Hey everyone, here’s another story. Hope you enjoy :)
By: Cami Freestone
Mabel Michelson hated afternoon traffic. She often thought about how awful it was to be stuck behind a slow driver all the way to your destination. It always seemed to happen to her when she drove to Nancy’s, which was every day. And though she was 84 years old, Mabel liked to go at least five mph over the speed limit. She simply hated wasting her life away in a car.
At Nancy’s, the cribbage board was already on the kitchen table, along with a plate of sliced cheddar cheese. Mabel knew she would find Nancy in the kitchen, washing her dishes from lunch.
“Mabel, it’s about time you got here. The cheese is starting to stick together.”
“Sorry dear, it was the traffic. I always think it will be better, but then it never is,” Mabel said as she set her purse on the floor against the wall. She sat down in the padded folding chair and waited for Nancy to join her at the table. Nancy slowly walked into the room, her slippers shuffling across the carpet. Her glasses were resting in the middle of her nose, a place that to Mabel seemed to defy gravity.
“So, do you think you can win today? I’ve been on a lucky streak you know.”
“Yes, I know,” Mabel said. How could she forget yesterday’s game where Nancy won by 50 points? She knew it was luck though, since Nancy didn’t use much strategy. They cut the cards to see who would deal first, and Nancy won the draw.
“Off to a good start,” Nancy said as she dealt. She looked over the cards in her hand and picked up a slice of cheese.
As they played, Mabel’s mind wandered. She thought about the book she reading at home, and how it was more risqué than the title led her to believe. After deciding she would throw the book out, Mabel played her last card.
“31 for two,” she said and moved her peg forward two holes. She counted the points in her hand and was pleased she had more than Nancy. She collected the cards and started shuffling.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” Nancy said, “Yesterday Rose told me that Anne and Ben are getting a divorce. Isn’t it awful?”
Mabel didn’t care about Anne and Ben, Nancy’s neighbors. Nancy was always gossiping about them and Mabel listened; but she never truly paid attention. In fact, since as long as she could remember, Nancy would tell her the neighborhood gossip. Mabel always ignored it. Mabel and Nancy had been friends since their husbands died, twenty years ago. They had met at a widows group and instantly became friends.
“That’s terrible. They’re so young too.” Mabel glanced out the window into the backyard. The sun shone brightly and a blue jay sat lightly on a bird feeder, pecking at the grains and seeds. Heat from the sun seeped into Mabel’s face and she felt slightly dizzy. It was too warm and she felt a headache building up.
“Nancy, I’m getting a headache. You don’t mind if we save the rest of the game for tomorrow, right?”
“Oh no, that’s fine.”
“Let’s move to the living room and you can tell me more about Anne and Ben’s divorce.”
Nancy instantly started on a long story that was easy for Mabel to ignore. She mostly closed her eyes and was silent. It was simple enough to add the necessary reactions Nancy expected her to have. When Mabel was almost asleep, her headache seemed to double for a brief moment, then subsided to the background.
“That Ben is just awful; I don’t know why Anne put up with him for so long. But I think I should be heading home now Nancy. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Okay, well drive safe. I hope your head feels better.” The two old women walked to the door, Nancy’s long white hair swaying with each careful step and Mabel’s permed fluffy hair unmoving. Nancy waited in the doorway until Mabel had got into her car and backed out of the driveway. They waved at each other, and then Mabel drove off in her sedan.
At home Mabel tried to get comfortable in her bed. Her head throbbed despite the two Advil she had taken half an hour ago. She felt a strange sensation, as if something was crawling on her brain, trying to get in. There was a sudden sharp pain, and then Mabel heard a soft, deep voice.
Who are you?
“I’m Mabel,” she thought. She remembered the voices that spoke to her throughout her life—sometimes they had given her good advice but most of the time they drove her crazy. Apparently the voice heard her thoughts because it spoke to her again.
Yes, that’s your name. But who are you?
“What do you mean? I’m Mabel Michelson. I’m 84 years old. My husband is dead and I never had any children. I used to teach elementary school before I retired.”
That is your past. Who are you now?
Mabel was getting irritated. “Who are you is a better question. This is my brain you know.”
I would think you would know it better then, if it’s yours.
“I know it just fine thank-you. Now please leave. You’re giving me a terrible headache.”
But I can’t leave until I know who you really are. I’m going to take a look around now. Don’t mind me.
Mabel didn’t know what to do. She lay very still, and tried to feel where the thing had gone. It seemed to be creeping to the front of her head, and then she felt nothing. Where had it gone? And what was it exactly? She supposed it had to be a parasite of some sort, but how had she gotten it? A flash of the week-old milk she had eaten with her cereal that morning came to her. She knew she should have thrown it out, but she hated to be wasteful. Now, of course, she wished she had dumped it down the drain. She felt abruptly tired, and yawned. Taking her dentures out, Mabel made herself more comfortable. She dropped the false teeth into the cup beside her bed, closed her eyes, and fell asleep.
The next morning Mabel called her doctor’s office to set up an appointment. She didn’t know what was going on but she knew it wasn’t normal. The voice didn’t speak to her all morning, and she hoped it had left. At one o’clock Mabel got in her car to drive to Nancy’s.
Why do you go to Nancy’s every day? You don’t really care about her.
