She readjusted her leggings, shifting them over the brightly colored socks.
I started this little story as I waited for Maureen Doallas’s Neruda’s Memoirs: Poems. I had been so looking forward to the release of the book, had ordered it the second I heard it was available–and then was frustrated by what seemed like a terribly long delivery (it was only a few days, but felt much longer). It was very windy that week–I watched religiously for the mailman each day amidst flying little bits of this world–leaves, papers, my neighbor’s flag. As I waited, I entertained myself with the story of Amy Pinkleberry–a young divorcee who struggles with depression. Amy’s depression is characterized by auditory hallucinations–destructive voices that prevent her from finding the happiness she so longs for. Only one thing stops the voices…
This is part four of the story. Scroll down to the bottom of the post for links to previous parts. I hope to post a little each week. Enjoy!
Waiting on Neruda’s Memoirs
She thought she would never see him again and shame burned her cheeks as she remembered their last encounter. The bank manager she had fled from last week.
All eyes were on her and Amy wanted to run. The Watchers began their laughter and she felt her defenses start the slow rise.
“What are you doing here, Ms. Pinkleberry?” He asked again.
“I-I came to get my book,” she said, hotly.
She turned to Justine, intending to forcefully remove the manuscript from the woman’s hands if necessary. Those milky eyes were studying her intently and Amy saw comprehension dawn on the old woman’s face. Slowly, Justine unwound her hands from her chest and held the book out to Amy.
Amy didn’t know why she felt so guilty all of a sudden. I mean, the book belonged to her, right? But Justine’s arms were so skinny…and her hands shook as she offered the book. Amy took it gently—and Justine’s fingers only clung for a second.
“Thank you,” she said, softly. “I’ll just be going now.”
But as she turned to go Justine’s voice followed her.
There it was again. That tugging. The way the old woman said her given name stirred memory. She turned around.
“I am wondering…would you like a job? Just a couple hours a day, mind you. My nurse just quit on me and we have been unsuccessful in finding another and…”
Color was rising in the man’s face. Amy had never seen quite that shade of purple.
“It’s true, Oliver, you can’t keep coming home every two hours to check on me! Alice should not have to bear this…”
The man named Oliver turned to the little girl.
“Alice, would you please take Ms. Pinkleberry to the galley and find our guest something to drink? Your grandmother and I need to talk.”
Amy shook her head and was about to refuse but the girl grabbed her hand and almost skipped her out of the room—through a swinging door with a circular glass window. They entered a long narrow kitchen with a raised bar down the center. The room was all shiny metallic and Amy was reminded of a fifties malt shop.
“I just made some orange Kool-aid this morning!”
Amy started to respond but voices drifted through the swinging door–agitated voices of the two adults they left behind.
“Justine, are you out of your mind? You don’t know anything about this woman!”
“I know she recognizes good poetry when she sees it and that’s a darn sight better than these bobble-headed girls you have paraded through here these months…”
“Those girls were trained to take care of people. This girl has an MBA from Stanford! What in the world makes you think…Besides, she seems a bit…”
But Amy missed the last word because Alice started giggling.
“I love your socks.”
Amy looked down. In her haste to get to Neruda’s Memoirs she hadn’t even considered her appearance. To her horror she saw that she hadn’t even managed to match up her socks—one brightly colored striped variety paired with yellow and green polka dots. To make matters worse, her pajama bottoms were haphazardly tucked down in the things, giving her legs a clown-like appearance.
She smiled weakly at Alice.
Alice opened the refrigerator door, talking all the while.
“We have the orange Kool-aid, there’s some soda in here, and Justine’s tomato juice. What’s yer poison.”
She dimpled just so that Amy was speechless for a second.
“Oh—um…I’m not really thirsty. And I really need to get back.”
Amy clutched Neruda’s Memoirs to her chest and made a movement to go.
Amy sighed. Would she never escape?
“Don’t you want to hear Gram’s offer? We really do need someone to help. Someone…” she groped around for the right word. “Someone that Gram likes.”
Such a solemn tone from so young a girl pulled at Amy’s heart. Despite her anxiety, she wondered about Alice’s story. Where was her mother? Why wasn’t she in school? And what was wrong with her grandmother?
Amy sat down on one of the bar stools and bellied up to the counter.
“I’d love some tomato juice, please.”
Alice smiled wide. She pulled a glass jar from the fridge.
“It wouldn’t be for very long, you know. Dad says Gram is not long for this world. Her time is coming soon, he says. He just wants me to be prepared, he says. It’s always been just the three of us. And I don’t know what I’ll do without Gram. But she’s been sick for so long now. Dad says we should be glad when she’s not suffering…”
The girl bubbled on, barely taking a breath between words. Amy felt dizzy.
“Alice. I haven’t said yes. It sounds to me like your father does not want to hire me. I don’t want to cause any problems. Besides…I’ve been looking for a real job.”
She took a sip of the thick red juice the child placed before her. Alice climbed onto the stool beside hers and leaned elbows on the counter.
“Don’t worry. Gram always gets what she wants. Dad talks a lot, but in the end, it’s Gram who figures everything out.”
Just then the door opened and a dark head peeked through.
“Ms. Pinkleberry? Would you mind coming back in her for a moment?”
Amy slid off the stool and pushed through the swinging door once again.
Justine sat upright in the hospital bed, cheeks flushed. There was a sparkle in her eye that was not there before. Triumph.
Amy couldn’t help smiling at the accuracy of Alice’s prediction.
“Ms. Pinkleberry, I know…” Oliver began.
“Amelia,” Justine interrupted. “When can you start? I just need three hours a day. The home health nurse will come for the hard parts. All that I want you to do is read to me. Are you interested?”
The watcher’s started.
…Stupidest thing I’ve ever heard…You can’t get a real job…You can’t make it on three hours a week…
“I’m not sure…I’ve been looking for a job—full-time, with benefits…”
“Why don’t we agree that you’ll work for me until you find one?”
What could it hurt? Amy hesitated. Justine saw her chance.
“Come tomorrow at ten. You will lunch with us. Oliver will discuss pay.”
“And now, I’m so sorry, dear, but I must get some rest. Oliver, will you show Amelia to the door?”
“Yes, of course. Just follow me.”
He turned and headed toward the front hall. Amy followed his wrinkled back through the yawning archway.
“Bring Neruda’s Memoirs with you tomorrow, will you?”