"WOMEN ARE MAGIC AND WE ARE STRONG. WE ALL HAVE STORIES TO TELL, SOMETIMES ROMANTIC AND SOMETIMES TRAGIC OR INSPIRING. I AM SANDRA HALL AND THESE ARE WONDERFUL STORIES I AM SHARING TO HONOR ALL WOMEN WHO HAVE CHASED THEIR DREAMS, WENT AFTER THEIR MEN, AND CROSSED THE LINE- WHILE DANCING WITHOUT A NET ON A WIRE. SIT FOR A MOMENT, IMAGINE YOU ARE SHADED FROM THE SUN, ENJOY A GLASS OF WHITE WINE OR MINTED ICED TEA. RELAX. PREPARE TO BE THRILLED BY AMAZING HEROINES IN THESE EMOTIONAL SHORT STORIES."
Copyright(c) July 2014 by Sandra Hall.
All Rights Reserved.
After seventeen years of marriage, I wasn’t exactly miserable, but I was a far cry from happy. Days of romance were long gone. I no longer received flowers for Valentine’s Day, and our anniversary was just another day rolling by making out another year. I wanted children, and after a few years into the marriage I found out both my ovaries were shrunken.
My husband seemed quite content, however, with the way things were. He and I usually had sex about twice a month, because it was all he required. I realized we were getting older, but I knew he didn’t care to make things between us any better. His attitude in bed spilled over to other aspects of our relationship. We went to the movies he enjoyed, and went to restaurants of his choice. Our home was even decorated according to his tastes. Even so, at that time, I figured I was luckier than some women. Earl was rude, mean and self-absorbed, but he had not raised his hand to me. If his needs were met he seemed satisfied, my needs were not his concern.
I don’t exactly remember when I admitted to myself I no longer felt in love with Earl, but I know I did not like him since that day I told him about my ovaries. I had joined him on the couch in front of the television set. A Bonanza marathon was playing, and I waited for the commercials to tell him. I thought he would at least tell me that everything was okay and hug me up, but all he said was, “Oh, that’s too bad, Marie.” Then he put his arm around my shoulder briefly and continued to watch television. I never spoke of my ovaries or children with him again.
One day I woke up beside Earl and wondered why I was still there living with him. I looked at him critically. He was good looking with his medium dark complexion and shaved head. Why he chose to go bald over sporting his black natural ways, I don’t know. He was tall and big in a beefy way, and his belly was starting to get a teensy bit round, but that didn’t stop the women in our neighborhood from checking him out when he worked in the yard or washed the cars. I also noticed him in the mall or the supermarket watching other women as they passed by.
Although, I wouldn’t exactly call myself a sex symbol, I was still in good shape and kept my appearance up. For all the good it did. Earl didn’t seem to care what I looked like. Sometimes I thought he was carrying on with other women, and I never bought it when he claimed he was working overtime because during those times I never saw the evidence in his pay checks. While I would have liked having sex more often, knowing he might be enjoying other women didn’t bother me very much. I was used to his selfishness.
But that morning, I realized I had nothing of my own in my life. My marriage was loveless, no children and no outside interests. So, I began to think of ways to enrich my life. Something I could be interested in that brought me joy and broadened my horizons. Everything I had done so far was all for Earl, and he never appreciated it.
Reading was the one thing I loved. My best friend was the public library. That fall I decided to take advantage of the creative writing class offered in the evenings. My class met twice a week. I got to know most of my classmates rather well, but most of us never socialized outside of class activities. Classes were where we felt confident to express and explore our thoughts and emotions without fear of judgment or misunderstanding. Those couple of nights a week were our time to be who we wanted to be and let our personal lights shine a little. At least, that is how I was feeling through the first few weeks of classes, mainly because Earl was doing his overtime again. We didn’t see each other enough for him to complain about the time I spent writing and going out of the house. When he decided to stay home more, he started objecting about me not being there when he needed me, or my neglecting the household duties when I tried to write in the evenings.
“I hope you’re not planning on going to class tonight,” he said one evening at dinner, and like a fool I thought he meant he had something for us to do together. “I’m sure you can find something to be doing here at home.”
“Like what? Sitting next to you on the couch while you snore through a ball game?” I quipped. “Besides, I’ve taken care of everything around this house that I planned to for today.”
“Yeah? Did you now?” He sliced into his steak and shoved it into his mouth, keeping his eyes on me.
“Yeah, Earl. You think you know how to run a household better than I do?” He wiped his mouth with a napkin even though his mouth was clean. “Why don’t you come with me tonight? It’ll be something different for you and you might like it.” I didn’t want him tagging along with me, but I could tell he was spoiling for a fight, so he could insist I not continue my classes.
“Listening to someone talk all night is not my idea of fun, Marie,” he said arrogantly and poured himself another glass of iced tea.
“Tonight we’re reading excerpts and I think I’m going to include two poems I just wrote yesterday,” I shared enthusiastically.
“Well, that’s great, Marie.” He downed his tea in one gulp, wiped his lips with the back of his hand, and then pushed his chair back from the table. He’d heard enough of my nonsense, I guess.
That night I read my poems to an appreciative audience, and I was asked to consider joining a new poets club, by its founder. They met on Friday nights, and I was already attending classes on Monday and Thursday nights. I thought about Earl’s non-approval and decided it was my decision if I was going to leave the house for an hour or two three nights a week.
Imogene Sanders, the club’s founder was also a very successful published author, whose short stories I had enjoyed in high school. Every now and then she still wrote for several upscale magazines. I had a whole list of her stories to catch up on, and I couldn’t believe she was at nearly every meeting we had. She was the most remarkable person I had ever met, for she had raised four grown children, kept a husband, and ran her own household while maintaining a career. She was in her early sixties, and able to mix well with any age group. Our youngest member was only fifteen.
