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VOLUME 2, NUMBER 24    <>   MONDAY, JUNE 18, 2001

ordinary lives

a neighbor's concern

Shirley shifted the lace curtains and peered through. The neighbors were fighting again. Not a slam-the-door, scream-out-loud brawl like the Reillys usually had across the street. No, this argument was a quiet one, barely even acknowledged. Just sharp looks, clenched fists, and then the husband, Ernie, withdrew. He screeched out of the driveway as his wife silently watched. Poor Marge. Her slumped shoulders cried defeat.

Shirley knew the feeling well. It was why she had started the bridge club, twelve years ago, when Roger was still alive. She had a quieter home now, just her and her son. No constant bickering, no insults spat across the room. Still Shirley kept the club going, if not for herself then for all the others.

Sometimes they resisted. Like Marge, when Shirley invited her to the bridge club. Didn’t understand a neighbor’s concern. Not that it mattered. Shirley never took no for an answer,

Lizzy was the first to arrive, greeted Shirley with a dry kiss. Shirley smelled the scent of Joy exuding from Lizzy’s skin. Shirley had given her that, along with so much else. It was Shirley who had stayed at her side during that awful time of her mastectomy. Shirley who’d convinced her she was whole. Shirley who’d brought her back to the living.

“Sorry I’m early,” she apologized breathlessly. “Frank had to drop the car off at the shop.” She turned on the doorstep. “And here, I just met Marge.”

Amy arrived next, darling girl, always a poem on her tongue.

sudden gust —
the fallen leaf
rises once again

Was that the stink of cologne on her breath? Shirley sighed. A work in progress, the poor child, still unable to give up the booze. Back to AA she’d go. Shirley would guide her, every step. It would be their little secret.

Then there was Lillian, hiding in the corner. So shy and stubbornly quiet. Shirley would crack her yet.

“Hello,” Lillian mumbled, then retreated for a cup of punch.

Ah, here came Lucy Yu, right on schedule.

“Lucy sits on the board of directors for Children’s Memorial,” Shirley explained, steering Marge toward the smartly dressed woman. “They’re looking for a painter, a mural for the children. Naturally, I thought of you.”

“I’m only an amateur,” Marge protested.

“Just talk to her dear,” Shirley replied, delivering the reluctant woman into Lucy’s encouraging smile.

A car rolled to the curb, stopped with a loud clatter. A door slammed. Jake was home early. A second door shut; oh Lord, had the boy brought someone home? Shirley resisted the urge to look out the window and strained instead to hear some sound.

Two voices. Baritone. Male.

Damn him, how many times had she asked him not to bring them here? She’d pleaded, commanded, even tried threatening. She never could talk to him, not like his father could anyway.

The voices were growing louder. What were they laughing over? Were they holding hands? What if someone heard them, what if someone saw?

Whatever would they think?

Vanitha Sankaran is currently writing a collection of vignettes to be titled Ordinary Lives. Her current work can be found in recent issues of Prose Ax, The Paumanok Review, and Mindprints.