Silence

old woman

Beulah reached inside the box of Kleenex for a tissue and pulled out a set of false teeth instead. She couldn’t figure out how the dentures got in the tissues; she hadn’t put any teeth inside the box. She laughed and took them out. “Bud? Are these mine or yours?”

Silence.

“Bud?”

Once she turned them the right way, she pushed the teeth into her mouth and clicked them together. “Never did fit right.”

Small, pretty bottles lined the dresser. Fingering the labels, she stopped on, White Diamonds and a wisp of a memory. Bud smiling down at her. “You smell pretty, Ma.” She picked it up and sprayed her neck with two puffs of air.

A search of the jewelry box turned frantic. Rings and tangled necklaces got in her way. She slammed a watch down onto the dresser. Her heart raced, and she couldn’t catch her breath. Why can’t I find it?

Something hit the top of her foot. “There you are.” When she bent to retrieve the small tube of lipstick, pain flared in her hip and she had to grab the dresser to stand. A wrinkled, unfamiliar face staring back at her made her jump. She placed a hand over her mouth to stop the scream and smiled at herself in the mirror. “You’re getting old when you don’t know your own face, Beulah.”

She dug out some of the lipstick with her little finger, and smeared it on her mouth.

Passion Pink. Bud’s favorite color.

A search through the pile of clothes on the floor revealed the cream-colored silk blouse she liked. After several attempts, she managed to get her arms in the right holes, then fought with the tiny buttons down the front. She ended up with two buttons and no holes at the end. Unable to make the extra buttons fit, she yanked at the ends of the satiny fabric.

A brown dot on her thigh caught her attention. She picked at the spot with her fingernail but it wouldn’t come off. Licking her thumb, she scrubbed at it. No matter how hard she rubbed and dug with her nail, the blemish remained. Pain stung her skin and blood smeared her thigh. All the energy drained from her body. “I can’t do anything right. Can you get this dirt off my leg?”

“Bud?”

Where is that man?

She turned to look for him. His picture on the bed-side table made her smile, but the small card with ‘In Loving Memory’ scrolled across the front in gold lettering sparked the feeling he was gone, had been gone a long time. Tears stung her eyes as she made her way across the room and picked up her husband’s photo.

“I miss you so much, Bud.” Her chest burned, and she fought the urge to cry. Dust fluffed up her nose when she kissed the glass protecting his face. She put the photograph back into its spot, and plodded to the dresser to finish preparing for the day.

Her favorite brooch peeked from under a pile of tangled necklaces and she dug it out. She struggled to work the clasp and pin it to the lapel of her blouse, then ran a comb through her hair. With her fingernail, she dug out the tiny bit of lipstick left in the tube and applied it to her lips.

Passion Pink. Bud’s favorite color. “Maybe this will get me a kiss. You always said I was irresistible when I wore this shade.”

Pleased that she was ready, she walked around the bed to the door. A beautiful view through the window drew her attention. “Look, Bud. It snowed last night. I think I’ll make some hot chocolate with your favorite little marshmallows. Doesn’t that sound good?”

She made her way to the kitchen and stopped in front of the refrigerator, trying to remember why she’d gone there. The coffee pot blinked 11:52. She pushed a button, fiddled with the knob, and lifted the lid to look inside.

A layer of green scum floated on the surface of coffee grounds and water. “It’s not broken. There’s coffee in here.” She closed the top, turned the knob again, and pushed the on/off button several times, but the numbers still blinked.

The coffee was cold. It tasted funny. She shuddered and poured the drink back into the pot. Pushing the on/off button, she grew frustrated when the numbers kept blinking. She considered throwing the whole thing into the trash, but marched to the pantry and snatched open the door. A bag of beans were the only contents. “Don’t you think a pot of beans would be good for supper tonight?”

Silence.

“Bud?”

She looked at his empty chair in front of the TV.

Gone. He’s been gone a long time.

Her throat grew tight and she sobbed. “I miss you so much, Bud.”

A gnat floated in front of her face. “How did that get into the house?” Waving her hand, she shooed the insect away from her nose, and it landed on a jug of milk next to the sink. “Bud. You need to pick up some repellent. If we don’t spray now, we’ll get infested.”

She picked up the milk and more gnats flew out of the jug. Chunks filled her mouth, and the smell of rotten dairy clogged her nose. Swallowing, she shivered at the awful taste. “Something’s wrong with this.”

She put the milk under the sink for later. Aunt Anna Mae always says you can’t waste food with a depression on.

A dog barking brought Beulah to the window. Snow covered every surface. Untouched, almost celestial with its purity, the view calmed her. “Bud? You remember last week when your dad let you hitch up the horses and take me ice-skating? We sure had a good time.” She loved the snow. Loved the crunch of it under her feet, the crispness in the air, the chance to go ice-skating with her sister on the lake after chores.

She shuffled into the living-room and sat in her recliner. The handle on the side of her chair wouldn’t work. Pushing several times with no success, she tried pulling it with all her strength. Her legs rushed up and the chair bounced.

TV remote in hand, she smashed the button with her thumb–again and again. “Shoot. I don’t know why this doesn’t work.” She tried the button one more time before she slammed the broken remote onto the table next to her chair.

The phone rang. She jumped, clutching her chest.

Another shrill ring pierced the air, and she glared at the phone. Inhaling a deep breath to calm her racing heart, she picked up the receiver. “Hello.”

“Hi, Mom.”

“Who is this?”

“It’s me, Tom. How are you? Do you have your heater going? It’s cold up there, I bet.”

