The Mean Lady

I have a feeling this little story got lost in the blog. I renamed it: “The Mean Lady” Enjoy 🙂

Circa 77

I walked inside the rhododendron bush that was two stories high, planted years ago by the hunchback, the first person to live in our blue Ardsley house.

We could walk in to this rhododendron bush as if it were a room. I sat on the “horse,” the long branch with a saddle seat curve that we hopped up and down on to make the tall bush shake.

But today I sat without jumping up and down. I was tired of this horse. I wanted a real horse, and I knew I would not be getting a horse.

Then I heard a Saturday mower.

The noise met me in the shade of the rhododendron. I lifted my chin to it.

Somewhere in the neighborhood, sounding its presence like a cavalry horn, was the first mower of spring. It ignited the sullen kernels of adventure in my ears and I got off…

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Ghost Punch: a Block Island memory

We could hear the waves and we could smell the ocean as the sun watched us slide down the tall bluff.

We scraped the bottoms of our feet, dragging our towels through the hard clay. Rocks hurt our pinky toes. Behind us our parents brought sandwiches in tin foil and bigger blankets, bits of home that we slid from as fast as we could. But for a moment we were all of us on the bluff, spread out and watched by the chandelier sun. We heard “slow down!” and we delighted in the danger we were making.

At the bottom we lifted to standing and ran the rest of the way, our feet on shell pieces and pebbles until the soft sand. We dropped our dirty towels and stood before the churning.

“Wait for us!” from the bluff.

The ocean was curling high and crashing down into white foam. When a wave flattened out we took our cue and ran in and went under. Sound was gone and we opened our eyes to the salty sunny green, but there was foamy commotion above. I knew to brace myself. We held our breath and closed our eyes, tossed in a washing machine, bouncing and scraping against the sandy bottom. I rolled until I stood in the white foam. We all brushed the hair from our faces and ran back in.

Soon we were hungry. We stood eating sandwiches from tin foil, peanut butter on our teeth as our parents spoke on the blanket:

“So how did you sleep last night?” asked my mother.

My aunt sat up straighter. She hugged her knees.

“Well, you know,” she said, “nothing…great.”

My mother was watching her. I could see she was thinking something. She looked worried.

“You didn’t sleep well?” said my mother. “I didn’t sleep well.”

“You didn’t sleep well?” said my aunt.

They were looking at each other.

“I guess I can tell you,” said my aunt. “You’re a nurse. We’re friends.”

“What?” said my mother. “Was something wrong? Did something happen?”

“Well, yes,” said my aunt. She took a deep breath. “I was sound asleep and something…punched me in the middle of the back. Nobody was standing there.”

We chewed.

Oh my gosh!” said my mother. “Pete, did you hear what she just said? I used those same words! The same thing happened to me!”

“You had a punch?” said my aunt.

“In the middle of my back! I used the same words! That’s exactly how I described it! ‘A fist punched me in the middle of my back’!”

“And nobody was there!”

“Nobody was there! We looked! Pete looked everywhere.”

“So did we! Is that why you guys were so quiet this morning at coffee?”

“Yes!”

“The same thing happened to you?”

Yes!”

Our mothers were staring at each other, in disbelief. We took bites, chewed. Our fathers were laughing, but it wasn’t a happy laugh.

“Maybe it was a ghost,” said my father. “Let’s name the ghost Grace after that character in Jane Eyre.”’

Our mothers were both frowning. This wasn’t funny to them.

“It was such a strange way to start our vacation yesterday,” said my mother. “Did you hear what that woman said as she left?”

“Yes! She said, ‘You can have this house.’

My uncle laughed.

You weren’t punched in the middle of the night,” said my aunt. “That was a real punch. I felt the knuckles. Nobody was standing there. And now Carroll, too?”

We crumpled our empty tin foil and handed it to our mothers, standing closer to them.

Our parents realized we were listening. They came out of their conversation and stared at us.

We ran back to the ocean.

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The Race, circa 1977

The Race, circa 1977

I could hear her behind me.

She was nine. I could tell. I think she had brown hair. Her breathing told me somebody in her family wanted her to win. But I wanted to win, and I wanted a trophy. I had seen them lined up on the table at the beginning of the race. I ran faster, so fast I could feel the separation of body and running, my legs now in charge as they took me in the direction of the Hudson River and the finish line.

I ran down the hill. It hurt to run so fast. I knew to hold on and let my legs take me there. When I got to the finish line, a man with a whistle told me I was the first woman. I smiled, held my sides, breathed deeply and nodded.

I walked over to the big trophy table, the tall golden statues.

I looked up at the man standing behind the table. He had stern skin, long eyebrows.

“I’m here for my trophy,” I said.

He looked at me.

“I won,” I said. “I was the first woman.”

The man shook his head. “The trophies are for the men,” he said.

“But I won,” I said.

He repeated himself.

I repeated myself.

I couldn’t understand it. What was he talking about?

People talked behind the table as I stood there. They leaned in to each other, whispering into ears. I watched.

“Here,” said the man. “You can have the third place men’s trophy.”

I smiled as I reached for it. 

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