Umber (69)

October 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Remembering my last conversation with Saint Sebastian, I told the old lady, “Oleander, I’ve…I’ve been sent here to tell you that anything you do in that regard will cause only good things to happen.  No harm will come to anyone.”

“Oh, no, now…how could that be?”

“I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true.”

“No.  It’s too risky.”

“No, it’s true.  That’s why I came to see you.  That’s why I brought these photos.  Oleander, you can make your mother’s life so much better.  She was such a lovely woman.  She didn’t have to have such a difficult life.  You can change things.”

I watched  her face as my words sank in.  Her eyes widened a bit; the shadow of a frown passed quickly, followed by a look of doubt.  Her hand gripped the edge of the table.

“And who told you this?”

“Saint Sebastian.  Speaking from a holy card.”

I was glad Benny and the receptionist were not listening to this conversation.




Umber (68)

October 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Well, Marla, I’ve changed a bit since we last conversed,” Oleander said in a creaking voice.  “But you look just the same.”  She frowned as she puzzled over the fact that I had been a good forty years older than her when we first met, but now she was at least twenty years my senior.

“Funny,” she continued, “I’ve been thinking about those days, so very long ago they were, yet sometimes I still feel like that little girl who liked to play with paper dolls.  I stopped playing with them, you know, because I unintentionally kept making unfortunate things happen.  I believe I made a mess of a lot of things.   My poor mother… I often lie awake at night, wondering if I dare to try to fix things, to make things right, but I’ve been too afraid of muddling things up even worse.  I’d hate to alter the future in a bad way.  What if I made everybody disappear?”

Umber (67)

October 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

Oleander motioned unsteadily toward the table.  We sat, and Benny reappeared with coconut macaroons and a basket of herbal tea bags, saying, “Just ring if you need anything else.”  Then he vanished as quickly as he had appeared.

I looked across the table at Oleander.  She pushed the plate of cookies toward me.

I reached into my handbag and retrieved the photo of her as a young girl with her arms around Silvertip’s neck.  I placed the faded photograph into the old lady’s twitching hand.

Umber (66)

October 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

Apparently Benny was used to doing the old woman’s bidding, for he patted her arm indulgently and strode down the hallway toward the kitchen.  Relieved, I triumphantly scrawled my name on the receptionist’s notepad and slowly followed Miss Tibbs down the hall.  She moved at a turtle’s pace.  When we got to the door of her room, I read the name plate next to the door.  It said, “Oleander Tibbs.”

Oleander’s room was tiny and rather sterile-looking.  It smelled of pork and beans, disinfectant, and carnation-scented bath salts.  It contained a hospital bed, a microwave and a small refrigerator with a basket of yellow silk flowers on top.  A round white plastic table by the window looked out on the junipers and the parking lot.

Umber (65)

October 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

With great relief I told the receptionist, “Actually, I was just stopping by to see Ms. Tibbs.”

“Are you a relative?” she asked, poised to notify security about the matronly intruder in the lobby.

“I’m an old friend of the family.”

“I didn’t know she had any family.”

In a louder voice she called out,”Miss Tibbs, this person says she’s a friend of your family.  Do you know her?”

The old white-haired lady in the periwinkle pantsuit turned her head slowly.  I noticed that her head and right arm shook with slight but persistent tremors.  When she managed to turn around to look at me, she smiled a broad, lopsided smile and replied, “Why, indeed I do know her!  Hello, Miss Marla, it’s been a long, long time.  Please come to my room and we’ll chat.  “Benny,” (she addressed the young nursing assistant who’d been helping her to her room,) “Be a dear and bring us some tea and macaroons, would you please?”

Umber (64)

October 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

The front door opened onto a waiting room, the same kind of place you might linger in the hope of learning whether or not a loved one has survived an emergency appendectomy.  I looked around uncertainly, wondering what I was supposed to do now.  Neither Sebastian nor the estate sale lady had given me any instructions in this regard, so I thought I might just take a seat in the lobby and wait for something to happen.  Just then I noticed a stern woman, half my age, with perfect posture and straight brown shoulder-length hair.  She watched me from behind a glass window, where a placard read, “Please Sign In.”

