Despite the fact that she stopped using an alarm clock several years ago, it was a rare event when Taffeta Spaulding slept beyond 7:26 am.
This morning, her eyes fluttered open into a beam of sun that made her squint and shift her head into a thin line of shade away from the intrusion into her slumber.
Pulling the sheets from their restrictive placement near her neck she raised her head to get a better look at the clock.
“Well,” she said to the room, rolling onto her back and staring at the ceiling. “That’s a hell of a thing.” She couldn’t remember the last day the clock greeted her waking with anything but 7:26.
She pulled the covers further away, crawled out of bed and set about the rigors of her routine. It was later, of course. Quite a bit later than usual, so she had to keep moving if she was to stay on schedule. The doctor was very keen on reminding her ad nauseam about the importance of maintaining a healthy and regular schedule.
“Pfft,” she thought. The focus on regular everything seemed to be the only thing she was taking away from being older. Regular this, regular that…regular my ass.
She smiled a bit as she worked. “That too,” she said.
She walked around pulling and straightening the sheets and blankets as she made her bed, pausing for a moment to kiss the palm of her hand and place it on the pillow that lay undisturbed next to hers.
“Looks like one more day, Abel,” she said.
She approached the bathroom mirror with her usual aplomb. She gave up vanity years ago. Where the idea of slim waists and toned calves were the comparative factors in relation to where she stood among her peers, now, at seventy-four, it was who was still alive, who was still functioning independently and who still had all their marbles.
She ran her fingers through her still fairly thick mop of silver hair, pulled it back and secured the mess with a clip. She bathed, dressed and moved to the kitchen for more, more of the same.
In the kitchen, she muttered something of the time and it being so late, more out of the feeling of obligation than really being upset by it. “It’s closer to lunch than breakfast,” she said to no one, but probably Abel. If she made the adjustment to the notion that it was lunch, she would be back on schedule just like that, done and done, except of course for her pills.
Her friend Sylvia from Kettleton took no less than 30 pills during the course of a day, or so she remembers her saying. Taffeta herself was up to a modest 12. Spaced throughout the day, they averaged four per meal. On regular days, it’s never a problem. On special days like today her breakfast pills were already running into her lunch pills, not that it made any difference. No matter how many pills she took in, she felt pretty much the same day to day.
She gathered up her morning doses from the counter near the sink and put them down with a glass of water, then popped open the fridge to see what she might fix for lunch.
For as many years as she lived in the house, the doorbell ringing is more and more a rare and fleeting event. She raised her head out of the fridge like a deer that heard a twig snap in the forest. She looked slowly both ways and listened carefully.
The chime stirred the air of the quiet house with its confirmation. Taffeta closed the fridge and stepped quietly through the dining room and closer to the front door.
Doors were tricky at her age. She never liked answering them. It was either someone selling something or…actually, it always seemed to be someone selling something. Things she did not need. Unless it was a child with a parent selling cookies, she had little inspiration for front door encounters.
On the other hand, it wasn’t safe to let people on the other side of the door think nobody was home, at least, not with the recent rash of break-ins and such.
She neared the door with stealthy footsteps. Inching her face closer to the peephole, she imagined wiring her doorbell button to a recording of a very large and angry dog barking his fool head off. That would get them, she thought.
On the other side of the tiny telescope, in a fish-eyed distortion stood Myrna Billingham, weaving back and forth in her nervous way, in an effort so see, or at least sense what might be going on inside and if everything was alright. Taffeta unlocked the door, unhitched both chains, worked the latch and swung the door open.
“Thank God!” Myrna said, throwing her hands in the air as far as she dared while still being able to avoid hitting herself with her purse. “I thought you were dead!”
“Two rings, Myrna,” Taffeta said. “No answer on four rings is the key right?”
“Four rings, yes of course,” Myrna muttered as she pushed her sturdy and fairly solid five foot two inch frame past Taffeta to welcome herself inside. “But you know Taffy, if you’re going to be that slow in getting to the door, we might as well make it two…or three. A woman of my experience just can’t take that level of excitement.”
Taffeta considered Myrna, also 74, a friend for life even if she wasn’t a life long friend. They found each other socially several years ago, they helped each other through the passing of their husbands, and now, in whatever time comes to them, they work through the unspoken pledge of keeping an eye out for the other. Myrna was the only person, besides Billy Tendicore back in third grade who called her Taffy. She never spoke in terms of age. She found it more dignified to speak in terms of life experiences.
Taffeta followed Myrna back to the kitchen as she shed her coat, placed it on the hook in the hallway and set about getting to what she saw as her chair at the small table in the kitchen.
“Oh my God!” Myrna said, throwing her arms out to her side and stopping dead in her tracks. “You’re sick!”
“What?” Taffeta said nearly bumping into her from behind.
“No breakfast dishes in the rack,” she said pointing to the empty drying rack near the sink. She spun on her heal to face Taffeta. “Every Thursday when I come over you would be putting your breakfast things away before we go to lunch.” Myrna’s eyes darted over Taffeta searching for clues of illness or traces of despair.
“Is today Thursday?”
“Oh, Lord! You fell, didn’t you? You hit your head.” Myrna grabbed her friend’s head with hands on either side of her face and deepened her examination, what she lacked in a delicate touch, Taffeta was certain she made up for with bona fide caring.
“I’m not sick,” she said through scrunched cheeks. A vision shot through her memory of her mother doing something very similar when she was in school. Taffeta gently wrapped her hands around Myrna’s wrists and gave them a squeeze of reassurance. “I’m not sick. I just slept in a little today.”
