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Writing Fiction - Chapter 9
After hobbling around the house for a few minutes waiting for my crunched up back and flat butt to return to normal, I was finally able to straighten out enough to make myself dinner. Opening a can of soup and making a salad wasn’t distracting enough to keep me from my current habit of over-analyzing my life. I stood at the stove and stirred…a sad, solitary meal for a sad, solitary woman. I’d spent a lot of time over the previous months avoiding people. It had been too much effort to stand up under the onslaught of kindnesses and questions that had ‘tsunami’d’ my way. I’d felt exhausted and depleted from all the ‘stuff’ that was a consequence of my husband’s ‘unexpected departure for parts unknown’, it had just been easier to hide away.
I continued my stir-a-thon, thinking about everything that had happened to my family in those numb days following my husbands … ummm… ummm…. ‘disappearance’. I couldn’t even recall letting the kids and the other relatives know. ‘Mr. Organized’ had, of course, kept folders and files - including our pre-paid burial plans. I lowered myself to a chair as I remembered the big fight we’d had over that particular pre-planning. Certain he was just putting bad karma out into the universe, I’d bickered with him, “What?!? Do you think I’m too dumb to know how to plan a funeral?” When a stubborn look had come over his face, I‘d been certain I’d lost that particular argument with him. When he’d calmly told me, ‘Look, I’m just being responsible here, not predicting anything,” and walked away, I knew I’d lost the spat for sure.
But in the days and weeks following his ‘relocation to Graveyard Central’, I realized he’d been right. Again. And his responsible act had saved our family the anguish and pain of trying to make selections and choices in an unimaginable situation. For some reason, I’d continued to be angry at him for doing these things, for being organized and making lists of phone numbers and contacts. At the time, it had felt like he’d been planting the seeds for his ‘untimely demise’ but now, of course, I realized he had just been putting us first.
I still wonder, even now, whether he somehow ‘knew’ what was coming. Or if he thought I might fall apart, or be suckered into buying the super expensive, solid walnut coffin out of guilt because buying the plain pine one would mean I was a lousy wife…or widow…or whatever. Or if…
Somehow while lost in my memories, I’d forgotten to stir the soup and the acrid smell of it burning onto the bottom of the pan broke my morbid musings.
I filled one of the pumpkin colored soup bowls in the cabinet with the slightly black-flecked soup and raised it in a mock toast. In a moderately sarcastic voice I informed the ‘ghost of husband past’, “Just because I forget the soup is on the stove, doesn’t mean I’d be incapable of planning a funeral!”
And then I ate my non-pizza dinner. And put the bowl and the plate in the dishwasher. And listened to the house stand in silence all around me.
I thought about watching TV. I thought about turning the radio on. I thought about working on my blog some more. I thought about going to bed.
I decided, instead, to take a walk.
Grabbing a jacket from the hook by the back door and slipping my shoes on, I went outside into the early autumn evening.
Luckily my jacket had a hood, so I pulled it up around my face, hunched my shoulders down, and sort of slunk down the sidewalk and out the back gate. I took off walking really fast, worried that one of the neighbors would see me and rush out to talk to me, but no one did.
I had worked very hard to isolate myself from everyone in the months since my husband’s ‘final event’, and now that I was alone, I wasn’t totally sure I liked it. What is that saying? Oh yeah, ‘Be careful what you wish for…’ I’d wished to be left completely alone and now I was. Not only had no scalloped potato and ham casseroles filled my fridge for a long time, nobody even bothered to try to cheer me up anymore. Well, except for the second message on my answering machine, but that didn’t really count because I’d erased it before I even knew who was talking.
I walked for a quite a while that night.
I walked in the rambling, mindless way that sometimes leaves you so lost and drained, you can barely find your way home again.
I sniffled and walked and turned down side streets whenever I saw another person approaching me.
It would be so neat at this point if I could tell you I ended up at a church and that God soothed my soul. But that hadn’t happened. And to be totally candid here, I was pretty mad at God anyway. What had he done for me lately anyway? Where was my solace? Where was my comfort? Where was my guide through the shadow of the valley of death?
Where I actually ended up, was a bench on a street I’d never heard of before. And I was cold.
Sometime during my moody marathon, the wind had come up. The smell of change in the air was so strong; I can remember it clearly even now. I remember tipping my head back to look at the stars and thinking that fall carried the scent of loneliness with the blowing leaves.
I was angry that night. My life was not supposed to be this way. My life was not supposed to be like the women I used to talk to when I volunteered at the library. They’d boo-hooed the fact that their children were gone, never called and had their own lives that didn’t include them. They’d wailed and carried on that their husbands were driving them crazy in retirement. They couldn’t even pee without their husbands analyzing whether their current toilet paper was the best value on the market.
I’d thought my life would never become as pathetic and empty as theirs had seemed. “Pearl, this will never happen to you. You raised your children to be close to you. You did it differently. Family dinners will still mean all of you gathered around the table. Your kids will never forget your birthday or Mothers Day,” I had smugly told myself in the car on the way home.
And even when my kids had left home, rarely called and built their own lives that didn’t include me, I’d still had my husband. But we never got to the analysis of toilet paper part of retirement because my husband had…he had…he had… ‘retired forever’ before we got to it.
Darn. Darn, darn, darn!
And there I found myself, sitting on a bench, in a not-warm-enough jacket, without enough Kleenex to keep up with my tears and running nose. I’d been crying in that terminally ill goose honking manner, when another noise intruded on my pity party.
And darn, darn, darn, if there wasn’t the mangiest, scroungiest, dirtiest, ugliest, smelly little dog in front of me, making a ridiculous noise right back at me!
I stopped my goose-honking for a moment and the little animal stopped, too.
It looked at me.
I looked right back at it.
And then it jumped up and put its grubby paws right on my knees. OK, it was a pretty small dog, so, technically, it put its mangy, dirty gray paws on my shin bones, right below my knees.
I pushed it down. And stood up quickly.
It looked at me.
I told it, ‘Get lost,” and started walking home.
After I walked a short distance, I looked back and there it was…still sitting by the bench, still looking at me.
Seriously. I had enough problems of my own. I didn’t need a mangy, scroungy, dirty, ugly, smelly little dog following me home.
Determined to remain miserable, I turned away from the dog’s imploring stare and continued my long walk home.
To be continued, Tuesday, November 9th.
(c) 2010 Jennifer R. Matlock
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