Kind Gestures by S. Webster
Margaret – 7:30 a.m.
Margaret Murphy is not a native to the South but has lived in Oliver long enough that any idea of leaving here is as foreign an idea as it is for most of the natives over sixty. Forty-five years and she is still not localized – still not at peace with the move here. Each year she is reminded that the winters are colder than she’d been promised, the beautiful springs are followed all too quickly by those suffocatingly lush green leaves that push their way into the star-filled nights and block what little breeze there is during the day. Margaret spends most of the summer just waiting for it to go away. Just get through August and then there will be cooler nights, then cooler days, then those leaves will turn riotous colors of protest before they fall away to give her the view of the mountains that keeps her here. As long as the good parts of being here outweigh the bad then she supposes it’s not a bad place to be. She tells herself not to get into the counting up of goods and bads. It doesn’t change things. In seventy-eight years she has learned that much.
They moved here because they liked the gentle shift in seasons and the beautiful scenery. John found work at the saw mill and Margaret was employed by the county to work in the school kitchen. His boss helped them find the perfect place, a small house at the end of the road overlooking the valley below. They didn’t need anything more than that little cabin with two small bedrooms, one bath, functioning kitchen and a living room just large enough for two comfortable chairs beside a wood burning fireplace. Margaret used their only car to drop John off at work and go on to work in town. He worked later than she did and preferred to walk home, if for no other reason than to clear his head and lungs of sawdust. She would arrive home in time to prepare dinner and set the table before she saw him coming up the drive. Once they both retired she’d watch for John bringing the mail and a bit of gossip from town. He’s gone now but she still watches – still thinks something’s coming.
Margaret stares out the window letting her old hands soak in the warm dishwater and her mind wander through the mornings’ thoughts of what to have for dinner, garden or laundry first, did she pay the paper boy? It is early and she was getting another day mapped out – each chore like a stop along the path toward evening news and bed. Organizing her time as if it was in short supply and then spending the day trying to remember what comes next.
She doesn’t think it ever didn’t matter to her, this need to keep track of her life – hourly, daily, monthly and yearly – like there would be a quiz later on how and when she lived her life. How accountable she was for the time she was given. Did she do enough and did she do it right? Margaret doesn’t worry about the ‘right’ part of that question – a while back she simply adjusted that to ‘right for me’ – so much easier. But the ‘enough’ part- there is never enough. One more load of wood brought in, one more book to read, one more place to tidy up, one more reason to keep herself moving, learning and looking for something more.
How much more could she cram into the bag that was empty the day she was born. She keeps her past down in there somewhere if she needs it, but she really doesn’t – Margaret is definite on this. She can’t stand going over things that are done with. So many people her age are content to just relive what happened, like it would change something. It doesn’t change anything. It is over. Yet they are happy to continually revise their own history to make it more interesting to themselves or anyone else who cares to listen. It’s a waste of time, especially the meager time we have left. It is all about the past to them with no thinking of right now and certainly no talk of the future. She like most people her age knows what the future is and recognizes the signs more clearly each day. After months of caring for John before he passed on Margaret is fully aware of what lies ahead.
For now she just wants to cram in some more of the now on top of a fairly full bag. Once she’s seen it, heard it, done it and lived it, in the bag it goes. Not gone but just not mattering any more. It’s a bag full of bygones. What’s in that bag is old business covering even older business. She keeps her bulging old bag open and mostly out of sight, some place where she can bring more to it when she wants. Something else to layer over what was.
Margaret is a private person and prefers keeping to herself. Even when she goes in to town, like she will later today, she doesn’t make it a social outing. She hates that word – social. Sounds like an event of momentary or endless chatter to her. Both seem a waste of time. So she keeps her head down and gets on with it. Today the “it” will include having lunch at El’s – probably more vegetable soup. Margaret spent a good part of yesterday making banana bread and she plans on taking some to El.
Both women are widows. El by just a few weeks, and not noticeably unhappy about it. As much as Margaret misses her John, she knows El doesn’t miss Gerald in equal measure and wonders if her own marriage had lasted as long as theirs whether she would be that happy to see John gone. She doubts it. They liked each, her and John. El told Margaret a long time ago that she and Gerald just kept their conversations to the weather and what he’d like for dinner. That was just how it was. Neither of them knew any different. El would ask if it was going to rain and Gerald would ask what’s for dinner. Funny, but it worked, worked for over fifty years.
Lunch with El is not until one o’clock and Margaret has plenty of time after that to go to the library. Later she will pick up a few things at the store and stop by the diner for coffee before heading back out of town and home.