The Long Wait [story] by Nancy Powichroski Sherman

Whisper, “Maybe today.”

No one listens except the sea gulls that strut across the deck railing pretending to visit but surreptitiously looking for handouts. Reach into your cardigan pocket, past the scented handkerchief and the beads of the pearl rosary your husband Henry brought back from Europe after the war, and pull out half a sugar cookie. Break it into tiny pieces and toss them over the railing to the sand below. Watch the gulls swoop down, arguing with one another over ownership.

Mommie! Mommie, Mattie won’t share.

Snippets of summer seasons, when Mattie and Andy were children, slip in and out of your mind, like fireflies in the early dusk – your son standing below the deck stomping his heal into the sand, your daughter standing on tiptoes and holding the cookie over her head. God, how you miss those voices.

Rock the metal glider back and forth under the canvas shade, faded like you from too many years in the sun.

Swoosh, squeak.

Faster, Mommie. Faster.

Mattie on one side of you. Andy on the other.

They say that a mother should never outlive her children.

Swoosh, squeak. Swoosh, squeak.

Henry loved sitting here, looking past the shallow dunes to the ocean, listening to the song of the waves. Until death, do us part. A promise made at the altar of St. Paul’s on a rainy April Saturday long ago. “Henry, why did you leave and not take me?”

The rattle of the screen door startles you. But the sweet scent of Jean Naté dusting powder that follows is comforting and familiar. “Miss Ella, I thought you had company out here.”

Look up at the woman, from the crisp front of the white apron into the kind eyes. You don’t know who this woman is, but she has those kind eyes.

The woman extends a glass wrapped in an ocean blue napkin. “Would you like some fresh iced tea?”

Accept the glass with a “Thank you,” and return to your waiting. “Maybe today.”

“Why do you always say that, Miss Ella?”

Smile with silent lips.

The woman with the kind eyes cools herself with a Parsell’s Funeral Home fan.     “We’re having fresh catfish tonight.”

Watch the ice get skinny in the chilled glass. “I like fish. Henry brought home a fresh catch every Friday.”

“Your Henry was a good looking man.”

Look up from the glass. “You remember my Henry?”

“I see him everyday when I dust.”

“You see him?”

“In that wedding picture on the piano.”

“Oh.” Extinguish the brief hope that Henry is here and that you’d only forgotten.

Give the glider a push. You hate how you forget things.

Swoosh, squeak, again and again and again. Her name is Rachel.

“Rachel.”

“Yes, ma’am?”

You have nothing else to say.

Rachel closes her fan and stashes it in her apron pocket. “That catfish won’t fry itself.” She peeks into your glass at the wafer-thin cubes. “Done?” she asks but doesn’t wait for an answer and takes the glass with her. “I’ll bring a fresh one after I get the breading done.”

The rattle of the screen door.

The quiet of the porch.

The sea grass barely tilting its head in the still August air.

Look out past the jetty. Watch the birth of a wave, its swell, its journey, its crash against the shoreline. Too soon, the waves rush to their end.

 

Image of 1930s Switchboard Operator

[Refer: This story put the editors in mind of Martha Anne Toll’s story “Phosphoresence.”]

Image by Steven Depolo

Nancy Powichroski Sherman has been a teacher for more than 42 years, but a writer since she was old enough to sit at her bedroom window and imagine. Her collection of short stories, Sandy Shorts, has received first place awards from the Delaware Press Association and, nationally, from the National Federation of Press Women. Sherman is a member of the Rehoboth Beach Writers’ Guild.