Home > NaNoWriMo 2011 > Day One Hundred and Sixty-four: Out of the Rain

Day One Hundred and Sixty-four: Out of the Rain

Annette glanced out the window and wrote the weather down in her planner: light rain. She flipped back a few days and grimaced. It was the third day of rain, which meant that her events were piling up. There was supposed to be a welcome picnic for new neighbors last Sunday, the monthly North River Retirees softball game on Monday afternoon, and her hike with the library boosters had to be postponed until next week – if she could make it fit with her cooking class and monthly school board meeting.

The rain was the last thing she needed.

She turned a few pages and scanned through her plans for the next week, looking for empty space where she could shuffle things around, and – not for the first time – wondered how retirement could be so much busier than working life. When she’d been working, having taught the town’s children for decades, she daydreamed of nothing more than having time on her hands.

She’d imagined what it would be like, finally being able to sleep past six in the morning, to have no demands on her time and nothing to do that she didn’t want to do. She thought she could follow in her sister’s model and start doing something creative. Maybe knitting.

What’s more, she could spend her sunset years with her husband. Alan had never complained about being a schoolteacher’s widower. The late nights at school functions, PTA meetings, and long nights correcting homework and planning lessons were all part of the job. He had his own work and his own friends, and never said a word about hers. She’d always worried, though, that she was letting him down somehow. Sacrificing herself to her career was one thing. Sacrificing her marriage to it, however, was something else. Or should have been, anyway. The first of her Retirement Resolutions was to do more with her husband. Evenings and weekends were for them now, not for catching up on old work or getting ahead of new.

But the quiet life chafed. Many years had burned out her ability to sleep late and stay up past eleven. And there was a limit to how often she could clean her house, take long walks in the park, or watch daytime TV. Oh, yes, there were definitely limits to that. And Alan wasn’t quite as ready to adapt to her newfound freedom as she’d hoped. It turned out that he’d built a life for himself already, and fitting her into it would take some time.

When the library called and asked if she would want to volunteer in the children’s reading room, she jumped at the chance. It was a few hours a week, certainly, but it was doing something. It was there that she met Adam and Margery Parker, who told her about the town gardening club, which led her to Nancy Everton, who ran a soup kitchen, and Phil Walker, who taught a seniors’ yoga class and whose brother ran a Spanish class in the evenings.

Within a few short months, Annette’s calendar was full again. Classes, courses, community activities, half of which she either ran by herself or had a hand in – they kept her busier than she’d ever been before.

Her phone chimed, and Annette had it in her hand immediately. Five more messages – three about the dinner she was putting together for the North River Ladies’ Club, one about substituting at the high school for the day, and another asking if she knew anyone who could speak at the Junior High about not doing drugs. She sat at the kitchen table and answered them in short order, keeping her eyes on the clock.

A cough from behind her made her jump. “Oh!” she said as she turned around. Alan was standing there, looking tired and disheveled, quite a contrast to her crisp suit. “Good morning, honey!” she said.

He muttered something that sounded like it might have been “Good morning,” and shuffled to the coffee maker. Once he had the machine turned on, he leaned against the counter and looked at her through bleary eyes. “Saturday,” he said.

“I know,” Annette said, getting her purse from the counter next to him. “I just have a few things to do today.” He nodded and rubbed is eyes. She gave him a quick peck on the cheek. “I’ll be home before five, I promise,” she said.

Alan glanced out the window. “Umbrella,” he said.

She kissed him again, grabbed an umbrella on the way put, and got in the car.

The drive into town was slow and treacherous. Three days of rain had stared to flood put some of the smaller streets, leading to detours and slowdowns that had her revising her plans in her head. She tuned the radio to NPR, hoping for something soothing and calm, but the show host was going on about the upcoming elections. Her hand shot out and she turned off the radio, but she did make a mental note to double-check the time for the meeting at the Town Clerk’s office.

When she arrived at the youth center, the umbrella turned out to be not much help. The rain was coming down hard enough to get past her shield, wetting her shoes and her slacks. She cursed quietly to herself and started thinking of when she could squeeze in a trip to the dry cleaners.

The youth center was hosting a debate club. High school students would learn to argue and discuss the issues of the day, which would all lead to a statewide debate contest in the spring. Annette spent her Saturday mornings helping the kids out with their ideas, listening to their arguments, and offering gentle correction.

From there, it was another slow drive to the soup kitchen. It would be packed today, she was sure, because of the rain. When she ran to the little restaurant, the wind picked up a little, blowing the rain in under the umbrella. Nancy Everton took one look at her and laughed in sympathy. “Oh, Annie, you poor thing!” She took Annette’s dripping umbrella and propped it in a corner of the staff room. “You need a few minutes to dry off?” she asked

“Nope,” Annette said. “Those folks out there need food more than I need to be dry.”

“That’s the spirit,” Nancy said, patting her on the back. “Let’s go do some good.” and for the next few hours, that’s what they did. As she’d predicted, the line for food was long, but she was able to lose herself in smiling and handing out bowls of homemade minestrone and cheerful “God bless”es to everyone who came to her.

When two o’clock came around, and the crowd thinned, she made her excuses to Nancy and headed out. The rain was still coming down, and she was halfway to her car when her phone went off. It was the klaxon ringtone, a loud horn that meant it could be only one person: Alan.

