Today – Mavis
This was getting annoying. “Downright annoying” as Granma Beth would have said. The Sobieskis had planted dill in their front flowerbeds and put little gnomes on both sides of the front steps. While not as annoying as the Granger’s solar lights along the driveway and sidewalk, this was still an affront to what was normal in Pierce Meadows. Mavis and her neighbour Jill considered and debated over the back fence whether they should “just march over there and set them straight.” In the end, they just complained to each other but the disregard for what was expected kept nagging. “Why couldn’t things stay the same.” There is safety n sameness.
Mavis was up every morning at 6 and out for a brisk half hour walk in the neighbourhood before 7, except Sunday when she used 30 minutes to read her Bible and get ready for the early mass at Blessed Virgin Anglican. She walked alone, without headphones, taking in her community. She was keenly aware of the slightest changes to the homes, yards and boulevards along her route. “Paying attention was important, paying attention to detail even more important” she reminded herself almost every morning.
The Victorian on King still had a for sale sign – “they are probably asking way too much.” The Benson’s had a new car – “did they leave the BMW in the driveway so everyone would notice?” The community association had flyers up about street cleaning next week – “I need to remind old Mrs Grauer to make sure her car wasn’t left parked on the street. Remember the mess last year.”
Today – Joan
As the sun came up Joan had an inkling that today meant something different, she felt a bit unsettled. She got up at seven and plugged a cartridge into the Kuerig and went to her front door to pick up the morning paper from the hallway. “Two minutes, that’s what the advert said, two minutes to a perfectly brewed coffee.” The Seattle Times said it was May 6, “what was it about May 6?.” She couldn’t recall. Flipping the paper on the counter, she grabbed her coffee and popped the canister into the compost bin. “Those flowers need to be changed” she thought. Spinning to pick up the vase, her housecoat sleeve clipped the edge and sent vase and flowers flying. Almost in slow motion she thought “that is the vase that Roy gave me for our 25th; he bought it when we were on the Isle of Skye, just before we took the ferry back to Scotland and the train to Fort William. Why did he choose that one with the teal and mauve blending together, it didn’t match anything in the –Crash” “How could something that solid shatter into so many pieces? Watch your bare feet. Where is the ‘crazy glue’?” A blur of teal and mauve jumbled with anger, grief, confusion creating a black smear across her kitchen and her life.
Before she knew what was happening she was sobbing, wracked with tear heaves, sprawled on the floor. She couldn’t stop. The flood gates were opened and the flow didn’t cease. Her breath was trapped inside the sobs and a puddle was pooling under her face. “ my arms won’t work. I can’t breathe. What is going on. Am I dying? May 6th..May 6th? That was the day that Roy left. “Fishing up north” he said. “ Be back tomorrow”
Tomorrow didn’t come. They didn’t find his body – just an empty boat and an empty truck. “How could he not come home?” Four years ago, “I waited and waited. We couldn’t have the funeral for more than a year.” I didn’t say goodbye that morning. I didn’t thank him, I didn’t tell him.
The tears flowed, the heaving continued, Joan’s world splintered into memories – memories and hopes.
They had planned to go back to Scotland and then tour the fjords of Norway and Sweden. The condo was supposed to be a perfect home as they saw the world together. Six more years and Roy was eligible for full pension and Boston, New York, New Orleans, San Antonio, San Diego and San Francisco was on the circuit for that summer. Great books, artsy movies, museums, flying kites, long walks going nowhere…
Almost three hours later the phone rang and she found herself passed out from exhaustion, still lying on the floor. “This is Sears calling, we are in your neighbourhood” was all she heard and Joan gently placed the handset back in the cradle.
The day passed and the sun came up. May 7 – a new day, a new beginning but a lingering uneasiness persisted. “ Keep busy. There is always something that needs doing.” Joan never used the Kuerig again and the Times piled up in the hallway until she cancelled the subscription. The million pieces of the vase were gathered together and put in a Tupperware container. She would find the glue and piece it together – “as good as new”.Grandma Gert would have said. “ Good as new” “Spilt milk” “Let it out girl” “This too shall pass” But Grandma Gert wasn’t here anymore nada neither was Roy. That was the new beginning that came from the exhaustion and release of yesterday.
Annie claimed to have no ties. “Nothing holds me down. Nobody tells me where to be or who to be” she as matter of factly told Mavis and Joan when they happened to share a table on a patio three summers ago. They had been out prowling their favourite shops and peeking in windows – not really shopping; more walking, talking and gawking. The sunshine was a gift that they hadn’t seen for more than a week and the patio at Beyond Juice had been too inviting. Annie had sat down, uninvited, and struck up a conversation that quickly became personal. Usually, Mavis and Joan would have been taken aback by her forthrightness but she ‘had a way about her’. They opened up about their current situations and their hopes and dreams, at least those that they had shared with each other.
Annie drew from Joan that she was lonely since Roy was travelling so much and she occasionally felt she needed someone else in her life and “a little bit crazy.” Annie countered with “loneliness is all we really have and when we learn to live with ourselves, we learn to live together and aren’t we all a wee bit loony?” Amazing how a string of words can sound can sound profound.
Mavis, naturally more guarded, shared “I am in a rut, doing the same stuff today that I did yesterday, last week, and last year.” Annie laughed “a rut is a grave with the ends kicked out. If you don’t climb out, someone will bury you or you’ll bury yourself.” Made sense but how? What do I need to do?
Over the next hour the girls (Annie called them the girls or alternatively the old girls or her girls) heard of the adventures she had been on. They suspected there was some embellishment and said so when they walked back to the train station. Regardless they were intrigued and listened in awe. Annie grew up in Seattle , Everett really, and had attended Washington State for one semester before flying to Prague with Andrew, who would become her husband, at a Paris wedding, for less than a year “I worked my way west across Europe, as a model, a waitress, a bookseller and a stripper before I was 25” (They both thought(wrongly) that the stripper was an exaggeration but listened anyway and feigned a tiny bit of shock). “ We ended up and split up in Glasgow. Haven’t seen him since. I guess technically we are still married- wow hadn’t considered that we would be celebrating – what would it be, our 28th anniversary next February.”
“Glasgow was a great place, gritty and real. Took the ‘Clockwork Orange’ every day, without paying, from the West End to Central Station to work at a Mark’s. Paid the bills and gave me a reason to want more.” It turned out that more meant setting up her own small boutique marketing company, “ even though I didn’t know squat” in a cheap storefront near the Museum of Modern Art. The quirky location provided interest and credibility and business walked in and later knocked down her doors to get on the client list. It also turned out that “her personality, passion and power of BS was all she needed.” It was all she needed until the real work started and through her connections she found some trained and talented freelancers to share the space and do most of the design work. Annie continued to coerce, corral, and convince clients that Common Scents Creation was the place to be. Twenty years later, burned out and past time, she sold the agency for “ a shitload of money” and left Glasgow heading east across Europe to Asia and landed back in the US 2 years ago.
She said what she meant, did what she wanted, owed nobody anything. Mavis thought “ that would be why she understands loneliness so well”
Over the next three years, Annie and her girls – all in their 50’s, met for furious conversations about politics, religion, money and anything else that was considered a taboo in polite company. Mavis and Joan waited for these times to be less concerned, less cautious, less conventional and more alive. “Conformity is the opposite of courage” Annie chided one Friday evening, six months ago, as they ate fish and chips by the water. “Too much salt. Too much fat. I will need to eat nothing but fresh vegetables for the rest of the weekend” thought Joan. “It takes so much work to follow the diet that Dr. Boehringer had prescribed.”
“Step out of the box and get on stage and sing your lungs out. Do another something for the first time – anything. Break out of the mold and create a new you” was easy for Annie to say and seemingly do but Mavis and Joan held positions in their communities and worried about what their families would think.