A Minute Ago Yesterday: A Short Story
A Minute Ago, Yesterday.
“I hate going for the mail.” I said to myself. It used to be exciting to see what I might get, but not anymore, not for the last 50 or so years. I trudged along the front pathway, fighting the pain in my lower joints. The wet leaves felt cold on my sandaled feet. Lifting each foot over the cracks in the bricks was becoming more and more tedious and tiresome. I reached for the mail, closed the door to the mailbox, and turned to walk back.
“This is the part that I hate.” I said again. I hated looking at that house. It reminded me of her, of what we had, and of what I had lost. The house was meant for her, for us. Our first years living there were happy and joyful. But it was a part of me, too. I refused to sell it.
I pushed the heavy oak door open, and let it fall shut on its own. The heavy steel hinges creaked under the weight of the weathered wood. Rust stained the wood from years of neglect on my part. I just didn’t care. I threw the mail on the table next to the door and headed for the bathroom. There I stood and looked in the mirror at my reflection. “Old fool.” I thought to myself. I studied my reflection and considered the age on my face. It had definitely changed over the years, more gray, more lines. It seemed like yesterday when I was young and strapping, working at the mill. I started working at the mill when I was about 16 or 17. It was a good job, and I was trying to save some money so Jenny and I could get married.
I stepped away from the mirror and walked into the kitchen. I reached for a wine glass, and carried it to the refrigerator. I reached in and pulled out a bottle of cheap burgundy. I don’t know why I even used a glass. It was just me here. Nevertheless, I still poured from the bottle. I sat down in the chair by the front window and looked down into the glass. “You gotta have class!” were the words that my Uncle Jonah would tell me in my youth. “Whatever you do in life, do it with class.” So, because of that, I drink from a glass. Because of that, I found the energy to shave everyday, although I didn’t want to.
Looking around the room I can still see her influence, her own touch of class. I never took her things down, not since she left me in 1953. I never understood why things happened the way they did, we were so much in love. But that was all yesterday, a seemingly quick passage of time, barely a minute ago on the clock of life.
As the wine clouded my head, I thought of her and felt my eyes well up with tears. She seemed so young and frail, yet she was so strong and determined. Jenny was mousy in appearance, but was not so in personality. You didn’t cross her without getting an argument, but she would love you with all of her heart. I remember how good we were together. I was a strapping young man back then, 6’4”, weighing in at 220 pounds. She was 5’3”, barely a hundred pounds when we got married. That was the happiest day of my life. I had married my childhood sweetheart, and gave her this house as a wedding present. She was ecstatic.
We were together for about three years or so. We wanted to have a baby right away, but something seemed wrong, she would not conceive. The doctor said that it wasn’t me, and told me that I should accept the fact that we may never have a child of our own, that we should adopt. Looking back, I’m glad we didn’t adopt, considering what happened and all, I didn’t want to be responsible for a child in my state of mind.
Jenny was seemingly a household genius. She could stretch my meager salary for miles. We always had a full pantry, and fresh meat and fresh fruit. She was able to buy herself a new dress every week, and she even surprised me with gifts. It was incredible the way she’d balance the budget. There were always fresh flowers on the table. At night, she was so playful and loving. She was always eager to try new things to spice up our love life, and quite often brought new ideas into play. She was mine, and I was happy. I remember coming home one day and finding her dancing around the house with an invisible partner. She was so happy. She had on a beautiful diamond necklace and matching earrings. When she saw me, she ran to my arms and presented me with a shiny gold watch. What a nice surprise, she was so happy to give it to me. “How?” I asked her. “How can we afford these things?”
“Oh, Silly!” she said. “Don’t worry. Everything is all right.” I believed her. I truly believed in her. She was wonderful with money.
