Good morning, readers.
Today, I’m sharing one of my very first short stories. It’s always good to dig up past stuff and see how far you’ve come. It’s a little rusty, but it works. Enjoy!
The Rainy Day
Lydia Tremel stared down at her hands, folded in her lap. Like a pair of leather gloves. Cracked nails, tipped each finger, shortened and broken. She was never able to keep them nice for very long. The backs of her hands, now with parched valleys of wrinkles and darkened spots shouted, we’ve done our part, more than our fair share. Ed cleared his throat a foot away. He glowered down.
“You’re gonna get the goddamn house, you know,” he said with veiled venom. Lydia bit her shaking bottom lip and clenched her hands tighter in her lap. “They always give the goddamn woman the house.” He paced the sterile corridor of the courthouse.
Lydia stared across the wall at the cork board listing the community events on haphazard copies of paper. But her mind traveled far away to the endless hours spent caring for the house. To the dead, grey skin of her knees hidden under her nylons. The testament to countless hours scrubbing floors and bathroom tiles.
She could feel Ed’s eyes on her, beneath his sweaty brow. His cheeks sagged like a bulldog’s jowls and his stomach stretched the yellow shirt above his brown slacks. A banana shoved into too tight a skin. “Thirty years…” he grumbled and resumed pacing.
Thirty years. The two words bounced around the hall, and in her brain, conjuring up time that seemed to both last forever and to somehow already be gone. She thought of three children raised and loved by her arms only in ‘the house’. She thought of the tens of thousands of meals she alone had cooked and cleaned up after. She thought of how her girls were now all grown and gone. She glanced up to watch Ed rocking back and forth on his stubbed feet.
Their names were called. They stood before the judge; lawyers coldly morose on either side. Due to his infidelity, she would receive the house and a proper alimony. Lydia hung her head. Ed’s face blossomed in red sweat, the argument caged behind his closed lips. His lawyer steadied him. Lydia stood up so suddenly that the heat of the courtroom caused her to waiver. The judge and lawyers swung heads in her direction, unaccustomed to a protest from the benefiting side.
“Only the house, your honor,” her mouse-like squeak fell short of the stand. The judge asked her to repeat her request.
“With all due respect, your honor; I would only like the house.”
Ed sputtered beside her, either from disbelief or joy she wasn’t sure. When asked if she was certain, she only nodded in agreement. The judge raised his eye brows, papers were shuffled, and the request was granted. The rest of the words faded into the background of Lydia’s unadorned mind. The world faded around her glance, and she retreated into the years. Only to be snapped up by the banging gavel and the required signatures. Ed’s face lit up and there was much harrumphing and back slapping on the opposite side of the aisle.
Twenty minutes to undo what a lifetime had built. Twenty minutes in his office with some pitiful soul hoping to improve her life. She had left her lipstick on his collar, and the smell of her cheap perfume all over his jacket. Twenty minutes in the court, at the end of her rope. Lydia thanked her lawyer and slid into her worn coat. She walked away alone, down the sun-drenched steps, towards the bus. Her knotted hands held tight to her purse as she sat watching the streets of her town sliding by. The market she shopped at, the gas station where he had her buy lotto tickets every week. The park they had once walked hand in hand together. The world was a new and strange place.
The movers came that afternoon. She hadn’t wasted time in calling. Lydia was nothing if not efficient. Three messages were on the answering machine, one from each of her girls. They seemed to offer only weak assurances from thousands of miles away. Her heart warmed with hearing their voices. They were the best thing he could have given her.
Ed only showed up as the last of his things were being loaded into the grimy white truck. He stood somberly in front of her on the porch. A strange sadness came over his face as if he just realized what was happening.
“Well.” He waited for her to fill in his blanks, like a little boy without direction. When she stared blankly at him, an anger and bitterness surfaced in his eyes and face. “I hope you’re happy.” She turned and closed the door behind her, locking him away. She stood still, eyes closed for a few endless moments. Happy. The word simmered under her skin, a most alien idea. Then, with the clarity she had not possessed since she was a little girl, she went to work.
She dug into the back of her bottom bureau drawer, behind the lacy knickers and vanilla slips. To an old pair of nylons she had long since worn through. Balled up, and tightly wound around her contingency plan. Ten dollars, every week, for the last twenty some years. Just in case. Not enough to notice, but enough to make a difference on a rainy day. Lydia held the dense ball between her hands and took a deep breath. This was the contingency. This was her rainy day.
She fidgeted around the house, suddenly not feeling comfortable in its lonely halls and empty rooms. Places still smelled of his cologne, of the roast she had cooked him a month ago, the night she had found the evidence. The same night something deep inside her had broken loose.
She couldn’t find the stomach for food. So, she poured herself a drink and sat in the living room, staring blankly at the freshly vacuumed carpet, the newly dusted shelves. The lifetime of duties now faced her like a museum display. The drink made her dizzy. She wobbled down the hallway and laid down on her side of the empty bed. Still clothed in her best but much dated suit, Lydia fell asleep.
