Says Laura Boggess:
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 and that is…well, you’ll just have to read on to find out…
Waiting on Neruda’s Memoirs
“Alice! Do hurry or we’ll be late!”
She called up the stairs, trying not to be annoyed. She glanced in the foyer mirror, eying her hair critically between the reflection of bits of the flower arrangement on the hall table.
She glided down the steps; face lit up with that dimpled smile that always melted Amy’s heart. Alice just turned fifteen last week and Amy swallowed hard at how grown up she looked in taffeta and pearls.
“Oh, honey. You are so beautiful.”
Alice curtsied at the bottom of the stairs and spun around slowly so Amy could appreciate the effect of the softly billowing skirt.
“And you are going to knock dad’s socks off!”
Amy had chosen a more sedate outfit—a long straight silk in a peachy color. She did feel pretty–despite her nervousness–and she couldn’t help smiling at Alice’s enthusiasm. They didn’t get to dress up like this often.
“Are you ready? We’d better get going. Don’t want to keep the governor waiting.”
She winked at Alice.
“Do you have your book?”
Alice nodded, lifting her bag in response as they hurried out the door.
Five years. That’s how long it had taken. The cancer center had been operating now for almost a year, but tonight marked the official completion of phase one of the project. Justine’s project.
Amy and Oliver had both been surprised by the thought and detail the old woman had put into the planning. Her will was very meticulous, but much of her plan was already well underway when she passed. The land had already been purchased, the architect consulted, and preliminary discussions initiated with St. Joe’s. It had taken some doing, but when Oliver had secured the partnership with the medical school, it was just a matter of building the thing. And Justine had even arranged that—contracting her husband’s former company to handle everything.
Tonight, they would celebrate. She felt her pulse quicken a bit as she pulled up to the breezeway. Before the valet could open the door she glanced over at her stepdaughter.
“Are you ready for this?”
Alice dimpled again.
“Sure I am. It’s all for Gram. It’ll be grand.”
And it was grand. The concourse of the center had been turned into a ballroom for the evening. The floors gleamed and the chandelier partialed out twinkling light. Circular tables were peppered here and there for the esteemed guests who would arrive later. Amy’s heels clicked sharply on the brightly waxed floor as she approached the small group of figures gathered near the podium. Oliver broke from the group as she drew near and extended his hand to take hers.
She felt herself relax as he gently folded her in his arms.
“You look stunning.”
He whispered in her ear and his breath sent shivers down her neck. How did he always do that? She smiled up at him and he reached his other arm out to gather Alice to him.
“Ladies and Gentleman, we may begin the ceremony. The driving forces behind the George and Justine Taylor Cancer Center have arrived.”
There were so many names that Amy lost track. The governor said “a few words” behind the podium and the senator from the fourth district was not to be left out. Her face felt like it would break from the smiling. But soon, she and Alice cut the ribbon—posing numerous times for the newspaper photographers—and she was free to sit. She glanced at her watch. The dinner would begin in half an hour. She sidled up to Oliver, who was hobnobbing with some suits, and leaned close to his ear.
“Can you hold down the fort for a wee bit?”
He glanced at the book she held in her hands knowingly.
“If I must…”
It was all she needed to hear. She found Alice and they slipped down the back corridor, up the elevator and clicked heels down the shiny second floor hallway. Amy smiled as they passed the colorful murals. When they reached the nurses’ station, the white-clad figures smiled and nodded, but continued their work without interruption. Alice hurried to the common room but Amy lingered in the large arch of the doorway.
She watched as the children gathered around her girl, grinning from ear to ear. These little ones had been here so long they had gotten to know Alice quite well. How they loved her. Such a mix of joy and sad–their shiny round heads bowed into Alice’s. The tiniest ones clamored for a turn on her lap as their parents smiled them on nearby.
“You look like a princess,” one of them offered in awe-filled tones.
Alice laughed and pulled out her book.
“Who’s ready for some poetry?”
A collective cheer rose and soon the room was hushed of all but Alice’s rhythmic tones.
It never ceased to amaze Amy how even the youngest was spellbound at the reading. She thought of Justine’s last days, felt a tiny twist in her heart.
I miss you, my friend.
She fingered the two volumes in her hands and turned her back on the sweet scene of poetry. There was someone she needed to see.
The south wing was quiet this evening and Amy was conscious of the approaching dark. She nodded to the nurses at the desk and slipped into room 204.
She knocked lightly on the door as she entered.
There was no response, but as she drew near his bedside, he stirred.
“Who is it?”
She put her warm hand over his fingers.
His vision had left him long ago but his other senses were as sharp as the north star on a clear night.
“Yes, it’s me.”
“I was wondering what was taking you so long tonight.”
“Tonight is the dinner, remember? That ceremony I told you about? I’m sorry I’m a bit later than usual.”
“Did you bring it? The book?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Will you read me the one? My favorite? I feel the need.”
She made no reply, just opened the book to the familiar words.
“No Easy Solace.
No easy solace
both moth and rust consume.
The heart contused,
it gives no solace
to memory once blacked
its light from star or moon
as from a spider’s womb.”
After the reading, she wiped the tears from his eyes as she always did and he sighed and they were quiet. He was in a mood tonight and she couldn’t wait for him this time.
He sighed at the breaking of the hush—though he knew her nature by now and fully expected it.
“I have a surprise for you. It’s a new book. We’ve read through Neruda’s Memoirs so many times now…I thought you might enjoy something new. It’s called Delicate Machinery Suspended. It’s by a poet who is new to me—Anne Overstreet. I think you’ll like it…she’s very…well, she notices things.”
He was quiet. Amy sat in stilled silence, afraid to breathe.
When he finally spoke it was with a gruff vulnerability.
“You’re not to leave Neruda’s Memoirs behind when you come, you hear?”
“No, of course not, I know it’s your favorite. I just thought…”
“Well, then. Read, girl. Read. Let’s see what this Anne Overstreet has to offer.”
Amy smiled in the dim light. She was going to be late for the dinner. And she didn’t care one bit.
Story by Laura Boggess. Reprinted with permission.
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