One night after a meeting, Imogene asked me to join her for a drink at a nearby bar and I readily agreed. Frankly, I hadn’t figured her for the type to frequent such a young and hip establishment. She always appeared so refined in her wire-framed glasses and tailored suits. The music was loud and the floor crowded. From our table, I watched the people mill about around the bar or just socializing from table to table. Some preferred standing and people watching from shadowy corners. A couple of men met my eyes and gave me a nod or a quick wink. It occurred to me I’d never be in a singles gathering before. Not even in college.
After a waitress had come and left us our drinks, Imogene said, “Do you remember Reuben Jones, the young man that read from Claude McKay a couple of weeks back?”
“Oh yes, he was great,” I said. He was also very attractive. Tall and dark, with a nice low haircut and a kind smile. I remembered thinking he seemed like a nice man. Of course, almost anyone seemed nice compared to Earl.
“I’d like you to meet him. He said he would probably stop by tonight. He’s an agent. I’m one of his clients.” She took a long sip from her drink and made a silent ah with her mouth as if it really hit the spot. “Also I want you to meet Velma Richland, an editor at Sable Books. I took the liberty of showing her your works, especially your poetry. She agrees with me that you should be published.”
“Me? I’m just a novice.” I was flabbergasted. Imogene could not mean what she just said. And why me out of all the other club members?
“My dear there is no such thing. Either you are a writer or you are not. Oh, there is Velma.”
I turned and watched a tall, slender woman about my age approaching our table. She was still dressed in business attire. Imogene introduced us then signaled the waitress back to take Velma’s order.
“So, Marie Green. I’m glad to meet you. I haven’t read such romantic poetry since seventh grade.”
“Thank you,” I said simply.
“And I think you must share it,” Velma continued. “Sable Books is prepared to make you an offer for your poems and short stories.”
“All of them? But I only started writing seriously a few months ago,” I protested, because this was just too good to be true! I was sitting there with a well-known author and an editor from Sable Books about to be made an offer! “Are you two kidding me?”
“I never kid about talent, my dear,” Imogene declared. “It has been a long time since poetry touched my soul.”
“Marie, we must act quickly. The poems I have will have to be enough for now. We have just enough time to get you included in a new anthology titled, Modern Romantic Poets. We need more short stories and even then only a few will be selected. I want you included in our Christmas issues.” Velma was going on like it was a done deal. Imogene was giving me a look that said it was time I said something.
“I guess, I need to talk with my husband first,” I said. A talk I was dreading already. “Can I get back with you in a few days? I’m just really overwhelmed right now.”
“That’s why I want you to meet Reuben Jones. He’s wonderful. The best agent I ever had,” Imogene said, looking at the entrance. “I suppose, he can’t make it tonight. I’ll leave him a message to call you first thing Monday morning.”
“No, don’t do that,” I quickly interrupted. “I want to talk to Earl first.” Actually, I hoped to avoid any interference from him until I was sure what was going to happen. “An afternoon call would be better.”
By the time Monday rolled around, I was a nervous wreck. Earl didn’t seem to be in any hurry to leave for work. By ten o’clock I feared he had changed shifts and not even informed me.
“Running a bit late today, aren’t you?” I said, hoping to speed him up.
“I called in and told them I’d be late. That leftover chili last night gave me indigestion. Stomach is just now trying to feel kind of normal.” He looked directly at me like he thought I had tried to poison him or something. “See, this is what happens when a woman don’t take the time to cook her man a decent meal, and run out every other night to discuss some damn books.”
I ignored all that and asked him, if he took anything for the discomfort.
“Yeah, I squigged down a half bottle of Pepto. Hope I don’t get all constipated behind this.” He went to the couch to lie down. “I’ll take it easy and go in at noon.”
Noon! That was cutting it close, but okay, he’d be just out the door when I got my call. I sat in the recliner and began to relax watching the Food network. Ina Garten was baking cookies again.
The phone rang, and Reuben woke up wanting to know what time it was. I picked up the receiver as he went to the bedroom to prepare for work.
“May I speak with Marie Green, please,” a male voice asked smoothly.
“Who is calling, please?” I was nervous, but I knew full well who was calling. I remembered the timbre of his voice from his poetic styling.
“Reuben Jones. Is Miss Green in?”
“This is she, but um, I was expecting a later call.” I heard Earl singing in the bedroom and he usually walked around while he sang. “I’m sorry, but I’ll have to call you back.” I hung up a few seconds before he waltzed into the living room, buckling his belt.
“Marie, if you go out today, pick up some of that foot powder. I’m just about out.” He checked his pockets then went back into the bedroom for his car keys and hard hat. “See you later,” he said and left.
I rushed to the telephone to check the last call then quickly dialed the numbers. On the second ring, I hung up. Who was I kidding? I knew Earl would find a way to ruin everything. But what was more important? Peace in a lousy marriage, or pursuing a career in a world I loved? What if the deal didn’t fall through anyway?
About twenty minutes later, the phone began to ring again. It was Imogene. “Why wouldn’t you talk to Laurence? I thought it was all systems go.”
“I told you I had to talk to Earl first. Besides, he called too early. It’s not even noon yet,” I argued.
“Well, have you talked to him yet?”
“No, I didn’t get the chance.”
“Why not? What’s the problem?”
“Look, Imogene.” I gripped the phone in agitation from her questions and demanding tone. Who did she think she was talking to anyway? I wasn’t obligated to her or anything. Nobody told her to be a busybody showing my stuff to her buddies and making deals I had no idea about. And I certainly didn’t have to talk to anybody just because she said so! But I swallowed all that back and said, “I just don’t think the timing is right.”