One day I came home early, and Jenny was not there. It was early in the day, and I wanted to surprise her. I was usually home by 6:00 every day, but that day was different. The mill closed down early due to mechanical problems. I got home around 1:00. I sat in the chair by the front window and waited. I eventually fell asleep. Soon I was awakened by the sound of a car pulling up. It was a long black car, and Jenny climbed out of the front passenger door. She was leaning in talking to the driver, and I couldn’t make out what she was saying. She said goodbye, waved and walked to the house. She momentarily stopped in her tracks and lost her smile when she saw me in the window, then began smiling again. In her arms was a large basket filled with fresh bread, fruit and meat. There was a bottle of burgundy there too. She walked up to me and I leaned forward to kiss her lips. She turned at the last second, and I kissed her cheek instead. I thought that was odd, but I let it go…
“You’re home early.” She said, plainly.
“The mill had a break down; I got home at about 1:00.”
“Oh.” She seemed preoccupied. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here. I went to the Farmers Market in Woodstock.”
“Woodstock?” I replied. “That’s thirty miles away.”
“I took the bus, and this nice man drove me home.” She went on. “Honey, I feel icky, I wanna take a bath before dinner, okay?” She trotted down the hallway to the bathroom. I smiled at her perkiness as I tore off a piece of the bread, and reached for the bottle of wine. I was surprised to see the label. It was very expensive. I quickly opened it and poured myself a glass and bit from the piece of the bread. I returned to the chair by the window, and sipped from my glass. I began thinking about the contents of the basket, and was curious to see how much money she had in her purse. I opened the small drawstring bag and found nearly a hundred dollars crumpled up in the bottom. I was pleasantly surprised. “How does she do it?” I thought. She was a financial genius.
As time went on, she acquired more dresses, more jewelry and perfumes, and I was getting more gifts as well. She really took care of me. But she seemed preoccupied anymore. She wasn’t as happy as she used to be. She would still smile, and do loving things for me, but she seemed ill at times, not all together on top of things. She was looking pale, and weak. This went on for quite awhile. I would take her to the doctor, but it seemed useless. I had no insurance, and I knew that I couldn’t afford the medical bills. But then one day a new doctor came to the house. He was from Woodstock, and said that he was there to help Jenny. He was a specialist.
“I can’t afford you, Doctor.” I told him. “Perhaps I can do some work for you, anything, just please help Jenny.”
“Don’t worry about my fee, Sean.” he said. “Let’s just concentrate on getting your wife better.”
“What’s wrong with her?”
“I’m not sure, she has a blood disorder, and I just can’t be sure.”
“Can she be cured?” I asked him. “I’ll do anything, just save her.”
“The tests are expensive, and if it’s what I think it is, so is the treatment.”
“I don’t care, I’ll find a way.” I told him.
During the next few weeks doctors and specialists came and went. Jenny spent a few days in Woodstock for testing, and I stayed with her every minute that I could. After work, I would make the drive to the hospital and sit with her until it was time to go to work again. Her room was filled with flowers and small gifts. She smiled and had a pleasant demeanor about her. Although very weak, Jenny still tried to sit up and hold my hand. Soon she was home again in her own bed. Doctors and their assistants were with her all day, and I felt at ease. I called home on my breaks just to catch up on things. The reports were good. This went on for about a week more, until one day I called home and the news was not good.
I hurried home as fast as I could. As I stepped through the front door, I was met by a doctor, one that I had not seen before. There was another man there as well. He was a young and handsome man, well dressed. He was about my age. It was obvious he was “well to do.” I didn’t know who he was. I looked at him, and as we made eye contact, he came to me and introduced himself.
“I am Thomas Garamond. I met your wife in the marketplace quite a while ago. I’m the one that gave her a ride home that day.” He continued. “You must be Sean. Jenny has told me a lot about you.”
Jenny? Why was he so informal with my wife’s name? Another doctor came out of the bedroom. “Mr. O’Brien?” He asked. I nodded to him. “Your wife would like to see you.” I hurried into the bedroom.
There she was, the love of my life, lying almost limp, barely breathing. The dark circles under her eyes are forever etched in my mind. She reached her hand out to take mine. I gently grasped her tiny hand and held it to my lips. She smiled and I carefully leaned down to her and held her against me. I held her that way all night. By morning, she had grown very weak and was fading fast.
“Sean, I love you.” She whispered. “I always will love you….” I fell to my knees next to the bed, and prayed for God‘s help. She was gone. I couldn’t understand. Why did God take her from me like this? I looked up from the floor. The doctor had his hand outstretched.
