Thursday, November 5, 2009

"Through the Open Window" by Anne Faye, Chapter 10, Part 2

“Well, then come and tell me.” I looked over at her considering whether or not I should. “Come on now. Bring the potatoes over here. You are murdering them anyway. I can peel sitting down while we talk.”

As I looked down at the potatoes, I had to admit she was right. “Hey, maybe that can be the headline in the paper tomorrow – 'Angry Woman Murders Thanksgiving Potatoes,'” I joked as I handed her the bowl of potatoes and the peeler, my anger subsiding a little.

“Now, now. We don't want the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Vegetables on our doorstep,” she gave me a wry smile. “Now, dear, tell me what happened.”

Over the next few minutes, I poured out the story, tears once again flowing out. One would think I would eventually be able to get through this chapter in my life without blubbering like a baby. At least this time it was my mother. It wasn't as embarrassing as crying in front of Mike. She listened quietly as I told her about finding the emails and his girlfriend showing up at the funeral and trying to pretend to be the grieving widow when all I really was an angry widow. When I was done and stopped to blow my nose, she looked at me sadly.

“Why didn't you tell me?” she asked.

“I don't know, Mom. He died, and everyone was so sad – even you and Dad. In a lot of ways, it was easier to just go along with what everybody thought was true. It was easier to be thought of as the unfortunate widow than as the woman whose husband didn't love her. Besides, what good was it going to do to trample on Alan's memory? Everyone thought of him as the hero who saved those kids. Which, whether I actually wanted to focus on that or not, he was.” I blew my nose again. “Eventually though, I just couldn't take the way people looked at me anymore. By then, it was far too late to tell the truth. Who would've believed me anyway? I just had to get away.”

My mom put down the potato she was holding, and threw her arms around me in a big hug. “I'm so sorry. You should have told me. I would have understood.”

“I know, Mom,” I muffled into her shoulder. “I just couldn't. I couldn't tell anybody. I just had to get away.”

“I know,” she said, sitting back down. “I thought you had to get away because being here hurt too much – all the memories of Alan, but I had no idea just how bad those memories were.”

All of a sudden, she got up and headed to the stairs.

“Where are you going, Mom?”

“I'm going to take down your wedding picture that I have in the stairway.”

“You don't need to do that.”

“Oh, yes, I do,” she stated emphatically. “I had gone back and forth with myself about taking it down before you came because I didn't know whether it would make you sad, or whether you would be angry and think I was pretending you had never been married. I honestly didn't know what to do, but now I do and I am going to take care of it right now.” I heard her climb up the stairs, remove the photo and walk into her bedroom. Then, she headed back down.

“There, now that's taken care of,” she said as she resumed her place at the table. I had started peeling the potatoes again in her absence.

“Are you sure that potato is safe with you?” she asked.

“Yes, I feel better now,” I laughed. “How many people are you having over, anyway? This is an awful lot of food for just the three of us.”

“Oh, I invited the Thompkins over. Their children are grown and gone, also, and they were going to be all alone. I couldn't let that happen. Besides, we have been friends for years and years. It will be nice to have them share our Thanksgiving meal with us. I also invited Fr. Farling to stop by,” she said hesitantly, then quickly added, “I don't know if he will or not, though. I know you stopped going to Church. I don't want to make you uncomfortable, but he is our friend and I work with him so often at the Church . . .”

“It's OK, Mom. Don't worry about it. It's not like I have it out for every priest out there. Fr. Farling has always been very kind. He tried to do all he could to help me after Alan died. He kept checking on me, trying to make sure I was OK. I just wasn't in any position to take his offers of help, that's all. It was my fault, not his. If anything, I owe him an apology, not the other way around.”

“He's not angry with you, dear. In fact, he's always asking me about how you are doing. The people of St. Mary's are like his family. He cares so much about all of us.”

“I know, Mom. You are lucky to have him.” I decided to give my mom some good news in addition to all the bad news I had been dishing out that morning. “Anyway,” I began. “I've started going to Church again.”

“Oh, that's wonderful!” She clapped her hands in delight and a big smile lit up her face. “Thank you, Jesus,” she said, raising her eyes to heaven. “I've been praying for you for so long to find your way back.”

Well, it looks like your prayers worked. A friend of mine from Springfield invited me to go with him and his family. It's been nice to be back.”

“Him?” she inquired, eyebrows raised. Did I really want to tell her about Mike? And, if so, how much should I tell?

“Yeah, his name is Mike,” I began. “I met him at work – not that he works there. He just comes there often.”

“Ah, a fellow book lover. I see the attraction,” she said knowingly.

“No, it's not like that,” I clarified. “We're just friends.”

“Is he married?” she asked. “You said that you went to Church with him and his family.”

“No, he's not married. He lives with his sister and his nephews. They own this big old Victorian house together that used to belong to his parents.”

“Does his sister have a husband?”

“No. She did, but he left her and the kids. They hardly ever hear from him. It's too bad, too. The kids are great. He's missing a lot not being there for them.”

“Geez, good men are hard to find these days, aren't they?”

“You have no idea . . .”

So, anyway, tell me more about Mike. How did you meet? What does he do?”

“Let's see, how did we meet? He runs a group at the library for people doing National Novel Writing Month. I met him at a meeting for that.”

“What's National Novel Writing Month?” she asked as I plopped the potatoes in the water and turned on the stove.

