Thursday, March 23, 2023

An original short story: Marie's House by Patty Panni

“Gracious Living, how may I help you?”

The voice on the phone was polished and friendly. Like she was actually interested in helping me. “Uh, yes, hello. I—uh—I was interested in……” My voice faded away.

Confound it all, had it really come to this?

“Excuse me, I didn’t quite catch the end of that. You’re interested in…?”

Another awkward pause. “Sorry, yes. I—”

Just say it!

“I’m interested in finding someone to help me around the house.”

“Of course. We can definitely help with that. What type of assistance do you need? Cooking? Cleaning? Shopping? Transportation to appointments?”

“I…well, I guess I need all of that.”

“Well, we can certainly help you with all of that. May I get your name?”

“Parish. Charles Parish.”

I gave her my address and answered a few more questions. She told me they could have someone here tomorrow afternoon. I could meet her…interview her, I guess, and let them know if she would work out. If not, she assured me there were other candidates, so I shouldn’t feel obligated to anyone.

Losing my Marie had been a shock. Even though we’d been together for over fifty years, when I looked at her I still saw that girl I fell for in Mr. Mason’s freshman math class. We married straight out of high school, even though my buddies – and her friends – told us we were crazy to tie ourselves down so young.

But Marie…looking into her eyes, I saw the whole world. And that world was the only one I wanted. As the years passed that feeling never changed, even when the cancer came. It took her hair, then it took her strength…but I never thought it would take her. We both thought she would beat it. What we didn’t know then was that the cancer was in both of us. When I got diagnosed soon after her death it seemed almost fitting. After all, we’d done so much else together, why not this?

I kissed her picture when I got into bed that night, as I’d done every night since she’d gone. It was a poor substitute for the real thing, though. The nights were the hardest.

The next day at 1:00 p.m. on the dot, the doorbell rang. A young woman shook my hand, said her name was Beth. She looked to be in her early thirties, with dark hair and eyes. She looked kind. I seated her in the best chair and asked if I could get her some tea or coffee. She said no, so we began talking. As usual, when I tried to describe what I need help with, I just ended up talking about Marie.

After a few minutes, Beth leaned forward. “Would you be willing to show me around? I’d love to see the kitchen, just to get a sense of how things are laid out.”

Embarrassed, I led her to the kitchen. “I’m afraid I’ve let things go in here. I have a balance issue, you see, so I haven’t been able to clean the floor…or do much of anything else.” The truth is, it was all I could do to keep the front room in some semblance of order. The rest of the house, especially the kitchen, was in shambles. I was sure she would take one look and head for the door, but she didn’t. She just looked at the room, then at me, with an appraising look.

“I understand if this is a bigger job than you expected. If you aren’t interested, I can just—”

“Mr. Parish, if you’ll have me, I’d love to help you.”

“Well, that’s…that sounds good.”

We sat down again (more for my benefit since I am wobbly at best), long enough to determine what her schedule would be. The rest would be handled through the agency.

At the door, she took my hand. “Mr. Parrish, we’re going to have your home in order in no time. You’ll see.”

Watching her walk down the sidewalk to her car parked in front of the house, I wanted to believe her. But I couldn’t help feeling like I was betraying Marie. After all, the house was still Marie’s space. How could I allow a strange woman in just like that? Just because she wasn’t here didn’t mean she wasn’t still here. Her essence…her spirit. It was in every corner of the house.

I stayed up late that night, then, after kissing Marie goodnight, I tossed and turned in bed. It was after midnight when I finally dozed off. I got up two different times to relieve myself (damn bladder must be the size of a thimble) and finally fell into a deep sleep in the early morning hours.

She was in the meadow behind our place on Framingham Lane, surrounded by green waving grasses. Butterflies flitted among the purple clover and orange milkweed, as well as some tall yellow flowers I didn’t recognize. She was gathering a bouquet of wildflowers. I watched her with pleasure, as she bent down and came back up with one beautiful flower after another. As always, her concentration was laser focused on the task at hand. Once satisfied, she looked my way, and I lifted an arm to wave.

Waving back, she began walking toward me. “See what I found, Charles? Aren’t they wonderful?” She bent her head to sniff the blooms.

“Wonderful,” I repeated. As pretty and vibrant as the flowers were, Marie outshone them. Her blue eyes sparkled and her wide smile was ever so generous, so quick to appear…even in the harder days. She never lost her smile.

She took my arm and we walked into the house. But – it wasn’t the old house on Framingham now – it was our current house. Our current house with the gritty floors, smudged windows, dirty dishes piled up. I felt a wave of shame wash over me and I turned to her to apologize, to try to explain.

Marie gave me another one of her generous smiles. “Now, Charles, you don’t have to say a word. I understand, dearest.” She took both my hands in hers. “It won’t be long until we’re together again, but until then, you need help with your house.”

“Darling, it’s more your house than mine,” I whispered. We’d only bought this house because she fell in love with it. She had tended it like a beloved garden, keeping everything spotless.

“Not my house. Not anymore.” Her eyes held nothing but love. “You must let me go, my love. Take the help. Beth seems like a fine young woman. She’ll do a good job, you’ll see.”

The pressure in my bladder woke me up once again, and I muttered a profanity as I dragged myself out of bed and away from Marie. The dream had seemed so real, etched in my mind like a memory of an actual conversation.

Over my oatmeal and coffee that morning I spoke to her as if she were sitting across from me. “All right, Marie. Message received. I hope I see you again soon.”

When Beth arrived, I greeted her with a smile. “Thank you for coming. Now, where would you like to start?”

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful. I am so glad you are posting your stories once again.

    God bless.


An original short story: Marie's House by Patty Panni

“Gracious Living, how may I help you?” The voice on the phone was polished and friendly. Like she was actually interested in helping me. “...