“Come on Sean.” He said. “Let me fix you a drink.” He held onto me as we walked into the great room, and I sat down in the chair by the window. Mr. Garamond was still there. “Here you go.” The doctor said. He handed me a glass of bourbon.
I looked at Mr. Garamond. “Why are you here?” I asked.
“As I said, I am the person that drove your wife home that day. She used to come to my shop whenever she was in Woodstock.”
“Thank you for that.” I told him.
“Not at all.” he replied.
I looked at the doctor. “Why?” I asked. “Why did she get sick? Why did she die?”
“It was a blood disorder, Sean, a cancer. There was nothing more we can do.”
“But the doctors, the specialists…They were the best, weren’t they?”
“They were.” Mr. Garamond said. “And you needn’t be concerned with the expense. It’s all covered.”
“Thank you, but I can work to pay you back…”
Mr. Garamond waved his hand. “It’s not necessary. It is my gift to such a wonderful young lady as your wife.”
The funeral was on a Saturday. It rained all day. Friends and family came from miles around to express their condolences. It took me 2 weeks before I was composed enough to return back to work, but my performance was understandably poor. They say that time heals all wounds, but that is not so. 50 years have passed and I still grieve for her. There I was, barely 23 years old, and my whole life was suddenly shattered.
Returning to work was hard enough, but now I was coming home to an empty house. It was so lonely and quiet. Our bed seemed so different. I tried to see her in my mind, but I couldn’t. As time went by, her smell was nearly gone from her pillow and from her clothes. They still hang in her closet to this day.
I came home one day and the power was off. I never thought much about the bills, she always handled it. I had to go to the bank and withdraw the money from our account to pay the light bill, but our account was nearly empty. I came home and searched the house, and finally found money in the cookie jar. Nearly a thousand dollars! I was so proud of her. At the bottom of the cookie jar was the jewelry she was wearing that day that I caught her dancing and some other jewelry that I hadn’t seen before. I just smiled.
I paid all of the bills that I could think of. The car payment, the house payment, other utilities, and I felt good when it was all done. I made notes to myself to be sure to pay the bills on time. I did the grocery shopping after work the next day, and still had about four hundred dollars left. I put that back into the cookie jar for next month.
As the month went on, I needed more groceries, gas for the car, and other incidental items. Before I knew it, the cookie jar was empty, and my paycheck was not enough. How did she do it? I took out all of the old bills and her ledger. There was always enough money. What was I doing wrong? Collection notices were piling up, and soon my house was being foreclosed on. The finance company wanted to take my car away. I needed to raise some cash, but I had no where to turn. I asked for an advance at work, but that only lasted a short while. I had no choice, I had to sell something. I had nothing of value. “The jewelry.” I said to myself. But I couldn’t, it was Jenny’s. I tried to reason with myself, and lost. I couldn’t lose this house. It was still Jenny’s.
I reached into the cookie jar and pulled out all of the jewelry. I looked at each piece carefully. Each piece had a small silver tag with the name “Daimler’s” stamped on it. Daimler’s was a jewelry store in Woodstock. I immediately took the jewelry pieces to the small store thirty miles away. I parked outside and reluctantly looked up at the building. I was against selling these pieces of jewelry, but it was all I had to save the house. I went inside the shop.
“May I help you sir?” A well dressed man asked. He looked at the jewelry in my hand. “May I?” I handed him the jewelry and he carefully scrutinized each piece. He noticed the tag. “Why sir, these pieces were purchased here. Are you not pleased with them?”
“No.” I said. “I like them; I would just like to know how much they are worth.”
“Oh, Sir, these are worth a small fortune!” he continued. “This piece alone is worth over twenty thousand dollars. Where did you find these?” He walked over to a workbench and picked up an eye glass.
“They were my wife’s”. The salesman quickly jotted down a number and walked briskly to a card catalog. He plucked a card from the file and returned over to me.
“This necklace was sold to a Mr. Garamond. Thomas Garamond.” I was confused. “Mr. Garamond purchased this for his lovely young lady friend, a darling little thing. They came in here quite often. It was very clear that they were in love.”
