Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Go Ask Alice, Part Three

{Read Part One here}
{Read Part Two here}

Alice sat in the dining room by herself at a small table in the corner. She sat up straight and carefully guided her fork to her mouth with two hands, one supporting the other. It was a concession to her blindness, this feeling her way to her mouth. I watched her for a minute with her bright red lipstick and her smudged glasses, resolutely going about the business of her lunch and all these things we take for granted itched and chafed around me like a new sweater. I had decided to meet her on neutral territory to ask her about Social Club and seeing her here in the dining room made her look almost vulnerable.

Social Club?! Are you outta your mind?! She laughed her booming, derisive laugh. There was broccoli in her dentures. Ho, ho, ho, honey! You're killing me. The things you think of... you have fun with that. She sat and shook her head to herself as if I'd told her an off-color joke. Except that she would have appreciated a dirty joke. Well, just think about it. I told her and excused myself from the dining room to get ready for the club. She sat there laughing to herself and muttering and shaking her head. Heh. Social Club.

It was a complete disaster. I had gathered some of the other residents on my list and as we sat down to begin, the nurses wheeled in whoever was hanging out in the hallway. No matter, we were an equal opportunity social club. I took a deep breath and started in.

So, um, welcome to Social Club. We thought it would be fun to get together one day a week after lunch and discuss, um, things. 

I got a few encouraging nods, Eunice shrieked, and I continued. I thought we'd talk today about the things that interest us. You know, hobbies, sports, politics, that sort of thing. So we could come up with some future topics. 

More nods, a couple of quiet burps, and polite stares. Well, I like books. Do you like to read? What kind of books do you like? More silence. I used to read mysteries. You know, Agatha Christie? I really like Jane Austen, too, but... um... she's not a mystery writer... She is British, though, like Dame Agatha... I like other authors, too... Those are just two that I thought of... they both happen to be female and British... but you don't have to like them... they're just examples... 

I paused and looked around helplessly. A few of them had nodded off and started to snore softly. Mary, a gracious woman and former school teacher, smiled and patted my hand. You're doing a wonderful job, dear. Please continue. As if I were a small child making a book report. Like a small child, I nearly cried. Instead, I asked: So, are there any books you like to read? 

Reverend Allison was a taciturn man who had been a preacher all his life, right here in this same town. He had been sitting with his eyes closed in his wheelchair, but then cleared his throat. It was a rumble from deep inside his skinny, upright frame. His voice came out gravelly and grave, you could almost imagine him in his heyday, bringing the hell fire and brimstone from the pulpit with that resonant growl. I used to read the Bible every day. But I can't see to do it now. Then he rested his hands in his lap and closed his eyes again.

There were several nods of assent from the other members. Yes, it's so hard now... It gives me headaches. My magnifier doesn't work very well... I just can't see as well as I used to... I felt awful. Of course it was hard for a lot of them to read anymore. How about I just sit here and cheerfully remind them of things they've lost?

As if on cue, Eunice started sobbing and wailing: I can't find my sister! Where is my sister? What have you done with her? Eunice's wailing startled Madge awake and she, too, started to cry. Peggy rolled her eyes at Eunice: She always does this. Your sister's dead. She's dead! Everyone looked uncomfortably to me while Eunice flailed her arms and really began to shriek in earnest. I looked up toward the doorway to see if there was a nurse nearby. There stood Alice, with her handbag over her arm, just outside the door. She was still laughing and shaking her head. She didn't have to be able to see us to know what was going on. Have fun, honey! she hollered over her shoulder as she continued down the hall.

Mary stood and tucked her tissue into her sleeve. Thank you, dear. This was nice, and turned and left the activities room. There it was. My shipwrecked maiden voyage of the Social Club lasted all of ten minutes. I spent the next forty minutes of the allotted time trying to console Madge and Eunice and trying to convince Peggy to go someplace else so that she would stop telling Eunice her sister was dead. Her sister was dead - had died as a child - but that was not particularly helpful information right now. Eunice clung to me with gnarled, bluish hands and wept. I went home that night with a screaming headache and scratches up my arms.
Courtesy of the MorgueFile

The entrance to my apartment was a set of rickety stairs with an iron railing off the side of the house. It was early spring when I moved in, and I didn't pay much attention to the weeds that covered the iron railing. But as the year started to age into mellow early summer, the weeds took on a new life. I came home every night with decay and effluvium saturating my nose. My clothes wore a dozen old lady perfumes and the industrial orange room deodorizer that only made things smell like orange soda and urine. These smells I barely noticed while I was at work rode home with me in the car like unwanted hitchhikers, and I carried them into my "real life" unwittingly.

That night in early summer I hurried up the stairs, dying to get out of my pantyhose and trade other people's ghosts for my own. As I stood and fumbled with the keys, a new smell tugged at me. The spicy sweet ambrosia of honeysuckle. The weeds had bloomed hundreds of delicate yellow-pink flowers like tiny open arms, flung joyously wide, waiting for embrace. The fairy hair of their stamens exposed and tickling the evening air with their sweetness. On instinct, a distant sense memory, I plucked one and held it to my tongue. It tasted of innocence, distilled purity in a tiny drop of perfect nectar. I buried my face in the tangle of vines and let the flowers brush my cheeks like gentle fingers and cried. I cried for broken lives and empty rooms. I cried for people I had never met. I cried for all the ways I had forgotten what innocence tasted like. I cried for failure, for ever bothering to try. I cried with the pulsing, bubbling ache of nameless nostalgia for something lost that I never knew I had. I cried for all the things I told myself I wouldn't cry about. Finally, when there seemed nothing to cry about any more, I sat on the stoop and gulped deep breaths of the darkening summer night, emptied and covered with sweetness.

{To be continued...}


  1. interesting. sad but interesting. Thanks for sharing so far

    1. You're welcome. Sad is good sometimes, no?

  2. How I love honeysuckle. This one made me cry a little.

    1. It kind of made me cry a little, too. Probably for different reasons, though.


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