2/16/2020

Invisible - Part 8

Continued from Part 7: Memories

(Public Domain)
Part 8: Musings

Miriam blinks in surprise. "Me? You want me to help you? How?" 

Margaret smiles and begins, "Well..." Just then, her attention is caught by Mooch, who darts from between a row of shelving. Margaret leans down to pet him, but then she gasps and jumps to her feet. 

"Well butter my buns and call me a biscuit! Mac Mackay, is that you?" 

When Mac looks over toward the seating area at the front of the shop, he sees a vision in technicolor rushing over to him. It takes a moment for him to recognize her; after all, it's been ages since he's seen her. This woman is older, of course. He remembers his friends ragging on him about her. "Margaret Jackson is kinda dowdy, dude."  The woman throwing her arms around him in a big hug now could never be called dowdy She is, well, magnificent.  If anyone could be called dowdy, it's him, standing there in his bus-wrinkled khakis and rumpled chambray shirt, looking gobsmacked.


"Maggie Jackson! How the hell are you, Girl? Wow, you look great!” 

"Do you know, no one has called me 'Girl' since you took your idiot self and went off in search of fame and fortune, breaking my heart in the process. For that matter, no one's calls me Maggie Jackson. I'm Margaret Shaw now.”  

"Of course. You're married. Well, no matter the last name, you’ll always be Maggie to me. But, I'm not Mac Mackay anymore, either. Hollywood decided I'd be a bigger box office draw if I were Mackenzie Chastain. Can you believe it? I got used to it, though, so..." 

“I’m not married anymore,” Margaret says, a dark cloud crossing her face. “Andy---that was my husband; we met in college---he was killed in Iraq during W’s folly. IED. We never had the chance to have kids. I’ve been a single lady ever since, throwing myself into my work.”  

“Oh, I’m sorry about your husband. I didn't know” Mac says. 

Margaret gives her head a little shake, setting the unruly grey hair around her face into motion. The cloud on her face passes and a sunny smile replaces it. “Anyway, I’m a slave to my job no longer! I retired yesterday.” 

“So, tell all,” Margaret goes on. “I’m not much of a movie-goer. Did you find the pot at the end of the rainbow?" 

“Ha! I guess the studio was wrong about that box office draw part. I had some bit parts and even go a lead in a sorta successful film.” Mac lets out a bark of a laugh, bringing the dog hustling over. “But even if you were a big movie fan, I can pretty much guarantee you wouldn’t have recognized me. So, short answer to your question: no. 

“I spent most of my time in LA working odd jobs. I ended up doing construction, and liked it okay. I decided I could do it back home in Middleburg just as well as in LA, so I gave up the Hollywood fantasy and here I am.” 

“Geez, I’m sorry to hear that.” Margaret chuckles. “I remember you sashaying though the halls at school wearing your shades, saying someday we were going to see you in one of those sunglasses ads featuring famous Hollywood stars.” 

Mac pulls sunglasses from his shirt pocket and slips them on his face. "Never found the fame, but I've got the Foster Grants."

Margaret glances over at Miriam, watching them from her chair, one hand over the right side of her face. She turns to Mac, her face alight. 

“Wait! How long are you going to be here? Where are you living? What are you doing tonight?” The words tumble out of her mouth, falling all over each other. 

“Whoa, whoa! Same old Maggie. I just got here this morning. I came here right off the bus, looking to have lunch at the old corner drugstore.” Mac shakes his head and laughs.  ‘Things change, I guess. I’m back for good. I’ve got to find a job, and a place to stay. My folks passed years ago, but I guess you knew that. So it’s just me.”

 “You’re not married either? Great. I can help you on all counts.” Margaret reddens a little and laughs. “I mean, not on the marriage part, but I can give you a job and a place to stay, if you’re up for it.” 

Mac stares at her. “Um…” 

“Hold on.” Margaret goes into the stacks and emerges with Milo in tow, Mooch trailing along behind.  

“Come with me and I’ll explain.”  

Leading him to the seating area, she introduces Mac to Miriam. She responds with a blush, which highlights the scar on her cheek. “Hello. Nce to meet you,” she says, blushing even more furiously. Her right hand lifts to her face again, but Mac reaches out and gently takes it to shake.  

