THE LADY OF THE HOUSE
By Dennis J. Dymek
No one quite remembered anymore when Bob and Emily Taylor had moved into their remote cottage on the outskirts of town. Everyone knew, however, they must have once been deeply in love. Why else would Bob have taken care of his slightly invalid wife by himself for so many years? It wasn’t as though she had any kind of debilitating illness that required constant medical attention or one, that kept her from joining any of the town’s social circles. To hear Bob tell it Emily had a withered leg from a prolonged childhood bout with polio and had always been self-conscious about appearing in public. Even as a young woman Emily was a reclusive sort. That suited Bob just fine as he himself was rather shy and rarely showed himself except when doing errands like picking up the mail at his post office box in town or doing the shopping at the local grocery store. Occasionally, he went to the town festivals.
They lived in Roaring Brook Cottage, (that’s the name they had given their house) and had for the last twenty years. An entire generation of the town’s kids had grown up and there were only a few of the older folks remaining who remembered when he first announced that he had taken a bride after visiting some relatives who lived way up “down east” along the Maine coast.
Bob had recently started to exhibit the first signs of dementia. His wife having died two years ago, he sometimes forgot that she was no longer among the living. It was small things at first: like when he went shopping. He might find that he had almost forgotten something that Emily would have especially wanted, like a certain type of soap or a particular type of cheese that she liked. He would suddenly remember that he had forgotten to get the particular item she would have wanted. He would think to himself, I’m glad I remembered that. Emily would be upset. She’s so good I hate it when she’s disappointed at something I forgot to get.
Sometimes, he wouldn’t remember until he was in his car and about to leave. He would turn off the engine and go back into the store to pick up the forgotten item. At the check-out counter, he would say, “I’m glad I remembered this. Emily would wonder how I could have forgotten and take it personally. Oh, she won’t say anything, but I’ve been with her long enough to know that I let her down.”
Sally the check-out lady would look at Bob a little strangely. She would think, ‘He’s gotten a lot older since Emily passed away. I bet he’s really lonely now. But where’s the harm? He’s just gotten so used to Emily’s ways they have just become a habit, like a cow that comes in from the fields knows which stall is hers. Well, it’s no wonder and besides, it’s none of my business’
One day Bob was seen down at the hardware store. Phillip Grant was in the back of the store and in the process of restocking some of the shelves when he heard the small bell tinkle announcing the arrival of a customer.
“Hey Bob. How are you doing? Haven’t seen you in a dog’s age. What can I do for you?”
“That old vacuum cleaner we’ve had forever finally gave out. Emily sent me down to pick up a new one. Said it couldn’t wait and I better go right away. I guess most women are like that. Can’t stand a house that’s untidy and isn’t just to their liking.”
“Ya. Funny how women are like that. God bless ‘em, though. We’d probably turn our homes into pig-sties without them.”
Phillip then remembered that Emily had died about two years back, but he thought, ‘Heck, if I’m talking like she’s still alive, well it’s not that surprising that he’s gotten into the habit of knowing that Emily would have sent him down right away’.
Bob automatically gave the standard reply:
“Ya, it’s funny how you get so used to them. Say, by any chance do you have a good one that’s not too expensive but that’s well made and is going to last? A fixed income can only go so far every month.”
“You’re in luck, Bob. I just got a consignment of a couple of new G.E. models and they offered a discount for a floor model. Don’t have much room for a floor model, though. Let’s see; I could pass on the discount to you. How would that do?”
Phillip showed him the price and Bob gave out a little whistle.
“Prices sure have gone up over the years. I must have paid half that amount for my old one.”
“I bet. It’s that darn inflation. Seems like the government can’t ever do anything to keep it under control.”
“I wish they wouldn’t keep my pension check under control. Small chance of that happenin’, I suppose.”
“How’s the quality? Emily can’t get around like she used to and doesn’t take kindly to vacuuming the same spot twice.”
Phillip thought, ‘He’s beginning to go downhill. I guess I’ll have to tell everyone to keep an eye on him. If he gets much worse, I suppose we’ll have to call Doc Wilson to see what’s to be done with him.’
“It’s a G.E. and made right here in the U.S. not like some of those foreign imports. You can be sure the quality is good and it’s goin’ to last.”
“Hmm. If you say it’s good quality then I’m sure that will please Emily.”
“Speaking of Emily, how’s she doin’? Never see her around.” Phillip wanted to see just how far his faculties had deteriorated.
“Like I said. She’s getting on like the rest of us. Her bum leg sure as heck ain’t goin’ to get any better. She’s a real trooper, though. Never complains; just goes on with her business. Other than the leg she as healthy as can be expected. Won’t see a Doctor. Says she doesn’t believe in ‘em and that they generally do more harm than good anyways.”