“Marie, you realize opportunities like this does not come around every day. Much of it is connecting with the right people at the right time. You met me and I knew the people to get your work to at the right time. It would be a shame, if you can’t realize there is no playing around room. Sable Books wants you, but they can easily find another writer to fill your spot.”
“Well, maybe they should,” I said. “If they can’t wait for a woman to speak to her husband.”
“If you let this opportunity go, I must admit you will greatly disappoint me.”
“Imogene,” I started to defend myself.”
“I’m sorry, my dear, I spoke out of turn.” I heard a sniff in her voice. “I won’t bother you with this matter again. Good bye.”
Great. Now, Imogene was upset with me. She was right of course. Why did I let Earl be a factor in my decision? Of course, he’d naturally oppose anything I wanted to do that didn’t directly benefit him. He wouldn’t care that experts agreed I had talent to share. Nor, would he care that I might be disappointed the rest of my life for not going for that ultimate big moment.
I called Reuben Jones’ office. He was out for the rest of the afternoon. I thought about calling Imogene to let her know I was interested in Sable Books’ offer, but I decided to wait until I talked to her agent, so she’d know I was serious.
That evening I skipped my writing class, preferring to be alone with my thoughts. Earl called earlier to inform me that he was going to pull a double shift. Great. A little peace and quiet. I fixed myself a chicken salad and sipped wine out on the patio. It was rare that I could enjoy myself like that. Earl always required something or made too much noise when he was around. Instead of thinking about Earl, I thought how my life might change, if I could make a living as a writer.
Around seven o’clock, I went back inside meaning to watch some television. Before I got comfortable on the couch, the phone rang. I picked it up and answered as I laid down on the cushions.
“May I speak with Miss Green, please?” It was Reuben Jones again! I straightened up in surprise.
“Speaking,” I said trying my best to sound calm. Maybe it was the wine, but his voice stirred my body. My heart beat with a wild excitement that I knew did not come from being anxious about business.
“Ah, Miss Green. I’m sorry to be calling so late, and I apologize for this morning. The truth is I had to leave town suddenly, and I wanted to contact you before I did. If I caused you any inconvenience -”
“Oh no. Not really. Things were just a bit crazy this morning.”
“According to Velma Richland, Sable Books is prepared to make me an offer for my poems and short stories. Imogene suggested I should have you represent my interests. I hope you can help.”
“I’m sure I can. We’ll need to meet at your earliest convenience tomorrow. Noon is best for me, but if you can’t make it, I’ll try to juggle my other appointments around.”
“No, Mister Jones. You name the time, and I will be there.” I was making this promise to myself more than I was him.
“Then noon tomorrow at Marlowe’s,” he suggested and I agreed.
At twelve o’clock I had been at the restaurant nearly a half hour. I was so nervous and anxious I was dressed early and couldn’t make myself wait a few more minutes before leaving the house. I had spent the morning acting as if I were preparing for a hot date. I soon began to feel like a fool. Not for agreeing to the meeting, rather for buying new makeup and getting all dressed up so I could look good for a man. A younger man at that. A man that called me Miss and I didn’t bother to correct his assumption. What was I thinking anyway? Would he know I had dolled myself up just for this meeting with him?
“Miss Green.” His voice was just over my head. I turned around not sure if my face was smiling or not. “Reuben Jones,” he said as he came around the table to extend his hand to me.
“Oh yes,” I said, placing my hand inside his. He smiled giving my hand a firm squeeze. I felt a quick jolt in my chest that seemed to jumpstart my heart. He was even better looking up close than that night he took the floor to do his reading. “Of course, so glad to meet you.” He was bigger across the chest than I thought, and except for a thin moustache, he was clean shaven and smelled so delicious. I studied his face as he took his seat, unbuttoning his suit jacket. He met my light gaze and smiled again. I knew I was staring, but I couldn’t stop myself. And Reuben didn’t seem to mind. A waiter immediately came to our table to take our orders. As soon as he left I had his full attention. “So, you didn’t have any trouble recognizing me in a different setting.”
“Nope. A pretty lady stands out from any crowd.”
“Thank you,” I said as a warmness spread throughout my body. “Of course, I remember you from your readings. Your voice is so versatile and romantic.”
“Well, thank you. I was just reading my favorite poems.” He seemed embarrassed. “Actually, I’d like to read some of yours someday. Maybe I won’t have to wait too long, according to Velma and Imogene.”
“You’ve already talked to Velma?”
“Actually, the deal is pretty much set. All we need is your approval,” he answered carefully. “Imogene submitted your work to Sable Books. Velma loved everything and offered her a deal.”
“How did she pass my stuff as hers? She a professional.” My heart sank. Imogene had used trickery to get me noticed. It wasn’t my talent after all, just Imogene’s status or clout, or whatever.
“She didn’t actually pass it. She just got you read. In fact, Velma demanded to know who the author really was.”
“So everything has been done behind my back?” I was getting angry. “What kind of deal did you all come up with?” I demanded hotly.
He reached inside his briefcase and pulled out some papers. “This is a basic contract for your poems and stories. Velma wants them all. I say hold some back.”
“Why? Is she trying to cheat me?”
“Not exactly. Just give Sable Books what they need for these projects. Once you are published and successful, we can shop around to other houses.”
“What if they don’t want to do it?” I asked. “Imogene said they could easily replace me.”
“Marie, that isn’t going to happen. They are holding back, and so are we. It’s what publishers and agents do.”
“And you are my agent? You aren’t doing a favor for Imogene?”
