As the old woman reached for the bottle, she told herself that she had every right in the world to drink.
Every right in the world.
And if she got drunk? SO WHAT! A mother observing the anniversary of a daughter’s death had every right in the world to get drunk.
Every right in the world!
She took a healthy slug from the bottle.
If other mothers had her problems, they would drink too, she told herself.
They would drink more than she!
Darn tootin’ they would!
She looked at the half-full bottle. She had shown self-control by not drinking more then half the bottle. By taking her time. By not guzzling the stuff like some…drunk.
She rewarded her restraint with a stiff drink.
“Poor Rose,” she mumbled.
“YES,” Frank had said. “ALRIGHT. YES. THANKS FOR CALLING.”
The old woman could still hear the click of the telephone as Frank hung up.
“SHE DIED AT FIVE O’CLOCK THIS MORNING.”
That was the end of it. She, the old woman, would have visited, she told herself -- God knows she would have! But she had had Frank to take care of and the apartment to watch over and other things had come up… So many other things… She looked out at the sky hanging like a dirty dish rag over the green landscape of trees and hills.
She took a drink.
Rose was too good anyway, she told herself, for the stinkin’ lousy world. She raised the bottle in memory of Rose--
--the chair tried containing her, but she broke its grasp and stood, holding her ground, like a sailor on the deck of a ship in a storm. The deck tilted one way then the other. Oopsie! She did a little two-step before bracing herself. She began moving toward a tattered brown couch, taking baby-sized steps. The floor went up again and she lost her balance and ran head-first into the plaster wall. Her glasses slipped down her nose. She turned, stumbled forward, and belly-flopped onto the couch.
Daylight like a slap of a wet towel hit the old woman. She sat up, blinking. Her head felt as if held in a steel vice-grip. She stared, bleary-eyed, at a figure before her. Could it be, she thought. Was it possible? A miracle! Little Rose! Sent by God! Stood on the threadbare carpet wearing a Brownie’s uniform of skirt, jersey, and beanie cap. The old woman dropped off the couch onto her knees. She embraced the girl. “Rose!” she bawled, “My baby! My baby girl!”
The Brownie stood still as a statue. She looked at the pink-skinned dome of the old woman’s skull. The girl’s pug nose lifted as she smelled a funny smell -- like medicine. The girl tried to back out of the embrace, but the old woman held tight.
“I am not Rose, Grandma,” the girl said, “I am Anne.”
Fat tears rolled down the grandmother’s red-veined purple-splotched cheeks. “My daughter,” she bawled into the folds of the skirt. “My BABY!”
The granddaughter looked over her shoulder at another Brownie -- smaller, frailer-looking than the granddaughter -- standing in the doorway of the living room. The girl’s eyes were opened wide, staring.
The grandmother’s rheumy eyes, magnified to the size of quarters beneath coke bottle-thick glasses, stared up at the granddaughter. Thin strands of her mop-head of uncombed unwashed hair fell in rivulets down her face. Her jowly flesh sank with disappointment. She moaned and fell face-down to the floor, squealing as she beat the carpet: “Rose! ROSE! R O S E!”
The granddaughter ran to her friend’s side. The girls clasped hands and backed into the kitchen of the small apartment, their black & white saddle shoes scraping the linoleum floor.
“What is wrong with her?” the friend asked.
“I don’t know. She must be sick.”
The granddaughter dabbed at an eye with a sleeve. “I think I should call the doctor?”
The girls sat on concrete steps in front of the small two-story house. A papermill, across the street, blasted a fog-horn blast. Two chipmunks darted from beneath a row of scraggy hedges, their paint brush-like hook-shaped tails upright.
“Is your Grandma going to the hospital?” the friend asked.
“I don’t know.”
The girls watched as a Cadillac slowed before the house and turned into the narrow driveway.
A middle-aged man with saturnine face topped by wavy brilliantine salt & pepper hair stepped from the car. He wore a white shirt beneath a gray tweed overcoat. Under his arm he carried a football-sized satchel. Walking hunched, as if weighed down by his head, he approached the steps.
“Hello Doctor Baker,” the granddaughter said.
“Where is she?” the doctor gruffly demanded. “Upstairs?” He stepped between the girls and pushed open the front door. His shiny black oxfords punched the rungs of the wooden staircase.
He strode into the apartment.
The old woman lay on the floor like a beached seal.
“Get up off the floor,” the doctor shouted. “What are you doing on the floor? Do you sleep on the floor now?”
The old woman rose to her feet and stumbled onto the couch, a crescent of white slip hanging below her wrinkled gray dress.
“Look at yourself! Just LOOK at yourself! Noon-time, and in this condition!” A scowl darkened the doctor’s olive-face. He dropped his satchel onto an end table. “It is disgraceful!”
The doctor flung an arm out toward the girls, standing in the doorway. “Look what you are doing to your little granddaughter and her friend! You are no good,” he shouted. “No good to your family -- no damn good to anyone!” He dug into the satchel. “You ought to be ashamed!”
“I am; I am, doctor; but I miss my Rose -- my girl!”
“Rose is dead,” the doctor stated, “and she is going to stay dead. And that is no excuse for you to put your husband, and your granddaughter, through this sort of treatment!”
The doctor’s shoes slid along the carpet as he gesticulated. “Why don’t you think of someone else beside yourself? Think about what you are doing to your family -- to the people around you. For once! For once in your life, try that!”
The doctor rattled two pills in his hand. “Get me a glass of water,” he ordered the granddaughter, who jumped to obey.
“I will, doctor,” the old woman whined. “Believe me, I will!” She plucked the pills from the doctor’s hand. “Thank you, doctor.”
The doctor snatched the glass of water from the granddaughter. “Never mind ‘thank you.’ If you do not want to go back to the hospital you had better straighten out!” He slapped the satchel shut with a two-handed clout.
“You people disgust me,” he said. “I am sick of dealing with you; sick of watching you ruin your lives and the lives of those around you.” He threw his arm out toward the girls. “Just look! Look what you are --”
The arm stopped mid-swing, finger pointing to the empty doorway.