Walter Burlemon is my old scoundrel and I’m his girl friend, “girl, space, friend. Make sure you get that right,” Walter always says to anyone he introduces me to. “I am happily married, after all,” he makes sure to add. Married to the late Meredith Bell Burlemon, he is, “and don’t you forget it,” he always says. She was the most beautiful woman in the world according to Walter. I am the second most beautiful woman he tells me, and winks. Then he offers me his arm and we go sit on the “piazza,” as he calls it, to watch the sun setting, or to the cafeteria for “happy hour” coffee, or to the community room to tell jokes and talk about life, all of life. “Merry would be so pleased that I have you to keep me company until I go to join her,” he always says, and it always bothers me. Here is where “all of life” mysteriously stops for me as I watch my brain building a safe nest around Walter, craftily protecting the idea of permanence and late Sunday afternoons with my old scoundrel.
I’ve been visiting Walter at Wedgewood ever since my great aunt, Eva, passed away last summer. I used to check in at the front desk every Sunday afternoon, go to Aunt Eva’s room and help her “priss up to go to the parlor where we can have a proper visit,” as she would say. I’d dust her face with a little powder foundation and help her with her red, ever red and only red, lipstick. “It’s the color of my glory days,” she’d say, loudly, “And therefore I all the more don’t intend to change it to today’s color, whatever that is!” I’d ask her loudly to please consider wearing her hearing aids and she’d tell me loudly, “Ladies don’t wear things about their heads that detract from their beauty.” I’d sigh and we’d make our way to the community room for our proper visit which went the same way most every time.
Aunt Eva would only catch a word here and there of what I said, no matter how loudly I said it, and invariably, Walter Burlemon would wander in, seat himself by us and begin to talk with us, or me, really. Then Aunt Eva would get flat out mad that Walter had upstaged her and she’d grab onto her walker, pull herself up from her favorite “parlor chair,” and stalk crisply off, as well as a ninety-year-old with a walker can stalk crisply off. By this time, I would be so exasperated that I’d just let her go. But Walter never would. He’d say something like, “That Eva, she’s all wool and a yard wide, but that temper! Uff!” Then he’d go after her with a dance in his step and say some crazy thing to her like, “Miss Eva, you’re looking so fine that it’d be a shame to retire so early. Won’t you come back to the cotillion and waltz with me?” No matter what Walter said, Aunt Eva would sniff, nose up, head straight, and continue toward her room without a word. Walter would chuckle and always holler the same thing after her, “Well, if you change your mind…” Then he’d turn and wink at me. “Once a drama queen, always a drama queen,” Walter would say, referring to Aunt Eva’s days as director of our town’s little opera house. Walter and I would talk a minute or two longer, then he’d send me off to make peace with Aunt Eva who’d sniff at me as well, but always give me a hug and kiss goodbye.
Walter himself had a measure of fame within our town, as longtime organist at the Second Congregational Church, and outside the town, as one of the many fine musicians on the Community Concerts circuit. Because he lived his dream, and because he sees an unfulfilled need in me to live mine, Walter talks occupation versus calling and about what people do with life in general. I don’t think a visit has ever come and gone without Walter taking my hand in his age-spotted hands, looking at me intently through thick glasses that make his eyes look bizarrely large, and telling me, seriously, “Enjoy your hay day, your fifteen minutes of fame, kid, because life on this planet is for the physically and mentally spry, and when you can’t think or get around anymore, life will blow by you as if it never knew you.” I always tell Walter yes, I know, I know this, and to that he always says, “Don’t just know it, Luce, feel it. Take and do and be whatever you can, while you can, because life goes on with or without you. Life goes on, Luce. Like a steamroller.” When Walter sees the odd, blank look in my eyes, he always gently puts my hand back down and pats my cheeks and laughs. “One of these days Luce,” he says and winks. I hope so, I always say. Then Walter tells me one of his jokes and I tell him one of mine, to try and outdo him, but I never can. Then we hug goodbye, and that’s how Walter and I go.
