Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

Winner – Gold Medal!

May 30, 2010

A special update on Train’s short story… The Couple

Cat Oars publisher, Francais, has recently announced top nod in the themed literary project, Jung Love:

Gold Medal: Train Whistle, for the great story about the elderly couple who have melded to the point where they dress alike, complete each others’ sentences and rely on each other completely – until …

Silver Medal: Cufflink, for his lyrical portrait of a lonely man in a lonely place whose dream of love finally comes true – but is he up to sustaining it?

Plus another great rant from Laiadevorah and another epic adventure in the Kurt series by R_Toady.

Thanks for contributing! Happy summer reading everybody!

craigslist.org/forums/?ID=160014041

The Couple is currently available in its original form on CL Literary Forum here, and is featured in the CL Litfo Chap Book, Syzygy.  It is available through lulu.com.  Here’s the link: http://stores.lulu.com/francais
Train is so wonderfully modest, her friends jumped in to make this post. We’re hoping she will make the story available on her blog in the near future. Do check back. Congratulations, Train!

Where the Poor People Were Buried

April 25, 2010

My Grandpa was in the hospital.  He was real sick, coughing up blood and phlegm. They let my Grandma in to see him, but I wasn’t allowed.  I sat quietly, like a good girl, in the waiting room right next door to where he was.  I listened to him cough and heave.  I listened to my Grandma cry. After a long time, she came out wiping her eyes under her glasses with a tissue.

 “We’ll come back again tomorrow morning,” she said.

We got in the car and left.  Grandma’s eyes were red and she just drove, not saying anything.  I watched as a boy on a bicycle, a lady pushing a baby stroller and an old man walking a dog passed by. We headed up the mountain.

We went to the family cemetery a lot.  We visited the dead more than we visited anyone living. Our family cemetery was a pretty place, at the top of a winding road on Monticello Mountain. The tall black iron gates were never locked when we got there and it seemed like not many people other than us visited. Our car always sat alone, parked under a Cedar Tree near where my uncles and sister were buried.

 We were up high and could look over into town and see the tall steeple of the Baptist church, the red Texaco Star at the gas station and the hospital where everyone went to die. I wondered if when our relatives were still living, they could see the cemetery out of their hospital rooms, if my uncles pointed out the window and said, “I want that spot right there under the shade tree,” or if my baby sister said, “put me right there near that statue  of the angel.”  I wondered if Grandpa was looking at us now.  I waved to him, wanting to let him know we were here, wanting him to feel less lonely.

Monticello Memorial Gardens was kind of like a park, but without the swings, slides and duck pond.  Flowers sprouted up from all over the ground, some were real and some never died, blooming in February when snow was on the ground.  We walked carefully at the bottoms of the graves so we didn’t disturb the ghosts that were sleeping under the ground.  Sometimes the trees dropped dry, brittle sticks onto the grass rectangles covering our relatives.  We picked up what the tree shed and threw it over the fence.  I wasn’t allowed to run in the cemetery,  pick the flowers, or talk too loud.

 Grandma got out of the car and I followed her.  She didn’t bring flowers like usual. She only had her pocketbook on her arm, and the balled up tissue in her hand.  We stopped at the foot of my Uncle’s graves, her sons, her only boys.  She stood there a long time, just looking at their headstones. She twisted and twisted the tissue in her hand like she was trying to wring the tears out of it. 

 She looked up at the sky and asked, “Why Lord? What did I ever do to have them taken from me? And now this, why?” 
 
I held my breath, waiting, but the Lord didn’t answer.  Grandma  turned around and walked back to the car. I trailed along behind her. We forgot to visit my sister’s grave.
We didn’t leave town to go home either,  like I thought we would.  Grandma drove to the foot of the mountain, past some stores and houses. We stopped at a small square brick building with a flat roof. It had Hartman Memorials carved into a strip of concrete across the front, above the door.  I thought it looked like a sad little house, parked in the middle of tall gravestones. Its front yard was covered in gravel and a few weeds grew up between the rocks. We had driven by it before, but never stopped.  I was surprised when Grandma parked the car there.  I was used to going to our family cemetery, but not to this new place.  

A man stepped out of the little house when we got out of the car.  He smiled at Grandma and stuck out his hand.  He took my Grandma’s hand in his and when her tears started again, he patted her hand.

“How can I help you?” he asked.

“I have to pick something out.” Grandma said.
“Do you want to look around out here first?” he asked.

“No,” she said, “I know what I need.”

 
Grandma went inside the building with the man who had on a suit like my Grandpa wore to church on Sunday. He didn’t look like my Grandpa though. This man was round, sweaty, had little eyes close together. His tie was crooked and his shoes were scratched and dusty.  Grandpa’s shoes shined so bright they almost hurt my eyes to look at them.  This man looked “shifty.”  That’s what my Grandpa would have said.  I didn’t get too close to him.  I stayed outside to look at the headstones. Grandma said, “Don’t you run off now, I’ll be right inside.”
 
This cemetery wasn’t very big and the stones were sitting close together, not in neat rows.  Some had carvings of roses, lambs, or hearts slipped together like paper chain links.  The monument’s faces were shiny and reflected mine as I looked into their hard grayness. None had names or dates like the gravestones in our family cemetery.  I felt sorry for the people who were buried here. They must have been poor people. They had headstones with no names.  There was no grass, no flowers.
 
I wondered why my Grandma stopped here, why she was talking to the man in the sad little house.  I wondered if my Grandpa was poor. I hoped not.

The Corner of Angus and Emmet

March 27, 2010

The locals roll up their windows and stare straight ahead. Most ignore her presence. Some taunt or curse her. Catherine sits in a wheelchair on the corner of Angus and Emmet, on the same side of the street as the Kentucky Fried Chicken. She parks exactly fifteen feet from the bus stop, right there at the traffic light.  In summer, she wears a cotton duster. In winter, she wears a cotton duster.

Catherine  rolls out early on Tuesday morning, half a bucket of Saturday’s popcorn secured in her lap by a bungee cord stretched across the armrests of her wheelchair.  There’s a hill just at the end of Angus and she needs both hands to hold back the wheelchair from careening into southbound traffic.  Emmet is a busy highway.  She has mastered the incline that leads  to the sidewalk where she sits. Maneuvering is only difficult when someone at the beauty shop remembers to turn on the sprinklers the night before and the grass is wet. Even if she struggles, no one helps her.

Traffic picks up about 7:15.  Catherine  allows herself fifteen minutes to park and settle.  She adjusts her seating and the distance from the curb to the exact inch.  The 6:55 Blue Line bus heading downtown is on time.  Catherine smiles. She hates it when the bus is late and interrupts her start time.

