Beggars Can’t Be Choosers

She wanted all the mail brought to her. She didn’t want anyone deciding if she should receive the advertising fliers, weekly grocery store bulletins, or enveloped solicitations – she wanted the whole lot so her fingers could walk through a world of merchandise uninhibited by time or place. She’d take her time going through the mail delivery. Why not? Time was worthless currency to her now, so why not spend it going through the mail?

            Later in the afternoon as she perused the stack of colorful leaflets while seated in her easy chair, a hot cup of tea slowly steeping on the side table, she’d imagine herself in a dress that caught her eye, or wearing a pair of shoes that were advertised at close out prices, or simply walking the aisles of the grocery store selecting items all by herself.

            There would be times she’d drift off for so long in this reverie that when she returned, she wasn’t sure if she had simply dozed off or really left the house. But, after steadying her thoughts a bit longer, she’d accept that it was just a daydream.

            Looking around the room, one that had been her salvation and prison for so long, she’d noticed new problems. Cobwebs she could no longer reach. Plaster crumbling under the window. Paint turning a grimy shade of gray. And dust, her eternal enemy, coating everything, everywhere, always.

            If only she had the energy to get up and do something, she’d think. Battling evils only slain by a good deep spring cleaning would do the place a world of good and make her feel so much better. But she’d expended her limited energy on showering and putting a few articles of clothing in the closet. She’d made lunch and attempted to sweep the kitchen floor. She was done in by the effort. Hot tears of anger threatened as ofttimes they did. Today they did not fall. Perhaps tomorrow then.

            Returning to the mail, she found a post card from her daughter, the one who thought she knew so much, the one she’d wanted to love but couldn’t, not really. She looked too much like her father. This daughter had fled the suffocating noose of small-town life, of neighbors who were really cousins, cousins who, truth be told, wanted to flee as well. She understood her daughter, really she did, but still she didn’t like her. This town had been good enough for her, why wasn’t it good enough for her child?

            Once when the daughter was picking up sticks and heading to California, she had the presence of mind to bid her well. “I hope you find what you’re looking for.” The daughter didn’t, of course. She was back three years later.

            Looking down at the postcard, she took in the image of the Sonoran Desert and its stark abstract beauty. She knew her daughter loved this part of the country and longed to relocate there. But not now. Not now when her own needs were mounting. Needing help made her feel weak and useless. She knew her daughter wouldn’t leave, not now.

            And full circle she was back to wishing she could just stand up and move forward as if gliding right out the front door and down the street, down the sidewalk headed to the post office. It couldn’t be more then 75 steps from her door to the post office lobby. She’d never been inside the post office. She told herself that one day she’d collect her own damn mail and stop depending on others. She’d imagined doing this so many times it seemed real. Tears returned and then retreated.

            The postcard writer – that daughter nearing middle-age now – described the morning air, the red rocks, delicious Mexican foods, and that she’d be home by Friday in time for the doctor’s appointment. Both women knew that appointment would be parlayed into shopping and lunch, a full day of playing at being friends.

            On the appointed day they’d make their way to the car, the daughter would load the wheelchair in the hatchback, then off they’d go with the essence of Jean Nate wafting around them. There would be times during the outing where she’d forget this wasn’t the child she really longed to spend time with, but, “beggars can’t be choosers,” she’d remind herself again.

            As for the daughter, well, she tried her best at joyfulness. While driving her mother around she’d silently practice deep breathing and restful thoughts about kindness. She’d embrace the AA mantra “fake it ‘til you make it” and smile, smile, smile, as her mother uploaded the latest family news.

            There were glimpses, sneak peeks here and there, when the daughter believed her mother truly was enjoying herself. She tried not to invest too much hope to that thought balloon. She’d been wrong before.

            Taking the postcard from the stack, she set it by the lamp so that when the daughter arrived in a few days she’d see it there and know her mother had been thinking of her and waiting for her return. Faking – now there’s a family trait that fits all sizes. It wasn’t that the daughter was really bad, she just felt her daughter had forgotten where she came from, put on airs, and, Jesus, how did she get that job that found her traveling round the country? (And didn’t she think she was something else with her business suits, new car, and freshly colored hair?)

            Thinking was tiring. Her eyes felt heavy. Maybe she’d close them just for a minute or two just long enough to refresh her thinking. She took the mail and tossed it in the wastepaper basket. Then she took the postcard and tore it into pieces, tossed those in with the mail, closed her eyes and drifted away.

This Mattapoisett Life

By Marilou Newell

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