She stared at me with a forbidding expression that said she thought I had no business sitting her lobby.  And for all I knew, she was right.  I didn’t know why I was there.  She slid the glass window open briskly and eyed me with suspicion.  No doubt I looked guilty; I was still feeling sneaky for trying to change Vera’s life without permission.

Just as the suspicious receptionist asked, “May I help you?” I heard a small commotion down the hallway to my left.  A young man in a green uniform called out in a voice meant for the hard-of-hearing, “Wait, Miss Tibbs, your room is this way.”  He reached out and took ahold of the elbow of an old, white-haired woman in a periwinkle pantsuit, steering her gently around in a semi-circle.

Tibbs!  I heard him say Tibbs!  As in Leroy Tibbs…

Umber (63)

October 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

I arrived at the Cliff View Assisted Living Center.

Next to the deserted parking lot, a semi-circle of skyrocket junipers surrounded a small concrete fountain and two empty wrought-iron chairs.  After I turned off the car’s engine, the only sound came from an empty plastic grocery bag which was tangled in one of the chair legs.  It flapped and vibrated in the wind.

The rest home sat about seventy feet back from the parking lot, and was connected to it by a covered walkway.  A wide mustard-colored door sat in the middle of the building, flanked by two long, low wings, each with a row of small windows topping grey-violet vinyl panels.  I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do here, but I slid out of the car grasping the bulging handbag of photos and headed toward the door.

Umber (62)

October 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

“But why, then, Vera?  I know the Church said you couldn’t remarry, but–I mean–you had your whole life ahead of you…”

“It was strictly a matter of integrity, Marla–my own integrity, I mean.  I promised to be faithful to Leroy til death us do part.  If I can’t be true to my word, what good am I?  I’d rather live alone than lose my self-respect.  Saint Sebastian actually argued with me about this, can you imagine that?  I would have expected a holy person to understand the importance of keeping one’s promises.”

I sighed and squirmed uncomfortably.  When I thought about Vera’s misguided resolve to preserve her integrity, I felt guilty for plotting with Sebastian to improve Vera’s life by somehow getting around the Catholic “no remarriage” rule.  But, why should I feel guilty?  After all, his plan, whatever it was, was surely for her own good.  I just hoped it would allow Vera to keep her sense of integrity.  But, really, why did she have to be so strict about following rules that even a saint believed were too harsh?

“Well,” I told her, “It’s been really nice to talk with you, Vera, but I guess I’d better pay attention to the traffic right now.”

I put the photo where I wouldn’t see it.  I heard Vera say, “Why thank you, Cora,” followed by the rustling of the bag of almonds.

Umber (61)

October 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

Vera and her friends from the Altar Society looked like they had given up on this world, and were hoping for better in the next.  I heard one of the ladies say in a dull voice, “Have some Jordan almonds, Mrs. Burns,” followed by the rustle of a paper bag.

“So, Vera,” I said, pretending I did not know what the future held in store for her, “Did you ever remarry?”

“Hello, Marla.  No, never.”

Not sure how to ask my next question, I just sort of blurted out, “Were you carrying a torch for Leroy?”

“Leroy?!”  She laughed gently, without a hint of malice.  “Leroy; no, what a pain in the bee-hind he turned out to be!”

I heard tittering in the background, coming from the other Alter Society members as they passed around the bag of Jordan almonds.


Umber (60)

October 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

I looked at the business card in my hand.  It said “Cliff View Assisted Living Center.”  Okay.  I guessed that would be my next stop.

But I decided to go back home first and get the talking holy card and maybe some other photos.  I crammed as many of them as I could into my handbag, then set out for the nursing home, wondering who I was going to find there.  I put my handbag on the seat next to me, and noticed a photo of Vera as an older woman.  She wore a heavy wool coat, support hose and orthopedic shoes.  There were other old women in the picture as well.  They all wore dark pillbox hats and held rosaries.  Someone had written “Alter Society, 1955” in the lower right hand corner.