Her schedule dictates she man her station Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 7:00 a.m. sharp until 2:30 in the afternoon. She takes a break, but it’s never during lunch hour. The traffic is heavy then. She would miss opportunities.  The movie theater manager allows her to use the bathroom, because she buys an extra large tub of popcorn and sometimes a drink if it’s hot. She never buys a ticket, only refreshments. The cost is budgeted into her monthly expenses.  Her disability check comes a few days after the third of the month, because her birthday is on the third of October.

She watches and waits for the first red light after 7:00.  The light is green. She waits. It turns yellow and she counts the five seconds until red.  Bingo.  There sitting before her is a blue station wagon.  She reaches into the tub and takes out one piece of popcorn, holding it between her thumb and index finger. She lifts it,  closes one eye, aims, and throws the kernel at the passenger window of the car.  She repeats this action until she hits the center of the window or until the light turns green. Sometimes the window is open and she scores points.  When she misses her mark, she curses loudly starting with “Damn!”   If she misses again, “Double Damn!”  Again, “Triple Damn!”  Then, on to, “Son of a Bitch!”  And on those days when the wind is blowing, she sometimes  finishes with a resounding, “Fuck!”

The locals know her.  Tourists don’t.  At 10:35,  a red BMW is the target.  The passenger is a boy. His father is driving.  Catherine aims and hits her mark.  The electric window slides down.  “Stop that,” the man says.

Catherine aims again, for points this time.  She throws and misses.  “Damn!” she says.

“Hey,” the man yells, “what’s wrong with you?”

She aims again, throws, no points. “Double Damn!” She says.

“Lady, shut up and stop it,” the man yells, his face turning red. “Can’t you see a kid’s in here?”

The wind picks up.  Catherine aims again, throws and misses.  “Triple Damn!” She says.

The man turns on his flashers, puts the car in park, and gets out.  He stomps to the sidewalk and yells, “You crazy old bat. What kind of example are you setting for  children? Don’t you have anything better to do?”  He picks up her bucket of popcorn and dumps it on the sidewalk, slamming the empty tub back into Catherine’s lap.

“Son of a Bitch!”  Catherine says, as the man stomps back to his car and peels off.

She turns her wheelchair around and pulls the hill to the movie theater.  It opens every day at 11:00.  She enters the door with the empty bucket, a full bladder and $4.00 in crumpled bills.

If she hurries, she can make it back down the hill before the lunchtime rush.

The Parking Lot

February 13, 2010

The woman is running across the parking lot toward me.  I am standing there with the Administrator of the nursing home discussing some spring landscaping possibilities with a month’s worth of snow piled around us. The woman looks harried, her gray hair blowing back from her face. She is past middle age—and she’s at full sprint.

“You work here don’t you?” she asks as she runs to within inches of my face.

“Yes I do,” I respond. “Are you alright?”

“This parking lot is atrocious, simply awful. I am going to call your company. There’s just no excuse for it,” she says, her breath rasping from her. I look at her with confusion.

“They called me,” she says. “They called me to tell me that my father is dying. There’s not one damned parking spot in this lot. Who the hell plows here? It’s a travesty. I’m calling your company to report this. I had to park out on the street in front of that white house.  Do you think they’ll tow my car?”

“No,” I answer, “it’ll be OK there. It’s not a problem. They won’t tow it. If you’d like to leave me your keys, though, I can move it for you and find a space in the parking lot.”

“No, that’s alright, but if you can put a note on it for me, I would appreciate it,” she says as she turns and runs into the building.

“Who is that?” asks the Administrator.

