Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"Through the Open Window" by Anne Faye, Chapter 12, Part 2

I was exhausted when I finally pulled into my driveway. I grabbed my suitcase and laptop and let Lady out of the car. She ran to the front door. Home. We were home. In realizing that I would now be leaving it for an unknown amount of time, I came to understand just how much this had come to be my home, my safe haven. I walked in to the sound of the answering machine beeping. It was Mike.

“Hi, Lucy. Hope you got home OK. I tried calling your cell a few times this weekend and sent you some emails. I wasn't stalking you. I was just worried when you didn't respond. I hope you are OK. Please call me when you get this.”

So, maybe he had called, after all. I plugged my cell in to recharge. Sure enough, a few moments later, it was flashing that I had five messages. I took off my coat and dialed Mike's number.

“Lucy, I'm so glad to hear from you. I've been so worried,” were the first words out of his mouth.

“I'm fine. I'm sorry I couldn't respond to your messages. There is no cell phone reception at my parents' farm and then there was this massive storm and the power went out for three days.”

“Oh my goodness. It sounds like an eventful weekend.”

“You have no idea,” I responded.

“Do you want to go out tonight? You can tell me all about it.”

“I do want to see you, but I am exhausted and I have to go to work early tomorrow. Could we get together tomorrow after I get out of work?”

“Umm, there is a big party tomorrow for the writing group. We are going to get together to celebrate the end of NaNoWriMo. Do you want to go?”

“Nah, I'm not really in the mood for a party.”

“Oh, OK,” he sounded disappointed.

“I'm sorry. I really do want to see you. It's just that a lot happened this weekend. I have a lot to tell you. I'm just not up to being around a whole bunch of people right now.”

“I can't blow off the party. I'm the leader of the group.”

“I know. I wasn't asking you to. Can we get together on Tuesday?”

“Yeah, Tuesday would be great. I'll pick you up at work?”

“Sure. I get off at six.”

“OK. See you then.”

Well, at least Mike had been worried about me. That was something, right? I wanted to see him so much. There was no use in denying it. As much as I knew that we had no future together, I missed him horribly. The time was going to drag until Tuesday night, not least of all because I had to go and see Rachel tomorrow and tell her what was going on. I was not looking forward to that. Oh well, there was nothing I could do about it. I crashed on my bed, the painting that Mike had done of me looking down at me, and went into a deep sleep.

The conversation with Rachel was not as bad as I feared. She understood. Unfortunately she couldn't keep my job for me, especially since there was no way of knowing when I would be back. I could see her position - I hadn't been there that long. She would post the opening for the job that very day. I told her that I would finish out the week. I was so sad as I walked around the library, doing my job. I had enjoyed being there so much. I had loved being around all the books. I knew I had to go, but I didn't want to.

When Mike came to pick me up Tuesday night, Rachel saw him.

“It's Mr. Artist Man!” she exclaimed. Why couldn't she ever call him by his name?

“Will you please tell your girlfriend here how much we are all going to miss her? Can't you talk her into staying?” I turned and glared at her, begging her with my eyes to stop talking. I was not Mike's girlfriend and this was not how I wanted to tell Mike.

“Bye, Rachel,” I said as I attempted to physically pull Mike away from the reference desk.

“Leaving? What is she talking about?” Mike asked.

“I told you. I have a lot to tell you.”

“I guess so!” he said a little too loudly. The library patrons were starting to stare.

“Let's go somewhere where we can talk in private.” I whispered. “Please.”

“Alright,” he said more calmly. “I'm just surprised. That wasn't what I expected to hear. Do you want to go back to my house? Sara and the boys are out tonight. The place will be quiet until eight.”

“Sure, that sounds good.” A couple hours would be plenty of time to explain the recent events in my life.

“Why don't you follow me? That way we won't have to come back here later.”

“Um. OK.”