“Actually, Marie,” he gave me another big ole smile. “Imogene did me a favor, whether you become an official client or not.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s been a little while since I’ve had a nice lunch with a lovely lady. Business or not, I have to say, I’m glad I finally got a chance to meet you. The question is, do you want me to officially represent you?”
“Imogene thinks the world of you, Mister Jones. So I’m going to put my trust in your hands.”
“Call me Reuben.” His voice was smooth as silk, and I had to look into his eyes.
“So, do you like jazz?” he asked, turning the subject as the waiter brought our meals.
“I’m not exactly nuts about it, but it’s all right.”
“Do you think you could sit through a live review with me tomorrow night?”
“Um,” I began salting my steamed veggies. “I’m afraid I can’t.”
“Well, some other time then?”
“No.” I dreaded the disappointed expression on his face. “I can’t because my husband wouldn’t understand,” I finished up quietly.
“Oh. I didn’t realize you were married,” he said then concentrated on his swordfish. I don’t know how his meal tasted, but mine was as tasteless as notebook paper.
“Are you very annoyed with me, dear?” Imogene asked, handing me a cup of coffee then sat down on the sofa next to me. Everyone was socializing before the club meeting officially started.
“I was. If we are to be friends, you can’t be going behind my back like that again.”
“No problem. Now, you have Reuben to push you and handle things.” She sipped at her own coffee. Just then I noticed a figure standing near us. My heart just about leaped up and out of my chest.
“Reuben! Sit down. How have you been?” Imogene moved away from me making room for him between us.
“Just fine,” he answered. “How are you ladies tonight?” He leaned back and spread his arm out on the back of the sofa, making a little more room on the small space. He wasn’t touching me, but I was more than aware that his arm was right behind me.
“I’m going for a refill, would you like something to drink?” Imogene asked, addressing Reuben who declined. As soon as she left the sofa, a big guy named Marty, squeezed himself on the seat. I had to scoot closer to Reuben, and he rested his hand firmly on my shoulder. I saw Imogene look over in our direction as she poured herself a fresh cup of coffee. She pursed her lips in annoyance at Marty’s nerve at taking her preferred spot. He sat there eating and drinking like there was no tomorrow, or no one else on the sofa.
“You okay,” Reuben leaned over to ask me.
“Sure,” I lied. My heart was hammering away. He was wearing Cool Water cologne, my personal favorite. “Hank is going to perform A Love Supreme.” I didn’t know what that was, but I was hoping that would entice him to stay the whole meeting rather than leaving early as he usually did on the few nights he actually made an appearance. “Will you be able to stay?”
He moved closer to me to whisper,” I think I better, else you get eaten alive tonight.” As I laughed with him, his hand tightened on my shoulder. I pretended not to notice. What harm was it doing? We were sitting on a sofa in a room full of other people. For the first time in a long time, I was feeling good. Real good.
Reuben attended more and more club meetings, and he would sometimes read, if I asked him. These days were the best days of my life; I attended functions that Imogene and Velma told me were important, I met wonderful poets like Joyce Joyce, Sonia Sanchez, and other hopefuls like myself. Reuben attended these functions as well, and I made sure to spend as much time with him as I could.
I became more intolerant of Earl as my affection for Reuben grew. I moved out of the bedroom I had shared with him for the past seventeen years. I was sure now that he was carrying on with several different women. Now, that Reuben was in my heart, I didn’t want Earl touching me.
Sometimes I went to Marlowe’s on a whim that I might meet him there accidentally. After doing so successfully twice, I began going to Marlowe’s every Monday at noon. Soon that was our unspoken place and time to meet. Our relationship was as platonic as two people who were attracted to each other could be, and I knew we couldn’t continue that way for long. Sooner or later, he would want more than I was free to give him.
By mid-summer, I was done working on the stories Velma needed for Christmas and the anthology was already at press. I was proud of myself as was everyone at the club. Sable Books flew me to New York for promotion of the books. Imogene insisted she would come of course. The promotion was like a celebration, very sophisticated and more upscale than anything I’d been apart of until now.
I was at a loss for words,and I felt dowdy in my new dress I bought at JCPenny. Everyone had said a simple black gown would suffice at any occasion. Earl told me I was making a fool of myself, being as old as I was trying to be a writer and socializing with famous and rich people. Right after Imogene and Velma left my side to go mingle with old friends and acquaintances, his words started getting to me as I began to feel more and more like a fish out of water. But I made up my mind to keep my head up and remember to be proud of myself. As it turned out, I wasn’t destined to be by myself for long.
Almost magically, he appeared by my side. I stared at him as though he were a friendly ghost, then hugged him as the dear friend he was to me. “Reuben,” I said, so relieved and happy to see his smiling, beautiful face. “I’m so glad to see you.”
“Come on, did you really think I’d miss your first gala-event?” He gave me a lingering peck as I slowly drew back. Feeling his lips on my skin sent a rush right up to my head. “Marie, you look absolutely stunning in that gown. But I think you smell even better.” He smiled down at me, and for the first time, I could plainly see the ardor in his eyes.
“Thank you,” I managed to say without swallowing hard first. “I was starting to feel like a poor relation.”
He glanced around the fancy decorated room at the more elaborately dressed women. “No one here is more lovely than you, Marie. Would you care to dance?”
As we moved around the dance floor, I noticed Imogene and Velma watching us.
“Did Earl accompany you to New York,” Reuben suddenly asked with a slight frown. I shook my head in answer. “He is a fool.”
“I don’t want to talk about Earl,” I told him. “Tell me how you were able to clear your desk of everything and fly here to be with me.”
“I just wanted to be here, so I came, Marie.” He held me tighter and pulled me closer. “I want to kiss you.”
“You can’t.” Not with Imogene and Velma watching. I wondered if they knew how we felt about each other all along. “It’s not that I don’t want to.”
