Elderly Woman With Dignity ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
“I was born old,” grandma said. “I’ve always been old.”
“You were born just like everybody else,” Alveda said. “A tiny, helpless baby.” She put the shirt she was ironing on a hanger and took another one out of the basket. “You’ve been old for so long you don’t remember anything else.”
“I sometimes wonder what I’m doing here.”
“You mean in this town? In this house?”
“No! In this life! What am I doing still alive?”
“You have too much time on your hands.”
“Look at you. Ironing clothes for a living. You had such high hopes when you were young and now here you are ironing clothes.”
“I’m not ironing clothes for a living. I’m ironing clothes because it gives me such a thrill.”
“Don’t get cute with me. You know what I mean.”
“No, I don’t believe I do, mother. And I don’t care.”
“Maybe one of these days I’ll explain it to you.”
“I’ve discovered that the greatest thing in the world is not caring.”
“When was the last time you had an alimony check from that no-good ex-husband of yours?”
“It’s not alimony. It’s child support. And you know exactly how long it’s been.”
“Yes, I do! It’s been four months! That son of a bitch was supposed to send you a check every month!”
“Well, times are hard, you know.”
“He spends all his money on that bitch he married. And to make matters worse, I heard in the beauty parlor that she’s going to have a baby. Can you imagine? A man like that bringing more children into the world?”
“It’s his business, mother. I don’t care what he does. I don’t care how many children he brings into the world.”
“When it takes bread out of your baby’s mouth, you’d better care!”
“She’s not a baby. She’s twelve years old and she’s not exactly starving to death, either.”
“You need to call the sheriff and have him go find that turd and lock him up in jail until he pays off. If you don’t do it, I will!”
“Stay out if, mother, unless you want to know what it feels like to have a hot iron up the side of your head.”
“My own daughter threatening me with violence! I don’t know how you dare to even speak to me that way!”
“You used to have a sense of humor, mother. What happened?”
“I find nothing humorous in your situation.”
“Well, maybe it’s time you did.”
The clock chimed four and, as if on cue, Gracie came in the door, breathless and sweaty.
“Did you run all the way home?” Alveda asked.
“No,” Gracie said. “We were practicing some dance steps outside.”
“Just some girls I know. I think they’re cousins, or something.”
“Dancing!” grandma said. “At her age! What is the world coming to? Next thing you know she’ll be wearing makeup and nylons and a brassiere.”
“Well, mother,” Alveda said. “It is nineteen sixty-one. It’s not nineteen hundred anymore.”
“Humph! I’ll take nineteen hundred any day!”
“Mama, I need a dollar,” Gracie said.
“Say hello to your grandmother.”
“Hello, grandma.” Barely looking in her direction.
“What do you need a dollar for?” Alveda asked.
“I need to buy some stuff for school.”
“Tell me what it is and I’ll get it the next time I go to the store.”
“No, it’s something I need to get myself. It’s too personal for you to get.”
“I need to know what it is. I need to know if you really need it or not before I give you the money.”
“I need it, I assure you!” Gracie said. “Some of us are going downtown tomorrow after school and I need it before then.”
“Oh, brother!” grandma said.
“Well, we’ll see,” Alveda said. “We’ll talk about it later. You’re giving me a headache now.”
“Come here, little girl,” grandma said.
Gracie sighed and went over and stood in front of grandma’s rocker, slouching.
“What is it?” Gracie asked.
Grandma took both of Gracie’s hands in hers. “I think you should know you’re going to have a new little baby brother or sister.”
“What do you mean?”
“You remember your daddy, don’t you? Or at least the man who claimed to be your daddy?”
“Yeah, I remember him. What about him?”
“He has a pretty new wife. Younger than your mommy. Her name is Opal or something like that. He impregnated Opal and now she’s going to have his baby.”
“Mama, is this true?” Gracie asked.
“It’s just a rumor grandma heard at the beauty parlor. I don’t know if it’s true or not and I don’t care.”
“Well, anyway,” grandma said. “I just think you ought to know how things stand between your mommy and your daddy.”
“Mother, is this really necessary?” Alveda asked.
“I was always on the square with my children and I think you should be, too.”
“Like the time you hid my letters when I was working in the factory?”