Myrna gave one last look into Taffeta’s eyes before she released her grip and turned back toward her chair. “So you say. If you ask me something is wrong. You slept late, but you don’t do that. You say you missed breakfast, but you don’t do that. Apparently, you forgot it was Thursday. You don’t…”
“I don’t do that. I know,” Taffeta said. “Look, I didn’t forget about our lunch.” Although, she had. “I just…”
“Oh my God,” Myrna said slapping her hand against the table. “Did you remember to take your pills?”
“I remembered my pills. In fact, I was just getting my midday doses together when you rang the door.”
“Good thing I did too. We’ll get you back on track.” She shuffled in her chair adjusting her comfort. “You can’t take those on an empty stomach you know. “
“Where should we go to lunch then? You look pale. You pick.”
“I’m fine. You’re being silly. I look the same as I did yesterday and the day before,” Taffeta said patting her on the shoulder. “How about Carsoni’s?”
“With my heartburn? I knew it! You’re trying to kill me!”
Taffeta laughed, “It will take more than a spicy pepperoni roll to take you out my dear. What about…”
Again, the chime from the front door rang out and seemed to fade into the quiet that settled between the two ladies. They both turned their heads just enough so their eyes met. One eyebrow rose slightly over Myrna’s left eye to seemingly question why someone might be ringing her friend’s door when they were scheduled for lunch.
“Quit that,” Taffeta said, softly, almost whispering. “I don’t know who it is.”
Thump, thump, thump.
A ring and a knock. They looked at each other closer, puzzled and now more curious. Myrna stood from her chair.
“Well, we should see who it is.”
Thump, thump, thump.
“They seem very eager,” Myrna said, grabbing Taffeta’s hand. “Whomever it is.”
They journeyed quickly through the dining room and to the door. Myrna took point and poked her eye up to the peephole holding Taffeta back at arm’s length.
“It’s the Daily Parcel guy,” she said.
Taffeta gently guided Myrna out of the way and again worked the chains and the lock then solely opened the door.
Figuring nobody was home, the Daily Parcel man was two steps off the stoop by the time the door opened.
“Young man!” Taffeta shouted then shuddered. She hated saying that. “I’m home.”
The deliveryman caught himself and turned back. “Ah…” he said as he took three bouncing steps back up the steps.
“Great,” he said, reorienting his clipboard. “I have a delivery, for one Ms. Taffeta Spaulding. It says here it’s a crate.”
“Yes, Ma’am. If you sign here, I’m happy to go get it.” He handed her he clipboard and jumped back down the steps toward the dark blue delivery van accented with bright yellow letters.
“I’m getting a crate,” she said to Myrna as she leaned her head back into the house a bit.
“A crate…nice, “ Myrna said.
In no time at all, the deliveryman had the crate on a small dolly and wheeled it up to the door.
“I’m not supposed to do this, but I’d be happy to move it just inside the door for you.”
“That would be wonderful, thank you.”
In another moment, the excitement of the delivery was over. The three-foot by two-foot by one-foot crate stood in the middle of Taffeta’s front room with Myrna and Taffeta eyeing it from either side.
“What on earth could it be?” Myrna asked.
“It’s a crate,” Taffeta said, forcing herself not to smile. “The man said so.”
“Ha, ha. Why don’t you get something to open it?”
“Ah,” she said, “Good idea.” She left the room and went down to the basement where Abel used to keep a modest array of hand tools. Grabbing a small crowbar from a hook on the pegboard she went back to the front room a woman on a mission.
“Who’s it from?”
Taffeta slowly knelt down and searched the outside of the box. “I don’t know,” she said. “There’s this envelope, packet thingy, but that probably only has the shipping invoice in it.” She thought a moment, “But, I guess it’s worth a shot.”
Picking at the glue sealed flap of the clear plastic envelope, she raised up enough of a chunk to get a good grip and tear the top open. She reached in and pulled out the contents flipping them over in her hands and unfolding them.
“Yup,” she said, “Here’s the invoice, and this…”
She unfolded the second page and turned it so that is sat right, “This one is a letter, here.” Taffeta passed the page to her friend.
Myrna pawed at the reader glasses that hung from the chain across her chest, brought them up to her face, slid them up onto her nose and squinted, working to see more clearly.
“Dear Ms. Spaulding,” she said. “’In an effort to bring resolution to the last portions of the estate of your brother, Lester J. Munce (Deceased), We are releasing this box and its contents to your care.’ I thought your brother died four years ago.”
“Hm,” Myrna said turning back to the page. “’Amongst your brother’s base belongings, was a key to a small offsite storage facility. In his particular unit, we discovered no less that twenty-three wooden crates of various sizes and weights. Per his instruction, the crates were not to be opened, but to be distributed equally amongst, and as quickly as possible, to the person(s) noted in the documentation. Your brother included the following message to all. Life is too short for the bull shit…’”
“Oh, my,” Myrna said, a bit taken aback.
“Er…,” Myrna looked back to the paper to find her place. “‘Life is too short for the bullshit. Take this, may it serve you well. There is no available information at this time. Once all the crates are delivered, we will consider our association with the Munce estate to be complete. Angela Deffert. Deffert, Smith and Deffert, blah, blah.”
With her knees complaining about their place on the floor, Taffeta stuck the crowbar into what looked like a soft spot and pushed down. The nails and brads which held the crate together for such a long time creaked and groaned in defiance as the worked themselves free. Still, they held until the last, giving the lid very little movement. Pulling the crowbar out she quickly stuck it back in what looked to be a new soft place and repeated the exercise until finally, the lid was free.
Setting the crowbar down at her side, she stuck her fingers under the lid and lifted through the last bit of the nails’ commitment then tilted the lid back to the floor. Reaching in, she grabbed the large piece of foam packing and lifted it up and away allowing her to see the contents clearly.
“Well,” she said. “That’s a hell of thing.”