By Paul Riches
The silver earrings are the best, so she simply has to wear them on this special day. Anything else would be dishonest, even unnatural, betraying Margaret’s welling excitement for the coming meeting. Yes, the earrings from her wedding long ago made every occasion perfect. And this has to be perfect.
With all her fussing finally over with, she sits in her chair, leaving it slightly at an angle and away from the open door. Fidgeting, then willing herself to stop so as to not look unseemly or, worse yet, immature, she keeps stealing glances at the clock above the empty door. Soon it will be four.
A full minute early, a shadow enters the room, making Margaret squirrel with abandon. A second later, when the shadow gives way to a person, all movement in the chair stops. Striding into Margaret’s room, full of a bright smile and a glow of happy, is this wonderful young lady. With a few steps she is before Margaret, extending a hand in friendship.
“Hello Margaret. I’m Joy. It is my great pleasure to meet you!”
They gently grasp hands, exchange smiles, and their eyes meet in this lovely dance of introduction. Joy’s hand is so warm, so comfortable, to Margaret.
“Hello Joy. It is also a great pleasure to meet you!”
She puts an extra bit of spark into the last bit. She does not want this young lady to see someone who is almost ninety before her. Joy has to see the Margaret from long ago.
Within minutes Joy is sitting on the lone bed and chatting away with frenetic energy. The entire history, starting with the sign up sheet at high school, the excitement of rushing over to be the first name on it, and the mystery of whom she would be paired with. All these adventures, these thrills, pours out of Joy with all cylinders moving and flowing. For Margaret, it is a marvel to behold. Someone wants to be with her. After all this time, the burden of these four walls of silence might just evaporate.
With that final thought, Margaret meets her reality. Years of unspoken loneliness, never alluded to, never telegraphed, not even to the son who stayed around for awhile, or the even longer pain with the other son, who never calls, sends a card, or a much missed condolence. Decades of why’s and whatnot’s keep poking into Margaret during all parts of the days and nights. This wave pulls her physically from Joy and into herself.
She does not even notice the movement. Joy crosses the threshold between them and gently holds Margaret in a light embrace. Breathing together, arms wrapped, quiet fingers granting reassurance. No words, just love.
After an eternity inside of a minute, Joy pulls herself in front of Margaret. This teenage girl whose face is filled with hard to place exotic features, dark hair cascading over shoulders, and a glittery silver necklace dangling down into the air between them, sends waves of compassion to Margaret. And the smile sends hope.
She returns the smile, but is still worried. This wonderful girl would be gone in five weeks when the program ends. This she knows to be true, for she imagines all that Joy sees is wrinkles and grey and someone from before everything.
“We are going to have the best time ever.”
Joy’s words surprises Margaret. Maybe this girl wants to stay. Maybe she wants to be friends. Maybe.
“Yes, yes we are.”
Five weeks click by with four o’clock every weekday becoming a very special time.
Sometimes the hour is board games, other times a makeshift picnic, and once or twice a discussion of classic movies. A short trip to the garden outside the foyer entrance produces a promise of lilies in Joy’s wedding, however long into the future that might be. This feat is matched, but with fruitless results, by Margaret’s attempts to learn social networking on Joy’s tablet computer. Multiple strange status updates, coupled with laughter, come from the young lady the day of the euchre game played with made up rules.
Merriment pauses on the weekends, with Joy off at work, but to make up for those indiscretions, she dallies with leaving at five. A nurse shoeing her out becomes more and more common by the end of the program. Margaret barely notices the weeks move by, such is the ways of Joy, when an offhand comment overheard in the hall brings the finale straight to her attention. The last Friday brings no happiness to Margaret and her small little room. Her chair, pulled away from the door, holds Margaret prisoner with its crushing despair.
“Wanna learn to text?”
Joy’s perky words prick at Margaret’s ears and makes her head pop up to meet the voice. The face of her soon to leave friend beams at Margaret, a shining light moving quickly to a dim glow.
“What’s wrong Margaret?”
Frowns crease Joy’s delicate features, marring the perfection Margaret sees virtually every day. Now she hates herself even more, since she is causing such obvious pain to her almost gone friend. Just like she always does.
“Margaret… You are worrying me…”
Her tears fill her cheeks. Eyes glassy with pain stare into eyes straining for understanding.
“Today in your last day. An hour from now you will be gone from me.”
“I understand why. You have a life to live. Boys to see. Your own grandparents to visit.”
“So, what would you like to do on your last day?”
Joy’s face goes slack at this question. Hurt comes from her eyes. Words slowly move out of her soul.
“Why… why would you think I was leaving?”
“I thought it was obvious from the first day that when the five weeks was up, I would be staying.”
“This isn’t our last day. That moment will never happen. Ever.”
“You are my friend.”
Both women let the tears fall off their cheeks and into the empty air. Several seconds of emotions, frozen in their mind’s eyes, move them together into something else, something new, a love filled with beauty.
Flowing into each other, they hug and hold one another, with much the same gentleness and light touch as the first time they embraced those scant few weeks back. Only now it is accompanied by understanding.
Heartbeats pass in time before the one become two again. Margaret pulls a wad of crumpled up tissues from her pocket and tries to wipe away the damage of the last few minutes from her face. No matter how much she dabs and pokes, it seems to take forever to find all the hurt drenching her.
As Margaret’s hands go on with the task, a new hand joins the fray. Joy, valiantly smiling through her own tear-filled leftovers, majestically uses fresh tissues to complete the reformation of Margaret.
“And now you look as wonderful as the first day we met. Just like you always should.”
“Thank you Joy. Thank you. And you were mentioning… texting?”
