“What nonsense!” Grace said more to herself than to Tom.
“Yeah, yeah, she’s got a firm grip on that grudge.”
“Old lady falls, so she must be crazy and senile? It just pisses me off!”
“Do you really care what she thinks?”
“No, guess not.”
“Okay, let’s go get Mexican.”
“Can we go to—“
“No, we are going to my place.”
“Alright, you uncompromising old lady.”
. . .
The booths of the her favorite restaurant were high and provided some privacy. He imagined this is where a lot of men slightly younger than him took their platonic female friends for lunches while wives worked. The waitress came over with a chips and salsa, horchata and a water for Grace.
“What would you like to drink, sir?”, she asked Tom coldly.
“I’ll have a spiced beer, please”
The waitress walked away.
“Upside is: the soda is bound to be as cold as she is, Tom snickered to Grace”
Grace ignored him.
They looked over the menus. Tom broke the silence, “is that a new necklace you’re wearing?”
Grace quickly felt the outside of her shirt with her right hand. The necklace was still beneath the both the cotton camisole and her cardigan. She fiddled with the exposed twine which felt rough to her English skin. “Why haven’t I taken this off?” She asked herself.
“Just a keepsake from a grandkid” she lied to Tom. She dipped a chip in the salsa and used another chip as a catch all to her side of the table.
“Which grandkid?” Feller pressed, knowingly.
Her eyes narrowed, annoyed. She chewed. The waitress set down Tom’s root beer and walked away with the menus. They order the same thing often enough. Neither noticed they hadn’t said a word to Maria. Only when she walked away did Grace speak.
“It’s from room five”.
“The old tutors’ office?” Feller added
“I’m not sure”
He didn’t press; after a few chips he changed gears, “I’m going to see Dicky after this, want to join?”
“No I have some housework to get to but tell Dub D I’ll be at work this weekend.”
“Had you not let Vanessa boil your blood you wouldn’t have to employ me as messenger, I’m retired you know”
“Thanks in advance, Tom”
Graces vegetable fajitas came out so hot on a small show skillet the smoke alarm was set. She hid her smile from Maria, who frantically waved menus to stop the beeping annoying the entire restaurant. Tom shook his head looking at her brimming simper. He kept his gaze toward her and picked up a slice of his steak quesadilla. Grace, maintaining outward innocence, slightly shrugged the shoulder closest to the wall with a simultaneous slow blink and started to eat. Before she was done eating, she emptied a great number of yellow sugar substitute packets into her purse.
. . .
Grace pulled into the driveway a short time later. “It was nice that Tom paid the bill this time,” she thought to herself…he didn’t always do that, “but who the hell orders a root beer with Mexican food?” She turned the ignition to off and took a deep breath. The cement stairs poured onto the hill leading down to her house were getting to be troublesome at her age, mostly because of her knees and their irregular nature. Since the fall the right was hurting a little more than the left, but she was incredibly thankful that she only had minor bruising. “I should look at one story places again soon” she thought about halfway down to the door, though she knew she’d always change her mind at the bottom.
The house was cold, so she walked over to the propane heater and lit the flame. She changed into a pair of house pants and a tunic sweater. Winter is nearly here, she thought. Her knee was aching a little so she sat in her arm chair and decided to read a while. Her mind scanned a few pages before she allowed her overwrought state to be at her surface. She touched the twine and pulled the key out and rubbed it between her fingers, looking out the back window to her downslope land. She thought about the room and the events from the last weekend and wondered about her own sanity. “Why was Richmond Hall still open? Why was everyone a little superstitious about the old pile of bricks?” The clock said 4:30 pm. “Here I am sitting, waiting for winter and it’s not even time for dinner.” She got up and grabbed her car keys. Despite the slight aching of her knee she went out the door and up the stairs again to her car with little conscious knowledge of her own plan.
Grace allowed herself to realize her plan when she passed the line of pines on the east side of the property nearest the parking lot and Sumpter street. The west-facing lot was hardly used because the closet with the floor sink and drain for the mop bucket were closer to this entrance. Mostly, it was habit. She cut the ignition to the Honda and opened the door. Although she was sure no one would be there, she felt her muscles resist. “What was her fear?”
She opened the large framed door nearest the cafeteria and went inside. As she crested the stairs to the Hall of Doors she heard a faint sound of classical music. She ignored it. She may have left her radio on this whole week. She couldn’t remember but paid it no mind. Nothing seemed out of order besides the faint sounds she dismissed and the closed door of room five.
She fingered the twine and riled her inner coward enough to overcome her reason and she removed the lanyard from about her neck, inserted the key and twisted the lock and handle at once. The door creaked open easily. No noise came from within. She dared to look around the side of the door with the handle this time and inserted her head into the room. There was no being. “Had I expected a person to be within this room?” She thought to herself, feeling foolish. Her deep consciousness answered, “Not a person.”
She sat at the desk where she had heard the scribbling. The antique pen was still there. She sat in the old armed chair that sat at the desk. She held the pen and started to chi-chi-chi-chi-chi-chi-chi-chi-chi-chi-chi though her and onto a law style pad of yellow that was lying on the desk’s top. A smile crossed her face. Her hair fell over her face too. She kept writing.
. . .
A clock was against the back wall in full view and despite the neglected nature of many things in Richmond Hall, the clock ticked accurately. Grace noticed it was seven, then a glance out the window confirmed it. The light was waning and it was nearing sunset. She noticed the music again. She tucked into a desk drawer, walked to the hall door and relocked it just as she had left it the prior week. Grace wondered how often she could return to the pad. The pen, she noticed, was still in her hand. It was a perfect fit.
For the first time hours she noticed the music again and headed to the source to switch it off before she left, to save batteries.
“It’s too early to be playing Christmas music;” she recognized the Waltz of the Snowflakes “gets earlier annually” she thought, but frolicked more than stepped down to the large central gym to switch off her radio.
“What the F—-”
When their eyes met across the vacant seats set on the dynamism floor, Vanessa let out a stunned shriek from the otherwise empty stage. Her old body appeared more elastic in a leotard and with a scarf around her trim waist. Her tight bun could’ve been the sole excuse for the uncharacteristic behavior.
Vanessa turned the utmost shade of cardinal embarrassment.
To be continued…
Kristie M. Hendricks 20 April 2018