The Big Finish

The Big Finish

by Brooke Fossey

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Overview

One of Goodreads Top 25 Feel-Good and Escapist Books to Read in Quarantine as seen in USA Today

“[A] funny, winning debut.”—People

“Delightfully quirky and endearing…an absolute pleasure to read!”—#1 New York Times bestselling author Emily Giffin

Meet Duffy, an old curmudgeon who lives in an assisted living home.

Meet Josie, a desperate young woman who climbs through his window.

Together, they’re going to learn it’s never too late—or too early—to change your ways.


For Duffy Sinclair, life boils down to one simple thing: maintaining his residence at the idyllic Centennial Assisted Living. Without it, he’s destined for the roach-infested nursing home down the road—and after wasting the first eighty-eight years of his life, he refuses to waste away for the rest. So, he keeps his shenanigans to the bare minimum with the help of his straight-laced best friend and roommate, Carl Upton.

But when Carl’s granddaughter Josie climbs through their bedroom window with booze on her breath and a black eye, Duffy’s faced with trouble that’s sticking around and hard to hide—from Centennial’s management and Josie’s toxic boyfriend. Before he knows it, he’s running a covert operation that includes hitchhiking and barhopping.

He might as well write himself a one-way ticket to the nursing home…or the morgue. Yet Duffy’s all in. Because thanks to an unlikely friendship that becomes fast family—his life doesn’t boil down the same anymore. Not when he finally has a chance to leave a legacy.

In a funny, insightful, and life-affirming debut, Brooke Fossey delivers an unflinching look at growing old, living large, and loving big, as told by a wise-cracking man who didn’t see any of it coming.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781984804938
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/14/2020
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 95,124
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Brooke Fossey was once an aerospace engineer with a secret clearance before she traded it all in for motherhood and writing. She’s a past president and an honorary lifetime member of DFW Writers Workshop. Her work can be found in numerous publications, including Ruminate Magazine and SmokeLong Quarterly. When she’s not writing, you can find her in Dallas, Texas with her husband, four kids, and their dog Rufus. She still occasionally does math.

Read an Excerpt

1

The morning started like always, with Nurse Nora rapping on my door, and me hollering at Carl to get his sorry ass out of bed so we didn't miss breakfast. And then there was Nora again, with her coffee breath and her hum of gospel songs, helping me stand and pulling up my trousers and shushing me and winking at me and telling me to let sleeping dogs lie, and Why can't you be nicer, Mr. Duffy, and me telling her if I were both nice and handsome, people wouldn't want to be friends with me.

And then, sure as the sunrise, Nora smiled despite herself, because I have that effect on people, and said, "Who went and told you that you're handsome?"

"A man simply knows these things," I said, sliding my shoes on, using her shoulder as leverage. "Hey, Carl, did you hear Nora calling you a dog?"

"I heard her call you ugly." Carl's walker squeaked on the green linoleum floor as he made his way around his bed, smoothing the wrinkles out of the covers. "She's right too. I've said before that I can't tell the difference between you and Margaret Thatcher, but I think you take it as a compliment."

"I do," I said. "Old Maggie had bigger balls than me."

"Who doesn't?" Carl said, snickering at his own little joke.

Oh, how I loved our daily spar. There was no better way to sharpen the knives and start the day. "Those are fighting words, sir. If the lady of the house wasn't here, I'd set you straight."

"Boys," Nora reprimanded, or rather, as I called her, my Nora—my beautiful honey-skinned, big-breasted, long-nailed, hard-nosed Nora. She was a songbird built like a spark plug, like any good nurse should be.

She said, "The scrambled eggs go cold fast, and I know it's gonna take you a good ten minutes to get down that hall-"

"We move faster than that," I said.

"Mm-hmm. Not if you squeeze in your social hour on the way." She ran a hand over my cowlick and floated over to Carl to dust off his shoulders, where he kept a never-ending collection of dandruff.

"You are simply the best, Nora," he said, chin tucked so she didn't miss a spot. "Do you want to take another one of my books? Or maybe some saltines? I saved them from yesterday."

"What've I been telling you, Mr. Carl? If you keep on giving things away, you're gonna go broke." She knelt to Velcro his shoes, then wiped her hands on her pants and stood. "Listen now. I'll be seeing you boys down there. I'm gonna help Mrs. Zimmerman bathe this morning."

