Frannie Roth sat in the chaise lounge in the backyard, letting the sun soak into her transparent skin. She was old. A blue vein pulsed rhythmically as it crossed her temple. A smile flitted across her face as she dreamt herself into the novel resting open on her chest. She was at that good part, where Alana meets Kenneth, the love of her life. Their eyes were locked, and what came next was sure to be a passionate embrace. (Fran knew this part by heart.) The vein pulsed harder, raising a sheen across her forehead, making her thirsty.
The old woman groaned as she brought herself into a sitting position. The book flopped into her lap, and she grimaced as a corner of the hardcover dug into her thigh. She shaded her eyes, blinded, for a moment, by the sun, and looked with satisfaction at her immaculate yard. The yardmen had been here yesterday. The grass, vivid green, had been trimmed to perfection, and the flowers waved in the breeze on their stems. Glads, daisies, peonies, roses, white, yellow, purple, red…she had them all. They were her pride and joy. Her domain was her yard. Her dreams were lost in the form of Alana, and that was all she had at the age of 92. Still, it was enough.
She picked the book up and gently placed it, worn pages up, on the lounge. For an interminable moment, it seemed she would not be able to lift herself to her feet. Fran was used to this. It often took her longer to rise as if from the dead. She chuckled at the thought. Time was all she had. So if it took her longer to do anything at all, she forgave herself quickly. There was no time to be wasted lamenting over not being able to sprint to the door or spring to her feet. At least she could still get to her feet. Another chuckle washed over her as she glanced over towards her neighbor’s abode. They’d think she was going senile–they would. They’d call the paddy wagons to take her away. June and Charlie would be in Aruba for another two weeks. It was safe to snigger and smile.
Of course, she knew her neighbors would do no such thing, but it gave her great pleasure to conjure up conspiracies in her everyday life. She cupped her gnarled hand over her smirking mouth and made her way to the back porch. The sun sparkled off her blue-white hair as she ambled along.
She kept her gaze to the ground as if some snaggy thing might reach up and topple her over. No time for broken hips; the time it took to heal could be all that was left. She enjoyed being on her feet too much to allow Mother Nature to trip her up. Frannie reached the blue slate squares embedded in the ground by the first stair to the porch. She raised her eyes, the same color as her milky-blue hair, to the back door and locked them there, working hard not to contemplate the stairs. She pulled her frail body up, hand over hand on the railing. In no time at all, she was at the back door, turning the brass handle. She mouthed a prayer to the Lord, thanking him for safe passage and drew her colorless lips back over her gums to their usual smiling grimace.
In the kitchen, she moved towards the ancient fridge. They’d been through a lot together: two husbands: one a drunk, the other, a man like Alana’s Kenneth. Brian had come into her life before the drunk had been willing to leave. He took the man by the back of his shirt, dragged him kicking and screaming to the door, and threw him down the front stairs. He then turned to her and tenderly put ice packs on her bruised, swollen face, crooning to her like she was a baby, causing her to gush tears, more in relief than pain.
Brian had died three years ago, despite being ten years her junior. She had held him, much as he had done for her fifty-two years earlier, crooning their favorite songs to him while cancer wasted away his body. He had smiled at her the moment he died, almost as if he was seeing her as she was many years earlier. “Frannie?” He croaked and pushed the last of his life from his lungs in an eerie, sighing stream. She had cradled him, waiting until dark crept through the window throwing shadows about with the chill night air before she called Dr. Benjamin. She swore she could still hear that last death rattle coming from the other room sometimes, where she had lain with him so many nights.
The porcelain of the fridge was yellowed. A pair of false teeth, the same color, rested in a glass bowl on top. She had given up on those damn things long ago when her gums decided it was time to change daily like the rolling of ocean tides. She spread her lips wide in a toothless grin, mocking them in the clouded water. No matter—she could gum her food well enough. It hurt less than the molded pink trying to shape her mouth to fit them. Throwing them away was not an option in her mind. They were like an old friend, or her first bra, a distant memory in the fleeting moment that was her past.
Frannie tugged the stainless steel armature, deftly swinging the door wide. Technique will do it every time. Nothing wrong with this noggin. She lost herself in another satisfied chuckle. Coolness wrapped itself around her, causing her to shiver nicely. Frannie bathed in the stimulating sensation for a few seconds, then hanging on to the door for balance, she lifted a quart carton of OJ from the sparsely populated shelf. She drew herself up straight and released the door to allow it to swing shut on its own.
The glasses in the dish-drainer held fog in the crystal. Frannie’s eyes no longer focused well enough to ensure a clear rinse for the glasses, but even if she could see, she wouldn’t have cared. The fog couldn’t cut through the crisp taste of her OJ–or her nightly Manhattan for that matter. There was no one here to impress. Her blue-veined hand reached for a glass, wrapping fingers with cumbersome knobs for joints around it. She put the OJ carton down to flip the glass upright with both hands. She set it down on the counter, held on to the edge with one hand and poured the juice with the other. Her tongue slipped over her lips as she placed the carton back down on the counter, and lifted the glass to her mouth. Juice trickled down her chin, and she rushed her free hand as best she could up to catch it before it hit the front of her smock. Halfway through its journey, the hand stopped—hovered—then grasped at a spot beneath her brightly flowered housedress, flailing at some unseen demon wrenching at her chest.
Panic, Pain, and Knowing slashed at Frannie from different directions. Pain cut across her small chest, stopping her from breathing. Panic gripped her, closing her throat, cutting off what little air might be trickling down to her lungs. Knowing fondled her, cupping her face, drawing her eyes to his—”Brian?” She said and pushed the last of her life from her lungs in an eerie, sighing stream.
Copyright 2017 Joyce Bowen