorothy the results of her work in a hand mirror. And Dorothy looked at the sunken, lined face, with its flat gray hair pulled back in a tight bun, and thought Who’s that old person? That’s not me. I don’t look like that.
Eventually the nurse went away and left Dorothy in peace, to sit in a chair she couldn’t get out of without help. Though that didn’t really matter; it wasn’t as though there was anything she wanted to do besides sit and think and remember…her memories were all she had left. The only things that still mattered.
“Don’t get old, dear,” her Aunt Em had said back on the farm. “It’s hard work being old.”
Dorothy hadn’t listened. There was so much she could have learned from wise old Aunt Em and hard-working Uncle Henry. But she was always too busy. Always running around, looking for mischief, dreaming of a better place far away from the grim gray plains of Kansas.
She had dreamed a wonderful dream once, of a magical land called Oz. Sometimes she remembered Oz the way it really was, and sometimes she remembered it the way they showed it in that movie…she’d seen the movie so many times, after all, and only saw the real Oz once. So it wasn’t surprising that sometimes she got them muddled up in her mind. The movie people made all kinds of mistakes, got so many of the details wrong. They wouldn’t listen to her. Silver shoes, she’d insisted, not that garish red. All the colors in the movie Oz had seemed wrong—candy colors, artificial colors. Nothing like the warm and wonderful world of Oz.