Carl let out a low catcalling whistle while I pretended to gag.

"You're awful," Nora said to me on her way out, which was true.

I turned to Carl and regarded him, with his spindly legs and his cardigan hanging on him like he was a little kid who had borrowed the sweater from his old man. "Why on earth are you whistling? You have something going with Mrs. Zimmerman I don't know about?"

Carl fidgeted some, then fixed his watery eyes on me. They were set deep, no lashes; he always looked half-surprised.

"Well?" I said.

"Of course not, and you shouldn't make fun of her like that."

I waved off the suggestion and set about closing all the half-open dresser drawers. In the meantime, I could feel Carl's gaze boring into my back. He was trying to force his sense of decorum onto me, because he knew my tasteless impersonation of Mrs. Zimmerman was brewing. He never did like when I pretended to have a bout of dementia, which required me to holler obscenities in my falsetto while following him around like he was my long-lost love.

After slamming the last drawer shut, I turned to find Carl's face pinched up in worry. Like he thought I might eternally doom myself if I didn't behave.

"Relax already," I said. "I won't clown around today."

"Thank you."

"But perhaps you shouldn't have started it with your whistling."

"You're right," he said. "No more jokes at her expense."

"Fine."

"Especially since she has no idea where she is most days," he added, as if I hadn't already obliged him.

"Right."

"Have you heard her yelling out her daughter's name?"

"Yep."

"She sounds possessed. It's such a shame."

"It is."

"She has no clue what's about to happen to her either. Imagine what it would be like if she realized that she's headed to-"

"Christ, Carl," I said. "Would you shut the hell up?"

Silence followed, cold and injured.

For a second, I regretted being an ass, but the moment passed, like it does. And anyway, he'd made the mistake, not me. He knew better. He knew we never talked about what it meant to be put out to pasture. Not that or being put in a box.

Yes, Mrs. Zimmerman was on the tail end of her thirty-day notice, and, yes, she was fixing to be dumped at that infernal nursing home I refuse to name, and, yes, I felt bad for her. But I sure as hell didn't want to make it part of my morning chin-wag. I preferred sleeping tonight in lieu of staring at the ceiling, imagining the wasteland beyond this place. Remembering the little peek my uncle had given me while rotting away in his piss-smelling bed. It would take me days to recover from the thought, to shove it back into its dark corner, where it would bide its time, waiting for the next opportunity to eat its way out and keep me wide-eyed and wrestling with my sheets in the middle of the goddamn night.

So, no, we would not discuss Mrs. Zimmerman's fate. Living it would do.

Carl straightened up. Cleared his throat. "Shall we go eat?"

"As if you need to ask," I said, relieved.

Together, we turned to the door and prepared to meet our constituents for breakfast. And this is not an overstatement. Carl and I, we were the benevolent rulers of Centennial, crowned because we were able-bodied for the most part, intellectually sound, and, as I point out to my Nora whenever I see her, movie-star handsome. Never mind that Carl's face was back-end ugly when he didn't have his dentures in; he always remembered them, and that's what was important. And truthfully, between the two of us, Carl preferred to be the brains in the background while I served as the bullhorn. Which is how come I wanted him to get his ass into gear. Our people needed to hear from us, lest they think us dead.

I motioned impatiently for him to go in front of me, on account of him having a tendency to throw his walker into my heels if I didn't keep pace. He motioned back, equally annoyed, then made his way by.

In between his walker squeaking on the linoleum and me saying, "Any day now," there came a rapping on the outside of our bedroom window-an inquiring tap, tap, tap. Jorge, probably. The lawn care man. He and I had a long-standing relationship through that window-pounded hellos in either direction, exchanged waves between my newspaper and his weed whacker, and occasionally if I was bored, a handwritten Gracias, which I taped up for him to read. As for right now, I was closer to the door than not, so we'd have to catch up some other time.

But that knocking came again, and this time it was not Jorge-like at all. It was harder, sharper. It left the air quivering and stopped me in my slow tracks. I tugged on Carl's shirttail and pointed to where the mini blinds were drawn.

