This story is by Judy Blackburn and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A knock from the front porch brought Winnie to her feet. She maneuvered her cane, wincing at the pain the movement brought and tottered to answer the summons.
Winifred gazed out a window. No one ever came to visit. Except for the man who tacked that yellow-colored notice on her door.
A man stood at the door with a big box in his arms. “Where do you want this? Make it quick. I have other deliveries.”
“Oh, my new TV.” How could she have forgotten? Old age and memories were her guesses. “This way,” and she pointed the man to the room left of her front door. “Could you take this old television away and set up the new one?”
“No, all I do is deliveries.” He sat the box down and walked out the door.
Winnie humphed and sighed. “Bet he wouldn’t treat his own mom that way,” she muttered. Then she listened to the fading footsteps on the brown grass and gravel. The old lady really hadn’t expected anything different.
With a dull, burning pain coursing through her hip and legs, she wrestled the television out of the box and plugged it in. Since she couldn’t move the old set or lift the new one to the table, it sat on the floor.
She turned on her new black and white TV before sitting comfortably in the padded rocking chair. The chair’s soft rocking soothed her tired joints and muscles. The back and forth motion was like a clock pendulum marking off the time. And she didn’t think there was much time left
Winnie’s days were wasted when she couldn’t see her family. It was like being lost in the dark woods and floundering around. Now she was back with family again. The light shone bright showing the way and she hoped she hadn’t missed much.
Winnie pulled her shawl closer around her thin droopy shoulders. A tear slowly dribbled down her wrinkled cheek as she watched the familiar people come on the screen. She smiled and laughed through all their happy weddings and cried and mourned at the funerals. She helped solve the crimes. She was always present at all their dramas. Every day at one o’clock Winnie sat in front of her television and spent time with the only family she had.
Right in the middle of the yearly ball, while the music played and the dancers chose their partners, the door rattled like it was shaking off its hinges.
“I know you’re in there, Miss Winifred. This is the police. This is a reminder you need to be out the day after tomorrow.”
Winnie waved her hand towards the door and grimaced. She didn’t take her eyes off her new television.
The dance went on. In her mind, Winnie danced with her handsome escort. She swayed in his arms and smiled up at him. Her dress rustled around her ankles like the soft green grasses in a meadow. Winnie heard the footsteps stomp off the porch. They mingled with music as it swelled and the dancers twirled in their final steps. The show was over for today.
Winnie sighed. The hours stretched ahead of her until the family time, again.
She hobbled to the door. Was she hoping the papered notice was gone? She knew that was wishful thinking. The eviction still glared at her in all its brightness. A group of kids were walking by. One called out. “Hey, there’s old skinny Winnie the drunk.” He giggled and pushed at the others with him. They joined in the chant, “Skinny Winnie, skinny Winnie, have a drink…”
Winnie slammed the door shut. They are just kids she told herself. They don’t know, haven’t experienced life yet. She always told herself the same thing.
She limped back to her rocking chair. The photo album lay close by. If she wasn’t watching her show she was looking at the photo album and the main photo sitting on the table. The one of her and her soldier. The pictures were fading now. So many years ago. He stood proudly in his uniform. The smile on his face was for her only.
That was why she loved her show. The handsome actor in the story looked so much like her soldier. Her soldier that never came home. Winnie’s heart melted every time she saw him.
The wine sat close by on her side table. She poured a bit in the glass. In spite of the kids calling her a drunk, she wasn’t really. She liked a nip now and then. So what if the nips got a little more and lasted long into the evening. It numbed her, made her float. It took the heart pain away, made her feel like she was dancing in lavender ruffled skirts and satin slippers, like on her soap show.
Winnie didn’t know what to do about the town condemning her house and making her move. There was no place to go. They wanted to build a shopping center or a parking lot or some such thing. They called it progress. It didn’t matter it was her home. The home she had lived in all her life. She met her love here, waited for him here. She knew he’d come.
The next afternoon it happened.
It was almost one o’clock. The family would be stopping by at any moment. She was ready for them, couldn’t wait. A window was opened slightly letting a small breeze blow through the house. The sun-washed through the curtains that were getting a bit tattered. Winnie told herself to sew new curtains, but somehow she hadn’t got it done. The wallpaper was faded to a murky dusty pink that was more the color of the dust.
Winnie sat in her rocking chair, her feet tapping the floor, waiting for the TV to warm up. It was always on the right channel. The picture appeared. The opening song introduced the show. Winnie sipped her wine. The main character, the one who looked like her soldier actually waved at her, then held out his hand. Suddenly it wasn’t the main character anymore, it was him. He wore the same uniform.
Tall and smooth, tanned skin like he looked in the picture that sat on the table by her chair. His blue smiling eyes looking only at her.
She sat up. Not feeling the burning in her joints. She slowly held her hand out to him, whispered his name. She knew this couldn’t be happening, but it was. He beckoned to her, called her name.
* * *
The next morning the sheriff came with the wrecking crew and the contractor. They would make one more attempt to talk her into moving. Otherwise, the sheriff was there to escort her out.
They found the front room empty. The TV was still on, they could hear it in the other room. The sheriff turned it off, but no sign of Winnie. “Miss Winifred?” he called. He glanced at a picture of a pretty woman and soldier that sat on top of the television.
The contractor had stayed by the front door.
“You look around upstairs and I’ll look in the kitchen and out back,” the sheriff said.
They met in the living room both shaking heads. “The upstairs is empty, doesn’t look like anyone’s been up there for years. What do we do now, sir?” asked the contractor.
The TV came back on. Both men jumped at the sound. The sheriff hurriedly made his way back to the television room. “Miss Winifred…” But there was no one there, just a whiff of a rose sachet.
The scene on the TV was a dance filled with pretty women in their dresses of lace and ribbons and the men in their finest suits. They all swayed around to the orchestra music. The camera came in for a close up of a beautiful young woman holding a rose. She was in the arms of a handsome man as they danced by.
The sheriff and the contractor stared at each other. Neither said it but it was in the air. The couple on the screen and the couple in the picture were the same.
The pretty woman waved at the sheriff and contractor. Then she turned to her soldier and her face beamed as they danced on.