Smiling he says, “Nice to meet you too, Miriam.” 

Taking them all in with a sweeping glance, her eyes sparkling with excitement, Margaret says, “Look, I think you all can help me with my big plan. Milo has already agreed to come over tonight to talk about it. I was going to call you, Miriam, to ask you to come. But I’d like you all to come. Bring Mooch too.” 

“But…” Miriam begins, but Margaret interrupts. “Nope. I need you, Miriam. You’re a nurse, and, Milo, Emmaline was my oldest friend. That pretty much makes you my old friend too. I need to pick your brains. And Mac, you know carpentry. Besides, you were my first love. I need you most of all." She winks broadly.

"Come on over around seven. You know where I live, 1420 Emerson Lane. I’ll make a light dinner, and we can talk while we eat. I can't wait to tell you what I have in mind. Oh, and dress casually. The place is a wreck.” 

Without giving them a chance to object, she turns to Mac. “Grab your suitcase, big guy. I’ve got tons of space. Come with me. I’ll get you settled into one of the guest rooms.” She starts for the door, calling back over her shoulder.

“See you guys at seven!” 

Mac picks up his suitcase from behind the desk. Shrugging  at Milo and Miriam, he follows Margaret out the door. 



Continued in Part 9





Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge 11, Muse 8: "Who's That Behind Those Foster Grants?"











2/13/2020

Invisible - Part 7

Continued from Part 6

Source: Sascha Grosser & Library of Congress
via WikiMedia Commons

Part 7: Memories

Mac takes a final look at his undignified teenage self, laughs again, and hands the old photo back to Milo.

“I’m going to wander around the shop a bit if you don’t mind. Maybe I can find that carefree and foolish kid in the picture. I didn’t know it then, but that was the greatest time of my life. I was at the top of the heap," he chuckles, “and in more ways than one.”

“Sure. Take your time,” Milo replies. “Moochie will show you around.”

Mac headed into the stacks, Mooch trailing along.


***


Margaret taps lightly on the display window of the bookshop. When the woman sitting inside turns at the sound, Margaret holds up one finger and pushes open the door. As she enters, the tinkling bell catches Milo’s attention, but Margaret gives him a smile and a quick wave, then heads over to the reading nook.

“Miriam! I’m so glad I ran into you. I was going to give you a call later.”

The seated woman turns to look at Margaret, her eyes widening. “Oh, hi, Margaret. Um, wow, you look… different, … I mean, great, you look great.” Miriam stumbles over her surprise. She wishes she had the courage to dress like that. But that might draw attention to her, make people look. She pretends she’s invisible, and for the most part, she is.

Miriam doesn’t know the other woman well; she only knows her from the bank. But every time Miriam has seen her, Margaret has been the very image of the conservative banker, dressed in a dark suit, her hair pulled back into a knot at the back of her head. But today, she’s dressed in jeans  tucked into knee-high black leather boots and a wildly colorful flowered shirt. Draped over her shoulders, she wears a deep purple cape. A cape, of all things! Her hair is loose, floating in a curly grey cloud around her head. And rather than the serious faced woman Miriam usually sees at the bank, this one is smiling broadly.

Margaret laughs, and says, “My friend, you are looking at the face of a happy woman. She’s been invisible in a corporate cage for 35 years, but voila, she’s been set free! I retired.”

“Oh, congratulations! I guess I don’t need to ask how you feel about that.


*** 

Miriam doesn’t dare consider her own retirement. She fears that if she didn’t have her job at Serenity Acres, the elder care home, she’d probably never leave her house.

Miriam is a nurse. For fifteen years, she worked as the nurse manager at a large medical center in the city. Until she didn’t. After the accident, instead of being the nurse manager, she became a patient at her own hospital. The admiration of her coworkers was replaced by pity.

She doesn’t talk about the accident that completely changed her life, but she’ll never forget it.

She’d like to think that Brad had changed after they got married, but she knows she’d be deluding herself. She was young, and dazzled by the idea of marriage and family. They’d been unable to have children, but that wasn’t the problem. Or maybe it was. After testing, they discovered that the inability to have children had been Brad’s. Miriam was eager to have a family, and wanted to adopt, but Brad wouldn’t hear of it. Maybe that was why he became such a jealous man.

