Excerpt, Chapter 1
A Violent EncounterAt first Morgan saw only movement; colorless shapes milling about. They turned into people.
A woman using a walker labored his way. Her eyes were anxious, her ankles so swollen that her legs looked like thick poles. A pinch-faced gentleman leaned on a counter behind which a receptionist sat. "Where's my wife?" he asked petulantly. Two women, slumped side by side on the couch like two rag dolls, stared forlornly into space.
Morgan took his handkerchief from his pocket and patted his forehead. What am I doing here? I'm too young for this. He whirled around in a panic and dashed back through the double doors, heading for the sunshine.
At the same time a woman in a yellow dress hurried up the walkway. The two strangers collided.
Morgan's spectacles were knocked askew. The large white box the woman held so carefully in front of her flipped and was crushed against her chest. She stumbled and almost fell. When he grabbed her by the arm to steady her, she pulled away, clutching at the box as it slowly slid down the front of her, opening as it went, leaving blobs of white and red icing on her bright yellow dress. "Oh, no," she wailed. "Look what you've done." Chunks of white cake with red and yellow roses smeared the sidewalk leading up to the entrance.
Her face turned pink. She called out to a passerby, "He's ruined the cake for Effie's party."
Morgan, still stunned by the collision, took off his glasses and tried to bend the earpiece back in shape. It snapped. He stuffed it in his pocket and held his glasses on with one hand as he looked down at his pants leg, streaked with icing.
She gave him a scorching glance. "If you hadn't jerked my arm. . . " Tears welled in her eyes. "Now we have no cake for Effie's party."
"Let me pay you for the cake." Flustered, he drew out his wallet, cracked it open, and held out a twenty dollar bill.
She ignored the bill in his outstretched hand. Her gray-blonde curls bounced as she rummaged furiously in the purse hanging from her shoulder.
She's pretty high strung, he thought. Feeling like a fool, he put away the money. His glasses felt lopsided on his face. He took them off and jammed them in his pocket with the broken earpiece.
"You've also ruined my dress," she snapped, whipping a handkerchief from her bag and scrubbing at grease stains on her shoulder.
"You nearly broke my glasses," Morgan spluttered. "And this is my new suit." She had a spot of icing on her cheek. He resisted the urge to reach over and brush it away.
Half the cake was still in the box and the message was almost intact: appy 100th Birth. "Some of this may be salvageable," Morgan grunted, feeling more and more embarrassed as he became aware that people on their way in and out of the center were stopping to gawk.
He heard a passerby say, "Looks like just another domestic argument." A man plunked himself down on a nearby bench to watch. "Poor devil," he said to a lady beside him. "She's trying to get rid of him. She'll visit him here once a week and someone else will do the dirty work."
"That's unfair," the lady broke in. "You think women are to blame for everything wrong in this world."
Did they think he was here for their entertainment? "Why don't you folks go on home?" he flared. "This is just between me and" - he groped for a word - "the broad." He stooped, jiggling the cake box to shift the broken pieces toward the middle. With some smoothing-over of the icing to connect the chunks, there'd be a perfectly healthy-looking half a cake.
Just then she bent to rub the icing off her skirt. Her shoulder bag slid down her arm, knocking him on the side of the head.
He looked up in surprise as a cascade of cosmetics, credit cards, a checkbook, hairpins, papers, and assorted trinkets rained down on him and scattered across the walk.
The woman muttered, "If you'd been looking where you were going, none of this would have happened."
"Drama queen," he mumbled to himself.
He helped her gather up the items, thinking the quicker they were collected, the faster he could be on his way
His hand accidentally brushed hers and their heads nearly touched. They were eye-to-eye.
Her cheeks were flushed, he noticed, her blue eyes blazing. She was a damn good-looking woman.
She stood, snapped her purse shut, and hurried toward the parking lot.
Face flaming, Morgan gathered up the residue of cake and icing from the walk and dumped the box in the trash, a clear indication to himself at least that he remained a gentleman under stress. His eyeglasses were broken, his hands were sticky, and his pants and shoes had frosting on them.
Now what? What the hell, he told himself, you're here. You don't want to be a burden to your friends. He had to admit that sometimes in the night he woke up in terror, knowing that old age would eventually get him. It was the beast in the corner, waiting to dig its claws in him and sink its teeth into his neck.