I stood there dazed for a moment. I was confused; I felt dizzy and had to sit down. I took my wallet from my back pocket and removed a picture of Jenny. I stared at it for what seemed like an eternity. “Is this Garamond‘s ‘lady friend‘?”
He leaned over. “Why yes! She is very beautiful. I remember the last day that they were in here, she was so happy. They were so happy together….” He looked into my eyes and saw the pain. “Sir, are you okay? Perhaps I could get a drink for you. Wine? Perhaps something stronger?”
“I’m fine. How much will you give me for the jewelry? All of it.”
“Sir,” the man said. “This is highly irregular…We don‘t…”
I leaned over the counter and grabbed him by his silk necktie. “How much will you give me!?”
“Uh…uh…Th..th..Thirty-five thousand. That’s as high as I can go.”
“Deal.” I said. “Cash.”
“Very well.” the salesman stepped back and straightened his necktie, and disappeared to a safe in the back office. He quickly returned with the cash. He counted out the money to me.
“Look,” I said. “I’m sorry. She was my wife…..” he looked at me sternly, then suddenly with a look of compassion as if he finally understood.
“Not to worry, Sir. I understand.” He showed me the door and nodded as I made my exit. “Have a good day, Sir.”
I stood there on the street with the money in my hand. I walked a few feet to the bus bench and sat down with my head hanging low. Was it true? Was my wife having an affair with Garamond? The thought was inconceivable. My mind raced with images of her in his arms. I thought of that day that she was dancing around the house. Was she daydreaming of dancing with me or Thomas Garamond? I looked up the boulevard and saw the sign hanging over the walkway: “Garamond”. He was a local merchant. I walked up the street and stood across the pavement from his store. The storefront glass read “Garamond Building and Loan” in gold lettering. His shiny black car was parked in the front. I stood there looking, just staring. My mind continued to race with those images that I didn’t want to think about. I shook my head and hurried back to my car and drove home.
I sat in the chair by the window and drank from a bottle of wine. It was still so inconceivable that she and he were lovers. I lifted the wine bottle to my lips again and took a big swallow. One more time and the bottle would be empty. I dozed off, letting the empty bottle awaken me momentarily as it hit the floor. Dreamless, drunken sleep. I awoke with a headache and fumbled in the dark to the kitchen to find the aspirin. As I staggered down the hallway, I bumped the bedroom door. The door swung open and our room was in full view. Her personal things were all laid out untouched. I just stood and looked for a moment. I stepped in and stood before her mirror. There was so much anguish on my face. Looking down at her things, I picked up her hair brush and brought it to my nose. I could still faintly smell her aroma. I could smell the “L’Effleur” perfume that she loved so much. I loved it. The way it mingled with her chemistry, and created a whole new fragrance. It was hers alone. Her beautiful hair was still entwined in the brush. It was soft and silky. I brushed it lightly against my cheek.
Turning to her closet, I could smell her fragrance from her clothes. I just pressed myself into the fabrics. The silks and the linens felt so smooth and cool on my skin. I turned and sat on the floor beneath them, surrounded in her shoes. Her shoes . They were so small. They were for a petite foot, a size 5. She had such beautiful feet, always neatly pedicured. I picked up and looked at each one of her shoes, tried to remember each time she wore them. There were shoes that were still in the boxes, some I had never seen, but nevertheless, they were hers. I reached for a pretty pink box and untied the string. There were no shoes in there. There were letters and photographs.
I smiled at the thought of going through our old memories letter by letter, picture by picture. But what I found was not what I expected. There were letters of love and passion to my Jenny, but they weren‘t from me. There were photographs of her and Garamond walking together and holding each other on the waterfront in Woodstock. I closed the box and threw it down. I was still drunk and began sobbing mindlessly on the floor. I had feelings of rage against Garamond. I felt confused and bitterly hurt by Jenny. I cried endlessly until I fell back asleep. I stayed that way until morning.
I awoke in a crumpled heap on the floor. I sat up, looking around, trying to remember how I got to that particular place. Then I saw the box in the closet, and I remembered. I didn’t want to think about it. What I had suspected before was reality now. But I was sure that she loved me. She never lost that caring for me. She was always taking care of me. I felt loved. Could she have loved both of us? How is that possible? I stood up and walked from the room. Heading toward the bathroom, I felt the wad of cash in my pocket.