“Every November a bunch of really crazy people attempt to write the first draft of a novel in one month. The goal is to write 50,000 words.”

“That does sound crazy,” she acknowledged. “Do people actually reach the goal?”

“Yeah, sometimes. The point is just to write and enjoy the process – to see where the story takes you. I'm actually trying it this month.”

“You're kidding?”

“Nope. I've been enjoying it, too. I don't know whether I'll make the goal or not, though. The month is almost done and I still have quite a bit left to go. I brought my laptop in case I had time to write while I was up here.”

“Well, aren't you full of surprises? My daughter, the writer – I like the sound of that.”

“Don't get too excited, Mom. I really don't think that my novel will be the next New York Times best seller. I don't even know if anyone will want to read it, or if I'll let them.”

“I'd love to read what you write! I'm sure it's wonderful. I used to love reading the stories you wrote when you were a girl. You always had such an imagination. I don't know where you got it from. I never had much of one. Maybe your father did when he was a boy, but I don't know – I just can't see it. Your father and I have always been much too practical.”

“Oh, you're too hard on yourself. You've been great. The two of you were, are, good parents. Don't get me wrong – you weren't perfect. There were plenty of times when I was growing up that I wanted to trade you two in for someone else, but I've come to realize that, all things considered, I was pretty lucky.”

“I think everybody wants to trade in their parents when they are a teenager. I thought the same thing about Grandma and Grandpa when I was growing up. I came to realize they weren't so bad, either. They had my best interests at heart, even when I couldn’t see it. It makes me feel good that you came to the same conclusion about us. We did the best we could,” she said with a resigned tone of voice.

“That's all anybody has the right to ask.”

“So, Mike is a writer?” she inquired, changing the subject.

“See, and I thought I was going to get you off topic!” I laughed. “Is Mike a writer?” I mused. “Well, yes and no. He is a writer in the sense that he has completed five of these novels, but he refuses to let anyone read them. He says he writes just for himself, for the experience of it all.”

“That's his prerogative, I suppose.”

“Yeah, but I sure would like to get my hands on one of those stories. I think that they would be fascinating. He is a very interesting person.”

“Uh, uh, but you are just friends?”

“Yes, Mom – just friends.”

“So what does he do for work?”

“He's an artist.”

“Really? Is that steady work? What kind of art does he do?”

“Yeah, it is steady work. He's actually very good, and he will do whatever work comes his way. There is always someone who is wanting to make use of his talents. He's painted murals and done paintings of houses and dogs and flowers – anything really. He also teaches at the museum down there and at a college. He even taught me how to make a bowl in the pottery studio!”

“It sounds like you have been spending quite a bit of time together. Are you sure that you are just friends? The way your eyes light up when you talk about him – it seems like there might be something more there.” I could feel my cheeks starting to blush. My mother notices everything, doesn't she?

“I, well, . . “ I stammered.

“You care for him, don't you?”

“Yeah, I do. I mean, there could be something there. He's so handsome and kind, and he has the bluest eyes that just seem like they are looking right into my soul. I feel so safe when I am with him.”

“Well, those are all good things, aren't they? I mean, they were back in the days when I was in dating.”

“Yeah, they are good things,” I admitted, “but he isn't interested. He has lots of friends that are girls. I'm just one of many. He doesn't care about any of us in that way. He had fallen in love years ago with someone that he really thought was the 'one' if there is such a thing. She left him and married someone else. He's never really gotten over her. I don't think I can even hold a candle to his memory of her.”

“I'm sorry. He doesn't realize what he's missing.”

“Funny, he says the same thing about what Alan did to me. He said that Alan was a fool for what he did, because he didn't realize how special I was.”

“You told him about Alan?” she asked, surprised.

“Yeah, one night it just kind of all came out. He's a really good listener. I know, I probably shouldn't have told him, when I hadn't told you, but . . .”

“It's OK,” she said. “I know it's not always easy to tell your mother things. There were lots of things that I didn't tell my mother.”

“He's just really easy to talk to.”

“Well, that's good. I'm glad that you made a friend. Just be careful. It's OK for you to love again, but I would hate for you to get hurt again.”

“I know. I'm not trying to get hurt. It just seems to be turning out that way. I keep trying to keep my guard up. I remind myself our relationship is just platonic every day, and dream of him every night.” I couldn’t believe I was telling her this.

“It sounds like you are a lost cause.”

“I know. I'm pathetic.”

“No, you're not. You're just in love. It happens to the best of us.”

“Yeah, sometimes I think it's God's idea of a cruel joke.”

“It's not always easy, that's for sure. You must have realized that just watching your father and I all these years. There are days I want to hang that man by his toenails,” she said, looking out the window to the barn where he was out working. “But I'm glad that he's been here by my side all this time. I can't imagine life without him. I hope that you find a good man, too. Whether Mike is it or not, I can't tell you, but someday you'll find someone special. I just know it.”

“Thanks, Mom. I wish I had your confidence.”

“Have you been praying about it?”

“About falling in love? No.”
“Well, maybe you should.”

“Yeah, you might be right,” I admitted.

My mom looked off into the distance for a while. “Did I ever tell you about Anthony?”

“No. Who's Anthony?”

“Well, don't tell your father I told you – it's so silly – he still gets jealous after all these years,” she said, shaking her head and grinning from ear to ear.

"Through the Open Window" will be available soon through
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