“You want me to leave you alone?”
“No!” What would I do if I could no longer see him, or hear his voice? How would I get through the days and nights? I knew my depending on him being there for me wasn’t fair to him. “Can’t we just stay friends?” He kissed me lightly on the forehead, and I felt his arms loosen from around me. Oh no, I thought, he was kissing me goodbye!
“Reuben?” I held on to his arms, but what could I say to him? I was married and until now never thought of breaking my vows. Could I be that reckless? “Don’t go. I need you.”
“Let’s go out to the terrace,” he suggested and danced us through the doors.
I pulled away and hurried to the balcony to take in the night air. My head was swimming with wild thoughts. All I wanted was to live in the moment and not think of tomorrow or Earl.
“Marie.” I felt his hand on my bare back. He touched me gently with his fingertips. I turned slowly to face him. My body shivered as he brought his face closer to mine. “Marie?”
“Kiss me,” I invited him and closed my eyes. His lips pressed firmly to mine in a hot and thorough kiss. I had never been kissed like that in my life! My knees grew weak, and he supported me by pulling me into his chest, holding me with a strong arm around my waist. “Oh,” I moaned when he released me briefly to catch our breaths. I put my arms around him and locked my mouth onto his and tried to match his growing fervor.
“Do you want me, Marie?” he asked between hungry kisses.
“Yes, so very much. You know I do…but I can’t.” Reuben tore himself away from me, leaving me breathless. “Reuben?” He seemed angry. “Reuben, I’m trying to be straight with you. You know I’m married.”
“Do you still love Earl?”
“Then why are you still with him? It makes me sick when I think of you in bed with him.”
“I haven’t slept with Earl in a long time.”
“Since we started meeting at Marlowe’s.”
“Be with me tonight, sweetheart.” He urged me by gently taking me in his arms to kiss me calmly with slow deliberation. “Just be with me. I’m not asking you to break your vows.”
“I feel like I already have.”
“Kissing is not committing adultery.”
“Is that all you want, Reuben? Is that enough?” How could it be, I wondered. It was killing me trying to do right and keep myself from ruining the kind and warm friendship between us while I wanted to be with him so much that my belly ached with growing desire. A desire I knew was partially fueled by my own self -imposed abstinence from sex.
“For tonight,” Reuben said. “Here in New York, I just want to express how I feel about you.”
“How do you feel?” I had to hear him say it, in order to believe I wasn’t misunderstanding what was suddenly going on between us. Was it just physical desire, or real longing for another person to love?
“I’m in love with you, Marie. And I’ve convinced myself that you feel the same way. Do you?”
“I think so. Reuben, I was unhappy for a long time,” I rushed to explain. “And then I met you. I don’t want to spoil it.”
“Getting closer can’t spoil it. However, if you aren’t sure, I can step back and wait.”
“Wait? What do you mean?”
“I want you, Marie. If you want me, you need to get things right so we can be together.”
“You want me to leave Earl and be with you?”
“I…” Of course, I’d thought about leaving Earl a thousand times since I met Reuben. I just never imagined he’d love me back enough to want me to get a divorce to be with him.
“I can wait until you trust me, if I know you are into these feelings the way I am.”
“I trust you. It’s just that I wasn’t prepared for this.”
“Come on, sweetheart. You’ve known how much I feel for you.”
“Well, I can’t say I knew, exactly. I just hoped I wasn’t making a fool of myself.”
“I’m eleven years older than you and I don’t have the class you must be used to.” I thought of the younger versions of Imogene and Velma. He laughed and kissed me. “What’s funny?”
“You. You are funny. Seriously, you have all the class and qualities of a woman that I desire and then some. And the years between us is not an issue. So what else you got to keep this thing between us from moving along?”
I bit my lip to keep from blurting that I was spoiled goods. Barren, as they described women like me in the Bible. A younger man wouldn’t want his options taken away. In my heart, I had always known that was one of the main reasons Earl never valued me much as his wife. Could I bear to be so disrespected again?
“What is it?” Reuben must have seen the conflict in my sad expression.
“There is something,” I confessed. “I don’t know if I can ever tell you what it is.”
“Whatever it is, you can keep it to yourself. I love you, so I’m trusting you with my heart. You’ll take good care of it, right?”
“Right. But- you don’t care if I keep a secret?”
“I care,” he sighed. “I also know one day you will tell me when it matters. I’m not asking for your life story in one night.”
“You’ll really wait for me?”
“I’ll wait if you tell me you intend to be with me.”
“I do, Reuben. I really do.”
“Then be with me for the time we have alone here in the city. Can you promise us this time together?”
“Yes.” Secretly, I promised to give him every day for as long as he wanted me.
Part 2 continued later...
Come Back For Me
A short Story
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this story, or portions thereof in any form.
Copyright© July 2014 by Sandra Hall
An elderly woman loses everything she values in life, but holds on to the love of her departed husband for comfort, and then finds she is ready to give up after a heart breaking blow from her family.
Her elbow popped every time she pushed out of the low chair, and she’d stop to shake it out, then do her slow shuffle to the bathroom, complaining about her knees. Zelda watched her until she turned into the hallway, then went back to her knitting. Stupid fool wouldn’t make it, she never did. Zelda enjoyed watching The Price Is Right as much as anybody else, but Bob Barker wasn’t worth pissing on yourself.
“Anybody mind?” Curly asked, taking a seat at the piano. “Just through the commercials?” No one bothered to answer as usual. Damn fool, Zelda thought shaking her head, didn’t he realize his days of commanding an audience were long gone? Sometimes she thought to take him aside and tell him to just play without asking. Make it a gift like a first kiss. Of course, she’d never do that because Curly got on her nerves worse than Milly pissing on herself because she simply refused to get up before the commercials started.