“Mr. Johnson’s daughter,” I reply, my heart kicking up a beat, thinking of her pain.

~~~

It has snowed every weekend since December 19th.  We haven’t had snow like this ever. We broke the record on Tuesday, fifty-nine inches in one winter.  It has snowed so much that the plows can’t keep up with scraping. The city and county have run out of salt and chemicals. Snow shovels can’t be found in stores, and the roads get narrower as the latest white stuff gets pushed up against the last roadside mound. Our community comes together when crisis hits, but it seems we can only take so much.

Robert is our maintenance assistant. He is a farmer first, a maintenance man second. On snowy mornings, the cows get their breakfast before Robert comes to work to help feed old people. He is forty years old, has never married, and has worked at the nursing home since he was sixteen. The care facility is as much a part of him as the farm, but in his life, priorities have four legs and hooves.

“They can’t talk,” he says, “someone has to make sure they are alright. Daddy’s gone and so is Uncle Harold.  That someone is me now.  I’ll be in after I feed.”

Robert scrapes the nursing home driveway.  He uses a 1957 John Deere Tricycle Tractor with a yellow blade attached to the three point hitch. It was his Granddaddy’s tractor and he calls it “Putt-Putt.”  It used to live on the farm, but has traded in hay fields for city life. When he plows, staff and residents come outside just to watch Robert on the tractor. Old men remember.

When snow falls, Robert gets up early, feeds the cows and comes to town to plow the parking lot. It doesn’t matter if it’s a weekday or weekend, if it’s Robert’s day off, or if it’s the fourteenth day in a row that he’s worked. He gets in his truck and comes to the nursing home to plow the parking lot. He has been to work almost every day since December 19. He and Putt Putt have plowed snow and piled it out of the way the best way they can. With that, parking is at a premium.

I go in the nursing home and collect a piece of paper from  the front desk. In bold letters, I write on it:

Owner needed to park car here in an emergency.  If there is a problem, please come to the nursing home and inquire at front desk before towing. Thank you.

After placing the note on the car windshield, I go back inside, and walk downstairs to Mr. Johnson’s room. His daughter is sitting next to the bed with her father’s hand in hers. Her head was bowed. I knock quietly. She looks up, tears running.

“Can I get you something, a cup of coffee?” I offer.

“No, thank you,” she says. “This is so hard.”

“I know,” I offer, but can’t give her any other comfort. I feel helpless.

Turning away, I walk down the hall and see Robert coming toward me.

“Can you believe they’re calling for snow on Monday?” he asks me, smiling,  “like we haven’t had enough.  Where am I gonna put it?”

“I don’t know, Robert,” I say, “we’re running out of room. The parking lot’s full.”

Altar Table

January 18, 2010

Grandpa Payne was a man with a fourth grade education, a mind for math figures and a love of wood. He cut and pieced, sanded and stained the grain of Walnut, Pine, Mahogany and Birch.

He was a master carpenter. In his thirties, forties, and fifties, he built houses from the ground up, a carpenter’s apron around his waist, a nail between his teeth, a hammer in his hand.  When he retired, he built a workshop behind his house and made furniture. Sliding his hand across the smooth finished top of a table, his eyes smiled. When he lost his sight, he fashioned walking sticks from Grandma’s Cedar Christmas trees. After stripping the branches, he sanded and stained the trunk, then adhered a rubber tip at the narrow end. He tried each one out with a walk in the woods before handing it down to one of his grandchildren. I was the youngest.  I received the last one.

Communion Sunday meant we all went to church, even if Grandma had an excuse. Grandpa was dressed in his gray suit, had a Blue Jay’s feather in the hat band of his Fedora, and a gold chain shined as it disappeared into the watch pocket of his trousers. At the end of that chain was his retirement gift.  When he pressed a button, the gold cover with his initials, IGP, popped open and the second hand ticked to the rhythm of time.

Mama and I fancied up too, wearing our lace dresses and good shoes. Grandma put on her Sunday-best hat; the yellow one with a striped bow. I carried a quarter for the collection plate.

Grandpa led the four of us into the sanctuary.  Our seats at Mt. Moriah Methodist Church were three rows back from the front, in the center.  The minister looked right at us when he preached. 

The church allowed senior members to stay in the pews during Communion. Grandpa refused to let his eighty-eight years keep him from kneeling at the alter.  When it was our turn, he used his walking stick as leverage to help him stand. His knees creaked as we followed him to the front. Two deacons assisted Grandpa as he knelt, and the minister came forward with the sacrament. We all received our wafers dipped in grape juice and kept our heads bowed in prayer until we were all served.  The minister stood and waited for us to get up and take our seats.

The elders bent to assist Grandpa. He shrugged them off. Still on his knees, he reached out and grabbed the leg of the altar table, giving it a good shake. Candles flickered, coins rattled in the collection plates, the vase of flowers slid.  We stood gawking over Grandpa, our mouths wide.

Grandma said, “Garth?”

Mama said, “Daddy?”

I looked down at my patent leather shoes, and wished I was somewhere else. 

Reverend Doug bent real close to Grandpa’s bald head.  “Mr. Payne, are you alright sir?”

“Yep, fine.”

“Do you need help Mr. Payne?”

“Nope, don’t need no help, just checking to see if this altar table is still sturdy.”

“Sir?”

“Been a long time since I built this table, Son, almost thirty years I think. Made it in my workshop.”

“I didn’t know that, Mr. Payne.”

Grandma and Mama looked at each other, shrugged, and then looked at Grandpa.  We didn’t know it either.

“Nope, Reverend. I didn’t tell nobody. Finished it, brought it to the church and left it inside the front door.  Figured if it was needed, someone would find a place for it.  Table’s been right in this spot since the Sunday after I brought it.”  He released the leg of the table and pulled himself up using his walking stick. “It’s still sturdy,” he said, satisfied.

“Yes sir, it is,” Reverend Doug agreed.

 Grandpa walked back to his seat, and as the rest of us took out our hymnal for song 252, he stood and sang it by heart.  

Cherry Picking on Afton Mountain

January 6, 2010

    In summers when I was a little girl, my grandmother began sorting through her cherry pie recipes.  This seasonal ritual told us it was time to load up the car and head to Mr. Coffey’s cherry orchard on Afton Mountain.  Grandpa went into the smoke house to collect his gathering baskets.  They were round, made of flat reeds, dyed red and green, reminding me of Christmas in June.  The baskets had wire handles running through long wooden beads to hold onto.  They were stacked, seven together, an odd number because I was little and was only expected to fill one of them. The adults each had to fill two.

     The ride to the orchard took us over steep, narrow, winding roads.  The car passed a set of rock steps that lead right from the road, straight up a steep hill to the front porch of a house that looked like it was hanging on the side of the mountain. It seemed to be leaning forward like someone waiting to hear a good story.  I wondered if the people who lived there  ever worried about the house letting loose in the middle of the night and rolling down to the Rockfish River at the foot of the mountain.  I imagined them waking up in the morning, looking out their kitchen window and finding themselves in Charlottesville or even Richmond if the water was up and the current was fast. The mother would say, “Oh dear, we’ve floated away and got us some new neighbors.”  I  giggled to myself thinking of them running out in their bathrobes, mouths open, staring at the tall office buildings in their new front yard.

