There I was, sprawled on the living room floor dressed in my Tom Cat tee shirt and blue stretch shorts, cut down in the middle of my workout. The middle of my life, or what turned out to be the end. I’d nearly completed the upper body workout, thrusting weights in various directions with the encouragement of the video and the promise I was building up my biceps and triceps.
The fortunate thing about my collapse was I’d managed to cling to my ten pound weights without either one flying through the large screened television. Fritz would have been torn between which was the greater of the two losses -- me or the t.v. Seated on the sofa staring at the gaping hole that had been the source of so much entertainment for him, he’d be reminded I was gone along with the high definition picture. The upside of that loss would be now he could trade up to a newer model. All that exercising and watching what I ate for naught. As my life flashed before me, I regretted every cookie and cupcake I denied myself in the misguided belief I was living healthy.
And, then as I realized what was happening I felt a pang that no one would notice I was gone till tonight when Fritz came home. He’d call a couple times during the day and when I didn’t answer the phone, assume I was out shopping or running errands. Then I thought about the new pair of espadrilles I’d purchased over the weekend. I’d been searching for a pair all spring and when I spotted them in the shoe department of Macy’s in my size and the tan color I coveted, and deeply discounted, I felt as if my life had turned a corner. Never to be worn, at least not by me. Would Fritz hang onto them as a sentimental reminder of what he’d lost or seeing the price tag affixed to the bottom of the shoe with no signs of wear, box them up, hunt for the receipt in the pile of papers to be filed and take them back to the store after the funeral?
Suddenly, it occurred to me, my life hadn’t flashed before my eyes. Perhaps I’d only knocked myself on the head and was passed out on the newly cleaned carpet. The other sad option was I had no life to reflect upon. Nothing worthwhile. That was more likely than the former possibility since I’d been careful to move the coffee table and footstool out of harm’s way when I began. There were so many things I meant to accomplish but the optimism of youth quickly gave way to the harsh reality of past my prime when I understood I’d never be a star in any field. Grubbing along in one dead end clerical job after another I only had myself to blame.
Fritz would miss me. Coming home to an empty house at night, no one to tell him it was time to eat dinner, go to bed, turn down the television or get off the computer. I’d been such a nag. He’d be better off and I only hoped he’d manage to find a replacement for me. The longer he lived, the better his prospects would become. He’d be more popular than he’d ever been in high school and college. Middle aged man without any baggage available. The word would spread quickly and eligible, interested women would swarm. He’d be the most sought after guest for social engagements. If the shoe had been on the other foot, I’d be dropped like a hot potato a reasonable time after Fritz’s funeral.
My body felt numb and a sense of peace came over me I hadn’t felt since my colonoscopy. Given my current situation I reflected another ounce of prevention that turned out to be a waste.
There were so many things I would have done differently. I’d have volunteered somewhere doing something. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t considered that option when I was still among the living. There were so many worthy things I could never figure out where to start. Indecisiveness could explain why a lot of things didn’t get done. Fortunately, the house was clean and the yard looked fairly decent. Had I turned off the kettle? I couldn’t hear it whistle so it must be. The grocery store would be one of the chores Fritz would have to handle -- that was on the to do list for today. He was out of ice cream bars. And, laundry was piling up in the basement. I’d started it before getting down to exercising. My ear pressed against the floor, I could hear the dryer running and the washer was on the spin cycle. Hopefully, Fritz would check before anything began to mildew or wrinkle. There was a thudding sound. The load in the washer must be uneven, jolting the drum from side to side with a pounding noise. Fritz could fix it later. The clock chimed in the next room.
I wanted to wail, “I can’t be dead, I haven’t lived yet.” As I spotted a few pieces of lint on the dark rug I realized I’d operated under the delusion time was something there was plenty of -- an unlimited commodity. That along with the idiotic belief my hair would never turn grey, skin grow thin and sag and my hands develop the gnarly knuckles of my mother, grandmother and great grandmother. Nothing made time stand still -- only in my deluded thinking.
Then it sounded as if someone was talking to me. “All is not lost,” the voice said and I only hoped it was coming from the side of the Netherworld that would make me happy for the rest of eternity. It was also possible it might be the radio on the kitchen counter, its hopeful message echoing down the hall.
