Thursday, December 22, 2011
May your gatherings be filled with joy.
May your travels be swift and safe.
May your hearts be overcome by healing and rest in the arms of Contentment.
May your mouths be filled with good food and laughter.
May your sorrows be wrapped in comfort.
And may our world be filled with peace.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
I read from Mercy and Truth, one of my short story collections. So, now I would like to share another story about Gladys from the same book. It takes place during Christmas, but is perhaps not the happiest of Christmas stories. But, it does reflect the purpose of Mercy and Truth, and that is to wrestle with realities.
Gladys could feel the rage emanating from the stick across the table. There she sat a veritable Venus of Willendorf and not more than six feet to her left was a twig. The twig was wearing a tiny, black sequined dress with a plunging neckline, which should have disclosed cleavage as deep as the Grand Canyon, but only lay flat against a boney breast bone.
The twig had introduced herself to everyone after Gladys sat down at the table. Her chair had been the only seat left in the room full of hundreds of people dressed to kill. Gladys’ outfit would only press like a dull butter knife. She knew that and yet she always enjoyed dressing up at least once a year. She had learned some hard lessons on fashion through these annual events; lessons such never wear black velour outside the home when you have a white cat. But this night Gladys felt confident that for this night at least she could hold her own in this room of hundreds.
It was the Christmas season and Gladys wanted to celebrate. She wanted to enjoy the music, the lights, the food, the aromas, and the laughter of others—if not her own. The ballroom was massive and Gladys was grateful for that. It was far easier to really enjoy the holiday delicacies without having to endure the driveling small-talk of more intimate occasions. The twig and everyone else at the table represented very little threat in this corporate milieu of festivity. Gladys would have her own warm and real Christmas celebration with a her two close friends gathered around her simple, but glowing table closer to the actual day of Christmas. Until then she would take advantage of the shiny, canned, metallic December holiday party lavishly demonstrating the enormous wealth of the corporation for which she worked.
The particular department in which Gladys worked was in the negative three—the third floor beneath the lobby. There were no windows and a thick brick wall corner was her only horizon. She had finally convinced her supervisor to let her paint it a pleasing color—be she had paid dearly for that transaction. The supervisor had exacted three months of overtime from Gladys for that.
Gladys had endured such episodes before. The manager, as miserable as he appeared to be, was apparently never miserable enough to change his station in life. He must have believed he was stuck in a caste system with no way out. Gladys knew differently, yet remained at her post as well.
The stick cleared her throat in a most interruptive way. “Would you please pass me the sweetener?” Naturally the twig wouldn’t want real sugar. Gladys quickly picked up the glass dish in front of her plate. She recognized the many scratches, representing perhaps thousands of meals it had sat next to at tables like hers. Tumbled about in great grey tubs between banquets it had lost its luster but not its use.
Gladys barely heard and did not acknowledge the thank you murmured low and sincerely from the mouth of the stick. It didn’t really matter anyway, Gladys was there to enjoy the holiday. A musical troupe dress in 1800’s garb took the stage and sang raucously about some boar’s head, ale and cheer. The harmonies were good, but the dramatic interpretation was a bit over the top for Gladys’ taste.
The first course was delivered with great embellishment by the already weary waiters. Gladys had never quite understood the use of the term “wait-ers” as they always seemed to be running with sweat staining the collars of their cheap, starched, white shirts. She mused over the term a bit more, but then in a moment of self-embarrassment, realized that these underpaid pages were supposed to be “waiting” on her every need. She was so very glad she hadn’t shared her ridicule of the prior meaning with anyone at the table. She didn’t need another faux pas added to her already long list.
The second course came and as the plates were exchanged she glanced around the table and accidentally caught the gaze of several others at her table. Gladys quickly lowered her eyes as if drawn by some immutable force to scour the surface of her hard dinner roll. She really would rather not engage in conversation of any kind. It was always much more simple to avoid conversation altogether.
The master of ceremonies for the evening began to blather on about the greatness of the company, how lucky they all were to be employed by such a long-standing, stable and profitable organization. The M.C. fairly commanded everyone to make sure to share their experience at the company with their tablemates as the main course was about to be served.
Although Gladys wanted her food hot, that was never enough motivation to be forced to talk to strangers. She quickly excused herself and headed out to find the nearest restroom. The sooner she located it the better for possible, necessary and future retreats. Once she found her target Gladys began to relax and take her time. This slower pace of retreat would allow ample time for the forced conversation back at her table to diminish and for the strangers’ mouths to be filled with meat that really shouldn’t take that long to chew. Her food would be cold upon her return, but at least she would be occupied with catching up on her meal rather than having to talk.
Gladys really enjoyed watching people. She considered it an art form really. She could tell a lot about people just by watching and listening carefully. Walking down the hall toward the restroom she had already figured out the lives of a half dozen people, feeling the satisfaction of her skill.
The retreat destination was rarely the retreat. It was more the journey that was the salvation. Once inside the restroom she may be forced to engage in small-talk with others or worse yet, to look at herself in the mirror only to see the long nose she had inherited and the skin sagging around her eyelids. Gladys had learned a trick though. Once she was out of the stall if she just focused on her lipstick or her hair she never had to acknowledge the rest. Wash the hands, refresh the lipstick, check the hair for any embarrassing twangs, and then emerge triumphant at having accomplished such a great feat.