“Anybody seen Cathy this morning?” LC Roberts asked everyone in general.
“I don’t think she’s getting up anymore,” Teenie Adams volunteered.
“Nonsense,” LC differed. “A little arthritis-“
“It ain’t just a little, LC. Besides that’s not all wrong with that girl. I hear they’re gonna move her on the other side.”
“The other side?” LC gaped at Teenie. Several other residents, including Zelda, grew quiet and still for a moment. The other side was the mental health unit.
“Well, I might have heard wrong, and those cleaning girls don’t always know what they be talking about.”
“Yeah. They always gossiping,” LC agreed and wiped his mouth. “But I think, I’ll shuffle on around before lunch, see how she’s doing.”
“Doubt she even knows who he is,” Curly grumbled and hit a hit note on the piano. He ducked his head down at the glares he received from his fellow residents.
“Zelda, what you got going there?” Patty Jean asked patting at her curly white natural.
“Just a blanket,” Zelda said noticing no one was paying attention to Bob or his beauties at the moment.
“Girl, at your age, I don’t see how you do it.” Patty Jean massaged her own fingers. “My hands are so shaky these days. And don’t even talk about my eyesight.” She moved from her chair to sit beside Zelda on the couch to touch the soft yarn in the blanket.
Zelda quickly pulled it from her slight grasp. “If I hurry, I’ll just get it done before they arrive.”
Zelda looked up at Patty Jean like she was one step away from the other side. “Who you think?”
“You mean the kids?” Patty Jean asked crossing her legs carelessly.
She made Zelda sick always showing off her old dancer’s legs and touch of thigh. Who was she trying to impress anyhow? Most of the menfolk could barely hold their pee much less a woman’s attention. Of course Patty Jean was still a showgirl at heart and they were different, Zelda supposed. Also Patty Jean wasn’t in her nineties either.
Ninety-three years old! Who would’ve thought she’d live so long to outlive all four of her children? People said she was lucky, fortunate even to be walking with the aid of a walker after breaking her back six years ago. She glanced over at the walker just hating the sight of it. Even with it she could not manage to keep up a place of her own, and she couldn’t take living with her crazy granddaughter in law with all her rules. The woman had expected her to just sit in a chair all day watching television. And Danny was too henpecked to support her when she insisted she could keep up her own bedroom and contribute to the home by sharing light household duties. If she had to feel old and useless, she might as well do it where there were other people like her, who didn’t see her as a burden. At least that’s how she saw it two years ago. Now, all these sick, crazy, old people got on her nerves. She wanted to go home. Sitting in a chair all day watching television wasn’t so bad.
“Well, don’t get your hopes up,” Patty Jean said, adjusting her sweater.
“Remember what happened on Thanksgiving.”
“Well, this is Christmas, PJ.”
“Last year was Christmas too, and I didn’t see any grandkids.”
“They’d just had a new baby.”
“Yeah, I’m sure that was it.”
Zelda noted the sweet sarcasm but ignored it. “You know, PJ, by New Years I just might be busting out of here.”
“Did Danny tell you that?”
“Nope. I’m telling him.” Zelda appreciated the shocked expression on Patty Jean’s face. “This evening,” she added and tossed her yarn and needles into her knitting bag.
“Don’t you think you ought to wait for his answer before you start announcing stuff like that?”
“PJ, I’ve decided I’m going home. If they don’t want me in theirs, I’ll just have to open mine.”
She walked back down to her private room to pick out a large sewing needle to start on the edging for the baby’s blanket. Then on impulse she went to the closet and chose a red pantsuit. It seemed ages since she last dressed up. She hoped it still fit around the middle.
“That’s lovely, Zelda,” Patty Jean voiced from the doorway. “I always said dark skin like yours was spectacular in red.” She looked down at her own barely brown skin.
“Light skin didn’t exactly hurt your career, did it?”
“I guess not.” Patty Jean lowered her eyes entering the room. “But I was a very good dancer, Zelda.”
“I’m sure you were,” Zelda muttered and laid the pantsuit across the bed.
“You don’t like us very much, do you?” Zelda raised a brow. “Old people, I mean.”
“I don’t belong here, PJ.”
“All right, I hear you. Just don’t expect your grandkids to really care. They don’t have time for a cranky, old, crippled woman.”
“Maybe that’s how it is in your family.”
“Zelda, you are old just like the rest of us. You’re used up as far as young people are concerned, and you need to accept that.”
“Now, that’s where you are wrong.” Zelda grabbed her walker and went to her chest of drawers. She took out some papers and envelopes then shoved them at Patty Jean.
“What is this stuff?”
“Titles and deeds, my dear. I still own my house and car, and I have plenty left in my savings!” The look of astonishment on Patty Jean’s face was priceless. “I have it figured out. All I need is someone to come in two, maybe three times a week to cook and clean. I can have my groceries delivered-“
“Oh Zelda,” Patty Jean sighed. “Don’t you know?”
“This property isn’t yours anymore. The state has a lien on it. You can’t possibly pay all that you owe back.”
“Are you nuts?” Zelda snatched her papers back. “The state can’t take a person’s property. Anyway, Danny is paying my bills.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“When was the last time you looked at your bank statements? Do you even know how much it costs to live in a place like this?”
“Danny is an accountant, he told me not to worry about money because he was taking care of my needs.”
“I’m sure he is, dear, but with your money. That’s how it is done. Didn’t you know that?”
“You’re talking nonsense!”
“Ask him then. Call him right now.”
“Just because your family-“
“All right, Zelda.” Patty Jean gave up. “Maybe I am wrong. For your sake, I hope I am,” she added before leaving the room.