“It snowed.” She wanted to hang up. She didn’t know anyone named Tom, but this man sounded so nice.

“Mom, do you have your heater on?”

“Of course I do. I know when I need to have my heater on!”

“Are you eating, do you need anything?”

“I cooked a pot of beans. I don’t need a thing.”

“Does that young couple still come over and check on you? The ones who bought the Hickman’s old place?”

“They have such a sweet baby. They brought us a casserole just the other day. Bud loved it.”

“Mom. Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Of course. How are you?”

“I’m fine. If you’ll give me the number for that couple, I’ll call the wife and have her come check on you.”

“No! I don’t need to have her over here checking on me.”

“You’re so far away.”

“Nonsense. I’m right here.” What’s he trying to sell me?

“I worry about you. Three thousand miles is too far away. I could never get there in time if something bad happens.”

“I’m a grown woman. I don’t need you or anybody else worrying over where I live.”

“I think I need to come up there. You sound a little confused.”

“There is nothing wrong with me! I don’t need anyone coming to check on me.” And I’m done talking to you. “I have to go, Lawrence Welk is coming on.”

“Mom, Lawrence Welk is dead. I’m coming up. I’ll get the first flight and hopefully be there in time to take you to dinner at the café tomorrow. Okay?”

“That sounds lovely. I’ll see you then. Bye.”

“Bye. I love you, Mom.”

Smiling, she hung up the phone. Dinner at the café sounded good, and she was excited about spending time with Tom. He was always such a good boy.

She picked up the remote and pushed the on button. When the TV didn’t work, she tossed the controller to the floor. Next time the kids called she would tell them her TV was broken. She wished they didn’t live so far away, and hoped one of them would call soon.

The view out the front window lifted her spirits. Snow covered every surface. Rays of sunshine flitted through the trees, and the porch swing rocked in the breeze. I think I’ll sit outside awhile.

When she pushed the recliner’s foot-rest with her feet, it wouldn’t go down. She kicked until her heels hurt, then pushed with her hands. Giving up, she tried to crawl over the arm. The chair tipped sideways, bounced back and the foot-rest went down.

She ambled to the door and opened it. Cold air rushed into the house, nipping at the bare skin of her legs. “Better get a coat, Beulah.”

Do I have the right blouse on?

Finding two buttons left undone, she spent several moments trying to secure them. I must look my best. Heart racing, her hands shook. She ripped the buttons off, tossing them aside, and scooped her favorite shawl off the floor, wrapping it around her shoulders before she stepped outside.

The small table and chairs Bud had made for them to enjoy their scenic front yard beckoned her. Snow crunched beneath her bare feet, stinging and freezing her skin as she trudged across the yard. Once she brushed the snow off her seat, she gathered her shawl tighter around her shoulders and sat in their special spot.

She rubbed her feet back and forth, pushing the snow out of the way. “Oh shoot. I forgot my shoes.”

A sprig of green peeked from beneath the icy blanket next to her chair, and she swept her hands through the clumps of snow to uncover more green stalks. At the bottom lay a snowdrop flower clinging to life.

Bud brought me these every year.

She chuckled. “The only thing you ever liked about winter was the snowdrops blooming. You always said, ‘Ma, the flower tells me spring is coming back.'”

“Bud?”

His chair next to her was empty.

Why isn’t he there?

“You died.”

Her chest grew heavy. She took a deep breath and wiped tears from her eyes before turning her gaze back to the snow-covered yard, away from his vacant chair. “The kids always said you’d never die in the spring. How the farmer in you just couldn’t die when everything was coming to life all around you. And they were right.”

Sniffing, she pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders. “I miss how you always brought me the flowers. You said they gave you hope.”

Cold wind howled around the corner of the house. She tried to cover her bare legs with the end of her silky blouse. The color green next to her chair caught her attention. A small snowdrop struggling for survival. She worked to tug the plant out of the ground, then brought it to her chest to protect the delicate petals from the wind.

“It’s so beautiful out here. So pure and clean.” She inhaled deeply through her nose. “Just smell that air, Bud.”

Her feet stung, and she rubbed them together, pushing more snow out of the way. I should at least get my shoes.

She glanced back at the house, and with the flower clutched in one hand, she started to stand. Huge bales of hay dotted the field next to her place. Jerking a thumb over her shoulder, she laughed. “Bud? You remember how every time Anna Mae saw one of those round hay bales she would say, ‘They don’t wet in when it rains’? Daddy would roll his eyes. Remember?”

Silence.

“Bud?”

The wind kicked up. Snow swirled into the air. She gathered her shawl, clutched the snowdrop under her neck, and burrowed deeper into her chair. “I’m gonna take a little nap. Wake me up in a few minutes. Okay Bud?”

Resting her head against the back of her chair, she admired the dark clouds in the sky. Fat snowflakes drifted around her. One settled onto her forehead. She smiled and closed her eyes.

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13 responses to “Silence

  1. Nice….Very powerful…I almost started to tear up when I got to the part of her picking up the picture of her husband off of the night table..Great short story….Got anymore?

    Like

  2. Very poignant. Poor Beaulah.

    Like

  3. tericrosschetwood

    This is a wonderful story, Sherry. Powerful and poignant and well-written. I’m impressed, yet also expected it to be very good, since I’ve seen your work elsewhere.

    Like

  4. Loved this story! My Grandma did the same things while she waited 13 years to join my Papa! They were married 50 years before he went Home & 63 by the time she joined him…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Good story!!

    Like

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