I followed his car, thankful for the chance to collect my thoughts before we had what was evidently going to be a very uncomfortable conversation. I was so mad at Rachel. Why did she have to blurt it out like that? And why was Mike so upset? Ugh. Men were a mystery I would never understand. As I drove past Forest Park, I noticed the line of cars and the holiday lights shining brightly. A huge sign glowed “Welcome to Bright Nights!” Mike had said he had hoped we could go. I guess that was one more thing that wasn't going to happen.

He said nothing when he got out of the car, but strode silently up the walk and up the steps. He did hold the door for me.

“Thank you,” I blurted out weakly.

“Can I get you something to drink?” he asked as we went into the kitchen.

“That would be great.” He poured me some water. We sat down at the table.

“So, why are you leaving?”

“Wow, you don't waste any time getting to the point, do you?”

“I don't see any point to pussy-footing around,” he answered straightforwardly. “I didn't think you wanted to go back there, to all the memories.”

“I'm sorry. Rachel shouldn't have said anything to you. She had no right – I wanted to tell you myself, but I had to tell her because I have to leave my job.”

“Why are you leaving your job?” he interrupted. “You love your job.”

“Yes, I do love my job. Please. This is hard enough. Just let me get it all out.” He nodded. I went on to tell him of my mother's illness, how no one had told me, of how angry I was, of how I had spent a couple days debating what I was going to do but I that I had come to the decision that I had to take care of her. I had rehearsed the words I was going to say to him a hundred times over the past few days, but I still teared up. Why was I always crying in front of this man?

“I'm so sorry, Lucy. This must be so hard for you,” he finally said, his voice much more gentle. “I'm sorry I got upset. Rachel's news just took me by surprise.”

“I know. I don't want to leave. I like it here. It was really starting to feel like home. And,” I added, “I've been so thankful for your friendship this past month.” Had it really only been a month since I had met him? Funny how I had grown to care for him so much so quickly.

“I've enjoyed getting to know you, too.” He smiled at me and patted my hand. Electricity flew through me at his touch, and oh, how I loved that smile. I briefly reconsidered telling him how I felt, but now there really was no point. I had to go away.

“Will you come back? I mean, after . . .”

“I don't know.” I answered honestly. “I'm not sure how long I'll be gone, and now, well, I have no job to come back to.”

“You could get another job down here.”

“I don't know. I just don't know. I have the house. I haven't decided whether to sell it or not. I have enough money saved to pay for a few months of the mortgage. I guess it was silly of me to buy it. I should have rented something. I really thought I would be here longer than a few months, though. . .”

“Well, is there anything I can do to help?”

“Actually, I wanted to ask you if you would be willing to take care of the house for me while I am gone.”

“Sure, anything you want.”

“Thanks, that's a big relief.”

“When are you leaving?”

“I figure I'll go back up Sunday. My mom doesn't even know I'm coming back. She doesn't want me to. She figures that I gave up enough for her the last time she was sick, but she and my Dad need me. He wants me there. I'm just going to show up so that she can't tell me not to come.”

“What about your brother?”

“Oh, he has his job and his wife and child to think about. He can't give up his life as easily as I can. I did call and tell him what was going on, though. He feels horrible, too, but there is nothing that he can do. He has promised to bring his family home for Christmas. That will mean so much to Mom.”

We sat in silence for a few minutes. It began to get rather uncomfortable. I searched for something to say.

“Oh, hey, I saw the lights at Forest Park when I was driving by. They look beautiful.”

“Yeah, they always are. We usually try to wait for there to be some snow before we go see them. That makes them look even better.”

“I wish I could go . . . As for the snow, though, I saw enough this past weekend to last me a while. I can't believe you didn't get any down here.”

“Nope. Just rain. Lots and lots of rain. Lots of flooding. At least snow is pretty.”

“Yeah . . . in small doses.” I ventured to change the subject. “So how did your writing party go?”