As the years passed, his possessiveness grew, and he began accusing her of flirting with the doctors at the hospital. She’d given him no reason, but he became obsessed with it. It was a catch-22 for her. Because Miriam began to dread going home, she accepted additional shifts. This, of course, meant she was at the hospital longer, which fed into Brad’s suspicions. It was unbearable, and she considered divorce. But Brad had other ideas.

One overcast Sunday afternoon, he said, “Come on, Miriam, let’s go for a drive. There’s something I want to show you.”

“Now? But it’s going to rain, Brad.”

“Nah, we’ll get back before it does. It isn’t far.”

Miriam didn’t want to start another argument, so she grabbed her bag and followed him out to the car. Sure enough, the rain started to come down, but it didn’t deter him. He headed out toward the country, talking as he drove. He barely let her get a word in edgewise and she soon realized that Brad was losing it. He was rambling, apologizing for his temper, claiming it was only because he loved her so much and didn’t want to lose her to another man. After a few miles of his rant, he stopped the car and turned to face her.

“I hope you understand, Miriam. It’s because I love you so much.”

Before she had a chance to respond, he floored the gas pedal, and the car took off with a screech of rubber on the wet pavement. The road was long and straight, and there were no other cars around them.

Brad! Brad," she screamed, "slow down!”

He never lifted his foot from the gas pedal. He intended to crash the car! He wanted to kill her. There was a bridge abutment up ahead that had been the scene of several accidents. It was known as the site of “suicide by bridge,” though she was sure that none of the kids who were killed there while drag racing had wanted to die.

The last thing she saw before everything went black was a bit of graffiti on the abutment.

Much to her surprise, when she came to, she was in the hospital, swaddled in bandages, her leg in a sling suspended from the ceiling. A nurse was leaning over her. Though speech was difficult, she mumbled, “Brad.”

“Sorry, hon, Brad’s gone. Your car smashed into a bridge abutment out on County Road. You know the one. The car skidded in the rain, spun around, and hit on the driver’s side. Brad was killed instantly, and you… well, you’re in bad shape, but you’ll live.”

Weeks later, many weeks later, she left the hospital with a small limp and a large ugly scar on the right side of her face. Oh, and the memory of a big heart graffiti painted on the abutment.

Though plastic surgery was possible, the doctors she spoke to---and there were many---told her repair was difficult and would involve many operations. They all said they couldn’t return her face to its original condition, but it would be "better."

Instead of investing more of her life in endless operations, she quit her job, sold her house, and moved to Middleburg, where no one would remember that she'd been attractive. With her credentials and experience, she quickly found a job at the elder care facility on the outskirts of town.

*** 

She pushed the memories from her mind. She smiled her lopsided smile at Margaret, and asked, “Why were you going to call me?”

“Now that I’m retired, I can finally do something I’ve been thinking about for a long time," Margaret responded with enthusiasm. "And I think you can help me.”



Continued in Part 8: Mustering the Troops


Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge 11, Muse 7: "Because I Love You, I'm Going to Kill You"

2/12/2020

Invisible - Part 6

Continued from Part 5

(Public Domain)

Part 6:  Em’s Bookshop


Mac pushes through the door that says "Em’s Bookshop," tinkling the little bell that hangs above it.  The shop isn’t huge, not like those behemoth bookstores that proliferate in L.A. There’s one in every mall, which are behemoths themselves. Not one whit of charm.  But this shop oozes charm. He likes it.

He looks around. In the front, left of the door where he remembers there being twirling wire racks holding paperbacks and comic books, there is an old wooden counter, now unoccupied, with a cash register sitting on it.  Signs on the wall behind it colorfully advertise new releases. To the right of the door, in front of the display windows that face the street outside, several comfortable chairs gather into an inviting seating area. Nice, way better than the wheelchairs and walkers wearing signs that said “For Rent” that used to gather there. A woman sits in one of the easy chairs facing away from him, engrossed in her book.

