Her hands – wizened, manicured, whispering character – worked quickly and efficiently. The July day day pelted her with humidity as she perfected her garden, a gem she continually buffed for the benefit of others. A limpid reflection of her commitment to organization and neatness. She stopped and, for a brief moment, admired her handiwork, glanced up and down her leafy Beaches street where she had lived for the past 20 years and then returned, resolutely, to her toil. As she dug the moist, rich and slightly acrid-smelling soil, her thoughts wandered, undulated, as if in a sensual tango with the grass in the summer breeze.
A soft banner of consciousness drifted – family … dinner … stock market prices … the news. She took pride in her in-step ability to accommodate experience in life – adversity was her passport and strength her ticket. Lately, however, her focus had shifted, almost imperceptibly at first but more overtly now. It had drawn her attention away from deftly managing the tedium of quotidian life to putting her post-mortem affairs in order. Dread ran through her veins whenever she considered the possibility of leaving household affairs and personal entanglements in a state of disrepair for her son and daughter and their sons and daughters to tromp through after her death. Invariably it led to memories of her own mother’s death and the ensuing chaos which she alone, an only child, had to unravel. A tiny bachelor apartment stuffed to the rafters with 85 years of bits and pieces; 283 decorative, unused tea towels, 323 band conductors’ batons, 3 boxes of correspondence, 3 boxes of newspaper cut outs, 50 bed sheet sets (what had her mother been up to in her later years?), cartons and cartons of photographs, 653 sample-size bottles of shampoo, 567 sample-size hand lotions, close to 5,000 unused greeting cards, 45 rolls of wrapping paper…the list was infinite and the miscellany were stored in no discernible order. Some of the 51 tubes of toothpaste were in the medicine cabinet, some in the bedroom, some in the kitchen pantry and some, inexplicably, tauntingly in the roll-top drawer! The newspaper cut-outs managed to insinuate themselves into almost every nook and cranny of the tiny bed-sit. She had been shocked at the monumental disorder. It was the job from hell. Mourning her mother’s death, 5000 miles from her immediate family and trudging through these mundane, disorganized tatters of a life. Disjointed, disconnected, that was how she felt. it seemed as if she was spying on someone without wanting or intending to.
When this industrious, now old, woman had emigrated from England 55 years earlier, besides her meagre belongings in a tattered suitcase, she had brought the renowned British, stiff upper lip, and unparalleled, elocution (the Queen mother’s) and etiquette. The perfect execution of good manners scored through the roof in her world. She was also accompanied by realistic, down-to-earth values, an encyclopaedic memory of her father’s astoundingly practical adages which she was able to draw from to underline any circumstance, and a finely tuned intellect. The culmination of these qualities had produced, ironically, a successful but hectic and unlikely life. Her challenges had been many, her sorrows plentiful and her drive unstoppable. And so she carried on, the many moments of life the weft to the weave of an unshakeable moral code.
Into this reverie came a rude, obnoxious intruder…the incessant honking of a car horn. Irritated, she scowled ferociously at the offender, a man in a white, convertible gas-guzzler. “What the hell does he want?”, she wondered in silent admonishment of him.
The man at the steering wheel of the offending car had a full head of shockingly white hair and, from this distance, appeared to have hung onto a modicum of his boyish charm and good looks. This irritated her enormously and she wasn’t certain why. Yet, at the same time she was drawn to him. He got out of his car and approached her with the swagger that only a man in his 70’s in dire need of a hip transplant can effect.
“Oh my God! He’s coming towards me. What the hell does he want? “, she wondered again in a panic. She felt slightly nauseated and accutely tense. “I’m sure he doesn’t want to rape me”, she convinced herself, closely monitoring every painful step he took. And then he was there, right beside her. Now her palms were sweating and her equilibrium undone.
“How are you?” he quizzed, grinning ear to ear.
“I’m fine”, she tendered, hesitation and discomfort colouring her tone. “Do I know you?”
“Well, I hope so”, he grinned back at her “We were married once.”
The solid grip on reality which had always been a source of great self-admiration and which she considered to be the underpinning of the essential her, dissipated in the gentle breeze. She was momentarily suspended in an alternate world, as she studied his face for anything she could recall, anything familiar. Recognition dawned in the ephemera of a synaptic clap. She had been married to him once upon a very long time ago, if only for six, or was it three, months. It had been a whirlwind of passion, a mistake and it had ended badly. In step with her character she had succeeded in obliterating it from memory.
“Oh my God”, she managed to get out. “How are you?”
“I’m good,” he grinned back at her, “but I can’t believe you live on this street!”
“Why? What is special about this street?”
“We got married in the church just at the bottom of the street. Don’t you remember?”
Suddenly a tsunami of half a century of living wiped out the familiar landscape, memories from an entirely different life flooded in. The church where she used to take her grandchildren to the “drop-in-centre”, the church that she passed every day on her way to work before retirement, window-dressing in her regimented, organized life…now, forever changed. She had been married in that very church and had never put the pieces together in all this time. The fact that she hadn’t realized was alarming, yet discipline forced its confrontation and recollection…The confetti, the children (3 from his first marriage and 3 from hers), the minister, the 2 witnesses.
It made her panic momentarily as it dawned on her that meticulous and careful planning really didn’t prevent the world from rushing in with its chaos. This feeling didn’t last long, however, before it was replaced by the much more comforting knowledge that, this too, she could handle, after all if was her stalwart, British character. And, with this revelation, she let out a great, huge guffaw.
This entry was posted on May 21, 2009 at 4:58 pm and is filed under Fiction, Short story. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. Edit this entry.