Kind Gestures by S. Webster
Anna – 8 a.m.
It is early and Anna is finishing her morning shower. Within arm’s reach of the bathroom door her undergarments lay on the dresser. She places them here before going in because they need to be right there when she drops her robe. Nudity is not comfortable for Anna, necessary in bathing and dressing herself, but not comfortable. She wants to be zipped, snapped, buttoned, tied and wrapped in the shield of clothing.
She doesn’t look at her body. Nor does she indulge in the pleasures and sensations of touch. Her showers, no baths, are done quickly, hand clothed in a washcloth as she covers herself with soap. With a few quick contortions she is rinsed and the water turned off. In a practiced series of movements Anna is completely dried and dressed. And now by being clothed, she has armed herself for the encounters ahead. She is ready not to be touched again today.
Anna Long moved to Oliver five years ago. Relocating to the family summer home here in North Carolina was a gift to herself on her fortieth birthday. The cabin was passed down from her parents, Clay and Dorothy Long who had been part of the continual flow of summer residents from Florida and returned home as soon as the first frost arrived. Back home they could impress their friends with talk about “our summer place in the mountains.”
Her parents liked making impressions. Their Florida home near Sanford was close to the country club they belonged to. Their cars were never older than two years. When her father went to the club and her mother went to continual meetings of the bridge club or her prestigious ikebana classes, Anna went to her room. A housekeeper and yard man kept up appearances for the Longs and were around if Anna needed anyone.
All her busy parents had to do was be home long enough to entertain those they needed to impress and let their guests see for themselves how wonderful everything was. Their friends at the club knew details about the other home in North Carolina – how many square feet, how much land and how high on the ridge it sat. All the pluses and always embellished. Just the right amount of truth dressed up with innuendo made the place sound perfect. No one was going to be invited to their cabin anyway so what did it matter how they described it to their friends.
They came here every summer, not just to escape the heat but give themselves something else to talk about to their friends and each other. Anna thought of the place in North Carolina as simply something for her parents to talk about during the rest of the year, when they could bore one another and their daughter with the same tired conversations that really only interested the one doing the talking.
Clay and Dorothy especially liked bringing back to Sanford stories of their encounters with the “locals” here in the mountains, and told those stories in exaggerated accents like so many outsiders do when they first arrive. It gives a little flavor to the story if it is drawled out in a southern accent. Admittedly it’s funnier in Chicago than Tallahassee where it is hard to distinguish. But in Sanford it might as well have been Chicago. Clay was funny at the club and oddly enough so was Dorothy at her very serene and tasteful ikebana workshops where she dragged out her story just long enough to get the appropriate single bloom at the proper angle in the perfect container.
Back then Anna could not wait to get away, to her room when she was younger and then off to college and into a lousy relationship. A relationship she was ill-prepared for.
Raised as an only child in a house of little attention and even less affection, Anna was unaccustomed and unaccepting of being touched. There was no single inappropriate physical contact that had happened to herwhen she was little. No adult took advantage of her vulnerability and none of the boys seemed that interested in her during her time at high school. When younger Anna was just there, going through the motions of growing up. She preferred to keep to herself and navigated her childhood like she had been through it before and knew the feelings and emotions to avoid, knowing where to step as she managed her way to being older.
Her only mistake was believing she could still be “untouchable Anna” after six months of trying John’s patience. She knew he liked her and probably only wanted to show her how much. And after so much time of having to settle for a brief hug and even quicker kiss, she supposed John wanted to take matters in hand by bringing a bottle of Jack Daniels along on their next date. Anna did not know then that drinking for John had one of two outcomes. He ended up asleep or he ended up mean. This time he was mean and Anna did the only thing she knew how to do. Close her eyes and let it happen. Then pretend it never did. Don’t look. Don’t listen. Don’t move. Just wait it out, then pull yourself together and further away. Close a few more invisible doors.
She steeled herself against the months ahead while waiting for the unwanted child to be born far away in the home of a relative she never knew she had. Some distant aunt that offered her assistance in hopes of filling in a loneliness that Anna could all too easily relate to. She never named the little girl, just left her there for those accepting her father’s money and got back to being by herself.
Her parents are gone now and Anna has the cabin. All that it was or wasn’t has been fixed up to be livable – just the basics. She never shared her parent’s taste for pretense. The less you have, the less you have to talk about. And that suits her just fine.
When Anna settled in Oliver she thought it was nice how some of the people remembered her from years ago when she would come into town with her mother for ice cream. She isn’t altogether a newcomer. There is just enough history that prevents too many questions about where she’s from and where she’s staying in the area.
The location of the cabin far out of town is as distant as Anna – a perfect fit. From all appearances she has stayed unmarked and unremarkable. She is never going to miss what she never had.
Coming here was a good idea. She found a part-time job at the library that became full-time when the town’s appointed librarian moved away and no one else was interested in filling the vacancy. Being a librarian in this town is easy. Keep the place dusted, books numbered, file box handy and point to a shelf once in a while. All in a place that wants you to be quiet – no talking. Perfect.
How books are sorted and arranged in a small town library is easy to figure out. The fullest shelves are ones for romance and “angel” books. The romance novels should not have any explicit sex and a minimum of foul language, which the ladies here in town consider a last resort in getting a point across. And the “angel” books? Well southern women just love a good story of redemption – someone being saved through faith and a helping hand.
There are some rarely read classics that Anna brought from home, the leather bound gilded sets that went untouched but not unnoticed in her parent’s library. Add to those the science, art and history books that accumulate in homes until spring when cleaning house results in them being brought by on the way to the town dump. Most of these still list at the same angle they had before on a shelf with too much space.
Anna returns to work today after spending Sunday in her garden and Monday sorting through boxes that had been stored in the attic. Her parents had used the cabin to store all the things they thought they should go through someday. And due to how they preferred to simply ignore the things that held little interest to them, the job fell to Anna. And she had very little idea of what she was supposed to do with someone else’s papers, photographs and memories. Anna hardly knew her own parents private lives, let along these other people she found in boxes abandoned to her care.
Today she wants to go in early to catalog and stack the books left out back over the previous two days. Each year just before the start of school the people of Oliver appear to take stock of their books. They have finished with the summers fiction and romance novels. No one wants those lying around and they certainly aren’t worth finding room for on a shelf. So they get dropped off at the library along with the hardly used how-to craft books that seemed necessary in planning summer projects last winter. These donations were as dependable as the spring cleaning classics, art and history books.
She checks her watch as she locks the door. There is time to stop by Marty’s Diner for a coffee and order a sandwich for lunch.