“It was all right. A couple of people got really drunk and made fools of themselves. I've never really seen the point in that. Other than that, it was good. Seven people finished their novels.”

“Did you?”

“No. I came up about 5000 words short. Did you?”

“No. I had great intentions of doing a big push this past weekend, but, obviously, that didn't happen. I haven't touched it since I found out about my mom. It just doesn't seem to be very important anymore. Do you think you'll finish yours?”

“I'm really not sure. It depends . . .”

“On what?”

“On the ending. I haven't figured out how the story is supposed to end.”

“Yeah, I can relate. I was having the same issue with my story. I figured it out in the shower.”

“I've taken a lot of showers. The ending still hasn't come.”

“It will. I'm sure of it.”

The rest of the week passed in a blur. I spent my last few days at work, did my last story times, said goodbye to all my favorite patrons. I saw Mike one more time. I gave him the key to my house which made the move seem that much more final. I knew I needed to do this, but it didn't make the sinking feeling in my stomach go away. I hugged him goodbye and hung on a bit too long, drinking in the scent of him. He didn't seem to mind. He pulled away, looking like he wanted to say something, but he didn't. He just said goodbye and drove away. I watched the car go all the way down the street. I wondered when I would get to see him again.

I had spoken to my mother on the phone. She wasn't feeling any worse. That was good news, although I wasn't sure if I should take her at her word or not. I still didn't tell her I was coming, though. I didn’t want her to try to talk me out of it. I went through my house trying to sort out what to take and what to leave behind. It made it harder that I didn't know just how long I would be gone. Plus, I was only taking my car up so I could only bring what I could fit. I seriously debated bringing the painting Mike had done of me. I thought my mother would like to see it, and I had grown use to having it as a daily reminder of him. Still, space was at a premium and it would be safer here. I opted to take a photo instead. Hopefully, Mike wouldn't be offended that I had left it behind.

I went to early mass Sunday morning, made one last trip to the house to pick up Lady, and then headed back up north. Had I only been gone a week? It felt like much longer.

“Lucy, what on earth are you doing here?” my mother greeted me, rushing out of the door as soon as my car pulled in the driveway. “Pat, did you know about this?” she asked my father who had just stuck his head out the door. He shrugged noncommittally. I think he knew that I would come.

“Get back in the house, Mom. You don't even have a coat on!” Who was sounding like the mother now?

“I've come to help, Mom.” I said firmly as I gave her a hug once I was inside.
“I don't want your help!” she protested.

“I know, but you are getting it anyway, so you might as well make the best of it.” I really was starting to sound like a mother. She opened her mouth to argue, but then seemed to think better of it. She looked at me and smiled, her whole face lighting up.

“I'm glad that you're here. Thank you for coming.”


It was good that I did come. My mother declined much more quickly than anyone expected. By the time Christmas was approaching, she was feeling very tired and weak and I had pretty much taken over running the house. She couldn't make the trip up the stairs any longer so we set up a bed for her downstairs right near the Christmas tree. She liked it there. Every now and then I would look over to see her fingering the ornaments and I knew that she was lost in her memories. When the chores were done, I would sit near her and we would look at old photo albums together, her telling me stories of all the people in the photos. It was like she was imparting our family history to me, lest it be lost forever. She also liked to have me read to her. And every day we would say our rosary together, just like we did when I was young. When she got too tired to pray aloud, I would pray for her as her fingers gently caressed the beads of her well-worn rosary.

The visiting nurse came a few times a week to check on her and Fr. Flanagan came over whenever he could. My father took up sleeping in the recliner so that he could be near her at night. He said his rightful place was beside her. A couple times I sneaked down in the middle of the night just to check on them and they would be there, sleeping, my father's hand resting ever so gently on my mother's.

Overall, Mom was calm and peaceful. She seemed to have no fear of death, no regrets, no last minute projects that she felt she had to accomplish before she left this earth. I admired her for that.

“Lucy, what ever happened to that story you were writing?” she asked me out of the blue one day.