Rosemary tried to understand what her sister Angela was telling her but the words were garbled. “Hello,” she repeated a couple times and then there was some static and the line went dead. Normally, Rosemary would contemplate what was wrong. She supposed Angela would call back. There wasn’t anything to worry about. She tapped the table expecting the phone to ring. Was there an intruder in the house? Was Angela experiencing an anxiety attack? Rosemary was familiar with the latter, having spent a night in the hospital in the clutch of one that mimicked a heart attack. “Get a grip,” she told herself and stared at the cordless phone she held in her hand. She placed it gently back in the little port where it would recharge itself. “I wish I could do that.” Then she took a seat in the middle of the living room, determined to meditate away the negative energy the phone call with Angela had generated.
It wasn’t easy settling on the carpet, her thinning hip giving a little catch as she tried to cross her legs. Once situated, she rested her hands on her knees, palms up, closed her eyes and tried to focus on something happy. She rooted around in her brain, running through a litany of places and things that brightened her day, discarding one after another. Each thing that should have brought a calming effect over her was unfortunately accompanied by an equally unpleasant one. Kitty, the cat she’d found so comforting, succumbed to kidney failure last fall and now resided in a sunny corner of the backyard. The backyard which had been so restful and shady till the week before when the neighbors chopped down the
She adjusted her position, straightening her back. She never managed to sit up straight in spite of all the years of her mother and Angela telling her to do so. Angela had always been so bossy. She supposed it came of being the older sister. She smiled at the adjective “older”. No wonder Angela was constantly on the outs with Emily. Emily didn’t seem like a bad girl. She’d managed to get through high school without getting pregnant, some venereal disease or a tattoo. You couldn’t hope for much more than that any more.
Emily was Angela’s youngest. The one she’d been shocked to find out she was pregnant with. “I can’t be having a baby,” was her first response. “I should be going through menopause.” Rosemary tried to assure her she wasn’t the first person this had happened to. Emily was a bit spoiled but not bad. Rosemary cleared her throat. No good thinking about Angela and Emily. She’d been receiving daily reports for the past twenty years.
“She wants to get married,” Angela wailed into the phone that morning. Rosemary had a feeling when the phone rang she should let the machine pick up. She was about to begin mediating when the call came in. By the time the conversation ended abruptly, she was clenching her jaw thinking if meditation didn’t work she’d resort to something from the medicine cabinet.
“Well, that’s not so bad,” Rosemary replied, noticing the dust accumulating on the table holding the phone. Maybe housework would be more therapeutic. She didn’t want to add, it could be worse, they could just live together. Although that didn’t seem to be so scandalous any more. Not like when she was young. She’d never told her parents she and Dave lived together before they got married even though she was pretty certain Angela suspected something. “Dave seems to be at your place a lot,” was the way she’d phrased it.
“You can say that.” Pause while Angela let the weight of her words and anxiety sink in. “She’s not your daughter.”
Rosemary supposed it’s easier to figure out what’s wrong with everyone else rather than yourself and to see other people’s kid’s escapades as something that would eventually right themselves. “It’ll work out,” she‘d replied.
“He’s a naturist.”
“Oh, that’s nice.” Rosemary couldn’t understand the tone of disgust in her sister’s voice.
“Nice?” The pitch had to be damaging Rosemary’s eardrum. She pulled the phone away from her ear. “You don’t understand what that is do you?”
“Someone who likes nature.” Angela snorted in her ear. “An environmentalist.” The other end became so quiet, she thought Angela must have hung up. “Hello?” she said tentatively into the receiver and was greeted with the shrieking news he was a nudist.
“He goes around the house naked.” Angela let that information sink in before she began her tirade about what life would be like for her daughter who didn’t have the best shape in the world and what about their kids. “Do you think you can have small children in a house where everyone is running around naked?”
“I told her to move out…” were the last words Rosemary heard before they were cut off. Probably for the best. She took a deep breath, trying to conjure a pleasant thought. She was startled by the phone ringing. “Let the machine pick up,” a little voice whispered in the back of her mind. Then, she found her center and let the words become her mantra, making the clatter that was Angela calling her back disappear.
JANET YUNG lives and writes in St. Louis. Her short fiction has appeared in “Writers On The River” and on-line “Foliate Oak” and “Terrain“.
"Exercising in front of the television in the living room and my husband's worry I'll let a weight go flying through the screen. Then imagining which would be the bigger loss -- me or the t.v."
"Thinking about meditating in an environment filled with endless distractions."