The next hour fills with a crash course to nowhere about texting. But neither lady, young or old, complains in the slightest. Once the end of the visit happens, they very slyly test the nurse’s mettle by letting the minutes flow by a bit more then usual. Five fifteen strikes and brings the playful wrath of the nurse leading Joy out. Waving frantically while posing in the open doorway, Joy give out one final promise before she finally departs.
“See you next Monday Margaret! We simply have to teach you emoticons next!”
With Monday they resume that lesson, only to realize that allowing the weekend to interfere with this process did not help Margaret pick up this skill any easier. That lack of results fazed them not a bit, the time of joking and half finished messages sent to unsuspecting targets makes both giddy with delight. The next few days translates into the next few weeks. They pile into a movie every Wednesday and Thursday, watched in segments on Joy’s tablet computer, with both deciding who the hottest gentleman was in each, sometimes agreeing, other times not. Proving she does not live completely digitally, Joy brought in her newest, most favourite book. Margaret plunged into this story, part one of series filled with action, adventure and a passage involving a trident fight. The thrill of this, coupled with tracking the news of the coming movie adaptation, takes up almost an entire week. One month breathes into another, with nary an issue raised or a voice frustrated during this time.
By the start of the third month, the pair enters into another aborted attempt to create a card/board game hybrid involving wool, when a special bing from Joy’s smartphone penetrates their efforts. Concern steels across the teen’s face as she leaves the wool behind and cradles the device filling the room with purpose. Shock hits Joy, bringing with it tears and a strained voice.
These words blur behind her as she grabs her bag and bolts out the open door with the hasty speed of trouble.
“But… But… Are you okay?”
Her words fell empty onto the barren floor as Margaret finds herself alone with the four walls again. The wool sitting by itself, limply forgotten now.
Four o’clock hits the next day and Margaret stares at the open door, willing for Joy to magically appear and be okay. As the clock above the door passes a minute after four, the shadow of Joy slowly enters the room, bringing with it a young lady with the pain of the world resonating on her very being.
A voice so low came out of her mouth that Margaret was not entirely sure at first the words were actually spoken.
“Hello Joy. Are you all right? You have had me quite worried since yesterday.”
The young teen stands in front of Margaret, staring at the floor, with the air pressing in around her.
“I got a text with some bad news. Really bad news…”
Her voice rises against the unseen forces, but trails off at the end.
“What happened Joy?”
At this, fighting against the universe, Joy raises her head finally and looks Margaret face to face. The pain and emptiness greeting her brings a shudder.
“My friend was attacked. Some people beat her. She was overnight in the hospital. She is okay now. And now she is scared. And so am I. This should not have happened to her. She did not deserve this. No one does.”
Her staccato delivery startles Margaret almost as much as what is said. The thought quietly settles in, that someone, a friend of Joy’s, was hurt by nebulous persons beyond this room.
“Why… Why did they attack your friend? Did they arrest them?”
As the questions spill out, the other thought that swirls inside Margaret, the one she has wondered about for almost the past day, leaves her mouth and enters the fray.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
Quietness settles in, a long eerie silence mixes with the unseen outside forces and brings the entire room into a separate place. The clatter and dysfunction of the hallway snaps both back into the here and now of them.
“Because I did not want you to judge her.”
Margaret’s jaw shifts back and forth, a motion she has not done since her younger son had taken his leave some long time ago, a habit she formed when her first son moved everyone left to her far far away, a trait she inherited from the grandmother who was never happy. All the pain in her being, which made her hollow and ostracized from humanity, caused this liability to manifest itself. After all this life wasted, she knew what she has to do, deny the shifting and allow the living.
“Why would I judge her?”
Joy met this stoic response with measured words of her own.
“Because she was beaten because she is gay. And older people don’t like gays.”
The accusation, born out of desperation and helplessness, reverberates in the air, forcing the pressure around Joy away with her anger.
“That… is not true. I don’t know if I know any gays. But I am sure some have been around me in my life. I think.”
Margaret stumbles along, but finally finds some footing with Joy, giving courage to her next thought.
“Why didn’t you tell me about this friend. She obviously means a lot to you. Gay or not gay, it matters not. All that matters right now is her.”
Joy lets the words enter her and fill her senses. All the evil and chaos delivered by the text now dissipates, with love and compassion, which is always present, always thriving, now back in its rightful place.
“They hit her and I couldn’t stop them!”
Joy plunges into Margaret’s waiting arms, wracked with tears, all finally flowing out.
“It is going to be all right, Joy. It will all be all right.”
Margaret pats Joy’s head as the last twenty-four hours pain begins to be cleansed. The room around them breathes again.
“Joy. I want to meet your friend. What is her name?”
Joy whispers in Margaret’s ear.
Four o’clock the next day is fast approaching and Margaret has the finishing touches to attend to. The silver earrings are the best, so wearing them is never in question, for this is a special day. And it will be perfect.
With the last detail now in place, Margaret stands and faces the open door, waiting for the moment. Soon it will be four.
Several minutes early, two figures turn from the hallway and enter the room. Crossing the threshold into her room comes Joy and Lidia. The new young lady possesses light hair that stops just short of her shoulders and freckles grouped under her eyes like a waterfall. A hesitant smile lives on her face, showing braces that shine like Joy’s necklace. A still swollen bruise litters her right cheek, matching other blemishes adorning her arms, and the imagined ones, sight unseen, that Margaret knows exists elsewhere. Such beauty sullied by such evil.
“Hello Margaret, it is a pleasure to meet you.”
They clasp warm hands tenderly, which causes Margaret to pull Lidia into a hug.
“Hello Lidia, it is my great pleasure to meet you!”
Four o’clock Appointment with Joy is Copyright 2013 to Paul Riches
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First published on Wednesday, December 4th, 2013