The next morning’s sun tore through the open blinds without apology. Lydia sat up and glanced around, making sure she had not dreamt the whole episode. Her friends would be meeting for coffee this afternoon. She had to get the last of her work done. With fresh clothes and shampooed hair she set about her to do list. She began with her most important task. It did not take her long, and she found herself with a few minutes to spare. When the box was sealed, she stood for a moment staring down at it. Bold plain print, neatly taped, no return address. She would need to get it to the post by five tomorrow evening. Lydia paused at the kitchen sink.
Staring through the window out into the back yard only brought back the memories of her happier and more ignorant youth. When all she had ever needed was him and the path he’d led her down. The phone rang, successively within the next hour. Her daughters each called again. She reassured them she was fine. She told each and every one of them, how much she loved them, how proud she was of them. They were exceptions to the rules that had governed her own life.
Lydia had been brought up by parents who did not believe in that sixties-free-thinking-nonsense. She had attended community college but dropped out after meeting and marrying Ed. She began her family quickly as was expected by her parents. Upon the birth of a third daughter, when he had so hoped for a son, Ed had called it quits on having any more children. He placed the blame firmly on Lydia.
Something had simmered beneath the surface of Lydia’s skin as she held her last baby, alone in the hospital. Something that drove her to tuck away cash in an old nylon every week. Something that made her change her own ideas about where a woman’s place should be. Though she had never held a notion of a different for herself, she insisted upon it for her daughters. She raised them against her own grain. Raised them to be independent, strong willed, fighters. She gave them all of the gifts she had never received. And they blossomed. They spread their wings and flew. They’d left her nest. She stared at the sunlight glaring off of the counter top, bouncing across the waxed floor. Was a nest really a nest, without baby birds inside of it? A thin smile creased her lips as she took off her apron and hung it beside the door.
At a quarter to one, Lydia stepped out her front door, package in hand. She locked up behind her and held on a moment longer to the door handle. Her walk to the bus station felt like leaving home for the first time. She never glanced behind her, kept her eyes forward to the sunlit trees, casting shadows across the pavement. Children were set free from the confines of school and buzzed by on their bicycles. Their shining happy faces bright in the sunlight, their laughter trailed behind them as they passed. She took the mid-town line to a small post office far across town. She paid in cash.
Unhindered by the parcel, she took another bus back to the west side to meet her homemaker’s group for coffee. The springs beneath her bounced rhythmically and she stared out of the window with quiet contentment. The buildings sandwiched together with pencil thin lines separating them. Delis next to barber shops, hardware stores next to diners. People walked about in their normal routine, never straying from the paths that had kept them comfortable for years. Never stopping to notice the world around them. Never questioning the choices they’d made, or the lives they resigned themselves to. Lydia closed her eyes and felt the gentle rocking of the bus beneath her.
The ladies were assembled at their normal table when she arrived. They greeted her easily and resumed their conversation. Their voices were muffled in Lydia’s ears, like a flock of birds twittering to one another. She smiled when they laughed, shook her head when they whispered conspiratorially. Jeanine, who sat next to her, placed a gentle hand on her knee and gave her a small smile.
“How are you fairing, dear?” she whispered. The other ladies stopped their other conversations and swung their well-pompadoured heads towards Lydia. She smiled small and cast her eyes downward. Jeanine had meant it to be between them, but the whole group had been dying to know.
“Fine, I’m just fine.” Lydia produced a tear, and wiped it away on a napkin. “The movers left yesterday. I’m doing alright,” said Lydia. Jeanine squeezed her around the shoulders warmly. The bit of affection warmed her more than anything he’d done for her in the last ten years.
“You’ll let us know if you need anything at all?” one said.
“I hope you got the house,” another chimed in.
“Serves him right,” continued an older woman. Lydia smiled and thanked them, then quickly turned the conversation to anywhere else. When the topic came to the alimony she wasn’t receiving, an awkward silence fell over the booth.
“But Lydia what will you do?”
“How will you make ends meet?”
“Why would you…”
The questions ranged from genuine concern to aghast disbelief. Lydia smiled outwardly while cringing inside.
“I don’t want him owing me anything.” Silence and staring faces responded. Jeanine held her hand firmly.
“Well, good for you then,” her warm eyes were honest. Lydia noted the raised eyebrows and gazes that said she’d lost her mind. Jeanine understood. She smiled into her coffee cup. With a calm knowledge behind her eyes, Lydia thought how much she would miss Jeanine. When coffee was over, her friend walked with her to Jeanine’s car.
“Can I give you a ride, Honey?” Jeanine had never understood why Ed had never let Lydia have a car. She didn’t even know if her friend could drive. Maybe that could change now.
“I think that I’ll take a little walk around town,” replied Lydia.
Jeanine studied the face that she’d known since high school. They’d raised their children alongside each other, exchanged recipes, tips and tricks. Occasionally they’d joke about their husbands over quiet cups of coffee in the kitchen. Lydia had been the only one to show true concern for her after the chemo two years ago. She’d bring her meals, take over her chores and errands with the efficiency of a military commander. She could see something now, ignited within her friend, that both frightened and intrigued her.