“Yes I do. She’s the only true friend I have.”
She is a true friend to you. But you are not one to her. You don’t even listen when she speaks to you. What kind of friend does that?
“I do listen! I am a good friend. Sometimes Nancy rambles but she knows I care about her. I like spending time with her too.”
Your thoughts don’t think so. You think you’re better than her, don’t you?
Mabel felt sick to her stomach. How many times had she looked at Nancy’s clothes and thought hers were better? She compared their houses, their furniture, their jewelry, even their late husbands. And always, she felt superior to Nancy.
“Okay, maybe that’s true. But I am a good friend.”
Are you? We’ll see.
Mabel sat in her car for a moment in Nancy’s driveway. Was she really a good friend? She considered herself to be a good person, and therefore a good friend. She did care about Nancy, even if she didn’t care about everything she said. And she would prove it to the thing inside her head.
Half an hour later Mabel sat down; her feet ached from standing in one place for too long. She had washed Nancy’s dishes, a chore she had never done before for her friend, and it took longer than she anticipated.
You know, washing dishes one time doesn’t prove anything. There are hundreds of days where you just sat and waited impatiently for Nancy to finish.
“Being impatient doesn’t make you a bad person,” Mabel told the voice inside her head by thinking the words.
I never said you were a bad person. I only asked who you are.
“I know who I am! I’m a friendly, law-abiding senior citizen who loves to play cribbage.”
You don’t drive the speed limit.
“No one does.”
“How do you know? Have you been in her head too?”
No, there are days where you’ve driven with her. You watch the speedometer and sigh as she abides by the law.
“Mabel, are you ready to play?” Nancy asked. Mabel could tell from Nancy’s face that this was not the first time she had asked her.
“Yes, sorry. I must have been day-dreaming.” The voice was silent as they played, and Mabel almost forgot it was there. Hand after hand she won. Her pegs were well ahead of Nancy’s.
“I see my luck has changed,” Nancy said after Mabel won.
“You played very well dear.” Mabel had noticed many times where Nancy could have made points, but played the wrong card.
“Not as well as you. But it was still fun.” Nancy stood up from the table and Mabel followed suit. Usually she stayed for tea, but today Nancy had told her she had a doctor’s appointment.
“Well I’ll see you tomorrow. Perhaps I’ll be luckier then,” Nancy said with a smile.
“Maybe we can both be lucky. Take care.”
That night as Mabel watched wheel of fortune, she thought about Nancy. She remembered the time they had gone to the park together, a few months back. As they sat on a dusty bench, tossing little pieces of bread into the dirty water for the ducks, Mabel and Nancy talked and talked, like they never had before.
“I hate cooking,” Mabel had admitted after Nancy confessed about buying store bought pies and calling them her own.
“Really? I don’t hate it; I’m just not very good. Something my husband never let me forget.”
“I made reservations more often than I made dinner. But Henry didn’t mind. He liked dining out. He always said I looked beautiful in candle light.”
“You’re lucky. If I didn’t have dinner made when Earl walked in the door…well it wasn’t good.”
They continued to talk about their past, their happy days, and their sad ones. When the conversation died down, Nancy stuffed the rest of the bread in her purse. As they stood up to leave, a duck started attacking Nancy’s bag. Nancy was screaming “Shoo!” while Mabel started to laugh. She tried to mask her laughter by coughing, but by the hurt look on Nancy’s face, she knew it didn’t work.
So who are you?
Interrupted from her thoughts, Mabel felt annoyed. What was this thing doing inside her head? What was it? She hoped nothing drastic happened before she got to the doctor’s the next day.
“I really wish you would stop asking me that.”
Why? Because you don’t know the answer?
“No, of course not. It’s because none of my answers are good enough for you. I’ve tried to answer the question in every way I can and now I’m through answering at all.”
But I’m not done asking. Who are you?
Mabel couldn’t take it any longer. She stood up from her recliner and went to her medicine cabinet. She grabbed the bottle of prescribed sleeping pills and set it on the counter. As she filled the paper cup she kept by the sink with water she imagined a peaceful night’s rest.
I’ll be in your dreams.
“I won’t be dreaming tonight.”
You don’t control that; I do.
“What do you want from me? I’m just an old woman. Can’t you leave me alone?!”
No. I won’t until you tell me who you are.
“Maybe I don’t know who I am.” As soon as she thought the words Mabel knew they were true. It was like admitting her worse fear, a fear she didn’t realize she had. Her life had been spent with great confidence that she was a caring person, but now she wondered if any of it was really true. Did she really care about Nancy? Had she loved her husband? Had she ever cared about anything at all?
That’s the closest you’ve been to answering me. Do you like what you’ve become?
This time Mabel didn’t answer the voice. She felt faint and sat down on top of the toilet lid.
What have you done that’s ever really mattered?
Mabel thought but couldn’t think of a reply.
Has anyone ever really loved you?
Mabel stood up slowly. She stared at her reflection in the mirror, recognizing her face but wondering if her whole life had been a lie. Her hand brushed against the pill bottle she had left on the counter and she picked it up. Giving it a quick shake, she tried to figure out how many pills were still inside. As she removed the lid she hardly noticed how silent her mind was. But in the silence she could sense the slow formation of a smile that was not her own.
©Cami Freestone April 21, 2011