“She’s probably right. Once they’ve got you in their clutches, it’s tests and more tests. Let me get the box with the vacuum cleaner. It’s still in the back.”
The transaction completed, they wished each other and their families well.
The noise from the new vacuum cleaner was noticeably less than the old one. “What do you think Emily? Looks like it’s doing a fine job cleaning.”
Emily just smiled with that slight smile she always showed when she agreed with her husband.
“How about I take a turn just to see how well it works and after that, maybe we can have some lunch together. How does that sound?”
Emily, once again, just looked at Bob and smiled.
He had grown to love that smile. One day he had taken her to a professional photographer to have her portrait taken for their 10th anniversary. Her smile was at once beautiful and yet, mysterious. It was simple and straightforward and yet it seemed to hold many deep and unexpressed thoughts.
He had two different pictures taken. One was downstairs on the table where the telephone was at the bottom of the stairs. He liked to look at her picture when he was talking on the phone. The other was placed on the bedside table that lay between the two beds upstairs. Ever since Emily had died, he had grown used to looking at them more and more until sometimes he would talk to the pictures and ask how Emily thought about his doing this or that.
Towards the evening after supper, he would take out his pipe and sit on the rocking chair opposite Emily’s picture. When Emily was still alive, they would sit and talk about things that old married couples talk about. Mostly, though, they would just sit quietly and listen to the sounds of the house.
The house as its name implied was situated next to Roaring Brook. An old refurbished farmhouse, it was close enough so that they could hear the bubbling noise of the dark shadowy water flowing over the half hidden rocks. It was a very soothing sound and it complemented the slow regular ticking of the grandfather clock. It was a quiet house, like Bob and Emily were. The two sounds were so restful and continuous it seemed to Bob that they would go on forever. It gave the pair a comforting notion that God was looking down upon them and was giving them His blessing here on earth.
Every night when Bob was getting ready to go to bed he would look over at Emily’s picture and softly tell her that he still loved her like the first day they met. He then said a little prayer thanking God for all the good things and the good life He bestowed upon them.
The next day Bob made breakfast, cleaned the pans and dishes and had a smoke. Everything that needed to be done, Bob already finished. On occasion Emily liked Bob to go to the library and pick out a book for her. She wouldn’t give him a specific title. She knew that Bob knew her tastes well enough that she was confident enough to let him surprise her.
What Emily never knew was that he relied entirely upon the Librarian, June, to pick out a book that she knew Emily would enjoy. He looked at the clock It was only eleven and the library didn’t open until twelve. For some reason he became impatient as he waited and smoked. He thought. “I know that Emily is no longer here in person and so how could she be so impatient to read a book?”
It was a ten minute drive to town and the library. Bob couldn’t wait any longer and left at twenty minutes to twelve and parked in front of the library, waiting for it to open.
June Barstow was right on time as usual She noticed Bob parked along the sidewalk and waved to him. She gave Bob a welcoming smile, then took the keys out from her purse and wiggled them at Bob to indicate that he could come in now.
The Marshal Field Memorial Library is a rather odd structure for a library. It was endowed by Marshall Field who inherited a fortune first meant for his brother who died too early to inherit it and so it was passed on to Marshal who grew up in Conway and attended the Pumpkin Hollow Elementary School.
It’s an odd structure because it looks like a cross between a State Legislature building with two wings and a bank. It even has a dome atop it. However, it is far too small to be either. It looks like a miniature model of them. This characterized Conway itself, It’s small, a bit quirky and yet quaint.
The interior, though, was warm, and like June, welcoming. The mid-day light splayed a dusty yellow glow of light onto the bookshelves and the marble floor.
Bob went up to the desk that June was just then sitting down behind. She began looking for some papers she was planning to work on that day. She looked up, saw Bob in front of the desk and smiled,
“Good Afternoon Bob. I haven’t seen much of you since Emily passed away. What can I do for you?”
“You have always been so kind in picking out the books that Emily liked. I was wondering in you could pick out another book. I’m not going to read it myself. I’ll just put next to where she sat and read downstairs. I guess one might call it a tradition.”
There was no one else in the library and as she went to the particular bookshelf where she always went to get Emily’s books, June felt free to talk.
“Hmm. Let me see . Ah! Here’s one she might have liked.” She handed it to Bob but continued.
“Bob, How are you doing these days? I mean you must get a little lonely once in a while.”
“I guess so. I’ve known Emily for such a very long time, I often forget that she isn’t still with us.. Don’t tell anyone as I don’t want everyone to thing that I’m losing my marbles, but I find myself talking to her or to her pictures once in a while.”