“May I join you?” Jeanine’s voice was small on the warm downtown sidewalk. Lydia thought for a moment. It would be wise to have someone with her.
They walked down the street, lined with shops, stopping to glance in windows, daydream or shake their heads.
“Are you really alright?” asked Jeanine as they both stared at a cherry-print sun dress.
“I will be.” Lydia smiled at her old friend. She nodded towards the store’s entrance.
“That?” she pointed disbelieving at the coquettish dress.
“I’m a free woman now,” Lydia shrugged dismissively and walked inside.
Two hours later and a few packages heavier the friends walked along in silence. Jeanine insisted on giving her a ride home. With arms full of her celebratory packages, Lydia found no reason to protest. The drive was much faster without having to stop at every bus station. Lydia mused how much time in her life she’d wasted because he didn’t want her having a car.
As they rounded the corner of the sleepy suburban street, something was noticeably wrong. Smoke clouded the air and the bright flashes of emergency lights bounced around eerily in the sullied sky. Crowds were gathering.
“What on earth do you suppose…?” Jeanine stopped short as they looked down the street to where three large fire trucks were parked. Yellow mounds of men were putting out the last of the flames, muddying up the ashes with cautionary bursts of water. The smell was choking. The destruction complete.
They rolled to a stop and burst from the car. Lydia ran full-tilt, dropping her purse and packages along the street.
“Ma’am, please! Stay back!” the shouts were too late as she careened towards the soggy, ashen lawn. The house. Her eyes filled with tears. Her throat choked with a release of sobs. Blackened tinder stood sharp and broken in odd places. A skeleton of burned bones was all that remained of her life.
Jeanine came up from behind, sobbing. “Oh, Lydia!” she said it again, at a loss for anything else. The firemen gently moved her back by her shaking shoulders. Gone. Gone away. All of it lay smoldering and wet. Lumps of charred wood, melted glass, nothing of what she’d closed up behind her this morning was left. She fell to her knees and cried. Tears she had held on to, tears she had kept to herself for so many years. Until she lay spent and free in the grass. Small ashes floated down onto her hair and cheeks. They merged with her tears and painted Lydia’s face with thirty years of nothingness.
The insurance adjuster came on the first day of summer to Jeanine’s house. Lydia had moved in temporarily while the paperwork had been filed and inspections had been made. The investigator determined that faulty wiring in the garage had ignited a pile of Ed’s oily rags.
“Why didn’t he take those damn things with him,” Jeanine seethed. Lydia remained silent. Her eyes were still red and swollen.
“We are very sorry for your loss, Mrs. Tremel. You will, of course be covered by your policy. This brings me to another, more positive note.” He shifted his paperwork more as a matter of building self-importance. Lydia studied the young man’s face and wondered if he’d ever known tragedy in all his short life. “This is quite the silver lining actually,” he paused pulling out another paper from his new briefcase. “It seems you and your former husband increased your fire insurance policy ten years ago.”
“Yes, when there were all of those fires on the east side of town,” nodded Lydia. She had insisted that Ed adjust their coverage. In case of a rainy day.
“With the current property values in your neighborhood, you’re actually coming out well ahead. If you chose to sell the property on top of this check, you’d have a nice little nest egg.” Lydia glanced at him.
“How much ahead am I?” The young man cleared his throat and reached into his portfolio. He slid the check across the table. Jeanine grabbed it when Lydia seemed to be frozen in place.
“Oh, Lydia,” she gasped out. The young man offered his condolences again and left the stoic Lydia staring at the scrap of blue paper.1q
The bright, autumn sunlight filtered down through the trees, settled on the rows and rows of vines that stretched out among the rolling hills. A youthful woman stood on her balcony, staring out at the pastoral haven. Her bright red nails shone in the light. Newly colored black locks curled around her face and were piled in a messy coif that elongated her neck.
“Boungiorno!” She waved to the neighboring children on their way to school. They smiled and returned her wave. The beautiful American woman always seemed to be smiling. The postman knocked on her door below the balcony. Barefooted, she ran down the stairs to open the door.
“Boungiorno, Signora,” a tip of his cap. “This parcel just arrived for you. It looks as though it has been around the world, no?” She smiled graciously at him and he blushed in return. He winked slyly at her, acknowledging the charm of her beauty and the power of her age. She filled out the cherry-print dress with curvy peach skin.
“Grazie, Signore.” She took the well-worn box from his grasp.
Later, alone in at the rustic kitchen table, where a coffee cup ring and crumbs still lay, she set the package down. With a large knife she tore through the tape, barely a whisper escaping her lips. Two photo albums, three baby’s hospital bracelets, wire sheath cutters, and a copy of her insurance policy lay beneath the divorce papers. She put the albums on her coffee table and shoved the box in her closet. She called her daughters to tell them goodnight, and not to worry, it never rained here.