“You are wrong.” Zelda slowly lowered herself on the bed and looked at her shoes. White Keds that she wore with everything. “You are wrong,” she repeated stubbornly. “My family loves me.”
Danny would eat just about anything. His wife sat sideways in her chair as if trying to disassociate herself from the supper table. Maybe the meatloaf was a crumbled up mess, but it tasted all right, Zelda thought. And what did her granddaughter in law think was wrong with a glass of tea or a cup of coffee? Why did she even bother to come visit if everything was so yucky?
“Clarissa, would you like a stick of gum? I got double mint.”
“Oh no, ma’am. I don’t chew gum. It is a disgusting habit.”
“I have some fruit in my room.”
“Miss Zelda, I don’t want your fruit.”
“I guess eating is a disgusting habit too.”
“Nothing,” Zelda said and refrained from commenting on Clarissa’s skin and bone figure. Why she wore belts all the time made no sense, as it made her seem even more shapeless. “So young man,” Zelda said, hoping to bring Danny’s head up from his plate. “Don’t you get fed at home?”
“Of course, he gets fed.” Clarissa turned around on her. “How do you think he stays so fat?” She gave him a long look filled with disgust.
“Uh, Grandmama.” Danny wiped his greasy thick lips then stared at his plate.
“Just tell her, Danny.” Clarissa crossed her arms and let out a tired breath of air.
“Tell me what?” Zelda went into her bosom and pulled out her checkbook and passbook. She stared at Danny who was still studying on his plate. She pushed the books next to his hands. “Tell me what, Danny?”
“I’m talking to my grand boy. But if you want to tell me why I don’t have a nickel in the bank, go ahead.” She turned to Clarissa. “Explain it to me.”
“You gave us power of attorney. We paid your bills, Miss Zelda.”
“Do I still own my home?”
“Your home?” Clarissa looked at Danny. “What is she talking about?”
“I’m talking about the home I left to live with y’all. Danny, you said I shouldn’t live alone.”
“Oh, Miss Zelda!”
“But I want to go home!”
“Grandmama, we sold the house.”
“How much do I have left from that?”
“Well, you see,” He swallowed hard then picked up his wife’s untouched glass of tea and chugged it.
“You telling me you blew my money and sold my house. And I don’t have anything to my name?”
“Grandmama, you’re all right. This place is one of the best in the state.”
“But you spent all my money?”
“Then why is the bank telling me my accounts are closed?”
“I- We just thought all monies should be in one place.”
“In our name,” Clarissa proudly informed her. “We write all the checks to take care of you.”
“Danny!” Zelda felt her heart beating much too fast in her ancient chest. They’d taken all her money and was waiting for her to die. It was much worse than Patty Jean tried to tell her. “Danny!”
“Grandmama, calm down.”
She looked across the cafeteria and found Patty Jean. As if sensing her distress Patty Jean rushed over to take her hands. “Zelda? Is it your angina?”
“Angina?” Clarissa frowned and rose from her seat. “What’s that? A heart attack?”
“Call the nurse!” Patty Jean shouted and eased Zelda back down in her chair. “Now, just calm down.”
“Grandmama, you all right?” Danny asked, his eyes big as saucers. “She’s okay, isn’t she?”
“How do I know?” Patty Jean snapped. “As if you care anyway,” she mumbled, rubbing Zelda’s cold hands inside her own.
“I beg your pardon?” Clarissa crossed the table to glare at Patty Jean. “Old lady, how dare you talk to my husband like that?”
“PJ, help me out of here!” It was too much to take. All the hard years of work and sacrifice amounted to nothing. Tears poured from her eyes, soaking the front of her blouse.
“It’ll be all right, dear.” Patty Jean put a supportive arm around her waist and began leading her away from her family.
Someone thought to offer them a wheelchair, and Zelda sank down into it and covered her face. For the first time in her long life she felt old, weak and frail. Uncontrollable sobs overtook her body causing her shoulders to heave. She called on her departed husband,” Oh Percy! Save me!”
“Percy,” she muttered one last time then pulled the door closed against her stiff back. “Have mercy.” She didn’t look at the boy waiting on her to make a move. She looked at her Keds then put one foot in front of the other, making her way down the hallway. In front of the elevator she crossed her arms and waited for the boy to find his key to unlock the elevator.
“Now, where is that thing?” He lightly dropped Zelda’s big suitcase to the thin worn carpet to search his pockets. “Oh, here it is!” He looked at her, giving her a big grin which she didn’t feel like returning. “Ma’am, we gonna get you in your new place-“
“It ain’t new,” she snapped. Her back and hips were killing her. Like a fool, one of the aides had taken her walker ahead with her other personal effects. “And it ain’t my place!”
“Boy, just open that damn thing before I die!” Beads of sweat covered her upper lip. “Or do you want me to go down the stairs?”
“Aw, Miss Zelda. Why you acting evil?” He unlocked the elevator, then gave her his biggest grin again. “Sharing a room isn’t so bad.” He gripped the suitcase and pulled it on its raggedy wheels to rest against the back wall. “Want to hold my arm?” He offered her his elbow.
“No, I-” But vanity wasn’t going to help her aching back and hips. And being mean to a kid that was trying to be nice and helpful wasn’t going to get her to her easy chair any quicker. “Thank you,” she said taking hold of his arm. The support of his body did wonders. “Thank you,” she softly repeated and followed him inside the elevator.
If Patty Jean didn’t cut it out, she was going to scream. What good did yoga do an old body? Every morning she was stretching and bending before Zelda stopped snoring. That was one of the reasons she always preferred a private room. If no one heard you snoring, no one could complain. But Patty Jean never complained. She was one of those eye rollers that also sucked their teeth instead.