“And what about this?” I thought. It was thirty-five thousand dollars. Who did it belong to? It was the result of a gift given to Jenny by her lover. Jenny is gone now, is it mine?
A sudden epiphany overwhelmed me. I had never felt so low and degraded, nor had I ever met such a man. My hours of toil and labor to provide for my wife have been worthless. It was her lover who supported us, not me. He supported us, provided us with food, gifts, clothing, even money….and had the love of my wife in return. I was made a fool of. My paltry wage did nothing for her. But what if she really did still love me? Why did she stay with me when she could have all of the benefits of her lover? I had to find out the answer.
I quickly showered and dressed and headed out of the front door. I had to get to Woodstock, to Garamond’s store and confront him for the answers. But as I closed the front door to my house, I saw him there on the street. My anger welled up within me, I wanted to kill him. He raised both of his gloved hands up toward me.
“Please, Sean, let me explain.”
“Explain what? How you stole my wife?”
“She loved you.” I stopped. “She loved you very much, Sean.” I stood and listened. “She came into Woodstock one day to shop. I met her at the bakery. I was getting a roll and a cup of coffee, she was picking something out for you to enjoy when you came home. She was sorting through her change, counting it out on the table, and looked frustrated because she didn’t have enough. That’s when we met, I offered to help her, and I gave her a couple of dollars. She wouldn’t accept it unless she could do something for me in return. So I hired her to be my housekeeper. I paid her very well.”
“She came to your house?” I retorted. “She worked for you?”
“She told me that you would not like her working, but your wage wasn’t enough. It was only 3 days a week and she didn’t think you would ever know. But then, something happened.”
“What?” I replied shortly.
“I fell in love with her, Sean. She was so beautiful, so innocent. I began buying her things, taking her to the waterfront for lunch…”
“Yeah, I saw the picture.”
“We spent time together. We enjoyed each other’s company. Eventually, we fell in love together, but I knew I could never have her one hundred percent. She was still in love with you, and she felt guilty for that. It was never going to work. When she fell ill, I did everything I could to get the finest doctors for her.”
“I appreciated your efforts in caring for her.” I said. “I can’t blame you for loving my wife; she was very beautiful and commanded a great deal of attention.”
“It wasn’t my intention to seduce her, Sean.” Garamond said. “I wanted to help, she looked so frail. It just happened.”
I reached into my pocket and pulled out the cash. I handed it to him. “This belongs to you.”
“I don’t understand?” He replied.
“Oh yes! Mr. Daimler called me and explained what had happened yesterday. That’s why I am here. The money is yours. It was a gift to your wife, and now it is yours.” He handed it back. “Please.”
I slowly reached out for it, and put it in my pocket.
“Sean, you’re young, I’m young. We’ve lived through a terrible tragedy and unfortunate circumstances. If there’s anything that I can do….”
“I’d like to be alone right now.” I said. “If you don’t mind.”
“Certainly. If you are ever in Woodstock, please, stop in.”
I nodded and went into my house.
I always hated thinking about these memories. I stared down at the glass again. It was empty. So was the bottle. I set the glass on the window sill. All of those years have passed now, and not once did another woman turn my head. I can’t say the same for Thomas Garamond. He had been married four times since his relationship with Jenny, but he and I have one thing in common. Jenny was the only girl that either of us ever truly loved. Tom and I eventually became friends. I stood by him at each of his weddings, and as he buried his first three wives. His building and loan company bought out the mill I worked at and turned it into a world class operation. I took some of the money from the jewelry and paid off my house and invested the rest into the mill at Tom’s advice. It has been a good life, just empty.
When you love someone so deeply, but can’t have her because of circumstances, you begin reflect on what could have been, and on what isn’t. You ponder on time, what it will bring, if anything, to your empty life. And when all else is said and done, and you realize that even though you are in the presence of others, you are truly alone without the one you love the most, and you have no recourse but to reflect on what has happened in your life a minute ago, yesterday.