Today I have an outrageous joke that a guy at work told me this past week, and I can barely wait to hit Walter up with it. In addition to freeing me up to follow my dreams, he’s working on my joke delivery technique. “Know your material,” he says. So I’ve been practicing—in the shower, in the mirror, in the car, now, on the way over to Wedgewood. If June is at the front desk and no one else is in need of her attention, I’ll try it out on her first. I park the car and run-walk to the front doors, deal with that nursing home stench that packs a wallop on entering, and hurry to see who’s at the desk. Yes! It’s June!
“June, daaaarling! How are you this fine day?” I ask cheerfully.
“Oh dear,” June says.
“June? You look ‘funny.’ Are you OK?” I ask.
“Ah, Lucy? I have some bad news…”
“Walter! Is he alright?”
“Lucy, brace yourself. Walter passed away yesterday. Heart failure,” June said to me as tenderly as one can who sees death nearly every day.
My stomach dropped out of my body and left a hollow ache. My throat tightened and I could barely breathe. I thought I would die and that was fine with me. I’ve never felt more hurt and hopeless, more bereft, more lost, more petrified of the future. I didn’t know what to do next. I could tell by hollow sounds that June was speaking. An orderly rushed to my side and helped me sit down in one of the chairs along the wall. He gave me water and spoke soothing sounds. I was trying to pass out so I could hide forever from this, but the orderly was trying to keep me awake, alert and in pain. I fought him when he broke an ammonia capsule under my nose. I yelled at him and pushed his hand away. And then the tears came and came and there was no stopping the flood of them. In between sobs I heard some part of me blurting questions of why and how and finally the tidal wave of hopelessness and fear had passed through me, past me, leaving a ghost of me, and I heard myself apologizing to the orderly and to June.
“I’m so sorry. Please forgive my behavior. I just don’t know what to do now,” I said.
“You could visit me,” a tiny, scratchy voice said.
I looked over to where the voice had come from and I saw a shriveled little lady, cute as a bug’s ear, leaning on a walker and smiling at me with all the hope in the world in her eyes. “After you finish grieving for Walter, that is,” she said in her miniature voice, and smiled at me again.
I sat there stunned. I didn’t know what to say and then I felt a calmness settle down on me, and I heard Walter’s voice in my head saying, “Life goes on, Luce, it just goes and goes.”
“Like a steamroller,” I heard myself say, and I smiled back at the cute little lady.
“My name is Minnie,” she said.
Organ pipes in Our Lady of Ta’ Pinu Basilica, Gharb, Island of Gozo, Malta
from Gozo News.com http://gozonews.com/item/special-jubilee-organ-recital-at-ta-pinu-shrine/
Missalister’s “Sundays with Walter,” copyright © 2009, was spun off the Sunday Scribblings prompt “#156 – Aging.” Click here for more on prompt #156 from other Sunday Scribblings participants.
Well, gosh, now you’ve done it, gone and made me cry. I love Walter, and I loved his girl friend, too, even though she tried to stay hidden throughout the piece. This felt tender and sweet and sad — and all this in a week when I was pretty sure I didn’t have the time for any such reactions. Just lovely.
Tender, touching and truthable. As always, finely tuned and full of human-ness.
Oh dear, missalister.
I’d stay and try to provoke that devil mood to flutter closer still, but I think my eyeballs are deflating.
Something is leaking
and your most recent words are surely to blame.
Now I know something new.
We’ve all heard that the pen is sharper than the sword,
that the humble sans-serif,
lying flat on the screen,
could reach up and slice a pound of flesh
from the remembrances of the heart?
Or that that surgery would progress through my rapidly deflating eyes?
It’s a good cut.
too. (two? maybe. both eyes are leaking.)
I just can’t decide if it was a thick sabre or a slender rapier.
Not that it matters much, apart from appreciating the artistry of the destroyer of boundaries, which is what a good writer is and does, I think.
They breach the boundaries between worlds and bypass the liminal space, the space between, such that we don’t notice the stitching between when they, later, connect the boundaries to make a bigger enclosure. Its a mental, Lockian property, exclusive to the new possessor, stitched so that that our transition is seamless and we effortlessly drift in and recognize that the new is our space, at least for now.
