This story is by Jem Rogers and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Ida was her name and as in biblical times, it described her identity. Sister Margaret first taught Ida about names in 2nd grade. “Names are very important,” she said slowly, mysteriously, her oval face wide with a smile. “They give us information about people. God made Adam from the dirt of the ground. Adam comes from the Hebrew “adama” that means “earth”. Pretty neat, huh?” And she winked at Ida. Maybe because she liked her. Or perhaps because Ida sat politely and listened with her hands neatly folded on her desk, smiling back at the woman in the black habit, nodding. Ida was always a pleasure to have in class.
Now, trading a blue-and-black plaid uniform skirt for a navy business suit, Ida smiled at other Team Leads as she sat in the conference room. Through panels of windows, dark snow clouds loomed, sharing gloom and a frigid chill with those inside. Who among them was going to be promoted? Just then the division manager entered, an unfamiliar woman at his side. “Good morning, everyone, meet Jenny! Those of you who threw your hat in the ring are all skilled, but we’re going in a new direction to recruit talent from outside the company….”
Ida’s nose tingled a warning sting. Tears of frustration and disappointment arose but she pasted a smile on her face and caught her breath to regain composure. Words and applause were a swirling cacophony but she snapped to attention, hearing her name. “Ida, Jenny’s shadowing you tomorrow.” Ida nodded, mustered up an appropriate smile, then straightened her papers. Just like early school days, Ida listened and took notes to share with her team. A co-worker slid a scribbled note to her: “Drinks and fun tonite?” Ida shook her head no, still writing. The paper scrap was passed again: “Lighten up. Be happy.”
I’m happy! Ida walked to her desk. But her brow furrowed as she plopped in her seat, adjusting her fashionable, warm scarf. Quickly typing meeting notes, Ida pushed down a niggling thought that maybe she was tethered to an unhappy life. Selecting “spell check” from the drop-down menu, she clicked “Ignore” for a highlighted box as a long-forgotten memory about words surfaced in her mind.
“Okay! SAT prep and vocabulary words,” the teacher started as students groaned, “for homework research and write the etymology—the root of the word, the origin of what it means. For extra credit look up your own first name.” The buzzer sounded, ending class, and Ida smiled goodbye to the teacher, heading to the school library. As she entered her senses were overwhelmed by the smell of dusty books and carpet mingled with Windex used on the tables. Sounds of clicking computer keys and humming florescent lights that pinged and flickered faded as Ida looked up SAT words, then her name. Ida paused, then whispered, “Ida. Similar to Ada and Eda. Ida is derived from the medieval English Edith meaning ‘well-mannered’.”
The shrill tone of her desk phone jarred Ida back to the present. “Good morning…”
“Ida, hey,” started her brother. “It’s short notice but can you meet mom at the lawyer’s today? I know you handle medical stuff and legal and money is on me now that Dad’s gone, but…” blah blah blah “…I should have called before leaving town…you don’t mind, right? We’re cool?”
Leaving town? Ida grimaced. Are you kidding me? Do your part! Ida looked up and closed her eyes, breathing deeply. “Sure, Richard,” she replied. Her own “to do” list, new novel and cozy blanket would have to wait. Charity starts at home, Dad used to say. What I wouldn’t give to get out of town and go to… She tapped her nails on the desk, agitated. Where WOULD I go if I could get away? Always the dutiful daughter… This wasn’t the first time an unbidden thought of fleeing her staid circumstances had risen from her subconscious.
Then Hagar materialized in Ida’s mind, a servant woman discussed in weekly Bible study. After Sarah gave Hagar to her husband to bear a son she became jealous and resentful. Hagar was sent away from their settlement and her name meant “fleeing or emigrating to a new place”. Like Adam, name and identity.
The soft chime of Ida’s cell phone interrupted the reflection. Mother. “Lord, help me to be patient,” she muttered, leaning back into her chair. “Hi, Mom,” she started cheerfully. “What’s up?”