As Gladys was in the stall she heard footsteps and knew that another woman was in the restroom. She didn’t move a muscle so her acute art of listening could tell her exactly where the other woman was. Her deep prayer life began in earnest that this woman would not discover her and ask for toilet paper to be handed underneath the stall. The vacuous tile and linoleum room fell silent for a few moments. Gladys dared to take a slow, quiet breath doing everything she could to avoid detection.
Suddenly she heard a quick movement from several stalls down and then she heard violent vomiting. The smell of stomach acid and partially digested food floated toward her as the other woman seemed to be regurgitating an entire week’s worth of food. Just as the moment Gladys felt nearly compelled to ask if the other woman needed help, everything stopped. She could hear the woman take a few small gasps, breathe deeply through her nose and let out a deep sigh. The relief that Gladys felt was not only for the woman’s sake, but for her own. She would not have to risk intervening.
Gladys heard the stall door squeak open and her curiosity got the best of her. She leaned forward, tilted her head sideways and squinted through the narrow slit between the stall door and the partition to her right. It was the twig! Gladys leaned back quickly and a sense of disgust, satisfaction and shock struck her truly dumb. Of course it was the stick. Who else would leave their table to purge in such a revolting and public way? Now she had it all figured out—the skinny dress, the lack of cleavage, the sweetener instead of sugar. Yes, the cost of vanity was so very high! As Gladys heard the other woman leaving she thanked God she was not sick in the head like that. The lie that skinny woman was living really made her boil with anger. She insisted that authenticity was one of her highest values. That emotional energy was enough fuel to get her out of her stall and quickly wash her hands, slap on some lipstick and forget her hair. She had to see for herself the full-length of the atrocity that had just left.
By the time Gladys got into the hallway she was far enough behind the twig to go unnoticed, but close enough so that she could scan her closely. Just as she thought! Gladys could see the backbone and part of the ribcage. This really was disgusting to her now. She would go in and eat every bite of that meal and show this anorexic how much she, Gladys, could appreciate this lovely gift from the company.
When Gladys sat down she gave one stern look at the twig and then turned her full attention to the food to be relished now no matter how cold it was. In the background Gladys barely heard the choral music being performed by a local college choir. She sat up straight, smiled genuinely at everyone at the table except the stick, and like a connoisseur of fine dining, slowly cut and chewed and enjoyed every bite of the food on her plate.
After a short while, Gladys was content and happy again. She had sent her message artfully toward the twig, actually enjoyed the dessert, and had avoided any conversation with others. The program was starting to wind down but the M.C. had a few achievement awards to be handed out. Then the dancing would begin. This would be the signal that it was time for Gladys to go home.
Gladys had not noticed, but somewhere between the third and fourth award the twig had disappeared again. Of all things! The audacity. The M.C.’s voice pulled her back to front and center and she continued to feign attention while her mind reeled with invectives toward all the skinny people. Then her bladder got the best of her. She excused herself again, noticing that the twig had not yet returned.
There were a few people standing now and it was far more difficult to navigate towards the hallway. Gladys’ anxiety increased a bit as she had to excuse herself to far too many people. She fairly lunged through the ballroom doors when she finally reached them. The bright lights of the hallway nearly blinded her after sitting in the muted ballroom for so long. They called it ambiance—Gladys called it dark.
It took her eyes a few moments to adjust. By then she saw a fairly large group of people gathered near the elevators across from the women’s restroom. A gurney was being lifted up by two emergency medical people and another was speaking to a couple standing nearby. Small groups of tightly knit people stood talking cautiously and furtively. A police officer came around the corner and began instructing people to return to the party. People parted like water just long enough for Gladys to see the twig draped with blue blankets laying on the gurney. Gladys was shocked. At least the twig’s face was not covered in death, but she was ashen and unconscious. As they wheeled her into the elevator and people turned toward Gladys to go back to the party, their mood was definitely not festive. Each time the ballroom doors opened the disk jockey’s music would blare out in deep, throbbing beats then suddenly be dampened as the doors closed. Gladys was trying desperately to overhear any conversations. She needed to know what had happened. Because her need to know was so great, Gladys decided to swim upstream of the crowd merging back into the ballroom. As she switched her shoulders back and forth through the crowd she could discern very little. She did see the couple still standing near the elevator. It looked as if the man was consoling the woman. Gladys spotted a water fountain just behind the couple and made her way quickly to it. She could hear them talking now, but the only way she could get details was to lean over and get a drink. She pressed the button and leaned to the left so that the water flow would not interrupt her listening.
“I told her not to come tonight.” The woman’s teary voice was deep with sorrow.
“I know you did, dear. I know you did.”
“How could she even stand? She just got out of chemo yesterday. I told her not to come.” Great sobs were pressed into the man’s shoulder.
“I don’t understand either. Maybe she just wanted a little Christmas cheer.”
Gladys could feel hot tears roll down her cheeks. She was grateful that the water fountain was still running. Gladys knew then that the rage at the table had been her own.
Copyright M.R. Hyde 2010
Saturday, December 3, 2011
It is to the great credit of Abby E. Murray, the creator and coordinator of this series, that such an open and supportive environment exists in Colorado Springs. Keep up with the monthly meetings via the blog and come on by some time for a great experience.
If you are local, please join us Friday, December 9 at 7:30 p.m. at the Business of Art Center in Manitou Springs.
Hope to see you there!