    On the way to the orchard, we passed the Shell Gas Station with its Dr. Pepper, bottle cap sign, telling us to be thirsty at 10, 2 and 4,  but making me want a soda no matter what time it was.  Our car went under three railroad trestles and if we were lucky, the train might be thundering overhead, making me cover my ears and reminding  us that my Uncle Garnett might be the conductor that day  

     Three quarters the way up the mountain, where the road had been cut through, a wall of rock rose from the side ditch.  In the summer, sections of the rock were wet from water that seemed to materialize from nowhere.  Tiny clear streams trickled over and through the dark gray granite, making me want to stop and cup my hands to drink.  “That’s the best water there is to wet your whistle, Tump,” Grandpa said as we drove past the springs.

     Near the top of Afton, we veered to the right at a sign, hand-scrawled in red letters, on gray barn wood, Coffey’s Cherry Orchard, Pick Your Own.  The mountain flattened out into a plateau up there and cherry trees stood in neat rows, dotted with red ripe fruit, ready to pick.  Just the other side of the trees, the Rockfish valley spread out below like someone painted a picture and laid it on the ground.  Everything looked so small in the distance, cars, houses, ponds, barns, and cows.  I imagined myself a giant who could content herself picking up and rearranging all the pieces to a community play set.  I remember thinking that I needed to be very careful where I put my feet. I didn’t want my sneakers to squash anyone’s home or horses. I would pick up the Smith House and put it nearer the store so that when I visited Jenny, we could walk by ourselves to get a Baby Ruth.  I‘d gift Mr. Timberlake a new red tractor from the Farm Store because his kept breaking down and Grandpa had to go help him fix it.  “Man needs to get rid of that piece of junk,” Grandpa muttered every time he came home wiping grease from his hands on a rag.  

     “Tump, come on, cherries won’t pick themselves,” Grandpa called to me.  As I ran up to him, he handed me a basket and told me to stand on the ground and reach up into the tree to pick. Grandma was in charge of making sure I didn’t get on a ladder.  Grandpa and Mama climbed the ladders to pick the cherries up high in the tree.  I wanted and waited to get big enough to climb the ladder to pick cherries. I knew when I was big enough to climb the ladder, I’d be grown.

     Grandpa, Mama and Grandma ate as many cherries as they put in their basket while they were picking. Grandma said, “It’s the price Mr. Coffey pays for us picking our own.”   I never liked to eat the cherries.  They reminded me of Mr. Coffey.  He’d come out to meet us at the car each year.  He was a nice man, telling us it was good to see us again and shaking Grandpa’s hand.  That was when I noticed his arm.  He couldn’t shake hands like other people because his right arm and hand were bent and shriveled.  It just hung on him, boneless, and didn’t work.  It was like someone had taken him apart one time, and before they could get him put back together, something terrible happened to his arm,  like a dog chewed on it or it got caught under something heavy and was mashed flat and twisted. I didn’t like to look at it. It made my stomach turn flips.  If the cherries were baked in a pie I could eat them, but if they were raw, I saw Mr. Coffey’s arm. The only time my Grandpa ever shook hands easy or with his left hand was when he greeted Mr. Coffey.

     When our baskets and Grandma were full, we paid Mr. Coffey for our cherries and headed home to bake pies.  As we got closer to Rockfish Gap Country Store, Grandma poked me in the ribs.  That was my cue to ask Grandpa to stop.  He seemed to listen better to me than to Grandma, because when I asked, we always stopped.  Rockfish Gap Country Store had a wheel of “Rat Cheese” and cold cider bubbling in a big square machine.  Two dollars from Grandpa’s pocket,  bought us each a hunk of yellow cheese and a cup of chilled cider.  It was our reward for picking cherries all afternoon.

     Back in Grandma’s kitchen, she’d make pie crust while we got the cherries ready.  I sat at the table and pulled the stems off the cherries while Mama and Grandpa ran the fruit through the pitter, a cast iron machine with a handle.  The cherries went in round, shiny and whole. When they came out of the machine they were smashed, their skins ripped, and their insides spilled out. It mangled them, and their pits were gone.  The machine scared me. I remember thinking that maybe Mr. Coffey’s arm got caught in a big cherry pitter and it de-boned him.  I shuddered, thinking about it. I felt bad for him, but didn’t want to make his same mistake. I stayed well away from that pitter. Even when it was back in its spot on the shelf, sitting quietly, I didn’t get too close to it.

Twenty-nine and Holding

January 2, 2010

  I woke this morning to a hot cup of coffee presented to me in bed. It was a nice way to start my anniversary. My husband is a good man.  He isn’t romantic, doesn’t sing or recite poetry, rarely tells me he loves me, but brings me coffee, changes the oil in my car, plows the path for me to explore, and sometimes cooks. He goes about life quietly doing.  A hug from him wraps me in security I can count on. I hadn’t had much of that before he came along. I take him for granted.

       Few of my friends have been married twenty-nine years. One asked, “How have you tolerated the same man for so long, doesn’t he get on your nerves?”

      “Sure he does,” I said. “I’ve finally learned that his workday begins at daylight and ends at dark, “evening” means anytime after the noon hour, and “Ask your Mama” is his way of being supportive in raising children. Oh, and he snores.”

      My friend shakes her head. She doesn’t understand my marriage.  She never will. She thinks I should be bored.  She exhales excitement about her third marriage. The latest man is tall, has hair on his head, and his chest, drives a BMW and sky dives.  

      Then, she complains about the blendedness of her family. “His cell rings. It’s his ex. Every other weekend is his son’s soccer followed by his daughter’s ballet.”

   My friend doesn’t like receiving children mid-raising.  They don’t love her on contact. They wear shoes on her carpet and leave water rings on her coffee table.  Vacations are not relaxing. Her hair needs color and her nails are chipped.

      The equations that make up her life take me back.  I come from a long line of complications.  Multiple relationships flung themselves at me when I was growing up.  I spun around, trying to catch all the strings that tied me to parents, step-parents, step-siblings, and sets of grandparents. 

     “I just want to find that simple love I missed out on the first time,” my friend laments.

      I want to tell her, but don’t, that nothing about relationships is simple, and they get more complicated with endings, new beginnings, additions, subtractions, divisions and multiplications. There is no simple love. 1+1 rarely equals 2.  Love takes sweaty effort, a good sense of humor, and some luck.

     As I leaned back against the headboard this morning, holding my cup, I decided I’m happy. The payment I receive for the toil in this marriage is measured in my son’s excitement at hitting a baseball, in the comfortable quiet as I sit next to my husband watching the sun set behind the Blue Ridge, and in tablespoons of fresh ground coffee.  No words are needed. I don’t want a man with a fancy car or one who jumps out of planes. I want one who plows a path for me to grow, and brings me a cup of coffee in the morning.

Jane Eyre and the Mammogram

December 31, 2009

     “High school freshman literature is a killer.”  This statement comes from Ryan’s English teacher.

      He’s right, it’s one long read after another.  It’s also a fourteen year old boy’s nightmare.  The year begins with the Odyssey.  It may have all the violence and adventure that teenage boys crave, but it is also written in ancient language that they can’t understand.  Ryan didn’t need glasses to read the Odyssey, he needed hip waders to slog through it.  “Torture, Mom, that’s what it is, pure torture.  How could anybody enjoy a book where you have to read each part at least twice, ask your friends what they think it means, listen to your teacher drone on about what it means, which is nothing like what you and your friends think, and finally you have to go read the spark notes to understand it.  How could that possibly be interesting?  There are 24 chapters of it.” 