“I’m sorry to bother you, dear, but I have an appointment today and it’s been snowing all morning. Do me a favor? Can you run over on your lunch hour to brush off my car? I’m afraid I might slip because I don’t have any snow boots yet.”
Eyebrows raised, disgust swept over Ida’s face as she tossed out her arm at the universe and shook her head. What?! Seriously?! We had this conversation about boots several times! “Actually, Mom, Richard asked me to go instead, so I’ll swing by to pick you up.”
“Oh, Ida, that’s wonderful. Thank you so much,” her mother gushed.
Working efficiently through the afternoon, Ida finished the day’s tasks and left work to pick up her mother. She walked against cold wind to her car, pondering how her name seemed prophetic to who she was, the role her name played in her own life, similar to Adam and Hagar. Were there other biblical figures whose names were indicative of their mission? Their role? Their purpose? There was Paul. Abraham. Peter. But…those weren’t their original names.
Ida arrived at her mother’s apartment, quickly shoveled a narrow path from the apartment door to her car, then brushed off her mother’s car. There was a knot of leftover phone call anger in her stomach, but it was the right thing to do, the duty of a good daughter. After tucking her mom into the warm car, Ida drove to the attorney’s office while her mother rifled through a folder, preparing to change her will. The day’s events passed like slides in a projector across Ida’s mind. Her thoughts looped back to names. Adam, Hagar,….Ida. Was it her lot in life to continue being the responsible, serious, appropriate woman she was used to being? What everyone expected? She was indeed well-mannered.
Arriving at the office, Ida sat in a stocky brown leather chair while the receptionist called, “Mrs. Rhomer?” and escorted her mother around a corner. Ida picked up a folded newspaper, revealing an abandoned crossword puzzle. She took a pen from her purse as a man about her age checked in with the secretary. Lost in her own thoughts, Ida’s eyes rested on a travel magazine. She imagined herself in the glossy photos as a shaft of sunlight snuck into the dimness of the waiting area.
Paul. Abraham. Peter. No, those weren’t their original names in the Bible. Saul became Paul. Abram became Abraham. Simon became Peter. New names indicated a new mission for these people.
The sun became brighter and Ida stood and walked to the window. She closed her eyes, felt a bit of warmth on her face, and opened them. Amid the suburban view, snow changed to sleet and gave way to a misty rain. Before her eyes, a rainbow appeared. The colors were vivid against the backdrop of dark clouds and the hues illuminated Ida’s mind. Rainbows are full of promise. Rainbows give hope. What do I have to be hopeful about? How can I change things so I feel…happy?
Abram became Abraham. “Names are very important,” Sister Margaret’s voice echoed gently in Ida’s memory. Turning from the window, Ida the well-mannered wandered back to her seat, stepping around the man, now seated beside her. Settling into the chair, she tried to quiet her mind with the crossword puzzle. Names are very important…
4 letters: accompaniment for Art Garfunkel. _ _ _ _ Simon. Paul. Saul became Paul.
I’m literally in an attorney’s office—how much does it cost to change one’s name legally?
6 letters: from Old English meaning “merry” or “cheerful”; also “happy” and “carefree”. What the heck? Old English word?
“Try ‘blithe’” a man’s voice said.
“Pardon me?” Ida looked up and into the face of the man next to her. “Oh, did I say that clue out loud?” She smiled sheepishly.
“Ha! Yes, you did actually. You were deep in thought and….serious,” the man said, smiling. Ida flushed, looking down at the puzzle, then up again at the stranger. “I’m sorry, I should introduce myself.” He extended his hand. “I’m Simon Peters.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Ida muttered, clasping his hand and shaking her head in disbelief. Names are very important.
“I’m sorry?” Simon asked. Simon became Peter.
“No, I’M sorry,” Ida answered, looking down at the crossword puzzle. “Nevermind,” she said, shaking her head. “Actually, I think you’re right. B-l-i-t-h-e.”
Huh. Happy. Carefree.
“So I’m Simon and you are…”
“Coincidentally, you already know my name. It’s Blythe. Blythe Rhomer,”
Names are very important.