“Oh, I never finished it.”

“How come? I would think you have plenty of time to write around here at night. It's not like there is that much to do.” She had a point. My social life was non-existent, which, honestly, was OK with me. I was still trying to avoid anyone who would feel compelled to bring up Alan. Plus now, most of the town had heard my mom wasn’t doing well, and I couldn’t stand the looks of pity. The only places I went were to the store and to Church. Still, I hadn't typed a single word.
“I don't know. It wasn't that important.”

“Of course it was,” she protested. “I'd love to hear what you've written.” I cringed.
“Uh, I don't think so, Mom.”

“Please, I've always loved your stories. You used to love to read them to us when you were little.”

“I'm not little anymore.”

“I know, but I bet you’re still a good writer. Please. I'd really like to hear it,” she insisted. How could I say no?

“Alright, let me go get my laptop.”

After I retrieved it, I got as comfortable as I could with it in the chair and began to read. “Once upon a time . . .” I paused. “You know this hasn't been edited or anything, right? It's a really, really rough first draft.” I couldn't emphasize that enough. I was so embarrassed to even read it aloud. I hadn't read it over since I started writing. I had just kept on writing, adding to whatever I had before.
“I know. Stop procrastinating. Read!” she said gently, but firmly.

And so I read. It didn't take me that long to get through the pages of the story I had written. My mother listened quietly. I'm sure she knew the first part was a loosely fictionalized account of what had happened with Alan. I'm not sure what she thought of Anna's impromptu journey to France, but she laughed at the parts that I had intended to be funny and teared up a bit at the parts that were sad, so I considered that a good sign. When I was done, I closed the laptop and hesitantly asked what she thought.

“It's good,” she smiled. “A good first effort.”

“You're my mother – you have to say that!” I protested, but inside I was glowing. She actually had seemed to have liked it. Maybe I wasn't that bad a writer, after all.

“So, how are you going to end the story?” she asked.

“I'm not sure. I had gone back and forth on whether Anna should stay with Jacques or not. I mean, maybe it was just a fling to help her get over her husband. . .”
“Or maybe it was real love, a second chance at happiness that she should hold onto with all her might,” my mom offered.

“Maybe. I'm not sure. What do you think that she should do?”

“I think that she should stay with him; see what happens.”

“I'll take that under advisement. I'm not even sure I'm going to finish the story. I mean, really, what's the point?”

“You have to finish it,” she admonished. “The point is that you will have completed something you didn't think that you were capable of. That's important in and of itself. Unfinished projects have a way of haunting people.”

“Yeah, maybe you're right.”


Bill and Melissa did manage to make it in for Christmas. They came in the 23rd. I could tell that Bill was surprised at how much Mom had changed in such a short time, but he hid it well, and he greeted her with a big smile and a kiss. Their little girl was so beautiful, with her blonde hair and big blue eyes. Emily was eight months old. It was the first time any of us had gotten to see her in person. My mother was so happy to see her. She had sent me to Burlington a few days before with a long list of gifts to buy for her! She knew it was her one chance to spoil her one grandchild, a child who wouldn't even remember her. My mother loved children and had longed for grandchildren for so long. Life just wasn't fair.
There was a light snow falling Christmas morning. It was beautiful. Despite her weakened condition, Mom was bound and determined to make it to Church. My father had been able to rent a wheelchair. I got her dressed and was dismayed to find how loosely her clothes fit. How could she have lost that much weight so quickly? She was literally wasting away. Bill lifted her up and helped her into the chair. She was so happy to be at mass. We wheeled her right up to the front so that she could see everything. Silent tears were rolling down her face during much of the mass. My father reached over and held her hand, his strong calloused hand holding her small, soft, frail one. Tears came to my eyes, too. I think we all knew that it would be the last time she would set foot in the Church she had loved so much.

Visit Anne Faye's blog at AnneFaye.blogspot.com

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