Maggie's First Anniversary
Maggie had circled the date on both the Birds of Hawaii calendar in her bedroom and the Bank of the South calendar in the kitchen next to the refrigerator. It was not likely that she would forget the one year anniversary of her husband’s death, but Bill had often complained that she never wrote anything down which was why she was always missing appointments. Maggie sat at the kitchen table sipping her morning cup of coffee. Bill would start his complaints in a tone that were almost civil but with sarcasm meant to belittle. That particular tone would be replaced by a loud voice and eventually by a frantic tirade. “Can’t you see sense in it Maggie – now how long would it take to write something down – for the life of me I cannot see how you get anything done.” Maggie could remember word for word the yelling as clear as if it happened this morning, but as hard as she tried she could not remember ever being even late for an appointment.
Maggie was undecided on what to eat for breakfast. She had eaten Chocolate Pop Tarts yesterday and they were delicious. She half decided to have them again. Bill would not approve. A few years ago after she returned from a shopping trip he threw in the trash two boxes of perfectly good Pop Tarts proclaiming, “Maggie, how can you eat this garbage? Go ahead and ruin your health and then I will be stuck taking care of an invalid.” But for all of his vitamins, minerals, and herbs it was Bill who was the invalid the last two years of his life.
Bill was constantly trying to convince himself that he was not getting older. He constantly talked of ninety-year-old men who had swum the English Channel or were still working as if this was proof that the human body would last until infinity with the right maintenance. “There is no denying your mortality, Bill,” she once told him but he gave her a hard glance and continued talking. Maggie thought as she put the Pop Tart in the toaster, “I wonder what he could have done differently. Poor man, he tried so hard. He read all the vitamin books and magazines. He took scores of vitamins and minerals every day along with those nasty herbs. He was a card-carrying member of the Century Club.” Maggie smiled, then chuckled as she took a bite of her breakfast. “Perhaps he should have eaten more Pop Tarts.”
Today Maggie was going to visit his mausoleum site. She had ordered some flowers and was going to say a few prayers asking for God to give him peace. She picked out brown dress pants and reached for the scarlet blouse that she always liked, but she backed away. Bill hated when she wore loud colors. “For the life of me Maggie I can’t see why you would wear something like that. Are you trying to embarrass me? You look like a prostitute.” So Maggie would wear quiet colors when Bill was around but she occasionally bought a brightly colored dress or blouse and wore them under a coat or sweater until she was away from Bill’s critical gaze. In order to stop the yelling in her head, she chose a light brown blouse that seemed to go well with the pants.
When Maggie pulled the car out of the carport, she was surprised at how beautiful the world looked. There were several cardinals on the large oak tree in the front yard. Maggie had forgotten to put out some bread and seed for them this morning. She waved an apology and began the short drive to the florist. “This is a beautiful arrangement,” she told the florist. But while driving to the church she was concerned that Bill would think this particular arrangement was feminine. The florist had included bright colors along with delicate baby’s breath. “But for heaven’s sake,” she thought, “aren’t all flowers feminine?” She glanced at the flowers again and decided there was nothing wrong with feminine and besides it’s not likely he could actually see the flowers. Bill did not like flowers. On several occasions he accidentally/on purpose mowed down her flowers with his riding lawnmower. He claimed it was an accident, but he would wait until they had started to flower and then he would plow into them with the mower.
Maggie was still glancing over at the flowers when she realized that she was right upon the church. She quickly turned on her blinkers and made a hard right turn when she heard Bill’s voice as clearly as if he was in the seat beside her. “Maggie for the life of me I can’t see why you can’t plan your turns better than that. When you make a hard turn it ruins your….” The voice faded and she couldn’t remember exactly what a sharp turn did that was so bad for your car. She decided that she would find out soon enough as she was making a lot of sharp turns since Bill passed away.
Maggie gathered the flowers in her arms and walked toward the mausoleum. Although this was her first visit to the site since Bill passed away, she knew the location. Bill took her several times to show her where she would be laid to rest. He was under the impression that because of her diet of Pop Tarts and Wendy’s she would be the first to go. There was no one in the huge building and the sound of her footsteps bounced like ping pong balls on the granite walls. She walked to Bill’s vault and stood for a moment before putting the flowers in the vase embedded in the granite. She looked at them and decided that they looked nice when she heard a voice in her head “for the life of me, you can't even arrange flowers in a vase.” With a start she began moving them to the left a little. “For heaven’s sake, can’t you see that they are crooked?” So she moved them a little to the right. “That’s not going to make any difference, for God’s sake.” So Maggie started taking individual flowers out of the vase and placing them in different locations. The voice was booming now. “Can’t you do anything right, take them all out and start over again.”
“But that’s the arrangement,” she said out loud and her voice carried through the large empty room. She reached out to begin the rearranging but instead grabbed the whole bouquet, put it under her arm and walked toward the door. She casually tossed the flowers in a large garbage can by the door and started toward her car.
Chay Lemoine is a Halldor Laxness scholar with articles and stories published in Muscadine Lines, Mannlif, Grapevine, and Logberb Heimskringla. He currently lives in Edwardsville, Illinois.