On that beautiful July day in Columbus, Ohio, the birds were singing, the flowers were in bloom. As if he were facing the firing squad, Morgan squared his shoulders and walked into Whispering Pines Retirement Center and Nursing Home for the second time that afternoon. "I have an appointment. I'm a little late." The receptionist's eyes were merry behind her glasses. Had she heard the commotion and peeked out the door?
His face felt hot. He hoped he wasn't blushing. Had she seen him come in and hightail it out of the place once he saw the lethargic crowd? If he'd stuck to his guns, he'd be on a tour of the center now and would have missed that awful fight.
The receptionist lifted the phone and dialed. "Mr. Morgan is here for his appointment." She looked up at him, nodding. "She'll see you in five minutes."
He asked her where the restroom was. He'd clean up first.
Dixie fled to her car, gunned the motor, and drove from the parking lot onto the street, tires squealing. She slowed after seeing a patrol car parked a short distance away and forced herself to proceed more calmly.
That splendid cake, with the magnificent red and yellow roses - Effie's favorite colors. She'd never be able to find another cake that lovely on such short notice.
Her heart was pounding. That man was obnoxious, overbearing, and insulting. He'd almost knocked her down. He'd ruined her dress, destroyed the beautiful cake, and threw money at her as if she were a beggar! Then he had the gall to call her names.
She increased speed on the open road and found herself watching in the rearview mirror for flashing lights that would warn her of a patrolman in pursuit.
She reached for the cell phone and speed-dialed a number. She needed to talk this over with Vera, her closest friend. Sympathetic Vera.
The phone was ringing when she glanced at the car in front of her and saw the bumper sticker, You could drive better with that phone up your ass. That teed her off again and she pulled out into the left lane, almost hit a car, and darted around the vehicle with the offending slogan, waving the phone at the woman driver. Dixie gave her the finger and watched for signs of road rage. When the woman just grinned, Dixie sped on.
"Hello, hello, is anyone there?" Dixie heard Vera's gravelly voice ask through the receiver.
"Hi, it's me," Dixie said breathlessly, jamming the phone against her ear.
"You sound awful. What happened?" Vera asked.
"I bumped into a man, literally."
"In the car? Is he hurt? Are you okay?"
"No, yes. I mean, not in the car. On foot. And now I'm late for Effie's party. And I'm in charge. I'll tell you about it later. What are you doing at four? If you're not busy, I'll bring by a six-pack and some chips."
"It's a date," Vera said.
At the bakery, Dixie picked up three small cakes to replace the destroyed sheet cake meant for fifty people. The clerk squirted a couple of flowers on each and wrote a quick Happy 100. Dixie felt like crying. The cake for Effie had been specially designed for her: ornate, dignified, and old-fashioned. Effie didn't have much to look forward to, confined to a wheelchair the way she was. But she did look forward to her birthday parties. And 100 was a very special birthday!
Dixie rushed back to the retirement center. With the three cakes stacked under her chin, she carefully entered the front door. She glanced furtively around to make sure that dreadful man wasn't lurking in the hallways.
Flushed and apologetic, she swept into Effie's birthday celebration only thirty minutes late. Multicolored balloons floated gaily throughout the party room, crowded with Effie's friends, most of them residents of the center.
Coffee was perking in the urn. Dixie was thankful she'd decorated and started preparations before heading out to pick up the cake, the first cake, that is.
She lined up the three small cake boxes beside the paper plates, opening each lid, feeling fresh disappointment at the sight of these second-rate substitutes.
Effie wheeled herself over to look and clapped her hands. "Scrumptious!"
"You should have seen the one that got away," Dixie began, but didn't want to get all worked up again. "Effie, you look gorgeous! Who did your hair?" She gave her a hug and kissed her on the cheek.
"You look pretty gorgeous yourself, Dixie. Full of pep and ginger. Wish you could pass along some of it to me."
Dixie laughed. She liked being with Effie. She always made her feel like a spring chicken. Well, she was a spring chicken compared to Effie. Only 79. And a young 79, at that!
|Calliope Press||Other Great Mardo Williams Books|
© 2004-2019 Calliope Press. All rights reserved.
For more information call 1-212-564-5068.
Maude (1883-1993): She Grew Up With the Country
Great-Grandpa Fussy and the Little Puckerdoodles
Butcher Of Dreams
The Five O’Clock Follies