March 25, 2011 – Here’s a short story I’ve been mulling over. It’s not ready for prime time yet, but I’ll share it since I haven’t featured anything new lately. Let’s call it flash fiction, since it’s only about 650 words.
The Ladies Circle
Mrs. Macklin passed away yesterday.
When my dad called to say her obituary was in the newspaper—he reads them every morning with his coffee—my first reaction was surprise, even though she was 89 when I moved away two years ago after living in the apartment below her for 10 years.
Sadly, she was the last of the ladies circle, a phrase my son coined for the elderly women who met outside of our front door each summer evening with their lawn chairs circling the small patch of grass by the steps to Mrs. Macklin’s second-floor apartment. The table in the middle held cups of tea, iced and hot, that they’d enjoy while chatting about the day’s events. Their men had long been gone, but the memories were often circle fodder, sometimes accompanied by laughter or tears. Mostly they talked about grown children and grandchildren, but occasionally, they’d complain about younger neighbors who listened to music too loud or who had visitors too late.
Barbara was the first to pass, and she was the youngest of the group. An aneurism took her five years before, and I remember vividly when Mrs. Macklin told me with tears in her wrinkled eyes. They had been friends long before they moved into the apartment community, back when they were neighbors on their old street when they managed houses and families.
Mrs. Macklin’s first name was Dorothy, or Dot for short, as she would say, just like the children’s book by Carolyn Haywood. She was amazed I was familiar with the book, which I remember borrowing from the school library back in fourth or fifth grade. It was written in the late 40s, but all the books in our library were old. As many times as she asked me to call her Dot, she would remain Mrs. Macklin both to my teenage son and me.
Stephen had his issues with Mrs. Macklin. He was a cranky 14-year-old when we moved in, and she was a cranky 79-year-old who wasn’t used to kids anymore – a lethal combination. He liked his computer games loud and she liked to complain about it by using a broom handle to bang on her bedroom floor after 9 p.m. each night.
When we first moved in, each time she’d say hi to me, she followed with, “I never hear you.” And I would say the same to her, even though both of us were lying. Life sounds traveled up through the closets and down through the floor of the duplex, and I heard her walking the creaky floors or flushing her toilet, just like she heard Stephen’s computer sounds, and or my screams when the water heater flooded the hallway. Pretending we didn’t hear each other was part of being a good neighbor.
By the time Stephen left for college the circle grew. I’d come home late from work and hear the ladies’ chatter as soon as I pulled into the driveway. They’d apologize because I had to walk around them to get to my front door, but I didn’t mind. They’d look at me with their happy faces, hungry for new blood and stories to share within the circle, and I’d spend a few minutes chatting.
“How’s Stephen doing at school?” they’d ask.
Or, “Is your father stopping by tonight?” Never once did they ask about my mother, so I think they had a bit of a crush. You’re never too old to crave male attention, I suppose.
I moved away when my son graduated, and Mrs. Macklin did her best to keep in touch. She’d call to ask how I was, or when someone from the circle had passed on. Those were the saddest calls.
I thought of Mrs. Macklin just the other day when my son was visiting. He found me sitting out front with neighbors on the first warm day of spring.
“It looks like the ladies circle all over again,” he’d said.
It was exactly like that, I thought, and it made me smile.