“What you working on now?” Patty Jean arched her back and held it. “That’s not another blanket?”
“Nope. Just a shawl. Just about finished.”
“You sure do work fast. Didn’t you start that Monday morning?”
“Like to keep myself busy.”
“Me too.” Patty Jean balanced on one foot and closed her eyes. “That’s why I read books.”
“You mean, you like to escape the real world.” If she wasn’t reading, she was meditating.
“So what happened with that grandson of yours?”
“Nothing?” Patty Jean opened her eyes and stared at Zelda like she had suddenly changed colors. “You aren’t letting him off the hook? It’s bad enough you can’t keep a private room. That boy can’t just go through your money and leave you a ward of the state. What about all that stuff he said about taking care of you?”
“Seems he was lying. Didn’t want his wife to know they were bankrupt. He used my money to keep his household running. All the good it did his dumb ass.”
“What you mean?” Patty Jean went to sit in the other easy chair across from Zelda. She admired the handiwork on the shawl.
“She filed for divorce.”
“Well, I can’t say I’m surprised. Can’t say I’m sorry for him either.”
“I suppose he thought he could take care of things better than how they turned out. Poor boy is nothing like his daddy or granddaddy. I guess the men in our day were different.”
“I think they had to be.”
“Yeah.” Zelda rose up shaking out the shawl. “What do you think of this thing?”
“It’s lovely. Purple is always a good color.”
“I used the last of my good yarn on this.”
“You will be the envy of every woman in this joint.”
“Oh, this isn’t for me, PJ. It’s a gift. For you.”
“Me?” She touched the fabric like it was precious.
“You always be talking about how pretty and nice everything is.” And she was always saying how drafty it was in the common rooms. “Don’t you want it?” Zelda shoved it at her. “I know I’m not the easiest person to share your living space with. And I know you offered to let me stay with you because you felt sorry for me.”
“Oh Zelda, that isn’t true. “
“I didn’t want to belong here, PJ. I didn’t want to be pitiful.”
“Oh girl, being old don’t make you pitiful. Not when you have friends.” Patty Jean tried on the shawl then strutted up to the dresser mirror to admire her own reflection. “Now, what are you going to wear?”
“Me? I’m already dressed.”
“I mean to the dance tonight.”
“Wear that green dress with the dropped waistline. I heard Basil say you looked cute in it last year.”
“Basil?” He was in his late seventies and boasted that he wasn’t on heart medication. He popped Viagra like they were aspirin. “That sex maniac?”
“He’s not a maniac. Why you always labeling people?”
“What’s a man that young looking at a crippled up old lady like me for?”
“Maybe because you are one of the few women he hasn’t gotten alone behind closed doors yet.”
“Girl, I only had one man in my bed my whole life.”
“But I thought you said you lost your Percy thirty-six years ago.”
“Sometimes it feels like it happened just yesterday.” She shuffled over to sit on her full sized bed. Patty Jean didn’t complain about it taking up extra space either. “One thing about being old, you know it won’t be much longer.”
“What won’t be, Zelda?”
“Leaving this world, PJ. Aren’t you getting tired?”
“I’m old, Zelda. But I’m not ready to leave from anywhere. Look, your grand boy let you down big time, but you have to move on. And it’s very doubtful you’ll meet anyone half as good as your husband, but that don’t mean you can’t enjoy the people around you. In the time you have left you don’t need to be alone.”
“I’m not like you. People don’t like me.”
“That’s because you act all cranky and grouchy. You can be a real drag when you want to be, lady. Do you think this is how your Percy wanted you to end up? Old and tired, dying alone? Come on, Zelda. Put on that green dress,” Patty Jean urged gently then quietly left their room.
“Percy,” Zelda muttered and felt like crying. She lay back on the bed, covering her face and let the tears flow. What was so wrong with only wanting to see him again? Nothing in this world was bright anymore. There were no more songs to sing either. What was left? Just going through the motions of a living woman? Sure, she could do that. Pretend to enjoy her last days just to please others. “Oh God.”
She’d heard the voice before but couldn’t believe it was real. Yet, today, she had to believe it. Wanted to with all her heart. Her heart that was now thudding away in her chest, so hard that she wasn’t able to rise.
“Percy, I-” I want to be with you, she wanted to say, but her mouth no longer worked. Her body felt light and spent. Darling, where are you? So dark, I can’t see you! Percy!
“Zelda, take my hand.”
“Oh!” She was able to reach out her hands and move them about searching in the darkness. “Oh!” She felt herself being swiftly pulled from the bed to her feet. Nothing hurt. Her back was straight and her hips felt strong. “Percy!” He was there! So handsome and tall, and strong! She spun around to look at her reflection in the dresser mirror. Relieved, she smiled and her appearance. They were as they were the day they separated.
“Are you ready?”
“You keep hold of my hand all the way across the light. You can’t let go. Understand?”
“I’ll never let go. Oh Percy, you came back! And- and we’ll be together?”
“Always. Is that what you want?”
“Then don’t you let go,” he said grasping and squeezing her hand, then kissed her fingers before kissing her lips.
“And this isn’t another dream?” It couldn’t be. God wasn’t that cruel, not even to someone as ornery as she. No. She was really feeling his mouth on hers and she was holding him in her arms.
“Zelda!” Patty Jean shook her body and then slapped her a few times, even though she knew the moment she returned to their room that Zelda was gone. Just like that. She’d only been gone ten minutes at the most. But it didn’t take long. Looked like a heart attack. She left Zelda alone on the bed and walked out into the hallway to get an aide’s attention. The aide ran to get the duty nurse. Inside the room she sat in an easy chair and began to sob. “Oh, Zelda. You poor old lady.”