Friday, November 1, 2013
VIGNETTES~~The Black and White Photo
From time to time, she'd think of the family and friends she'd outlived, but there was only one person who haunted her every day for the last thirty years. He'd been in and out of her life since she met him. She read again the angry letter she'd written and carried in her walker basket. Was he still alive? With a firm grip on the walker, she raised herself from the wing chair and slowly made her way down the hall toward the dining room.
She was the last to arrive at her assigned table after steering through the maze of walkers. One of the caregivers saw that she was wedged between a chair and walker and set down the scoop of potato salad to help. Once Maggie was settled in her chair, she placed the napkin on her lap and sipped a glass of water after tossing the small white paper cup of pills into her mouth. Maggie's eyesight and hearing were failing, but she knew her table mates by their voices, scents, and habits. One of them was patting her hand, as usual. Today she whispered about the new resident who'd arrived that morning. Another lady, wearing too much Chanel No. 5, muttered grace to herself. The third lady talked in a loud voice, because she was hard of hearing and assumed everyone else was.
Lunch included cold tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. The soup wasn't supposed to be cold, but by the time the kitchen help poured it into bowls while being interrupted by residents, it always arrived at the table that way. For the same reason, the grilled cheese was always burned. Maggie tore the sandwich into small pieces. Her arthritis made it difficult to use a knife, but she did not like to ask for help. Once everyone had been served, the caregiver in charge that day tapped a spoon against the water pitcher to get their attention.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new resident today. This is Ed. His family moved him into Catherine's old room this morning. I know you'll make him feel welcome."
"Did she say Fred?" asked the lady at Maggie's table in her loud voice.
Maggie strained to hear her other tablemate whose Chanel No. 5 seemed stronger than usual.
"She said Ed. The new guy is Ed. Got it?"
The residents applauded and continued eating. After everyone else had left, Ed slowly got up from his chair and made his way to Maggie's table by grasping the backs of chairs with one hand and his cane with the other.
"May I sit down?" he asked.
Maggie had been deep in thought and was startled by his voice. She did not answer. Ed pulled out a chair and sat down, hooking his cane on one arm of it. Maggie got up from her chair, reached for her walker, and made her way back to her room. She shut the door and lowered herself to the bed. Tears streamed over her cheeks and fell on the letter she'd removed from her walker basket.
The next day Maggie stayed in her room during lunch, saying she was not hungry. The caregiver did her best to encourage Maggie to eat before she gave up and closed the door behind her.
Maggie was sitting in the wing chair next to the window in her room. She'd listened to the walkers make their way down the hall after lunch. Someone gave three short raps to the door.
"Who is it?" she asked.
"Ed. I was wondering if you're okay."
Ed waited a full minute for her to reply or come to the door. Then he turned the knob slowly and opened the door just enough to see her sitting in the wing chair.
"Close the door!" Maggie's voice was soft, but her tone was sharp, wounding Ed.
"I just…" he began.
"Close the damn door!"
Maggie was sure she'd made her point with Ed, so she returned to the dining room the next day. She was relieved when he did not approach her. Once she was sure he'd left the dining room, Maggie slowly made her way to the front porch. She was anxious to feel the sunshine after what seemed like an especially long winter. Colorful crocus had persisted against frost-covered ground, and the staff had hung a basket of bright red Martha Washington geraniums under the protection of the patio roof that morning. She waved at the crew that was building an addition to the home across the street. Then Maggie pretended to be dozing when she heard the front door open. He sat next to her on the glider. She felt the color rise in her face. Of all the indignities of old age, she most objected to the loss of her privacy.
Now that he was seated next to her, Maggie could see that Ed had changed. Age had a way of enlarging one's least attractive features, making smooth complexions coarse, and stealing the spark and color from the windows of the soul. His upper eyelids almost covered the intense blue eyes she remembered. His nose seemed larger, and his hairline had receded. His hair was white like hers. He'd lost weight since she last saw him. One thing had not changed. She'd never forgive him.
Ed waited for Maggie to wake up. He hoped she would not be angry with him for sitting next to her. He set the glider in motion and waited. Maggie opened her eyes. She stared straight ahead, but he was relieved that she did not order him to leave. After a few minutes had passed with the two gently rocking in silence, Ed cleared his throat and spoke.
"Maggie, I think I offended you. I'd like to apologize, but I don't know what I did wrong."
Maggie had waited thirty years to tell him off. Now, she lacked the energy required to do it properly.
"That's what disappointed me the most. You were so cold. I knew you thought your behavior was acceptable."
Ed struggled to understand. "How was it not acceptable?"
"You lied to me. If you'd just told me how you really felt, I would've been able to move on. Instead, I held out hope for months that you'd realize I was the one you wanted."
Maggie was crying softly at the memory of the pain, which seemed fresh in the retelling. Ed reached for her hand, but she pulled it away.
"I think you're mistaken…" he began.
"I'm not mistaken! You told me you lied because you didn't want to encourage me."
"Maggie, I'm sorry for your pain, but…"
"You're not sorry. You did it to get even with me. You meant to lead me on and then punish me for dropping you first. You were my first love. I trusted you with all my secret feelings. I thought we both finally realized we belonged together." Maggie was sobbing.
"Maggie, I'm sorry that you suffered, but I'm not the person you think I am." Ed reached into his pocket and handed Maggie his handkerchief.
When she was composed, Maggie collected what was left of her pride and did her best to raise herself up out of the glider without help. She steered her walker through the front door, down the hall, and into her room. She reached into the walker basket for the letter and tore it into small pieces, dropping it into the wastebasket. She'd said what she needed to say. It hadn't given her the satisfaction she'd hoped for, but Ed listened. Maybe she could forgive him, but could she ever trust him again? Her hand trembled a little as she drew the tube of red lipstick across her upper lip. She rubbed her lips together and then fussed with her hair. Then Maggie sat in her wing chair to rest. She hoped Ed would be in the dining room for Bingo.
Ed returned to his room, sank onto the bed, and stared out the window, not really seeing the flicker pecking at the suet feeder. He'd felt like a coward in the face of Maggie's tears. He'd never known what to say to a woman who was angry or crying. He wondered if he and Maggie could be friends. He'd do his best to convince her he was not the Ed she remembered. Then he opened the drawer next to his bed and removed the black and white photo. He'd changed the most. Maggie was still beautiful.