      At parent/teacher conference, I ask Mr. Azano, “What does Ryan have to look forward to after he finishes The Odyssey?”

      “Jane Eyre,” is his reply. 

      Oh great, I think, a teenage boy’s dream read.  I’m sure that Ryan will love  this book.  After all of his trouble with the Odyssey, I decide to read Jane Eyre with him. It wasn’t first on my list of winter reads, but I figure I can suffer with him.  That’s what parents do, right?  They suffer through things with their children.  Children don’t believe that, they think parents cause suffering. I go to Barnes and Noble and pay $7.99 for a book I don’t want to read.  

      Ryan is assigned two chapters per night, then has to answer discussion questions, fill out character analyses,  critically think.  Fourteen year old boys do not think critically, do not analyze or discuss anything other than video game strategy. I am resigned to a long, slow, literary experience.  I have assigned myself Jane Eyre.

      The first night of our assignment, Ryan meets me at the door, wanting to catch me having not done my homework. “Did you get your book?” he asks.

      “I got it, and even read two chapters on my lunch break,” I say, feeling kind of smug for having my assignment complete.

      “Yeah, I read mine too, before you got home.  It’s not too bad.  At least I can understand what she’s saying.” 

      I fix supper, and later that night we talk about the book and he answers his discussion questions.  1. What is your first impression of Jane Eyre?  What qualities would make her valuable as a friend? What qualities would make friendship with her difficult?  Explain.

      Why do teachers insist on making questions multi-dimentional?  I’m not sure whether it’s all boys, or just mine, but I have to pose one question or give one direction at a time.  I can’t lump three things into one sentence. If I do, they only complete the first task and leave off the others, never hearing or seeing past the first.  Ryan wonders why he only gets partial credit on his essay questions. Now we both know why. 

      I decide to take my copy of Jane Eyre to my mammogram appointment.  I figure I can get ahead on my reading while I wait.  I am called in for registration.  The registrar asks me all the familiar questions, address, phone number, emergency contact, work place.  Nothing has changed since 1986.  I live in the same house, have the same phone number, work at the same nursing home, am married to the same man, have the same breasts.  The only thing that has changed is the left one.  It has a lump. She doesn’t ask me about that.

      Back out in the waiting room, I notice how crowded it is for this early in the morning, how many women are waiting to be seen. I wonder how many are routine and how many are not.  I take out my book and glasses and begin my reading.  Names are called, women come and go.

      Jane is unhappy.  She lives with an abusive aunt and mean cousins. She is mistreated and is told that something is wrong with her.  She is damaged, and even though she is in a house full of people, she is alone. 

       I hear my name, put my book away,  and follow a  woman to a dressing room.  “Take off your sweater and bra,” she says.  “Use these wipes to take off your deodorant or any powder and put on this cape.  I’ll be back in one minute.”  I do as she asks and don my cape.  I feel like Super Breast Cancer Woman, naked from the waist up, in my little pink cape.  She returns for me and we enter the mammogram room.  I’ve been here before, but it’s more intimidating this time.  I’m feeling vulnerable.

      The technician introduces herself, but I cannot remember her name to save my life.  She is short and stout.  She is also kind, taking stock of my comfort and calling me “sweetie.”  She is older than I.  She positions me at the machine and adjusts the height as I am tall.  She looks as if she could use a step stool, she’s reaching up, and stands on her tip toes. We laugh about our differences in height.  I stand, feet pointing forward, leaning into the machine, turned just a bit to the right and she moves the press in place.  She asks me if I am in pain as she lowers the press, squeezing my breast and flattening it as far as it will compress.  I cross my eyes and grit out, “no, I’m alright.” 

      I wonder if the lump is mashed to the point of bursting inside me. I wonder if the cells, safe in their nest, begin scattering out and away from the stress, running in other directions to avoid the pressure.  I wonder it this makes it worse, but I don’t ask. The question seems silly.

      My technician peers at her screen.  She says to me, “You know it’s been a while since you have had a mammogram. Don’t wait so long between visits.  We find one to two breast cancers a day, just here at the Women’s Center.  You need to take good care of yourself.”

      “I know,” I say softly.

      She has me follow her back to the dressing room and hands me a plastic bag.  Usually, the technician tells me to get dressed and head back to the waiting room until the doctor reads the results.  This is different.  She gives me a robe to put on over my cape and tells me that she thinks that the doctor will order an ultrasound.  She asks me to have a seat on the “green sofa” and wait to be called.  “It was nice to meet you,” she says.

      I find out the “green sofa” area is a holding place for those of us who are different, who have special needs, who are not normal.  We sit there, lined up in our little capes and white robes, waiting.   The “green sofa” has a small pillow with a pink breast cancer symbol bow attached. The pillow rests there, waiting to remind us.  I’d like to throw it across the room.

      I take out my book and begin reading again while I wait.  Jane is in the red room, she’s been locked in there and told to sit on a chair and not move.  She knows her uncle died in this room and is afraid.  She’s afraid she will see his ghost.  She is the most frightened she’s ever been.

      A cute blond girl comes out and calls my name.  I follow her to an examining room.  It is dark and quiet there, the drapes are closed. She doesn’t say hello,  how are you, it’s a nice day outside.  She gives no pleasantries, no comfort.  She does say, “You can lie down on the table here and uncover your left breast.”  She unwinds a cord, squirts some jelly onto my breast and presses a device into the jelly and over my skin, moving it back and forth, pressing it into me. She pushes buttons on a computer screen as she works, making little “beeping” sounds.  As she is working, I have an overwhelming surge of emotion. I feel the tears behind my eyes, pressing to get out and run.  I will them to stop. I will not cry in front of this girl. When she is finished, she hands me a towel, tells me to wipe off and to get dressed.  She will come and take me to another room to wait for the doctor.

      This room is smaller, stark, with two chairs, hooks on the door and wall. I think it is another dressing room.  I take out my book and begin to read again.  Jane is crying uncontrollably.  She doesn’t understand why. Even the things that normally delight her, don’t now.  Bessie, the house maid and nurse, the only one who is remotely kind to her, worries about Jane, reads her stories, sings to her.

      There is a knock at the door.  A woman, near my own age, walks in. She has dark curly hair and a kind smile.  She extends her hand to me and introduces herself at Kate, the Breast Wellness Nurse. She asks me to come to her office.  The word office, has a scary sound to me.  Office can only mean one thing in this instance, and it isn’t good news.  I follow her, trying to be brave.  It’s a nice office with warm  dessert colored walls and open drapes. The view of the Blue Ridge is comforting, like a little piece of home.  Kate motions me to have a seat on her couch and she sits in her swivel office chair facing me.  “Dr. Payton, the radiologist, is reading your results now,” she says.  “He will come in and let you know what he’s found and what he suggests.  I see that you found this lump yourself,” she says. “That’s good, breast self exam is important.”