In the center of the store are books in rows of shelving that display them according to category.  From between Fiction and Poetry, where the soda fountain used to be, he sees a guy wearing brown cords and a rather misshapen forest green sweater emerge, a dog at his heels.  The man smiles at him as he approaches, but there’s something kind of sad about him. There’s nothing sad about the dog, though. As some dogs do, this guy is smiling.  He has one ear up and the other down, a real Disney dog. Spotting Mac, the pooch runs up and circles him, tail going a mile a minute.

“Moochie, cut that out! No begging from the customers!” The man holds out his hand to Mac, and says, chuckling, “Sorry about that. He’s very friendly and won’t bite, but he’s always hungry. If you’d had a donut or something, you wouldn’t have it anymore.”

Mac shakes his hand, and says, “No worries. I like dogs.”

Leaning down to pet the pup, he immediately sends Moochie into paroxysms of pleasure. He falls to the floor belly up, squirming as Mac scratches his chest. Laughing, Mac says, “Cute guy.”

“Can I help you find something?” the man asks.

With a final pat, Mac straightens up and looks around. “Not unless you tell me that the soda fountain is hidden in the back somewhere.”

The man smiles and says, “No, sorry. That’s long gone, ever since Em’s Bookshop opened years ago. When the drugstore fell on hard times, we leased the space, and here we are.”

“Are you Em?” Mac asks.

“No, that was Emmaline, my wife. She died a while back. It's just me now, and Mooch here, of course. I’m Milo.”

“Oh. I’m so sorry. Nice to meet you, Milo and Mooch. I’m Mac. No soda fountain, huh? I’m hungry, but I noticed a deli next door. I’ll give that a try.” Mac sweeps his eyes around the room. “But first I think I’ll wander around a bit. To be honest, this is a bit of a journey back in time for me. I grew up here, and my buddies and I spent more time hanging out in the drugstore, reading comics and drinking soda than we did doing our homework.”

“Ah. I see. Come with me.”

Milo leads Mac over to the counter and reaches beneath to pull out a battered shoe box. Rummaging through it, he says, “This is a bit of memorabilia we saved from the drugstore.” He retrieves a picture and hands it to Mac. "This was taken out front. The booth is long gone---aren't they all?-- but maybe you’ll remember it. It should be from around your time.”

Mac takes the old photo, and bursts out laughing. “Oh. My. Gawd! I think that’s my keister posing so fetchingly up there on top! Now that’s a motley crew if ever I saw one. Thank goodness my face is invisible!”

From the chair where she's been eavesdropping, Miriam thinks to herself, thank goodness mine is too.




Continued in Part 7: Memories

Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge 11, Muse 6: "A Motley Crew"

2/10/2020

Invisible - Part 5

Continued from Part 4: Margaret


Part 5: Mackensie

By the time the bus reaches the small station and he steps down to the sidewalk, Mac had seen most of Main Street. His old home town; it hasn’t changed much. Oh, sure, that Walmart he saw on the outskirts wasn’t there back then, but for the most part, he recognizes a lot of it. He feels a peacefulness settle over him. It’s such a relief from the feelings L.A. gave him. Yes, it was exciting at first, full of promise, but that had faded pretty fast, leaving stress and worry about food and his rent in its stead.

The last time he saw this town, he was on a bus about to travel in the opposite direction. He was on his way to Hollywood, the bright lights, and the fame that awaited him there. He was sure of it. He eschewed the idea of going to college like so many of his high school classmates. He was an actor, and he could hear Hollywood beckoning. Hadn’t he been a hit in the senior play? Yeah, he knew he wasn’t matinee idol material. Remember that guy on TV a while back who used to refer to himself as ruggedly handsome? OK, so Mac wasn’t ruggedly handsome, but he was ruggedly…rugged. And he could act, right?  

Once in Hollywood, Mac answered some roommate wanted ads and found himself a room in a house with a couple of other guys trying to break into the business. He started answering audition calls, and after a few months, a small studio signed him. First thing they did was change his name. He was now Mackensie Chastain, for Pete’s sake, a mostly unemployed actor. It didn’t take long for Mac to realize that every other restaurant server and valet guy was a wannabe actor, and they were movie-star handsome. He wasn’t a total failure though. The studio put him to work. He got some parts. Sort of. He at least got onto the big screen, albeit in bit parts, most with no lines. That was more that many of the others could claim. He was great at looking busy while walking down the hall behind the action. Hah. That was his life out there, looking busy while wandering around behind the action. Totally invisible most of the time. Except for his last film. Oh, yes, the audience noticed him then.

