“Edith,” those four women said, “you’ve been inconsiderate.”
Thoughtless, they continued. Unsympathetic. Less than kind. Etc.
An intervention, no less. Over coffee and cookies, prepared by me, in my apartment.
First on their list: Jocelyn. Rather, poor Jocelyn.
At the victory party for our provincial candidate, who’d lost, I bought a raffle ticket. Number 63, then my age. First prize: from a local “fine foods” shop, a heaping basket of nuts, biscuits, chocolates, cheeses, jars of olives, etc., all wrapped up in crisp starry gold paper and doubtless stale.
Our group, Jocelyn included, awaited the draw. During the campaign she and I had done phone canvassing together, side-by-side in a booth with the awkward scripts before us. Often she’d deviate. “Oh, you’re cooking supper? I’ll call back!” Wasted time drags down the work. She never finished her lists.
Jocelyn’s ticket was Number 64.
“Such fun to win! Sixty-five next birthday.” Her wistful girlish smile. ”I’d throw a little party, and share the basket!”
Smiles, pats for Jocelyn, and the draw was called.
The quote festive season was then upon us, so on Boxing Day I set the gift basket in the lobby of my apartment building. It emptied soon.
Jocelyn and I met again at a New Year’s Day open house.
“Oh Edith, are you enjoying your basket? Such a good selection, I thought, and such pretty gold paper!”
“It’s all gone.”
Her face sagged. Did Jocelyn seriously think I’d eaten everything myself?
The gold paper I’d folded away.
For a moment I considered -- but no. She’d just thank me and thank me. I moved on to other conversations.
Of the four women now berating me, two claimed that the least I could have done was to hand over that pretty paper.
Another said, ”Jocelyn deserved that basket.”
“I didn’t? Was it an award for merit, then?”
As expected, she had no answer.
The last intervenor opined that giving poor Jossy either paper or basket would only have shown additional contempt.
I reminded them all of the familiar phrase, luck of the draw.
The four exchanged She’s hopeless glances. (We’ve all known each other for years through our jobs and/or political sympathies, cultural interests -- the social connective tissue shared by elderly women alone for this reason or that.) They eyed the raspberry thumbprints and almond slices, and each took another.
Their next agenda item: Geraldine.
Like me, at the hospital thrift store where we volunteer, Geraldine prefers spending time with the used books to arranging second-hand clothes that were ugly even when new. Our book section’s busy. With so many real bookstores closing in Vancouver, we get callers and buyers from across the city.
Unlike me, Geraldine chats at length with customers, nattering on about authors’ marriages and addictions and feuds. She forgets titles, mixes up who wrote what. She can’t manage the computer. At the cash register people get near-frantic, trying to pay and escape. I make sure to answer the phone.
Recently a peevish Englishman called. In search of a particular Morse, he’d got the runaround from the big-box store.
That very day I’d sold the title he sought, to a quick reader. “It’ll be back soon. I’d advise you to call again next week.”
“A pleasure to deal with someone efficient. Do I detect an English accent?”
Those who ask this -- and many do, for, in spite of Asian immigration in recent decades, the Brit infestation endures -- have no interest in me. They only want a fix of nostalgia. I, having spent one boring year with an English aunt five decades ago, have none to indulge.
“Then my thanks again. May I have your name?”
“Geraldine. I’m in every Tuesday.” Enjoyable falsehood.
“I’ll stop by.”
Two pests at once!
The intervenors, cookies in hand, confirmed that Geraldine and Mr Nosy Peevish hadn’t enjoyed their meeting.
“At your age, Edith, you shouldn’t play pranks like that.”
No answer to that, either.
I refreshed their coffee cups, and the four ran out their biggest gun.
Months ago, Lillian had offered to pick me up at six and drive me to a constituency meeting. At five-fifty I was in my lobby, ready. At ten past the hour, impatient. At fifteen, heading for one bus, then another, in a downpour. Agenda and minutes had already been adopted by the time I arrived. Quickly I took a chair at the back of the hall.
Lillian sat near the front. When I rose to speak on a motion, her head snapped round. Horrified, her look. Hand at her mouth.
All through the break, I talked with our treasurer and secretary. Lillian couldn’t get at me till the meeting ended and we all crowded near the door to gather umbrellas and coats.
Her hand again rose, to shield her spluttering lips. “Edith! So so sorry, how careless of me! How could I?” Etc.
“It’s all right.” Not far from true. Inconvenience, yes. Also annoyance, but not disaster. Still, I was glad that neighbours had offered me a ride home, so I could decline her strenuous offer.
Later that week Lillian’s handwritten note arrived, reiterating all that she’d said at the meeting. To answer: redundant, surely.
Soon we met again, at a fundraising dinner. Her eyes, wide as before. Her grimace perhaps slighter. Briefly, fingers to lips.
“So sorry! I still feel so bad!”
I demurred, gesturing towards the jovial emcee now taking the stage.
That was surely the end of the matter?
No. At the opera, at political meetings and work-parties and at book-club, Lillian and I repeatedly met. Every time, the startle. The facial twitch. The hand rising -- not as high now, only chest-level. Vestigial gestures. Codified.
“Sorry!” Still audible.
I didn’t respond, yet Lillian’s grovelling drove me to reconsider her original proposal of a lift. Her idea. I never ask for rides. First I’d waited for her, and then in rainy Vancouver I’d stood waiting for two buses.
I dislike the publicity of lateness, as it were -- the inevitable group awareness that personal disorder (of whatever kind) has disrupted a process.
As for Lillian’s look when she heard my voice at the meeting. . . . Well. If in advance she’d considered the agenda, had thought about who might make what arguments, she’d not imagined Edith in the room. Her generous impulse (did it ever exist?) had been satisfied by making the offer. Fulfillment wasn’t required.
One evening at the theatre, as intermission began I glimpsed Lillian heading for the bar. I got to the line-up first. Without looking, I sensed her cringing stance behind me. Yes, I could have forgone my glass of wine. Why should I? Why not she? After ordering, I turned to give her what she wanted. “You behaved badly to me, Lillian. I haven’t forgotten.” Merlot in hand, I walked off.
By now my coffee pot was empty, my platter held only one almond slice, and my four friends wanted me to tell Lillian I was sorry.
“She made an empty gesture. I called her on it. What’s the problem?”
Unable to say, they departed my home frowning.
I ate the last slice and cleaned up my kitchen, while asking myself who was the person inconvenienced, forgotten? Edith. Who was targeted by open, unjustified envy, harassed by nattering and nosiness, burdened by fawning apologies? Edith.
Why should Edith apologize? I ask you, why?