As Carl fumbled his walker back around, the window's sash squealed against the sill. Metal on metal. Carl cringed and cupped his hearing aids. I started toward the noise but froze when somebody's shadow overtook the whisker-thin slices of sun wrapping our bedroom walls.

Carl slowly dropped his hands from his ears and looked at me, mouthing, Who's that? I shook my head and put my pointer finger to my lips. We waited, listening. Everything went dead quiet, except for a sparrow calling through the open window.

And then, all at once, the dusty aluminum blinds went off like live wires. They clanked and rocked and flapped, and from under this ruckus came a foot-one bare pink-toenailed foot with a sole black as tar. Another foot entered to match, followed by legs with turnip-looking knees. And then more: smooth thighs, cutoff jeans, a cocktail apron, a bare belly, a cropped shirt, a neck, and a mess of straight black hair. So came a girl, no more than twenty years old, slithering from the opening as if the window had birthed her.

Once through, she landed like a sack of taters, though everything else she brought in scattered like marbles. She must've been punch-drunk from the fall too, because without even looking up, she got on all fours to chase down her bits and bobs and shove them back into her apron pockets. She stopped only when she reached for a half-eaten candy bar lying near the toe of my shoe. Her gaze crept up my leg and eventually landed on my face. I stared back, mainly at the shiner that had swollen one of her eyes shut.

"Shit," she croaked.

"The hell?" I said, having found my voice.

"I'll get Nora," Carl stammered.

She struggled to her feet. "Nonononono. Don't do that."

It sounded like something between a plea and an order, and it confused Carl enough that he paused.

"Go," I said to him, exasperated. "We're getting robbed."

He started moving again.

"Whoa, whoa. Hold up," she said. "I'm not robbing you. This is just a little misunderstanding. I thought the room was empty."

"Don't you move," I warned her.

"Chill." She had her hands up, her good eye on me, her chin cocked like I was the crazy one. "I'm not trying to jack anything from you guys. Promise. I'm just looking for somebody-"

"Of course you are."

"-named Carl."

I paused. Cupped an ear, even though I'd heard her just fine. "Say again?"

Carl, who'd made it to the doorway, stopped with his back to us and pivoted only his head.

"Carl Thomas Upton," she said.

Without looking away from her, I crept my hand toward the emergency call button hanging around my neck. I'd forgotten about it because I spent so much time pretending I didn't have one, though I'd make an exception for this. I was just about to press it too, when Carl shifted in my periphery, inching his walker back into the room and easing the door shut.

During the next heartbeat, I rewound the morning, trying to understand how exactly a young barmaid had landed here with Carl's given name on her lips. For whatever morbid reason, it occurred to me that maybe Death didn't come on a pale-ass horse, waving a scythe around. Maybe instead, he arrived like this, looking like her.

"He's Carl Thomas Upton," I blurted with a finger point, because ratting him out right then made a whole lot of sense.

The girl tensed. My hands turned to fists, ready for anything. We all spent some time looking at one another.

Finally, she said, "For real?"

Carl's lips parted, and he stuttered out something. Might've been a yes, though if so, it was loaded with enough doubt you'd think he was lying.

"No way," she said, just above a whisper and mostly to herself, before stepping forward, arms open to him. "I'm Josie."

He recoiled. "Who?"

She stopped midstride, dropped her hands, and made a funny punched-in-the-gut sort of noise. "It's me . . . Josie."

"Josie?" Carl turned his walker around, folded down the built-in seat, and sat to look at her.

I waited for something more from either one of them. Nothing came.

"Well?" I blustered. "The hell?"

"I'm his granddaughter," she said, like I should've already known this.

"Nice try." I smiled shrewdly. "But Carl and Jenny never had any kids. Did you, Carl? Tell her."

His eyes flickered before glazing back over. To the uninformed, he looked a tad vacant. I knew he was thinking through things, albeit a little slower than me. Josie glanced between us. Comparing, contrasting. Then she leaned in to whisper in my ear, smelling like bubble gum and hair spray and all sorts of youthful, girlish pastel things. "Has he got Alzheimer's?"

"No," I said.

"Dementia?"

Carl piped up. "I'm surprised, that's all."

I said, "I bet you are, seeing how you don't have any kids."