She juggled the umbrella with her bag, digging for the phone while trying to keep the rain off. She got the phone, but dropped a pack of mints to the wet pavement. She bent down to scoop them up, letting the phone slip from her grip and clatter to the ground, still blaring. Annette cursed, picked up the phone, and left the mints to melt away in the rainwater. As she positioned the phone to answer it, she shifted her grasp on the umbrella, sending rainwater sluicing down her back.

“Hello?” she shouted into the phone, once she managed to answer it. “Alan, what is it?” Her suit was soaked, the rain was getting in under the umbrella, and she had a meeting of the North River Preservationist Society to get to. “Alan,” she said again, “what is it? I’m in a hurry!”

There was a silence on the other end for a moment, and then her husband said, “Annie. It’s your sister.”

Annette stood in the rain, listening to her husband. She let the umbrella drop to the ground, and didn’t even notice until Nancy came running out to see what was wrong.

*****************

The funeral was three days later. There would be no burial, as Molly had wanted to be cremated, and her ashes kept in an urn she had made herself. It stood up on a small pedestal near the altar, a simple red clay jar with a few geometric designs painted on in glaze.

It was a small ceremony, sparsely attended. There was a TV up front, and after the ceremony began, the priest picked up the remote control and turned it on.

Annette’s sister looked older than she remembered, her hair going gray and she looked thin. Despite that, her eyes were bright, and she had that same smile she’d always had, the one that suggested she had a really good joke that she was just waiting to tell you. Annette felt a horrible twist in her belly when she realized how long it had been since she’d last seen her.

Well, she said. Ain’t this a hell of a thing? The crowd chuckled, despite itself, but Annette couldn’t laugh. She could barely bring herself to look at the screen.

All things considered, I’d rather be out there watching this, but it looks like that’s not really an option. The camera pulled back, showing Molly in her workshop, surrounded by pots and sculptures and bowls. I’ve been to funerals, she said, and I’ve hated most of them. They’re sad, miserable, morose – hell, I’ll bet it’s raining right now, isn’t it? Nearly every head in the church turned to the windows to confirm that yes, it was still raining, and this time the laugh from the crowd was easier, louder.

I really don’t want people being upset today, Molly went on, walking out of her workshop. The camera followed her, taking in the house she’d designed years ago with her husband. I’m happy with how my life worked out. I did the things I wanted to do, I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish, and there’s not much of a better way to go. I found who I was and stayed true to that, and that’s all we can really do in this life.

She walked with the camera to the old Adirondack chairs she’d made years ago, and sat next to her husband. The people in the church started to murmur, and some to cry quietly – Paul had passed just the year before. Annette dabbed at her eyes. She had sent a card, she remembered that.

Molly sat down with him and took his hand. It’s traditional, I think, for the dead to offer advice to the living at this point. So here it is. The camera zoomed in on her. Do what makes you happy, she said. If you don’t know what makes you happy, then figure it out and do that. If what you’re doing isn’t making you happy, then stop, and go to step one. She glanced down for a moment, and when she looked up again, Annette could have sworn she was looking right at her.

You can spend your life trying to make other people happy, and that’s okay, I suppose. If you’re strong enough. But most of us aren’t. But in the end, that just leaves a bunch of happy people over there… and you over here. And what’s so wrong with you that you don’t deserve to be just as happy as anyone else? She glanced over at her husband, off-camera, and smiled. Be just as good to yourself as you are to each other, she said. And that will go a long way towards making the rest of your days as good as mine have been. She waved, the camera pulled back, and, a moment later, the screen went dark.

There were a lot of sniffles and a little scattered applause. The priest came back up and gave a final benediction for her soul, and then it was all over. Annette and Alan stood up and walked out first. Then she stood by the door and accepted well-wishers and condolences, like a morbid mockery of a wedding.

Finally, she stepped outside the church, umbrella in hand, and squinted against the sun.

The rain had stopped.

She looked up at the breaking clouds and the thin streamers of sunlight that pierced them, and her phone buzzed in her pocket. There was another message there, added to the dozen that had come that morning. Each one was the same – it began with short condolences, and then moved on to a scheduling issue or a logistical question or a brainstorming idea for some kind of meeting, conference, or event. Each one wanted something from her, something she had always been willing to give.

Annette stared at her phone. When she glanced up, Alan was talking to one of the funeral guests, and he would occasionally glance over at her to make sure everything was okay. She smiled tightly and waved at him.

I’m very sorry, she typed into her phone, but I will be unable to continue working on this project for the foreseeable future. Please accept my apologies, and I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors. She copied that and pasted it into the reply field of each message. It hurt to hit “send” the first time, but each one hurt a little less.

There would be loose ends to tie up, for sure, but the step had been taken. She took a deep breath, and felt… free. For the first time in ages. She looked up at the rapidly clearing sky and said a silent Thank you to her sister, wherever she was.

Alan came up to her and put his arm around her shoulder. “You gonna be okay?” he asked. Annette just nodded. “You need anything?”

She shook her head. “No,” she said. “Let’s just go home.”

****

Annette Reid’s page on 30characters.com

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  1. November 6, 2011 at 6:54 PM

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