I made an impulse purchase at the grocery store. A whole rotisserie chicken. Nicely browned. If you saw it, you would have bought it too. Peeking through the plastic dome, which reminded me of the Hagia Sophia in Turkey, was a dead chicken, aching to be made into chicken noodle soup.
Putting on my comfortable shoes, a white pair of clogs, whose inner soles fell apart a week after I bought them online, I set up all the ingredients on the kitchen table. Chop chop chop! Mushrooms and onions. Into the crock pot went the ingredients including low-sodium chicken broth. On the Jacques Pepin cooking show the maestro used Japanese Udon noodles instead of the regular. I split a package in two with a loud crack that would have woken up the cat, snoozing in a spatter of sunlight, if he were still alive.
Setting the pot to “high,” I went into my freezing cold living room and stared outside at the three inches of snow we’d gotten.
“Oh, I hope she’s home, I hope she’s home,” I thought, as I lay on the couch, covered myself over with a warm quilt and began reading “Happiness in This Life,” by Pope Francis. He’s an excellent writer and advocates for more participation in the Church by women.
After twenty minutes, I could smell the chicken. I returned to the kitchen, lifted off the steamy glass lid and stirred everything around. Did I really make this? Nothing could have been easier. The noodles were already plump and getting soft.
From the fridge, I removed a small covered bowl of stewed pears and warmed it slowly over a burner. What a great dinner this would be. I nearly always eat alone, listening to soft music on the radio. A regular Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Looking out the living room window, I saw a long line of kids getting off the school bus, huge backpacks weighing them down. My own two kids were once among them but they flew the coop and I rarely see them.
Lacing on my sneakers – I don’t have a single pair of boots – and clamping on a blue beret as if I were Picasso – I tentatively walked next door to see if she was home.
Stepping up onto the front porch, I peeked through the living room window and there she was, napping on the living room couch. It was uncanny how we had so much in common. Except my life took a different turn. I was always busy. Too busy. Blogging. Writing short stories. Posting ridiculous things on Facebook, which few people “liked.” When her husband died in Florida, her family brought her up here to live with them, right next door to me. I was ecstatic. A new friend. As if I were in fourth grade again.
Do you know how hard it is to make friends when you’re of a certain age? Old and gray and falling asleep to Kojak or the Rockford Files on “Cozi TV.”
Eileen moved in with her son and daughter-in-law. They refused to let her drive, claiming, “We’ll take care of you. You’re in your retirement years, now, Mom.” Neither did they let her cook.
When she opened the door, I was afraid she wouldn’t remember me. The snow had kept us apart for a month.
“C’mon in,” she said.
“Are you sure it’s okay?” I asked, peeking inside.
“Of course,” she said with a smile, “it’s my house. Have a seat.”
We sat together like two old maids on the living room couch.
She turned off the television. “I just keep it on for company,” she said.
“But now you’ve got me!” I said. “Ruth. Remember?”
She laughed. “My memory’s bad,” she said, “but not that bad.”
I told her about my chicken noodle soup and hoped she’d come over for dinner. Not to be. Stacey would make dinner when she came home from work.
The house was huge. Bigger than mine, since they’d added a whole wing, somewhere. I didn’t understand the layout. Maybe it was the top floor where her son Bill had his home office.
With loud bounces like a rhythm player, Bill came bounding down the stairs.
Nice guy. Sometimes, I’d send him an email. “Bill, may I come over and have you fax something for me?”
“Sorry,” he once wrote. “Me and my buddies are on a camping trip in the Poconos.”
Now he told his mom and me, “I’ll be home soon, gonna pick up my truck.” His daughter, home from college, would drive him.
“Sorry to be nosy, but what’s wrong with it?” I asked.
“It’s getting inspected.”
Eileen told me, “You’re not nosy. You’re just curious.” That woman had such a way about her she could’ve been a female Dalai Lama.
“Bill,” I joked, “while you’re gone your mom and I are gonna do some shopping. She’ll be driving my car.”
Bill laughed. “Well, you better wear helmets,” he said.
Eileen and I relaxed, sitting back on the couch.
I wasn’t exactly in a panic, but I hadn’t sat down with anyone for just a chat in a dog’s age. There was no supper to fuss over, nothing really to do except think and talk.
Could I do it?
The train hooted in the distance.
“Wherever I’ve lived, there’s always been a train,” Eileen said.
“Even on Mildred Avenue?”