At what must have been his three-thousand-seventy-second audition, he got the lead in a psychological horror film called Midnight Obsession. Horror was not quite what he aspired to, but, hey, it was a movie and he had the lead! Ha. It turned out that he played the creature. It was still considered the lead, even if no one would ever recognize him. He had to wear a dreadful creature suit made of some kind of smelly rubber or something. It was really heavy and hot as hell inside.

The film was actually a success. Although it was no big box office smash, it had a decent cult following. And Mac hated it. Sweat, scales, secretions, and sex. Hell of a plot, huh? When he finally washed off the gluey makeup, he washed off the last of his ambition along with it. He decided to go home.

And here he is. Home. After a moment standing on the street, inhaling the cold but clean---what a concept--- air, Mac thinks lunch. He heads toward the old corner drugstore. A tuna sandwich and a lemonade, that’s the ticket.

When he reaches he corner where he is sure the drugstore used to be---after all, he and his buddies used to hang out there after school---he’s surprised to see a sign telling him that it's now a bookstore,

Well, damn. Time passes. He turns his back for a few decades, and look what happens.

But the place looks intriguing. He decides to go in and check it out.



To be continued in Part 6



Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge 11, Muse 5: "Tentacles of Ritual and Secretions of Madness"






2/09/2020

Invisible - Part 4

Continued from Part 3: Mooch


Part 4: Margaret

After a solitary lunch at the deli, Margaret makes a quick stop at the Old Corner Bookstore to look in on her friend Milo. Poor guy, he’s wasting away. Her heart breaks for him. His wife died last month, and he’s wearing his grief like a cloak against the winter chill beginning to seep into the old shop.

“Milo, please come visit me on Saturday evening. I have an idea, and I’d like to ask your help.”

Milo gives his best effort at a smile, and replies, “Um, okay. What time?”

“Great. Seven o’clock should do it. I’m sure you know where I live. It’s that old pile at 1420 Emerson Lane. See you then!”

Back in the bank, Margaret stops off in the ladies’ loo to check for the inevitable piece of lettuce stuck in her teeth.  She smooths her unruly hair back into the bun intended to tame it and straightens her suit skirt. Smiling at her image in the mirror, she thinks, pretty soon, I can ditch the suit and let my hair run wild. I will not be the invisible banker lady anymore.

In her office, she turns her attention to the never-ending paperwork on her desk until it’s time for the meeting. As vice president of the bank, she’s convinced that it is she keeping the place afloat. But it's gotten more difficult.

Under one of the stacks of paper, she finds a note that says, “Meeting in the conference room, today 4:00PM.’ It’s signed with her boss’ recognizable signature, an unintelligible scrawl of his initials. What now, she thinks, quickly followed up by whatever. Tomorrow is her last day.

As Margaret walks down the hall, she notes that the double doors to the conference room at the far end of the hall are closed. Odd. While they are normally kept closed, she’d expect them to be opened in anticipation of a meeting. She glances at her watch: 3:57PM. Perhaps she’s the first to arrive.

She opens the door, and the room bursts into applause and cheers. She’s quickly surrounded by her coworkers, all clapping furiously. Smiling, she looks around the room.

The ceiling is festooned with balloons of every color, curly ribbon spiraling down from each one.

The conference table in the center of the room has been transformed into a banquet table. At the left end sits a cake, iced with the words “Congratulations, Margaret!” Down the center, she sees platters of finger sandwiches, cookies, and brownies, the kind she loves best, deep chocolate with nuts. And at the right end, there’s a wine bucket with the foil top of a bottle of champagne poking out. Next to it is a tray of plastic champagne flutes. I guess 30 years at the bank has its rewards, she thinks. I wonder if there's a gold watch...

On the wall opposite the doors hangs a big colorful banner, its fanciful letters spelling out cheery best wishes.