And that we belong, effortlessly, in the new.
I can feel for the hole, or the slice, in my eyes later, missalister. Maybe I’ll tell you what I think you used. Likely it doesn’t matter if I revert to stoicism or pragmatism. That hole or slice will just be; whole in and of itself.
Fortunately my eyes are leaking brine, which will keep the wounds clean.
Strangley, though (I think), people leave life-sized, form-fitting holes in our platonic selves, when they leave us behind, they don’t leave a lacunae, per se, because that exit wound seals up and fills up with remembrances, good and bad, and the counterspells that our minds weave for our protection.
But you, you just burst a few remembrance skins, and they are filling up again, reinflating.
And its a good thing, missalister.
I’m sore, but not sore at you.
Remembrances stored are remembrances lost, not lived.
Good writing shares remembrances we may not have even had, but it connects them to ones we have.
And your writing is not good.
That is far too prosaic.
It is very fine.
Like double damask and coarsest sacking, rich in texture, packed and delivered, fluttering and whispering and sliding slickly then roughly on the finest muslin, mainlined into the brain and the heart and the soul. Then rubbed, soft and rough, all around so we can luxuriate in the sensations.
Deft blade work and delivery of new warps and wefts into the tapestry that is an ongoing life in progress.
That leak is my highest praise, today.
The rest are just words.
(Love letters for your work, hoping to form words and ideas.)
Feeling a bit abashed, but what can one do when leaking profusely?
Muchness: Folks be coppin’ to the undeniable sweetness of Walter and Luce: can’t argue with that, and I love the full-blown backstories that flutter through smooth as butter (or is that smooth as butterfly?). But, I like too, June’s “Oh dear,” something very clean about that, tiny bit of astringent to the stench-wallop, merciful as it gets for Ms June, but intentionally so. And, of course, Minnie’s delightful “After you’ve finished grieving for Walter, that is,” in her “miniature” voice. After a week of celebrating “Everything is Illuminated,” that miniature was a hoot.
So, he says in a miniature voice, you just left a nice note somewhere, and I half read it as I had to approve it (more than 5 days old posting) because I wanted to savour it in situ… on the page where it was left… only now I cannot find it anywhere… where did you leave it… sheepish grin… I am sure I said yes to the message…
You and Paschal, with heads busting out brain cells, leaving room nowhere for the blasé functions mechanism! LOL! Well, as I recall, I scrolled down to the green vipers, got sucked into a horror tale vortex masquerading as a rabbit hole to Beelzabub heaven and Baygon bomb hell :-D
I know what you mean regarding the savoring. I do it, too, which is why I haven’t responded to the comments here yet. I read them, let them steep, and then I do more savoring in the way of responding to them. Life is good : )
Oh frabjous day, Callooh, Callay!
I chortle in my joy, missalister.
I had been looking in the wrong story.
It’s past 4am, my time, here in Hong Kong, and I kept rooting around the slippy “wall of the damned and first contact” which is the story just after the blatta blatta blam story which you were sucked into (with the vortex of Beelzebub, ohh, but he’s a tricky bugger… and you can take that verbal formulation to your professor… Just tell her (Professer Tipper Two, I’m calling her now, in my head) that Beelzebub has a significant entomological connection (he does) and, just as a photogrpaher is involved with photographs, well so a bugger must be involved with bugs. It’s worth a try, non?)
Anyway, I have found your comment now.
Thank you so much for your words. All of them.
(I think I have said that before… Maybe I just ought to leave you be and get back to my work…)
So much here but the thing that hits me smack between the eyes is how Luce is visiting the nursing home, doing a “good deed” and yet being fed so much in the doing.
Missalister, Good story, but I feel cheated! I so wanted to hear the joke Luce had to tell. Perhaps another day?
Well, I love it when you love the stories I come up with! After my rocky start of skull-crushing and faith-breaking, I’m pleased to be about the business of building more positive energy. And I don’t mean fluffy-positive. I mean drilling-down-to-it-positive, drilling down to the heart of a thing. Put your hands on the Bagombo Snuff Box and be healed, brethren, by the living Vonnegut word that saith, “Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.” Can I get an Amen?!