During the summer, the two of us had driven to the house where she grew up. It was one thing I could help her with. She wanted to see it. When her family lived there – she was one of six kids and the grandmother and aunt lived there, too – a vacant lot stood next door. All the neighborhood kids played there.
She was able to direct me to the house after a couple of wrong turns. She was like a homing pigeon remembering her early origins.
“No one had any secrets. We were one big happy family.”
She fairly flew out of my car when we got there. I was taking photos of the huge brick house with porch. The empty lot was now filled in with a house. In this hilly neighborhood, you climbed up about eight stairs before you got to the house. On each stair was a red geranium.
No one was home. Her happiness shone like a halo around her.
The train whistled again.
“That’s the Roslyn train,” she said with assurance.
“You are amazing,” I said.
Back at home on her couch, I said, “You know, my boyfriend Scott works at SEPTA, the regional railroad. When he hears the train whistle, he knows if there’s something wrong with it, if it needs a tune-up.”
“Interesting,” she said, wearing a blue sweater, which matched the color of her eyes.
“I’ll tell you a funny story about a train,” I said. “You know, I’m from Cleveland. Cleveland, Ohio.”
“My Uncle Marvin, who worked for the newspaper, took his young son, Mark, on a train. Some nuns got on the train. My uncle knew Mark would stare at those nuns and want to know who they were.
“We’re Jewish, you know.”
“Oh, I didn’t know you were Jewish,” she said. She had barely any wrinkles in her cheeks and looked remarkably young. She was seventy-six to my seventy-two.
“So Marvin distracted Mark, making him look out the window, probably at the slums passing quickly by with their dilapidated houses and washing machines on the front porches.
You know what, though? I found it all fascinating!”
“That’s because you have a creative mind,” she said. She was always praising my so-called creative mind, which embarrassed me.
There was a quick movement on the hardwood floor. And a large exhalation of breath.
The dog Daisy was sleeping on a warm spot on the floor. “There’s my best friend,” said Eileen. “She comes in my bed at night and keeps me company.”
I didn’t mention I’d hate to sleep with a dog or cat, and certainly not a man.
“You know, my boyfriend Scott lives right next door to me. We take naps together but I can’t stand sleeping with him all night long. Nothing like my own sweet bed.”
I changed my sheets once every three months. I’d have to remove a shelf-full of books from the bed – at least thirteen now, including The Pope book, Tom Hanks’ short stories, 99 Cemeteries to See Before You Die, The Vanity Fair Diaries, The Mare, Finances for Dummies – plus pads of paper, pens, handkerchiefs made from old cut-up pajamas or blouses, a long red piece of elastic for doing exercises for flabby arms, and more things, I’m sure, hiding under the two warm blankets that covered me up in the 12 degree weather.
The living room where we sat was as dimly lit as a barn. There were more photos and paintings and wall hangings than in the Barnes Museum. Eileen pointed to a photo of a white-haired man, with his arm around her and their two grandchildren.
“What a handsome man,” I said. “Look at that snowy-white hair.”
She said that’s not how she remembers him. His hair was once black as coal. And he was a writer. He owned his own newspapers and wrote children’s books. When he sold his businesses, they retired to Florida, where he was beginning to die. Emphysema. One time she drove all the way up from Florida to visit the family since he had that little jigger of oxygen in the back seat whenever he needed to slip it through his nostrils to breathe better.
“Since you’re not gonna eat my chicken soup, how’d you like some of my stewed pears?”
“No. Stewed pears. Like apples, but you use pears instead.”
“How creative,” she said. “Sure, if you don’t mind going home to get them.”
Slipping on my freezing-cold Chinese shoes, I walked carefully home in the snow. I ladled a goodly amount of pears into a glass Rubbermaid container and snapped the lid shut.
They smelled so good there was no way she wasn’t going to like them.
She ate them right there on the couch, as if it were summer and we sat on their front porch with hanging plants and songbirds flying by.
She washed out the container and handed it back to me.
We heard Bill pulling into the drive.
He stomped his feet at the side door and came in to say hello.
“You don’t wanna know, Bill, where-all we drove,” I said with a straight face.
“Almost all the way to Florida,” his mom said, “but I wanted to be back in time for dinner.”
Ruth Z. Deming has had her poetry published in lit mags including Literary Yard, River Poets, Blue Bonnet Review and JonahMagazine. She lives in Willow Grove, a suburb of Pennsylvania in the US of A.