“I wont. I find myself talking to Jim once in a while myself and he passed away almost five years ago.”
Bob looked around to see that no one had come into the library.
“When you come to think about it, it’s not really all that crazy. People talk to God don’t they? And Philosophers, I suppose, talk to the ancients like Plate or Sophicles and ask them what they thought about certain problems they’ve been thinking about. I’ve asked for Emily’s opinion on so many things over the years about how to go about doing this or that, that it’s become a deeply ingrained habit.”
June replied, “You know Bob, that’s the best explanation I’ve heard so far. I’d like to hear more what you think about. It might sound a little silly, but I’ve been wanting to ask you over to dinner for sometime. It’s been ages since I cooked for a man and I hate to say it but I actually miss it. I think I miss the conversation during and after the meal the most. What do you say? Would you like a nice home cooked meal?”
“Thanks for the kind offer June. Give me a little time to think about it and let men see how Emily might feel about it. Why don’t you write down your home number and I’ll call you tomorrow and let you know?. How’s that?’”
“That would do just fine. I’ll be available this Saturday if you don’t have anything planned.”
“OK. I’ll call tomorrow. I guess that’s all I need right now.”
When Bob got home, he immediately filled his pipe and rather than sitting down started pacing back and forth. It wasn’t like he didn’t admire June’s looks and down to earth type of thinking. He did. He had known her all his life and knew her about as well as anyone in town.
They engaged in a playful type of banter at times during the various town festivals when he would run into her. The festivals were small affairs and one pretty much met all the people in town at them. Emily rarely attended them.
Bob always felt slightly guilty when he enjoyed his meeting up with June and having such a good time. He felt like he was somehow “cheating” on Emily. It was no wonder then that he now paced back and forth, undecided what to do.
“i wonder what Emily would think about my accepting a dinner date with another woman, especially June.” The few times Emily went to the library with Bob, she could plainly see there was a kind of bond between them. She had become a little jealous of her.
Bob thought to himself, “Normally I’d know just what she was thinking as though she were talking to me. But now, now matter how hard I try to know what she would think, all I get is silence.”
Bob went out for a walk. He thought that might clear his mind and give him some type of signal as to what to tell June. Still there was nothing forthcoming. He returned home and removed his hat and coat and listened to the clocks tick, tock, tick tock.
He sat down again and finally decided, “Well if Emily won’t give me any advice, then she must be saying, ‘It up to you what you want to do. You’re free to choose what you want.”
Bob surprised himself when he decided that Emily’s non-response was in fact Emily’s apparent blessing. Nevertheless, he wasn’t the sort who just rushed into such possibly momentous changes in his life. He made supper, cleaned up and only then finally called June.
“Hello June? I thought about your offer and I’ve decided to accept, if you’re still willing.”
“How would seven on Saturday do? Just wear the clothes you always wear. We’ve known each other long enough, we don’t have to be formal.”
“Seven sounds fine. I’ll see you then.”
June was ten years younger than Bob. She only recently turned fifty six. Remarkably, she still retained her good looks. She was never a beauty, but she always had a ready smile and friendly disposition towards everyone. It made her appear to look prettier than she really was.
June looked out the kitchen window when she heard a car stop in front. When Bob got out and knocked on the door, June called out, “The door’s unlocked. Come on in and make yourself comfortable. I’ll be right out. I’m just finishing with the gravy.”
When Bob came into the house he was greeted by a nicely decorated two-floor farm house. She lived in it ever since she married Jim and raised her two children there. The wooden floors and the warmth that came from the wood stove gave the house a simple cozy presence.
The table in the dining room had a new tablecloth over it. The plates and utensils were set out. There was a candle in the middle of the table along with a small flower arrangement.
“Wow!” Jim thought. “June’s really gone out of her way.” He felt a slight tingly feeling spread through him and now that he had Emily’s blessing, he was nonetheless surprised not to feel any guilt, just the expectation of an unusual and pleasurable evening with a desirable woman.
June came out of the kitchen with a bowl of salad. Bob thought she looked perfect in her thin white sweater and black cotton dress that loosely fell to her knees. She had done up her hair a little and put on some basic simple makeup.
She laid the bowl on the table and greeted Bob, “Hi Bob. I’m so happy you could come. Would you like to start dinner right away? I know it’s probably already a little late for most folks.”
“Sure let’s just start in. I’m pretty hungry and made only a light lunch so I wouldn’t spoil my appetite.”
They talked mostly about the funny incidents that occurred in the town over the years. Bob was in High School when June was just a child.
“How are your kids doing June?”
