By Karen Brode
Effie sat in the corner chair in the living room so that she could look out the window and see if anyone was walking by. She had the back door locked and bolted. No one cared about her. John and Winnie got up every morning and went to work and left her here in the house by herself. They were gone all day and no one ever stopped by to see whether or not she was still alive.
She looked down at her legs and she couldn’t even reach them to put lotion on them anymore. And her poor ankles were so swollen. Did anyone care? Apparently not. They were all so busy going about their important lives out there in the world, and she was stuck here day after day. Her eyes were beginning to get moist just thinking about the sad state of her life. Why did she have to suffer so?? Other people didn’t seem to suffer nearly as much as she had all her life.
First there was the embarrassment of her horrible father, John Gamble. He had blatantly slept around with all sorts of women and then came home to their dear mother who always let him in the house. Once Effie had screamed and begged her Mother not to let their Father in, and her poor sweet Mother had said, “But he’s my husband, dear”. And Effie had backed away in despair.
Everyone had thought her Mother was a saint. Effie and Emma just thought she was stupid to be nice to a man who obviously cared nothing for her. The other children didn’t talk about it, but Effie and Emma were consumed with how to make this man suffer for the way he treated their Mother. Emma was more outspoken, but she only spoke the words that Effie said in private. Once, he had come home around dawn, and Emma had gotten up to see who it was, and when she opened the door, she said, “Did you spend the night at the widow’s house again?” Emma was only twelve years old when this happened, but she already knew what was what.
Then, Effie married John Hawk and she had been so happy for a long while. They had such fun when they were young. But now…. something had shifted and she wasn’t even sure that John wanted to be married to her. Of course, John was such a goody-goody that he wouldn’t do anything, but she was almost certain that everyone in her family was hoping she would die soon.
She saw other women her age still enjoying things or at least they seemed to. She wanted to pull them aside and ask if they were only pretending, but she didn’t. Her only friend was Emma, and she and Emma still talked about everything. She wished Emma could come and stay with her sometimes, but Emma was getting old, too. They saw each other at church and sometimes for Sunday dinners, but it wasn’t like when they were young and spent all their time together.
Emma had lost a baby early in her marriage to Charlie, and after that, Emma had retreated into herself, and she was completely crazy about cats. Effie worried about this part of Emma. She knew people talked about Emma, and how she loved her cats more than she loved people. Once when Winnie was a little girl, she told Effie that she had seen Emma holding a kitten to her breast and letting it nurse. Effie had thought maybe Winnie was just imagining this, but then Emma had showed up that day at church with a tiny kitten in her pocket. Effie had been so embarrassed. Emma had made a game of pulling the kitten out at different times during church to make Effie laugh. Effie didn’t like cats. This one was so little that it couldn’t hurt her, but she still didn’t want to hold it, and Emma really wanted her to hold it. Emma thought everyone should love cats as much as she did. The poor little cat was hungry and he kept crawling up to Emma’s chest and pawing around. Effie tried not to notice. Emma would pull the kitten away, and say, “Not now, honey.” Effie’s heart sank as she remembered Winnie’s words. Surely not, she thought, surely not……
Even though they sat on the back pew, Effie was worried that people would realize that Emma had the kitten at church. John had already turned around to look at Effie several times. Oh, how she hated that. She knew that a lecture would follow in the car or once they got home.
Then, the little kitten shrieked, and Emma shoved him back into her coat pocket. Effie coughed and coughed and hoped that all the people who had turned to look at her and Emma would think that she had made the sound. And Emma had sat there grinning and enjoying every minute of Effie’s misery.
But even so, when she was with Emma, there was an energy to her that she didn’t have at other times. She loved Emma and they had stuck together through all sorts of things as children. Once, they had rigged a bucket of syrup over their front door for when their louse of a father came home, but he came in the back door that time.
John Gamble was a good-looking man… and he could charm any woman. He was a great story-teller, too. Effie found herself laughing in spite of her hatred for him when her father would tell a story. He would lean back in his kitchen chair as her dear Mother, Alice, took the plates away, and tell stories about his childhood. Emma and Effie would initially just sit staring at the wall, and refusing to laugh, but then he would get so excited and laugh so hard that they all ended up hysterical.