      I explain the story of finding it the day my mother called about my cousin’s breast cancer, how I put my hand to my heart and unconsciously started palpating my own breast, how I found the lump and how my left breast now feels like the 800 pound elephant  in the room.  We laugh together. She smiles, touches my hand with hers. She is concerned.  She has chosen the right profession. She is good.

      Kate leaves to find Dr. Peyton.  I take my book and start again.  Jane confronts her aunt. She tells her exactly what she thinks of her and her cousins. She is being sent away to school and hopes never to see her aunt’s house again.  Jane is nothing else, if not honest.  She boards a coach for the fifty mile trip to boarding school. She is alone, but excited.

      Dr. Peyton comes in, all starched in his royal blue shirt with sleeves rolled to the elbow, hair spiked with gel, expensive watch on his arm. He’s young.  He shakes my hand and sits down, leans forward.  “I have looked at your mammogram and your ultrasound and I think this is a complex cyst. I don’t think it is cancerous, but I want to have it biopsied just to make sure.  We will send your results to your primary physician who will call and make an appointment for you to come in and discuss the results and your options.”

      “What are your recommendations?”

      “I would recommend that you see a breast specialist and have a needle biopsy.  He or she will numb the area with a local anesthetic, insert the needle and aspirate some of the fluid and tissue.  That’s sent off to pathology and you get the results in about three days.”

      “I would rather make the appointment for the biopsy today.  My cousin and aunt’s doctor is Dr. Summer.”  Dr. Payton looks a little surprised

      Kate jumps in.  “Let me call your primary physician and see if they will allow us to make the appointment for you.”  She dials the office with the number I give her and asks to speak to Dr. Hargrove.  She is given permission over the phone and calls Dr. Summer’s office.  I have an appointment for a needle biopsy on Dec. 16th at 11:30 a.m. I have to be there at 11:15 for registration and prep.

      I am feeling better about this lump.  Two physicians telling me they think it is a non-cancerous cyst reassures me.  I still won’t sleep well until I have the results from the biopsy, but I’m not quite so nervous and scared.

       I’m thinking Ryan and I will be well into Jane Eyre when the 16th rolls around.  I wonder where Jane will find herself during the biopsy visit and how she will be facing her challenges.  Ryan and I will just have to wait and see.

26″ Snowfall

December 26, 2009

 

     I usually spend too much money at Christmas.  By December 24th I realize that I’ve overdone it and start focusing on my bank balance to see how I can eek out the bills. All of my impulse buying happens the weekend before Christmas.  My self control freezes and I spend my savings trying to buy love.  This year we had a 26” snowfall the weekend before Christmas. The storm started at rush hour on Friday evening and the last flake fell pre-dawn Sunday. Snowflakes are tiny crystal miracles.  I wondered how many were in our 26” on the ground.  Traffic stopped, people walked in hip waders to the mailbox, only to find that the postman couldn’t keep his promise.  This year, instead of throwing myself into the shopping frenzy,  I sat at home, writing Christmas cards the old fashioned way because the electricity went out.  I read a book by the woodstove. I watched my children play in the snow. I drank hot chocolate with little marshmallows. I fed the birds.

     I wrapped the three presents I had for my husband and the boys, a hand-tooled belt with a hammered silver buckle, an 1865 volume of Virginia History, and a telescope for universe gazing. Presents were few, but special because they reached out to me from artisan booths, an antique book store and the pages of the Buck Saver earlier in the year. These gifts spoke to my heart in May, August and September and it listened, compelling me to shop for Christmas when the sun was warm.

     I spent eight months creating a photo book for my mother.  My camera and I chased sunsets west on Rt. 250, rested on our elbows, eye level with dandelion blooms, waited for raindrops to hang like tiny crystal balls from pine needles, and made old, abandoned houses feel like Home and Garden cover girls.  These treasures, along with my best words were bound in leather. The book was under the tree.  If I was stuck in the snow, my family would understand that at least I loved them a little bit.

     I had to work all week, early mornings and late evenings.  The holiday season in the nursing home is busy.  People in our community want to do nice things for old people at Christmas.  Citizens come in flocks to sing carols.  They buy boxes of fruit and sugar free candy to distribute.  Each elder receives a new pair of socks and a bottle of generic lotion in a plastic fishnet Santa stocking from the Salvation Army. If the resident has no feet, the toe ends of the socks are cut off and they are slipped over the arms as “geri sleeves” to protect fragile paper-thin skin.  Staff members gather, sort, box and label gifts so each resident receives at least one item on December 25th. A special menu of ground ham with glaze, instant mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables is planned for mid-day Christmas. It will be served to a lady at the dining table with the sparkly silk centerpiece.  She will sit with a woman who takes her teeth out and licks them between courses.  Christmas is not what anyone remembers.

     Work was especially difficult this week. Extra hours because of the snowstorm, and the holidays are sad for many of our elders.  Their pain extends to enfold us in its intensity.  We find ourselves offering more hugs and tissues than at any other time of year.  For some, we are the only family they have and most often, we don’t measure up. Some residents are related of our staff. It’s hard when your job and caring for your dying mother are the same.   A nurse, cook and CNA lost their mothers this week.  Three of our residents died and left three of our staff members orphaned at Christmas. So, we prepared for the usual Christmas sadness wrapped in glittery paper and curling ribbon, and we planned to attend three funerals.   

     It rained today. I got in the car at 7:00 this morning and drove on isolated roads to the nursing home.  I delivered gifts and stockings room to room, offering a “Merry Christmas” and a hug.  Some voices welcomed me.  My Santa hat received smiles.  Several residents said, “put it over there,” while others dug into the stocking, like it was their last breakfast. Some didn’t understand it was Christmas. That was a blessing.

     My boys met me at the door when I got home.  They were ready for Christmas to begin. They waited for me.  We gathered at the tree and the youngest played Santa. Packages were meager, and I worried about disappointment.  I shouldn’t have. It seems that my heart picks out good presents, and my impulse buying is unwarranted.

     The skies cleared tonight and the universe spread out, over, and around us.  We set up the telescope and pointed it at the Pleiades star cluster. Ryan calls it his “night diamonds.”  We took turns gazing at a gift eight light years away, not a video game, i-touch screen, or text message on a cell phone, but a miracle of nature, just like the snow the weekend before Christmas.

On the Inside Looking Out

December 26, 2009

      It’s morning again in room 207. Irene wakes to a knock at her door.  She turns on the bedside lamp and calls, “Who is it?”

      “Your breakfast is here,” a woman’s voice answers.

      “I’ll be right there.” Irene answers.

      Irene puts on her robe and opens the door to the nursing assistant with a tray in her hands.  “Come on in dear, you can set it right over there on the table.”  She lifts the dome lid from the tray and finds her favorite, two hard boiled eggs and two strips of crisp bacon.  A hot cup of black coffee rounds out the meal and Irene is ready to start her day.