I’m so glad you came by! I think I’m losing half my audience for lack of trying to keep one during these days of learning and working and helping out the ‘rents. “But we know time,” as Dean Moriarty says, and therefore we know change, change swirling ‘round sand from under our feets.
‘Tis brillig you come whiffling with your sans serif raves, your raves of the vorpal blade’s snicker-snack, and your frabjous praise all mimsy and beamish! ‘Tis a welcome stirring, these scratchings on blank digital slate, these layers of consciousness building and defining the new future state. We know time, we know change, the things what cause pain, and now I know something new, many things new. I know a new view, a slice of light from your eyes, in life-sized holes filled with remembrances and sealed. I know that you were one king’s closest advisor once upon a time, that Pommes is one lucky cat, and that our Heroine has her hands full! Come galumphing back at your cleverish leisure and rest ye by the Tumtum tree. Your words, your purring and chortling, your thoughts and theories all are welcome at any hour on the timeline : )
Minnie is, isn’t she? I can just see her. I’m sure you got a picture of her just in the meager words spared on her. And this, I saw with the reading of your comment, is how I might manage a request for five pages of blatherdy-bebopping-da. Description, full description, if not a good solid plot line that marches like a war-bound soldier with an entertaining gait, like Jackson’s “The Lottery.” My God, I’ve never been so pacified by pages and pages of withholding of what, what, what is it???!!! I was perfectly content to let Shirley mesmerize me forever and ever with her matter of fact style, her slow building, tiny stone by tiny stone, and to find at the end, myself buried in stones, bewildering stones. It could be you, could be me, could be any of us get a gift like that story idea dumped inside our sweaty heads on the way up the hill pushing our strollers full of groceries, babies, and whatnot : )
Welcome! Yes, poor Luce, ready or not, is about to sign on to Minnie and another losing proposition that is not a losing proposition. She’s about to continue to be stuck between that rock and hard place, the getting and giving, the painful taking away and happy receiving. Because after Minnie, you know there’ll be more who will benefit by her, and she by them. And so it goes and goes like a steamroller.
Your “My Mother’s Hands” was beautiful and beautifully written, btw : )
LOL! Well, here at The Essence of a Thing, we aim to please. So I’ll tell you the joke. Here goes:
A blonde and a lawyer are seated next to each other on a flight from LA to NY.
The lawyer asks if she would like to play a fun game.
The blonde is tired and just wants to take a nap so she politely declines and rolls over to the window to catch a few winks.
The lawyer persists and explains that the game is easy and a lot of fun.
He explains, “I ask you a question, and if you don’t know the answer, you pay me $5.00, and vice versa.”
Again, she declines and tries to get some sleep. The lawyer, now agitated, says, “Okay, if you don’t know the answer, you pay me $5.00, and if I don’t know the answer, I will pay you $500.00.”
This catches the blonde’s attention and, figuring there will be no end to this torment unless she plays, agrees to the game. The lawyer asks the first question. “What’s the distance from the earth to the moon?” The blonde doesn’t say a word, reaches into her purse, pulls out a $5.00 bill and hands it to the lawyer. “Okay,” says the lawyer, “Your turn.”
She asks the lawyer, “What goes up a hill with three legs and comes down with four legs?” The lawyer, puzzled, takes out his laptop computer and searches all his references, no answer. He taps into the air phone with his modem and searches the net and the library of congress, no answer. Frustrated, he sends e-mails to all his friends and coworkers, to no avail. After an hour, he wakes the blonde, and hands her $500.
The blonde says,”Thank you”, and turns back to get some more sleep.
The lawyer, who is more than a little miffed, wakes the blonde and asks, “Well, what’s the answer?” Without a word, the blonde reaches into her purse, hands the lawyer $5.00, and goes back to sleep.
I had hoped the story would go on for a few thousand more words. I won’t say all that about it being gut-wrenching and heart-warming and all those little emotions about a missed heart-beat that last a fraction of a second – because what can I say, I love depressing stories and wish all the billions of life’s seconds were passed away in these emotions. There’s no beauty without sadness and there’s no world without a feeling of helplessness and loss. I think even Lucy would agree – eventually.