Grinning broadly, Margaret says, “You guys! Now this is my kind of meeting!”

There’s laughter and more applause, and then Josh Lane, the head teller, picks up the champagne and wraps the dripping bottle in a dish towel obviously purloined from the breakroom. “Here, you’re the star of the moment. You do the honors,” he says as he hands the wrapped bottle to Margaret.

She loosens and removes the little metal cage over the cork, then peels off the foil. She wonders if she should show off a little and open the bottle the way that dashing young vintner taught her when she visited the wine caves in le PĂ©rigord in France during her vacation a few years ago. Deciding against it, she positions her thumbs on either side of the cork top, aims at the ceiling, and gives a mighty shove. The cork flies off the top with a loud POP! and makes a direct hit on one of the balloons, which gives an even louder POP!!! Waiting to catch the gushing wine, Josh is at her side, holding the flutes beneath the flow. then passes the glasses to the assembled.

When everyone has a glass, old Henry Ogilvy, the bank's revered president, raises his and says, "To Margaret! I don't know what we'll do without her."

You've got that right, Margaret thinks, but says, Thank you."

“What are you going to do, Margaret?” Henry asks. "Are you planning on a trip?”

“No. I've got a project in mind at home. Come see me,” she says, though she knows they won’t. “You know where to find me. 1420 Emerson Lane.”



To be continued in Part 5

 

Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge No. 11, Muse 4: "1420 Emerson Lane."


2/08/2020

Invisible - Part 3


Continued from Invisible - Part 2


(Credit via Creative Commons

Part 3 – Mooch

Mooch is a true denizen of the streets. He can barely remember the time when he wasn’t homeless. Of course, he once had a home, back when he was Mitch. But it was nothing like the home he’d hoped it would be when he was adopted. The old man was a drunk, and when he had been drinking, which was pretty much always, he was a bully. He frequently slapped his “woman” (as he referred to her) around. And he also beat Mitch, calling him a good-for-nothing.  As soon as he was old enough to really think about it, old enough to believe he might have a chance to survive on his own, Mitch was out of there. He slipped out one night and got as far away as he could before he was weak with exhaustion. When he spotted a shed with the door ajar, he went in and slept. At first light he took off again, hiding whenever he saw a car coming. He didn’t think the old man would come looking for him, but as scary as it was out there alone, he was determined never to go back.

When he reached the busy part of town, he saw a bunch of kids sitting just inside a park, having lunch among the fallen leaves. In between bites, they tossed leaves at each other. He went over, and they greeted him. They were friendly enough, and one of the girls handed him part of a hamburger. He decided to hang out with them. When they got up to leave, the girl with the hamburger said, “Come on, kid. You might as well stick with us.”

So he stayed with the kids, who seemed to be homeless too. At night, they slept in a deserted old warehouse near the railroad tracks, and they went out on the busy streets by day and begged. One day, Mitch went into the park to pee, and when he came out, he saw the kids being rounded up. They were loaded into a black van and taken away. Mitch was on his own again.

At least he’s kind of gotten the hang of living on the streets, and it isn’t quite so scary. He’s wary of being grabbed up like the kids, though, so he spends most of his time in the alley behind the restaurants on the main street. He can usually find decent pickings around the dumpsters and garbage cans. Sometimes, someone opens one of the doors and chases him away. “Get out of here, you mooch!” But mostly he's left alone.

Every now and then, he ventures out of the alley and tries to beg on the street. He doesn’t have much luck. People just rush by him as if he were invisible. So it’s back to the alley and the garbage cans. Some of the people inside are nice to him, and occasionally give him a bite to eat. They’ve all started to call him Mooch, and he likes it. He puts Mitch far behind him

He still sleeps in the old building at night. It’s lonely, and still a little scary. He can hear the rats who also call the building home, but they leave him alone. There’s a lot of pictures sprayed on the walls that mean nothing to him. But there’s one he likes, though he doesn’t understand it.  There’s something restful about it. It’s his favorite spot to sleep.

