Readers, this is the second half of chapter two. Hope you enjoy. Comments welcome. Thursday, April 1, 1954
Millie was almost true to her word. One week she gave Meg. Yesterday she called in the afternoon and told Meg that she would be preparing lunch at her house.
“I’ve got in a lovely canned ham from the A & P, Meg. Since we can't have it on Friday, you’ll have to come for lunch tomorrow. I don’t much like fish and I want to make an occasion of it. So, I’ll expect you at one.”
“One? Alright, Millie. Only because it’s you. Don’t you dare have any one else there.”
“Just us, Meg.”
“Just the two neighbor widows.”
“Just two old friends.”
Thursday morning Meg is up at 6:30, same as she’s done for years. She doesn’t look at the empty side of her bed. She slips on her blue chenille robe and heads down the stairs to make coffee. One slice of toast, with a little butter and jam. The coffee perks in the glass button of the aluminum pot on the stove. Meg turns off the gas, gets the milk and sugar and pours herself a cup. She will wait until the coffee cools before pouring the rest down the sink. She thinks she might buy one of the small percolators she has seen in the A &P. The right size for one person. Maybe. Or maybe I’ll just learn how to measure out enough for me.
As she washes up the few dishes, round and round with the dishcloth on the small plate that only had crumbs to dirty it, she sees the note, as if it is right in front of her, as close as the faucet. Typed unevenly: Banfry--- 82-19 Forest Parkway. Blue shutters, loose knob on front porch banister. Careful. Tucked under Gerald’s undershirts, wrapped in a handkerchief. The Holy Family on a prayer card was lying on top of the note. Gerald’s touch of protection. For her. Whatever he did, he did for her.
The running water has been getting hotter as she stands with the cloth in her hand, watering the flowers on the plate. Just before it scalds her she pulls away.
She sweeps the kitchen floor, dusts the living and dining rooms, then starts up the varnished banister. Once upstairs she goes into the little bedroom that Gerald had used as an office. Papers are piled on the narrow bed against the wall. She sits in the chair at his desk.
She is too tired to cry. Wrung out. She never did ask him if he were guilty or innocent. He didn’t use those words. He used the word ‘betrayed’. Betrayed by his assistant, someone he trusted. After they took him that night, during the trial and when he was sentenced, the papers were full of him. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The whispers in church, in the shops on the avenue. The sympathetic smiles, the sneers. They almost looked the same. But she always rose above. Always held her head up. She would not play victim for them. She would not be disgraced.
There are always those who love to see a local hero fall. Too big for his britches. Tsk, tsk-ing from their comfortable well-stocked kitchens, with their tight mouths and even tighter hearts.
Better the trouble that follows death than the trouble that follows shame.
Nasty, narrow minded fools!
All the years he was on fire for justice for the working man, the oppressed, those on the edges of the world who cleaned up after the rest of us.
She thought of all the good he did. All the jobs he saved. The working conditions and wages improved. The speeches he made that got them fired up and emboldened to change things, to claim their rights. She was proud of him then. She will be proud of him now.
Meg arranged things in her mind over the years that her husband was framed. Framed by the District Attorney looking to make a name for himself. Framed by the Mafia, angry that they couldn’t make him fall in line. Framed for holding out so long when others caved to the pressure.
They don’t know how long he resisted. How long he would not get dirty. Even with the threats against his life. But this message she had found last week was different. He knew they were watching the house, watching her. How many years had that note been in his bureau? Before they beat him in the backyard?
That gave her a chill. He was brave. He was protecting me. I will protect him. My beloved. My husband.
Over the years, though, she saw him wear down, the fire go out of his words. Little resentments at the lack of gratitude, the men who did nothing to further their own state but expected him to carry their burden. The deserving poor. She knew that sometimes he said the deserving poor with the emphasis on deserving rather than poor. Yes, she could see that sometimes, when he was tired and spent, when he had no money left because he had given so much away, sometimes, then he fell from his ideals and thought they deserved to be poor. For drinking their paychecks and living in squalor. For not wanting something better for their children. For not seeing a bigger picture. And then he would recover and begin again.
Meg sits there a little while longer. She smiles and wipes away a few tears, good tears. He was vain. Oh, yes, he was vain. He liked a new suit. He liked his shoes polished and sharp. A good silk tie with a gold bar. He liked the way he sounded, the echo in the halls and the roar of applause, the standing ovations, the press write-ups. He liked seeing himself on the front page with the mayor. Yes, he was vain.
Meg and Gerald had a deal, an unspoken pact. She didn’t ask. He didn’t offer to explain. For better or for worse. The better was worth the worse. She will remember that.
Meg takes the crimpers out of her hair and carefully places them in her top drawer. Purposefully, carefully she works her fingers through her hair that is more silver than it was last Easter. She hadn’t noticed it so much until now. She rather likes it; it suits her. She slips her navy dress with the white piping from the cushioned pink hanger, then chooses two stockings from her lingerie drawer. She unwinds the red lipstick from its gold tube and dabs, dabs, smacks her lips, then blends it with her right pinky. She smoothes the front of her dress, sweeps two fingers of white cream that smells of roses and caresses it into her hands, corrects a twist in her left stocking. She is almost ready.
Meg walks down the stairs to the living room, standing taller than she has these several days. Her black wool coat, white silk scarf tucked artfully over the lapel, and gloves pulled over her fingers. Now she is ready.