“Oh, the two finished College some time ago and moved to the big city. Jim Jr. is in New York now, still single and Cathy is married with a little girl. She’s living with her husband just outside Boston, so it’s not too far for them to visit or on the other hand for me to visit them, not that it happens as much as I’d like. They have their own lives to live and I’m just an intrusion.”
“I doubt that you could be an intrusion on anyone, let alone on your children and your grandchild.”
“I try to keep a low profile when I do visit. That brings up the subject; did you ever want any children of your own?”
“I guess we did, but once Emily had that surgery, I was just happy she survived. After the surgery, the Doctors said it would be too dangerous for her to have a child. We thought of adopting a couple of times, but for some reason, we never got around to it. By then we had just got used to each other’s company so much a child would have changed things too much. We finally accepted the idea of just being together .”
“Well enough of that for the moment. Let me bring out supper.”
June brought out a typical homemade New England supper. It consisted of a roast beef with gravy, fresh steamed green beans and mashed potatoes.
“Would you like to carve the roast Bob?’”
“Sure. I always like doing that.”
After dinner, June put the dishes away and brought out a freshly made Apple pie. It was Bob’s favorite.
“June, I have to hand to you. That’s the best dinner I’ve have in some time.”
“I’m glad you liked it. Would you like to sit by the stove. I don’t mind if you smoke your pipe.”
“That sounds real inviting.”
June put on a tape of old favorite songs, sung by Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby and Andy Williams. They sat next to one another on the couch facing the wood stove. They were still reminiscing when June turned toward Bob and said.
‘You know Bob, I haven’t cooked or slept with a man since Jim died.” She paused waiting for Bob.
“I haven’t dated or slept with a woman since Emily died. Are you by chance asking that I share your bed tonight?”
“I suppose I am, but I was hoping for a little more than just sharing my bed.”
“You know, I think I’d like that, -a lot.”
“Do you think you could wait while I get ready? I’ll call down to you when I am.”
June was more than just ready when she called Bob to her bed. She pleasured Bob like he had never been before. It was more than he ever could have imagined and he fell asleep exhausted but with a grin on his face. He felt like a teenager who had just had sex for the first and second time.
They rose in the morning. June looked over at Bob. “Do you think you’re up for seconds?”
Bob laughed a little.. “If this morning is anything like last night, I’m sure you’ll be able to get me in the mood.”
Bob left after breakfast. He felt a changed man. Everything tasted better. He enjoyed the cold air as he left and went to his car. The town looked different-
When Bob got home he walked upstairs and gave the picture of Emily a little kiss. He thanked her for her understanding and blessing. He unconsciously returned to his old ways of talking to Emily, however. In Bob’s mind she was still there as real as ever since she had died.
He was a little unstable walking at times. He was going over the events last night at June’s as he was descending the staircase. He tripped and fell and either broke or sprained his ankle. He also hit his head against the banister as well. The phone was on the table at the bottom of the stairs and because he didn’t want to alarm Emily, he steadied himself on the table that held the second picture of Emily. He was able to call the Fire Department, but his words were slightly slurred
“Hi. This is Bob Taylor. I just fell down the stairs and I think I may have broken my ankle. My wife never did learn how to drive. Do you think you could send someone up and take me to the hospital?”
It took about fifteen minutes for the ambulance to arrive and when they knocked on the door they heard Bob shout out to them to come in; the door was unlocked.
The EMT’s had been alerted to Bob’s growing dementia and they had started a small file on him. They felt this was the perfect time for a psychologist to evaluate him while he was in the hospital. They opened the door and wheeled in a gurney, then gently lifted him up and secured Bob to it.
“Say Bob, where’s your wife? While we’re here, maybe we should see how’s she’s doin’. It’s been a long time since any of us have seen her. Come to think of it, I don’t remember ever having seen her.”
“Oh. If you look out the back you’ll see the cross on her grave that I made. There’s a picture of her on the table. Doesn’t she have a beautiful smile? She’s still the lady of the house, you know.
Bob had to undergo surgery. No one knew if it was the stress of the surgery or the drugs they gave him for the pain or whether it was the knock on the head when he fell, but Bob’s dementia quickly increased. He often wandered off into the past and would frequently ask when Emily was going to come and see him.
June came to visit him. She could hardly believe this was the same man she had over for dinner jut a couple of days ago. He was now experiencing short term memory loss and her couldn’t remember having had dinner with her. It was almost as though she had lost another husband, though she knew that was crazy. Still she felt a remorse at what might have been. On the other hand, she also thought, maybe it was for the best.
Bob never returned home. He was eventually sent to a nursing hospital, where he spent the rest of his days.
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