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
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
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.