Outside, it’s raining buckets. He counts himself lucky to have a place to go that keeps him out of the rain. But tonight he has to brave it; he’s hungry. In the alley, he goes to a garbage can where he is most always lucky. Throwing his usual caution to the wind, he knocks the lid off and begins to pick though the contents. The clatter of the lid hitting the ground is loud, and it brings a guy to the door of the next place. Mooch freezes, and peers at the man through the soaked hair hanging in front of his eyes. He hopes he’s invisible tonight.

“Good heavens, man. It’s fit for neither man nor beast out there. Come on in. I’ll share my sandwich with you.”



To be continued in Part 4: Margaret


Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge No. 11, Muse 3: "Mathematics of Man"

2/04/2020

Invisible - Part 2

Continued from Invisible - Part 1



Part 2: Milo

Through the window, Milo can see the day darkening as the ominous clouds of the predicted storm fill the sky. Dead leaves lay in the gutters, being flattened by the first raindrops. He feels the sinking temperature in his bones, and he’s very glad he grabbed his coat before leaving home this morning. There’s nothing pretty about this late autumn day. Fitting,

He turns to look at Emmaline, motionless in the hospital bed. She looks so peaceful, probably, he thinks, for the first time in months. She’s been ill for so long, and dying for almost as long. Of course, he’s heart-broken to lose the love of his life for the past 30 years, 30 years when it was just the two of them. But if he’s honest with himself, he must admit he’s relieved, even though he feels desperately alone and empty.

How clearly he remembers the day the doctor delivered Emmaline’s death sentence. The two of them sat before his desk, truly expecting him to tell her that she had something like irritable bowel syndrome. They’d even joked about it. “You’ve always been a pain in the ass, Em,” he’d said to her. Instead, the doctor looked them both in the eye, and said, “Advanced pancreatic cancer.”

Nothing was ever the same again.  Despite the doctor’s prediction that it wouldn’t help, she’d insisted on going through chemo.  As if dying weren’t enough, she added to her suffering, thanks to that damned chemo. She was constantly nauseous, and barely left her bed except to rush to the toilet. It tore him up to watch the weight melt off her. He tried to concoct tempting but bland meals, oxymoronic as that is. She did her best to get them down, but she could never keep them down.  After several months, the doctor took her off the chemo, telling her that not only was it not helping, it was making it worse for her. She had only about a month to live. Though Milo agreed with the doctor that she should stay in the hospital, she refused, saying she wanted to die at home. And so she came home. He did his best to honor her wishes, giving her pain pills and sips of water, wiping her brow, reading to her all night when she couldn’t sleep.

Last night, he couldn’t stand it anymore. She lay in the grip of pain, moaning, and he’d called an ambulance. Once back in the hospital, they’d hooked her up to a morphine drip, and slowly, the grimace of pain faded from her face, and she slept. He sat by her side and held her hand, listening to her breathe. Until she didn’t.

It’s time. He kisses Emmaline’s forehead gently, whispers goodbye, pulls on his coat, and leaves. He needs to get back to work. He’s left the shop in the hands of Emmaline's best friend, Margaret, who has helped him out now and then during Emmaline’s illness.

It’s raining full bore by the time he gets back to the shop. After telling her that Em has gone, he thanks her  and sees her out against her objections, and locks up. He doesn’t want to go home to the house, the house that will always be empty without Emmaline. Still carrying the meatloaf sandwich he picked up at the deli next door, he wanders aimlessly to the back room. He’s lost. Without Emmaline, he’s nothing. In the gloom of the storeroom, he sinks down on a box of books waiting to be shelved, and sobs.

He has no idea how long he’s being sitting in the dark crying like a baby, but a loud crash outside in the alley brings him back. No mistaking it. It's dinner time, so it’s Mooch, picking through the garbage can.  That’s not his real name; rumor around the neighborhood has it that his name is Mitch. But everyone calls him Mooch, because he’s always looking for a handout.

Milo unlocks the back door and looks though the pouring rain at Mooch, standing at the garbage can, his coat soaked and filthy from the streets.

“Good heavens, man. It's fit for neither man nor beast out there. Come on in. I’ll share my sandwich with you.”



To be continued in Part 3: Mooch



Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge No. 11, Muse 2: "Lost and Found In the Old Corner Bookstore"