"My mom is his kid," she corrected, glaring at Carl. He stared at the worn, impaled tennis balls at the bottom of his walker. She said, "Seriously? Are we doing this?"

I glared at him too, wanting to ask the same damn thing. All he had to do was open his mouth to shut her down, but instead he had me wondering which one of them was a liar, which was stupid. Carl didn't even cheat at solitaire. This was a clever ruse by her: dropping in on old, lonely seniors, claiming to be long-lost blood. It probably netted her some serious cash. On looks alone, she might could've had us too, with that Carl Upton complexion and birdlike build. But her disposition was clearly all sorts of wrong.

When she caught me checking out her black eye, her hand came to hover near the deepest hue of the bruise.

I tipped my head. "What's your story there?"

"What's it to you?"

"Oh," I said. "Excuse me. Let me rephrase that. Why have you come through our window on a Saturday morning looking like a failed featherweight?"

She drew a deep, patient breath. The kind that came from people who thought they needed to talk slow and loud to the elderly. I drew the same kind, to indicate I was neither stupid nor hard of hearing.

As I held my lungful of air in an asinine attempt to prove my acuity, she sighed and gathered the rest of her garbage off the floor, pocketing a men's deodorant, a few charcoal pencils, some scattered coins, and an order pad. Then she walked to a folded piece of paper lying near the base of the window. She sat on her heels to pick it up, and didn't smash it into her apron like the rest of her junk. She slid it into her back pocket instead, careful not to crumple it.

I exhaled, frustrated, and asked no one in particular, "Is breaking and entering a felony?"

She ignored me and strolled around the room, running her fingers along the dresser, pausing to look at Carl's old wedding photo, taped to the mirror. She leaned in a little closer, her nose inches from it.

Reading Group Guide

Readers Guide
The Big Finish
Brooke Fossey Questions for Discussion

1. Though Duffy and Carl are very different men, they’ve managed to form an inseparable bond. Do you think their friendship is merely a result of necessity and proximity, or do you think that under different circumstances, they would’ve found kinship in each other? What about the other friendships in the book?

2. How is fatherhood defined throughout the story? How does the absence or presence of fathers impact different characters’ lives? Though all are flawed, which father from the book would you most like to have, and why?

3. Consider Centennial’s daily schedule. If you had to pick one day to live as a resident, which would you choose? If you had to room with one resident, who would it be?

4. Josie’s journey to sobriety is unfinished at the book’s close. How tumultuous do you expect her recovery to be? Do you think Anderson will play a lasting part in it? Do you want him to?

5. God’s existence is a reoccurring question that Duffy and Josie both ask. What are the pivotal moments that lead Duffy to form his ultimate conclusion? When imagining Josie’s life beyond these pages, do you think her formative week with Duffy will lead her to have a similar or opposite belief?

6. We see how age underlines the experiences and interactions of the characters. Discuss the author’s varying portrayals of society’s treatment of the elderly. Which character do you think most accurately reflects today’s culture? Which character do you think society should aspire to be?

7. Do the characters meet your expectations of how they should think and act, considering their age? Has Duffy, or any of the characters, changed your perspective about people older—or younger—than you? If so, how?

8. When Duffy speaks about the staff’s apathy toward the antique pocket pistol in his dresser, he states, “People seemed to believe its age devalued its purpose.” Discuss the gun’s role in the story as an allegory. Consider its life span, from the time it was forged to when it fired its final bullet.

9. If Duffy had more time with Alice, do you think he would’ve had a chance with her? How do you feel about Alice holding on to her husband beyond the vow “until death do us part”? In your mind, is there an age limit to romantic love?

10. Alice tells Duffy, “Whatever it is you’re mourning from back when, don’t. It brought you here, now, to do what you’re doing, and what you’re doing is honorable and right.” Do you agree with her positive outlook when it comes to playing life’s long game? What other story lines validate her philosophy?

11. In time, Duffy becomes certain that in order to survive the loss of a loved one, you have to believe that there are two different parts of every person: the stuff that ends up in the ground, and the stuff that doesn’t. Do you agree with Duffy? If not, how does your own belief of the afterlife shape your handling of such a loss?

12. What does the title mean to you? In a perfect world, at the end of your life, what does your big finish look like?

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