      She looks in her closet and pulls out her business suit, the navy pinstripe that makes her look slimmer.  She chooses the white silk blouse because the feel of it against her skin reminds her of the time Lester was home more often. His fingertips liked silk. She can’t afford the bracelets that she sells at Miller and Ashby Jewelers, but she has a nice gold one that looks, from a distance, like it might have come from there.  Her hair has been set, her stockings are fresh, with no runs, and her heels are stylish.  She turns this way and that at the mirror, making sure that she sees perfection.  She may have some wrinkles on her face, but there will be none in her clothing.   She is ready for work.  Unlike most women of her generation, she’s a working girl.  She has to be, because Lester comes and goes as he pleases.  She can’t remember the last time he was home, or helping to pay the bills.  She’d be glad if he did come home though, even for just one night.

      Irene closes the door to her room and walks down the carpeted hallway past the doors of other residents.  Several of the doors are open, which seems odd to Irene, who thinks, “I always close and lock the door to my apartment.”  She finds herself looking into the lives of the people who allow examination.  Some are neat; some hoard, with newspapers, mail and boxes stacked or spilling over onto the floor.  For a moment, Irene wonders if intelligence depends on the amount of important papers you save.  She is tidy and organized. She cannot tolerate one thing out of place. She is meticulous.  She prides herself on it. She shakes her head in pity for the clutter of others. 

       Irene looks at the clock in the hallway.  It’s 8:30 already. She hurries her step; she doesn’t want to be late for work.  She looks into her purse for her keys. They are not there.  Before she can turn to go back and look for them, a woman passing her in the hallway says, “Good morning,  “I.”  Irene’s sister was the only one who called her “I.”  Was that Mary?  Irene’s attention diverts from the open purse.  She turns and walks in the direction of the voice. 

      “Mary, Mary is that you?  Mary?  Did you just pass me?”  She squints, looking for the dark haired woman who passed her. Irene raises her voice, calling loudly, “MARY!” She begins running as best as she can in her heels, calling Mary’s name.

      “Whoa, Irene, slow down, honey, why are you running?  Those heels are going to throw you,” a nurse dressed in a white uniform says as she puts her arm out in front of Irene to slow her pace.

      “It was my sister Mary. She called to me and I was trying to catch up to her.  Let me go find her,” Irene says, trying to push through the arm holding her back.  “Let me find her before she’s gone.  MARY!” Irene yells down the hallway.  The dark haired woman has rounded the corner, disappearing from Irene’s sight, but other people in the hallway stare at Irene as if she’s lost her mind. “Now look at what you’ve done,” Irene accuses the nurse.  “Mary’s gone and I’ll never find her.”

      “I’m sorry Irene. I was worried about you falling. Let’s walk in that direction and see if we can find her.  Tell me a little about your sister Mary.  What was she like?”

      Irene starts walking, but stops as she thinks.  “She was my little sister. I was born in 1919 and she was born six years later.  She looked up to me and always wanted to do what I did and go where I went.  She died right after Lester and I were married.  It nearly broke my Mother’s heart.” 

      Irene remembers that Mary was buried at Oak Lawn. It was a nice funeral, a beautiful day, Irene and Lester had sent pink gladiolas, Mary’s favorite. The preacher spoke about how love holds a family together.   Lester wasn’t at the funeral. He was “working” out of town that week.  Lester “worked” at a lot of things, lying mostly, and cheating. Irene’s jaw clenches.  Mary’s voice used to soothe her.

    Irene turns away quickly from the nurse and the stares and shaking heads of the strangers in the hallway.  She collects herself and her thoughts.  Where is she? What is she doing? She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes, thinking, pushing the organization she loves to the forefront of her brain.  Opening her eyes again, she looks down at her business suit.  Oh, that’s right, she is going to work, Miller and Ashby Jewelers.  She can’t be late. She’s the breadwinner. She takes another deep breath, this one to calm her nerves.  She pulls the open purse up again and looks for her keys.  They are not there.  She must have left them on her dresser.

      Irene spots the Exit sign, clicks her purse closed, cutting off thoughts of the keys, and walks toward the sign.  She sees the parking lot and street beyond the lobby door.  There’s a mirror at the front door. Irene stops and looks at her reflection.  She looks good in her business suit,  professional, put-together, smart.  Her lipstick is smeared, though.  She reaches in her purse for a tissue, dabs at the smear and reapplies from the tube of rose color. Rose looks best with this suit.  She notices the reflection of the lobby receptionist in the mirror.  She smiles and waves at the nice young woman on the phone.  As she puts the lipstick away, she searches for her keys. They are not there. 

      The lobby door opens and the cool air catches Irene’s attention.  A good looking man in a suit holds the door open for her.  She closes her purse, smiles up at the man holding the door and walks out past him.  “Thank you very much sir, there are not many gentlemen left in the world today.”

      “You’re welcome, have a nice day, Ma’am.”

      Irene returns the sentiment and walks toward the cars in the parking lot.  She opens her purse, searching for her keys.  Now, where has she left her keys?  She must have left them in her apartment.  She turns back toward the building.  She opens the lobby door and walks inside.  The young woman who is the lobby receptionist hangs up the phone, smiles and says, “Good Morning, Irene.  Were you outside?”

      Irene turns and looks at the lobby door, thinking what an odd question.  “Yes, I just got here,” Irene says, placing her purse on the desk and signing the nursing home guest book.  The receptionist looks puzzled.

      “Are you alright, dear?” Irene asks.

       “Oh sure, I’m fine,” the receptionist says, shaking her head a bit.  “I just need to check that door and make sure that it’s working properly.  There’ve been some problems with it lately, usually it alarms when….”

      “Well, it was working just fine when I came in,” Irene says.  “How is my mother?  Have you seen her this evening?  I have been running my legs off today, working and running errands.  I’ve only just gotten an opportunity to get here to see her.”

       “This evening? Your mother? Your mother doesn’t…” the receptionist stumbles over her words.  “I, I don’t believe I’ve seen your mother.”

      “That’s alright,” Irene says, chuckling. “Why don’t you get a cup of strong coffee to perk you up, dear, and I’ll go look for her.  She can’t have wandered too far, can she?  It’s not like she can run away.”   Irene turns and walks into the carpeted hallway of the nursing home.  She shakes her head and thinks that no matter how many times she comes to visit, she is still depressed by the dazed looks and drooped heads.  She regrets the day she had to put her mother here.  If Lester wasn’t so selfish, she could have stayed at home and cared for her mother like a good daughter.  Her mother and father had warned her about Lester when she first took up with him, but she didn’t listen.  Her mother’s voice echoes in her head, “If you can’t listen, you have to feel.”  She had spent most of her life “feeling”, feeling cheated, taken advantage of, responsible for everything, and angry.  Those feelings beat at her, over and over again.

      She walks down the hall and spots a woman in a wheelchair, the one she calls Mama.  From the back, the woman’s wavy gray hair hangs to her shoulders.  Irene reminds herself to speak to the nurse before she leaves about getting her mother a cut and set.  She rounds the wheelchair and stops to look at the old lady.  Irene remembers the woman who knew every inch of her at one time, the one who used to sing “Irene Goodnight” to her when she was a little girl, the one who put a cool cloth to her head when she was sick and kissed her nightmares away, the one who now, never remembered who Irene was.  “Hello Mama,” Irene says.  “How are you feeling today?” 

      The woman looks up at her with angry eyes and says, “I’m not your Mama.  I’m not anyone’s Mama.  I never had children.  Get away from me you crazy old bat.  I don’t know why you insist that I am your mother; you’re older than I am.  Every day, you call me Mama, and every day, I tell you I’m not your Mama. Stop calling me that and leave me alone.”

