Cosmic Footprints Wanna Write


By Lynn Staudacher

Today at my garage demolition, Eileen, my next door neighbor appeared, wearing a new turban. I imagined her pulling it onto her bald head like when I pull on a winter hat when I’m shoveling snow. Except hers is for pride and mine is for warmth.

She carried her mug of coffee and looked amazingly thin.  Looking at her, I figured the chemo had taken its toll.  It was July or August of last summer when she told me over the fence “they discovered a lump. I’ve been in remission for the last eleven years and now…”  The way she looked at me straight in the eye I knew.  A year. Tops.

“Now I’m going for another checkup and they’ll decide if I need to start chemo.”

I knew from that look of hers. She’d never really looked me straight in the eye.  She’d be weeding and I’d be weeding or transplanting and she’d do that over-the-fence-talk that neighbors do—“what are those pretty little pink things you planted there?”

“Sweet William”.
Or “What’s the name of those red flowers?”
“Monarda, bee balm.”
“Oh, I don’t like bees.  I’m allergic.  Bee bomb.  Bomb the bees.”
“No, it’s balm.”  I overpronounced the “L” in balm the way I say Palm-er Square where we live.
“Pallllllllll-mer, bee balllllllm.  The smell is like a lotion, a balm—bees love it.  Butterflies too.” I said.
“Oh good, it’s OK with me as long as it brings butterflies.”
“How about if I dig up some of these for you—plant them and see how they grow in your yard.”

And so, for the past few years, we’ve been passing cuttings and seeds over the fence to one another, cross pollinating our gardens. Eileen  plants marigolds and impatiens, geraniums and petunias.  The world of perennials is mostly a mystery to her.  She didn’t have much of a garden because her husband, Bill, had built one of those five foot tall circular swimming pools and it completely filled the yard space between their house and garage.

Looking down from my second story back porch landing, I’d see him floating in the aqua pool water on a yellow inflatable raft.  I’d see him floating, looking at the summer sky and he seemed, from my vantage point, completely blissful.  Probably the same high he got from alcohol although he’d been sober for years.  He founded the Logan Square AA branch which is where he dropped dead one Sunday two years ago.  Right after he stood on stage and said “My name is Bill and I’m an alcoholic.”  He dropped dead right then and there in front of everyone.

On that Sunday morning, the morning he dropped, I was cleaning up my front yard, sweeping the eternal detritus that blows across Palmer Square.  And Bill appears on his front steps at approximately 8:30 am in a white tux, tails and top hat—the whole costume.  The kind you’d wear to your second wedding.  I look up, I gasp a little.  He’s lean and stately, like a tall Fred Astaire.  I notice he’s wearing a matching Mickey Mouse cumberbund and bowtie.  I squint.  Somehow, it works.
“Hey Bill, you look splendid this fine morning.” I said.
“thanks, going to AA church.”
I mumbled a few other thing to him which, if you put a gun in my mouth and asked me to tell you what I said, what he said, well, you’d have to shoot me.

Later that afternoon, I saw Carol, their tenant sitting on the steps.
“Didja hear? Ol’ wild Bill dropped dead this morning right there at AA church.  Heart attack.  Went fast.”

I was surprised, no, I was shocked, the kind of shock when someone you know dies suddenly and you try to recall the last words you had with them.  I really did not know what to say.

“I am so sorry”, I blurted.  “Tell Eileen I’m so sorry for her.”

I ran up my stairs with my groceries and thought about Bill.
He was an elegant tall man who never should have died at age 67.  Too young—looked too healthy.  He was a blue collar kind of laborer who after he retired was always fixing something around the house, kept active. But he was a little too crude for my tastes, a little gruff.  For Christmas one year their kids gave him a sign, which he hung near the doorbell, which prominently displayed a hand carved black bird. The sign proclaimed “Here lives an old buzzard and a nice old lady.”
That nice old lady, Eileen, was a round looking little grandma who weighed 190 or so when Bill dropped dead that day. And now, she’s standing in her yard, watching my garage wall, one by one, being crushed by a Streets and San Jaws of Death Volvo 800 tractor.
I want to ask her “Eileen, you look so thin.  I want to look like you.  How much did you lose? Was it all through chemo or did you diet? Does chemo work like diet pills or are you just sick and throw-uppy all the time?”
I don’t ask.
So I ask Carol later. “How much did Eileen lose?”
“Over a hundred pounds.”
“You mean she’s like 80 or 90 now?”
I didn’t know if I wanted to be that thin. But just for a moment, though, I’d love to weigh as much as an Olympic figure skater and buy my jeans in the ‘tweens department and not have to look at my butt in the full length mirror. But I do not want all that weight loss to come with a turban.
Carol is in my yard watching the demolition crew.  She knows everything that goes on in the neighborhood.  I swear she was a cat in her last lifetime and looked out her window and watched.
“See that house? They sell drugs on the porch. Late at night. And the black cat you feed in the morning, he sleeps under their porch.”
“How do you know all this?” I ask.
“I watch”, she says. Nodding her head and looking straight at the demolition crew. “I watch.”
I almost told her right then and there—Carol, you could be a writer.  But I don’t.
Instead I said, “You are really observant. You are the neighborhood newsletter.”
All Carol really wants is a full time job in Security somewhere, but at age 49 she has trouble being hired.
All I want is a little security now that my garage is torn down and hauled away and all is left is a cement slab, and my yard is vulnerable to anyone who wants to come in, from wild dogs to Mexican drug dealers.
I look at Eileen once more over the fence and see how small and frail she looks, her body more vulnerable than my yard.  I wonder if she will see next spring. I wonder if she will take down the Buzzard sign. I wonder if she will see her sweet William bloom again.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010 at 4:01 pm and is filed under Memories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.