Remnants of a gone world

November 30, 2011

I met this old lady on the street. I was maybe 25. She looked a 100. And moved like she was going back in time. And was carrying groceries. I offered to lend her hand. Well, our journey was only a couple of apartment buildings. But it took a half hour. And she talked all the time. Found out I was a writer. She had been a nurse. Talked about her life in the world wars. Offered to help me with my publishing career. She’d go see the publishers. Tell them I was a wonderful young man. Asked me into her apartment for tea. I declined. (I had to be somewhere else a half hour ago.) I never saw her again. Very odd when you meet the remnants of a gone world. They are so filled with good will. Almost like angels. And so I wrote this next story.




The widow Murphy leaned provocatively. Hand on her hip. A cigarette hanging out of the side of her mouth. Except there wasn’t any cigarette. Although there was smoke. Against the store shelf. Smiling. Her left eye drooping. Over her left breast. Just like she had in 1939. On Yonge Street in front of Fran’s. Where friends meet.

The widow looked up at Ralph Sampson stocking the shelves with boxes of cereal. Wished she had that cigarette. A girl needs her props. She marveled at Ralph Sampston’s height. A long drink of water. And the strength of his arms and shoulders. And his fearlessness at the end of that very long…ladder. Or was that latter.  The widow giggled and enunciated the word ladder. And then the latter. She purred. It’s like he’s in the sky.

“Those boxes must be very heavy.” The widow said, smiling demurely. Her voice foggy and heavy. But also, unknown to her, scratched and breaking up like an old ’78 record. The widow recalled that early Saturday evening. When she had seduced Mr. Daniel Bissada. In Fran’s. Over a coffee and lemon pie. Her hand under the table. Just as war was breaking out in Europe. The poor Poles. They didn’t see it coming. There was a look in the widow’s eyes. The flight of the present into the past. Even in 1939 she was recalling the past. Telling Mr. Bissada what a traumatic series of events. Had her youth been. Different. If her father had married. Higher up.

Ralph looked down at the old woman patiently. In the back of his mind he wished he was packing something heavy. Cases of coke. Even diet coke. Objects do fall. And he could ask her to leave. Politely. For her own safety. But cereal boxes. They were no threat to anyone. No matter how much they were fortified.

“They’re cereal boxes, mam.” Ralph looked around and wondered whether there was any other possibility of escape. This was not the first time that Ralph and the widow had engaged each other. His greatest fear. That she might try to secure the ladder. By holding onto his ankle.

“Oh yes,” the widow responded. She squeezed her shoulders together like a small girl on Christmas morning looking under the Christmas tree. And seeing that itty bitty basket. That she had so dreamed of. The yellow one. “My first husband was a strong man. Such muscles. Muscle on muscles. Great big shoulders. Like a mountain. We were quite the item in the neighborhood. I walked in his shadow. Until his untimely death. Most untimely. ”

“I’m sorry to hear that, mam,” Ralph responded.

“Thank you, Mr. Sampson. I was terribly lonely. For such a long time. All death is untimely. Especially a loved one. But, it was many years ago. Even though it seems like yesterday. Everything seems like yesterday, don’t you think?”

Ralph nodded. What was he supposed to say?

The widow took a deep breath and sighed. Oh how she endured the painful memories of her life. Everyone in the drug store was so proud of the widow’s stoicism. It made their trials so much easier to endure.

“But,” the widow continued, “he left me well endowed. Samuel made sure that he had life insurance. Such foresight. Oh to seem him in that box. A man that strong. Struck down. Such large hands. He would put them around my… waist. I had a tiny waist. And just lift me up like I was a feather. A feather. I could have… blown away.”

Ralph nodded at the old lady and tried to continue on with his work. Without seeming to be rude.

The widow licked her lips. With the tip of her tongue. They were dry. Why am I so dry? It’s like I could burst into flames at the slightest… touch.

“I’ve had many lovers, Mr. Sampson,” the widow said than buried her eyes in a moment of modesty. Before shaking her head in wondrous abandon. “I had a black lover. Ebony. He was from the Sudan. I believe he was a follower of Mohammed. Have you been to the Sudan, Mr. Sampson?”

Ralph shook his head.

“It’s a dry country,” the widow continued. “Very dry. At least the western provinces. So I’ve been told. Sidney was his name. His Christian name. Even though he was Islamic. He had an African name. Which eludes me at the moment. Sounded something like Moebaygo. It was not Moebaygo but that gives you the sense. Musical. He was very musical. I could listen for eternity to that man singing. While he was shaving. A strong tenor voice. We were a passionate couple. His skin was dark. Almost as black as yours. Mine was pale. We looked like an Oreo cookie together.” The widow laughed softly. “What a laugh Sidney had. So large a laugh you’d fear that it would swallow you whole. And then he left.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, mam,” Ralph responded as he continued to put the cereal boxes in the shelves. He reconsidered what would happen to the old woman if one of the boxes of cereal would happen to fall. They were light. But she looked so fragile. And the more he looked, the more fragile she appeared.

“Don’t be sorry, Mr. Sampson. It was many years ago now. Although it seems like…”

“Yesterday,” Ralph suggested. Politely.

“Oh yes.” The widow was very pleased with Ralph’s response. “Yesterday. Perhaps we are soul mates, Mr. Sampson.” The widow paused for a moment to wet her lips. “I don’t know why he left. I like to think that, so overcome was he by our love, he joined the foreign legion. I know it is just a silly girl’s romantic notion. But he left me with many wondrous memories. He was a big man. All my lovers have been big men. Except Mark. He was my second husband. Japanese. And a wonderful lover. A small man. But, he could dance. The man walked to the corner to get the newspaper. Every morning. Doing the Fox Trot. You should have seen Mark and I on the ballroom floor. We were like wisps of morning dew. Floating almost silently across those shiny floorboards.” The widow closed her eyes. “I can almost feel us dancing still. He was taken from me far too early.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, mam,” Ralph said as he placed the last cereal box on the shelf. And began to descend. Each step toward the widow. ‘s open. Arms.

“He died during a bank robbery,” the widow said. “Did I say that already?”

“No, mam,” Ralph responded.

“It was so strange.” The widow gazed out into the store as if she were looking into another place. Spain perhaps. “It was in a bank. Mark loved the marble floors. His shoes slid across the surface like skates across ice. The gun of one of the bank robbers went off and stole the life of my dear Mark. I like to think that he had thrown himself in front of the bullet to protect a child’s life. But in fact, he was hiding under a table. It was just a strange… accident.”

The widow began to sniffle. She reached into her purse and took out a tissue. When she had finished administering to herself, she looked up ready to continue her reminisces but found herself alone. Ralph had left.

“Oh, dear,” she said. “I haven’t thought about Mark in years. I’d forgotten all about him. I wonder. Was he Japanese. Or just short.”


2 Responses to “Remnants of a gone world”

  1. Thanks David for the wonderful return to memory and all things that never end. You are a very gifted writier. I was immediately caught up in the story.

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