       Irene reaches her hand out to the woman,  her eyes pleading for recognition, for a mother’s understanding.  This woman, who is no longer the mother she remembers, slaps Irene’s hand away and turns the wheelchair,  so that her back is to her only living child.  Irene has never felt more alone than she does at this moment.  A man’s love can come and go. Lester’s love was like that; she had come to expect that; but a mother’s love should stay.  Your mother should never forget you. Irene looks down at her hand, pink now and still stinging from the impact of her mother’s rejection.  She turns it over, staring at her palm.  She had it read one time by a fortune teller who told her that she would find perfect love, not money as she had hoped, but perfect love which she hadn’t expected to hear.  That fortune had given her hope at a time when she needed it.  She wanted that love to be Lester’s.  She now wishes that she had wanted it to be her mother’s.  Irene’s shoulders curve inward.  She feels tears well in her eyes as she rubs the back of her hand.   

     Irene attempts to console herself with the thought that her mother is not responsible anymore.  She’s confused. Confusion is an awful thing.  Having your mind stolen from you is the last insult you can be dealt.  Irene sends up a small prayer thanking the almighty that she is still in her good mind.  

      She sees a nursing assistant coming toward them in the hallway.  Irene motions for her to come closer and whispers, “Has anything happened to upset her this morning?  She just hit me.”

      “I don’t think so Irene, but you know how we all have good days and bad days.  This could be a bad day for her.   Sometimes it’s best just to leave people alone for a while, let them work it out.  Why don’t you give her a little space and come back later.  Are you hurt?”

      “Only my pride, dear,” Irene says with a shaky smile.  “Sounds like good advice.  Thank you for your help.  I’ll be back tomorrow.”

      Irene knows that her mother would be appalled and ashamed if she was in her right mind and could see how she was behaving.  “There for the Grace of God…,” Irene says out loud as she straightens her back and collects her purse from the table in the dayroom.  She needs to leave before dark.  She can’t see to drive in the dark anymore.  She opens her purse and looks for her keys.  They are not there.   Maybe she left them at the reception desk when she signed in.

      Irene walks toward the lobby.  The workers call her by her name and ask her how she is.   Some reach out and pat her or grasp her hand.   If she had to put her mother in a nursing home, at least this one is clean and has nice people.  She stops and asks the receptionist if she’s found a set of keys.  “Sorry Irene, no keys.  Maybe they’re in your room.”

      “You mean my mother’s room? No they can’t be there, we visited in the day room.  I think I may have left them in the car.   Goodness, I hope not.  Some poor confused soul could have gotten in my car, thinking it was theirs.  I’ll go out and check the car,” Irene says as she turns toward the front door.

      “Let me go with you, Irene,” says the receptionist. as the phone rings.  “Wait just a second for me to answer the phone and then we’ll both go look for your keys.”

      “Alright,” Irene says.  

      The young woman answers the phone and turns to look in a file drawer.   “You’re busy, dear, I’ll be fine,” says Irene.

      Irene steps to the door and puts her hand on it.  There’s a beeping sound.  Irene looks around, shrugs and pushes the panic bar at the door.  It’s locked, that’s strange; this is the front door. The parking lot is just on the other side of the door, the handicapped parking spaces, right there on the other side of the porch.  The beeping is coming faster.  Irene pushes harder and shakes the panic bar.  The beeping has become a shrill siren now and the door still won’t open.  Irene pushes harder, throwing her weight at the door.  “What is wrong with this door?” She breaks out in a sweat.  Her heart pounds.  Suddenly, the door gives, opens and Irene’s weight carries her headlong onto the porch.  She grabs for the railing as her ankle twists, and the heel of her shoe snaps off.  “Damn,” she says, catching herself on the railing and bending to inspect her shoe.  

      She hears the siren still shrieking , and feet running, pounding behind her, pounding like her heart, pounding like Lester did at the door when she locked him out of the house.  She turns her head to see two men in hospital uniforms running toward her.  They look harried and stern.  She expects them to run past her, to some medical emergency down the street, to answer that siren. Instead, they stop in front of her.  The burliest one says her name.  “Irene, where are you going?” 

      She doesn’t recognize him.  “I don’t know you.  How do you know my name?  And it’s none of your business where I’m going or what I’m doing,” she says, her eyes flashing anger.  “You must have me confused with someone else.”

      “Come on Irene, of course we know you. We see you every day, talk to you, help you out when you need it.”

      Irene stops and frowns. This worries her.  She wonders how these men know her name.  Why are they asking her questions? She doesn’t recognize them or understand why they are lying to her.  Fear fills her. She should run or scream, but doesn’t want to make a fool of herself.  She wonders if this is a joke that Lester is playing on her.  This would be something he would do.  “Did Lester put you up to this?” she asks.

      “No, Lester sent us to find you,” says the younger, smaller one.  “He’s inside waiting for you.”

      Irene stops.  Lester sent for her?  He’s home?  He missed her?  “He’s inside?” she asks, forgetting her fear, remembering Lester.

      “We saw him.   Let us help you back inside and we’ll look for him,” the burly one says.

   “Oh look, your shoe is broken,” says the younger man.  She can’t remember it breaking.  The young man picks up the heel. “Why don’t you put this in your purse so you won’t lose it.  That broken shoe will throw you off balance.  Let us help you back to your room so you don’t fall.”

      Irene puts the heel in her purse and snaps it shut. She slides the handle onto her arm and allows the men to assist her into the building.  “Lester’s there?  He sent for me?”

      “Let’s go check.  He’s probably there waiting for you now,” says the burley man.

      At the door to her room, the two men bid her farewell.  “Thank you for your help,” she calls.  They wave goodbye. “Such nice boys,” Irene says.  

      She opens the door of her room to the darkness.  The drapes are drawn against the sun and shadows cover the order of Irene’s world. As usual, Lester is not home.   She turns on the bedside lamp, slips off her shoes, and sits on the edge of the bed.   She picks up the shoe with the broken heel, wondering how it happened.  She will have to take it to the repair shop tomorrow.  She’ll have to leave a little early to drop it off on her way to work. Irene wonders what she did with the heel.  She gets up and takes off her business suit, hangs it and her blouse in the closet. She puts her underclothes in the hamper and opens her nightgown drawer.  She slips on the green silk one.  It feels good against her skin.  “Who knows,” she says.  “Lester may come home tonight.”  She pulls back the covers and slides between the crisp sheets.  She turns off the bedside light.  She closes her eyes, waiting. 

       Irene is awakened by a knock at the door.  She opens her eyes and pushes back the covers, gets up and takes her robe from the hook on the door. She slips it on and calls out, “Who is it?”

      “Your lunch is here,” says a man’s voice on the other side of the door.

      Irene opens the door just a crack to see a waiter with a tray.  “I didn’t order room service,” she says, “but since you’ve brought it, I believe I’m hungry.  Thank you.  Just put it on the table over there.”  Irene opens her purse to tip the waiter from room service.  She pulls out the heel of a shoe.  “Now I wonder where this came from?” she says.   She looks up at the waiter who shrugs.  Irene shrugs too and smiles at the nice young man, who looks just a little like Lester when he was younger and was home more often.