And her Mother, Alice, was just too good to even be in this world. She always did the right thing, said the right thing, lived a Christian life in front of her children. Effie often thought she was just boring. John Gamble was by far, her most exciting parent, but he was a horrible father, a horrible husband. If one of them got sick, they would have to go from door to door asking if their father was there? Didn’t he realize how embarrassing this was for them? And Alice never said a word to him that Effie knew about. She was the soul of righteousness, and Effie knew that she would never measure up to Alice’s standards.
Effie worried that she was a little like her father, John Gamble. She, too, enjoyed fun and sometimes she laughed at people. Well, if people were funny, how could she help it? Some people were just funny….like old Miss James who came to church. She walked with a cane and she was completely bent over from the waist. Effie guessed she couldn’t straighten up, but it was comical to see her try to have a conversation with someone. She would try to turn her head and look up to see who it was. Effie thought if she was like that, she would just stay home. Then, she chided herself. How could she think an affliction like that was funny? She said a quick prayer to God to forgive her.
Then, she thought of Janie Williams who was 40 if she was a day and still wore little pinafore dresses and kept her hair in pigtails. There was obviously something wrong with her. Effie and Emma waited each Sunday with rapt anticipation to see what she would wear that day. Oh, their Mother, Alice, would be so ashamed of them now….. bringing kittens to the Lord’s house and laughing at people. They were a disgrace.
Effie couldn’t think too long about Emma. It made her cry. If some stray kitten came to Emma’s door, she would pick it up and pet it and say, “Pore little thang!” and then the kitten would become part of her brood. Didn’t Emma know that people purposely dropped their unwanted animals down by Emma’s house?
Effie needed to put some beans on for supper, but getting up was such an effort now. She found herself falling asleep off and on during the day, and that was a good thing. Sleep was an escape from her real life. John and Winnie’s lives wouldn’t change that much if she died. John might find another woman…. men were like that. At least, Effie knew that John would not dishonor her while she was still alive.
She woke in the night last night, and she had touched John lightly on the shoulder. She was hoping they could talk a little like they used to. She said, “John, I think I am dying.” He had raised his head up off the pillow and asked if she needed to go to the doctor, and she had said no, and he had fallen back to sleep almost immediately. What she meant was that she could feel death closing in on her. Death had her in its sights. But it wouldn’t come tonight. She just knew it was watching her, waiting for the right moment.
And she was afraid. She wasn’t as afraid as she might’ve been when she was younger, but no one wanted to die. She couldn’t imagine life just going on the way it was after she was gone. She knew that no one loved her very much. She couldn’t really account for that. She sensed that she had become a burden to John, and Winnie only tolerated her. Of course, Winnie was like Effie’s Mother, Alice, and she could make Winnie feel guilty and make her do anything. But, that wasn’t love. It was servitude. If anyone on this earth truly loved Effie just for herself, it was Kenneth, her grandson. But he was almost a teenager now, and she could no longer take him in her lap and mold him to her. He always came and hugged her when they visited, but now he was often off with friends. She couldn’t claim anything he wasn’t willing to give her now. And it made her sad.
Her grandson, John, was not someone she could feel close to. She had tried, but John was aloof, and didn’t like her from the start. Even as a tiny baby, he had not wanted her to hold him. She always bought something nice for him for his birthday and Christmas to appease Hazel, but frankly, she didn’t like John. They both sensed something in each other that made them wary. In her wandering thoughts, sometimes she thought IF there was such a thing as reincarnation, John might…just might…be her father come back to bother her some more. He had a lot of her father’s qualities – even as a little child. When he went outside to play, girls came from all over Ambrose to play with him. He never wanted to spend any time with Effie. Of all the people in her life, her grandson John, probably loved her the least.
Effie sat in her chair until sleep overtook her. Winnie could find something for them to eat for supper. She was too tired to get up and worry with anything.
Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972. She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years. She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon. Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.