Well done. I confess I don’t normally read very lengthy posts online. But this was so engaging, the length stopped registering and I was completely drawn in. My elderly neighbor is moving and there is a sense of loss. I worry about seeing her. She had been a constant for me for almost ten years now.
Killer comment, Drumster. It could have gone on. The language could have. But the drift was done. You said it all and I’m in awe of how you said it, especially from “wish” on out. Amen, Brother! say Lucy and me. The green truth light is going off and we’re going to the winner’s circle. Well, Drumster, I guess it’s getting time for you to put down over at your place some of that language that could have gone on. I didn’t know I needed a fix ‘til I saw the dealer : )
I’m so glad you enjoyed this : )
I’m with you on lenthy posts. If folks don’t hook me in the first paragraph, I’m gone, but if they do, and they keep the excitement rolling, I’ll go the distance, thrilled the whole way. I try to have mercy on those who visit and give ‘em good stuff regardless of length, but brain can get in the way of soul and a batch of rotgut can get made. It’s all a part of the learning process going on here, but as I said in my comment to you earlier, the desire is there.
And I’m there with you regarding elderly neighbors. I had a devine one once in my old apartment complex. And when she left to go live in the house her kids had bought her, what a hole was left! Oh it was awful. All her plants, the big butterflies attached to the outside of her entry, the homey nameplate on the front door, all gone. She felt like a guardian and she was gone. Took a long time to get used to the absence : )
Heya missalister (funny tag line, really, I’d never heard of the Ister Missal in any liturgical listing before… but I digress)
I’m in India today, and the keyboard is gamey, but, if you can brave a long (long, very long epistle) post over at my e-house, you will find yourself mentioned. No need to do anything. Just thought I would try and share your work to others, if you don’t mind.
It is sometimes surprisiing to see the meaning that can be found in giving.
Well written Miss. A – clear and true…and lovely!
The giver often, and unexpectedly, can receive so much.
Oh Walter, why did you have to go and miss that good joke?
The steamroller is a funny metaphor, because not only does life go on, but sometimes it has a way of pressing us to the ground lol.
Completely overwhelmed by your latest comment, by the way. Steamrolled by it ;)
I read this earlier but didn’t comment. I just want say I enjoyed it. I’ll say again, your character develop is crystal clear. I really get a sense for them.
Oh frabjous Chris, callooh-callay Chris, I am catching up, ever catching up, I’m sure I am…
I’ve already braved your long sevens and thankfully sevens are my favorite so it wasn’t really braving but more like loving. And you already know I don’t mind : )
Thank you for leaving me a note on the fridge while I was out. Your presence is a welcome one indeed : )
Some offer that giving is the way we find ourselves…or maybe forget ourselves ; ) I’m more interested in the finding…although I’ve always thought that was done in a Ramana Maharshi sort of way…
Haha! Well, Walter was a seasoned one and knew better than Luce. Luce is into blonde jokes because she’s a blonde, but he would have poo-pooed it. Yup, steamroller’s squash and roll… Overwhelmed? Tell me more. I’d like to know after all this time, what did it mean to you?
Yeah? Well, I didn’t tell you that I’ve listened to “The Bayman’s Blues” every day since I heard of you, and it kills me. From the first chord I’m dead, listening from Heaven.
I knew you would understand. :-P Mutually.
I’d like to know after all this time, what did it mean to you?
Oh it is was just so lovely to read :)
I hope you got that flash of a comment I left here before it was gone. It was crazy and true and for you; but if you didn’t, I’ll leave another tempered one and it’s this: I’m glad you’re here on this planet : )
Thank you, first and ever friend in the world of blogging : )
What a title, what a story, what an ending, what style in the telling! “Life goes on, it just goes and goes.” Thank you.
You’re so welcome, Josna. I read it mysef just now, and I feel so far away from the me that I was then, and not in a good way. I would like to return to that state: of purpose, determination and sufficient peace of mind. So thank you for taking me back, and in doing so, reminding me : )