This story is by Carol Ann Cook and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
She sat quietly in her room. The wrought iron bed frame had been painted white, but the paint was flaking off – dying a bit each day, just like her. The only cheery thing about the bed was the faded quilt. The bold green and yellow blocks that created a bouquet of roses had paled to light pastels, but still brought a bit of color into the room. Next to the bed was a small dark wooden table with a matching chair. Journals were stacked on either side of the table. Completed journals on the right – blank journals on the left. She didn’t write as much as she used to. She wanted to make the journals last, as she knew when she completed the last journal, her life would also end, like the O. Henry story of “The Last Leaf.” So, she sat quietly in her room, not wanting to hurry the ending.
The run-down efficiency-apartment had a dirty window that barely opened at the bottom. When the bottom was lifted, the top dropped down proportionately. Half-an-inch on each end was all the fresh air she received. The bathroom door opened to cover the window. Inside was a toilet and a sink. She hadn’t seen a tub or shower for years. One small 15-watt bulb hung from the ceiling. Sometimes the toilet worked. Sometimes it didn’t. Today, it didn’t. Did she want to leave the door open to air out the bathroom, or did she want to close the door and breathe in a bit of fresh air? She left the door half-way open and sat quietly in her room.
Part of the floor, under the bed and in front of the outside door, was made of splintered wood. The rest of the floor was covered in dingy, stained linoleum that curled up around the edges of the room. At one time it had been yellow with green ivy, but now it was almost grey. There were nails hammered into the wall where she hung some clothes – a dress, a coat, and a couple of jeans. In a cardboard box on the floor below the nails, she had a small collection of T-shirts. There was a pair of black shoes – square-toed with a small heel – serviceable, nothing fancy.
She wore a faded flannel nightgown with a thread-bare chenille house robe. She sat in a broken-down brown overstuffed chair. Beside her was a small table with a lamp, a book, and a magazine. She had read the book five times. She liked the pretty pictures in the magazine, but the pages were starting to tear and fade from use. The magazine was the only thing of color in her dark, bland life as she sat quietly in her room.
Tomorrow was visitor day. The man would bring her food – nothing fresh or frozen, just cans and boxes. He would bring a bag of ice for the cooler, dumping last week’s melted ice down the kitchen area sink. She had no refrigerator. She had a single hotplate in the kitchen so she could warm up some food. Macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and other dishes were made with water, not milk. At the beginning of the week, she would enjoy some ice in her water. It was her treat for the week. She had one skillet (she got 6 eggs each week) and one saucepan; two plates, one cup, one coffee mug, two forks, two spoons, one table knife, and one sharp knife.
She wondered if the man would bring his dog with him again. Sometimes he does, but not usually. She hoped he would bring another book and magazine. It had been over two weeks since she had a new book or magazine to read. She knew better than to wish for such things, as they rarely happened. She was alone with her thoughts. But her thoughts were silent. She just sat quietly in her room.
When the light from outside faded she climbed into her bed and pulled her quilt up to her chin. She fell asleep thinking of the fun she and her mother had creating that quilt. The laughter, the bright sun, the whispered secrets, the plans for the future. Now, it was nothing but a dream. A pleasant dream which helped her sleep, but still, just a dream as she lay quietly in her room.
The sun peeked stealthfully into the window. Barely reaching the inside edge of the window sill, it still awakened her. Slowly, she sat up and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. She surveyed her room — nothing had changed. Sighing, she finally stood up and said aloud, “It’s visitor day.” After using the toilet, she donned a pair of jeans and a clean T-shirt. Going to the kitchen she heated some water for a cup of tea. She hoped the man would bring more tea. He might be a distant relative; she couldn’t remember. She buttered her last slice of bread and added a dollop of the honey she hoarded for special occasions. After eating her bread, she washed the knife, took her cup of tea, and sat quietly in her chair.
When the sun reached its pinnacle there was a knock on her door. Before she could even stand, the man opened the door and his dog bounded in. She smiled and sat back down as Lucy, the miniature Border Collie, leaped into her lap and started licking her face. She hugged Lucy and petted her gratefully before the man ordered Lucy to get down. Lucy laid at her feet while the man fixed her toilet. He handed her a new book — a cozy mystery — and a new magazine filled with pictures of flowers. She smiled when she saw it. The man also gave her a new nightgown and house robe. He explained the old one needed to be laundered or pitched. Observing her panicked look, he assured her that he would return her old nightgown and house robe. He put the box of groceries in the kitchen area, emptied the melted ice down the kitchen sink, and added the fresh bag of ice. “I’ll see you next week,” he said. “C’mon, Lucy! Let’s go.” Lucy obediently got up, stood on her hind legs, and begged for one more petting before she left with the man.
Rising, she went to put away the groceries. The man brought bread, a stick of butter, 6 eggs, a box of teabags, a few pop-top cans of vegetables and fruit, a couple of boxes of macaroni and cheese, a bar of soap, a package of disposable dishrags, and 6 bananas. She smiled at her largess and went back to her chair. She wished the man would talk to her when he came, but he was all business. No one could tell that they were related; even distantly. It was enough that he faithfully came every week with food and an occasional book or magazine.
Another smile as she sat down and looked at the cozy murder mystery book. She had the book in one hand and the magazine in the other, trying to decide which to look at first. She sat quietly in her room until the sunlight disappeared. She placed the book and magazine on the stand, changed into her new nightgown, which wasn’t comfortable, and climbed into bed. With the excitement of the day, she had trouble falling asleep.
The next morning, she awoke, unrested. Without dressing, she sat at the table and wrote in one of the journals. These were her private thoughts; thoughts that she knew no one would ever read, but thoughts that had to have a voice. After writing for several hours she took a break and ate a banana, then sat quietly in her overstuffed chair. Day after day, the routine rarely varied. The highlight of her week was the day when the man came. She couldn’t even remember how they were related, only that they were.
True to his word, the man returned her laundered nightgown and house robe. She smiled as she put on her old flannel nightgown and laid out her threadbare chenille house robe for the next morning. They were like old friends who had returned from an extended trip. She threw the new nightgown and house robe in the cardboard box, happy to be in her familiar, comfortable bedclothes.
Every few weeks, the man would bring his dog, Lucy, who would lavish affection on her until ordered to get down. Lucy was the only highlight of her life, and she was sorrowful when Lucy wasn’t with the man. On the weeks when Lucy didn’t come, she wrote more in her journals, trying to finish them. Knowing no one would read them, she poured out her thoughts, anyway. Maybe the man would look through them before throwing them away, but she wouldn’t ask him to. Meanwhile, she just sits quietly in her room.