“I did that for your own good. Those letters were from a person who in my estimation was unsuitable and unsavory.”
“That wasn’t for you to decide, mother.”
“Anyway, it’s been a long time ago and should no longer matter.”
“It matters to me. Some things you never get over.”
“Just like your father. Holding onto the past. I’m sure that’s why he had a heart attack and died at such a young age.”
“It wasn’t that,” Alveda said. She turned off the iron and fanned herself with a newspaper.
Ignoring what they were saying, Gracie stood and looked at herself in the mirror in the hallway. Though her face was flushed, her Lilt home permanent (one dollar at Woolworth’s) looked exactly the same as it had in the morning when she went to school. “I thought I might try a little lipstick,” she said, turning her head this way and that.
“I don’t think so,” Alveda said. “Ask me again in three or four years.”
“I never get to do anything!”
“Life’s rough, though, isn’t it?”
“Be a child while you can,” grandma said. “You’ll find it’s a lot more difficult being an adult.”
“Oh, that’s the most ridiculous thing I ever heard of!” Gracie said. “I can’t wait to be grown and get away from this place!”
“Well, be sure and send us a postcard,” Alveda said.
“Oh, not everything is always a joke, you know!”
“Now, go wash your hands and peel the potatoes and wash some lettuce and get supper started for me.”
“That’s all I’m good for, isn’t it? I’m just a galley slave and that’s all I’ll ever be.”
“She’s getting a real smart mouth on her,” grandma said, after Gracie had left the room. “You’d better stop it before it gets out of control.”
“And how would you suggest I do that?”
“Smack her in the mouth every now and then.”
“I don’t want her to hate me.”
“You’ve got a lot to learn as a mother.”
“I think I can handle my own daughter in my own way.”
“Suit yourself. Remember, I raised six kids and you only have the one.”
“Yes, and all six of us are sterling examples of…I don’t know what!” Alveda said.
“I delivered all six of you to adulthood. I never had a baby die on me.”
“Hooray for you!”
“I see where Gracie gets her smart mouth.”
Alveda lit a cigarette and blew smoke out in grandma’s direction. Grandma waved her hand in front of her face and Alveda wanted to laugh.
“I invited George to have dinner with us on Sunday,” Alveda said. “After dinner, I’m going with him to the hospital to see his mother.”
“You’re wasting your time with him, you know. He’ll never marry you.”
“Who said anything about marriage?”
“Well, you have to be thinking about your future and your daughter’s future.”
“George is just a friend. Can’t I have a friend?”
“It looks funny for a middle-aged divorcee to be going around with a man like that.”
“A man like what?”
“You know what people say about him.”
“I don’t care.”
“He’s at least forty-eight years old. He’s never been married and never wanted to be married, as far as I know. He plants flowers in his yard. He has always lived with his mother and he plays the organ in church.”
“Well, people have to draw their own conclusions about a person who is so obviously different.”
“You think everybody is supposed to be the same?”
“One must follow certain conventions in this town to be accepted.”
“He’s coming for dinner on Sunday and if you don’t like it you don’t have to be here.”
“Where would I go?”
“I don’t know. Spend the afternoon in the cemetery visiting the deceased.”
“You cut me to the core when you speak to me that way. I don’t know how you can treat me with so much disrespect. That isn’t the way you were brought up.”
Alveda went out to the front porch to finish her cigarette. George was just pulling into his driveway across the street. She waved to him and then crossed over as he was getting out of his car.
“I’m pretty sure I’m going to kill my mother,” she said.
He laughed. “I’ll come and visit you in jail.”
“I’ll make it look like an accident. Nobody will ever know I did it.”
“That might be difficult to arrange.”
“Will you help me?”
“Sure. But only if you include my mother in on it, too.”
“How is she?”
“Complaining. Giving the nurses a bad time.”
“When are they going to let her come home?”
“Not for a while, I hope. I love having the house all to myself.”
“They’ll never die, will they, George?”
“Let’s run off together.”
“Any time you say.”
She helped him into his house with his groceries and then turned to go back home. As she walked across the yard, she pretended not to see her mother peering at her through the curtain and then letting the curtain fall back into place. She would save it for another time.
Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp