Saturday, April 14, 2012

Saturday's Chapter - Moving On - Annette Bower

Moving On A Prairie Romance
Annette Bower

Chapter 1

Anna Jenkins pushed her foot on the brake as her hatchback picked up speed on the hill. The posted speed limit for the Town of Regina Beach was forty km/hr. She passed old cottages with verandas and gravel driveways surrounded by blossoming lilac bushes. These were tucked in among new homes with steel doors and trees with spring green leaves shading designer interlocking block paths. Her doubts about moving to a small town washed in her fatigued mind like the waves pushing and pulling along the shore of Last Mountain Lake, that expanse of blue where the road she was on ended. Just past noon and no one was on the street.

After scanning street signs she turned west on Green Avenue and crept along until she found the address that was etched in her memory. She drove into the driveway of the place she rushed to after yet another encounter of “How are you doing? What a tragedy.” Yes, it was a tragedy that her fiancĂ© died a week before their wedding but it was her tragedy and she was tired of sharing it with others. They seemed to want to keep it alive like some macabre game where they could report to their friends and family, I saw her today and she looks awful. I just didn’t know what to say but if you ask me if Murray saw her now, he wouldn’t look twice, never mind proposing. She hadn’t overheard anyone say these words but she had her suspicions otherwise why wouldn’t they just accept their wedding gifts back instead of allowing her to keep them piled in a rented storage space before she left Toronto?

Sure, this chance at another beginning was because someone else had died. People dropped like flies in her life. Murray’s uncle bequeathed his house to Murray and because Murray was dead, she was the beneficiary. A shudder of grief ambushed her. She leaned her head on the steering wheel.
Her mother had suggested a plane ticket from Toronto and rental car, a long weekend vacation, check things out instead of rushing headlong into the unknown. But Anna couldn’t. She drove for four days. It was now or never. She turned off the engine, opened the door and pushed one sensibly soled foot over the edge and onto the stone path that led to the house.

The windows were dirty and the exterior paint cracked and flaked. This was just the place she needed if as they say, your environment reflects your state of mind. Maybe in this place they would get off her back. She locked the doors to ward off thieves from her black suitcases piled in the car. What was she thinking? The street was empty. Besides, a battered guitar case shared the passenger seat with empty water bottles and take-away food wrappers, so it looked as if someone had already rummaged through her belongings.

Anna plowed through fallen leaves and broken twigs that were spread over the stone pathway leading to the stairs. The screened summer door sprung open but the solid weather door refused to budge. She twisted the key, jiggled the door knob and finally she turned sideways and bumped her hip against the stubborn paint- encrusted door. Banging against something and having it move felt wonderful. The momentary hip sting was an annoyance compared to the pain that she’d endured over the last year. Taking a deep breath she pushed the door open, inhaled stale air and watched dust motes floating on current of outside air.
The lawyer hadn’t known if Murray had spent any time here. Part of her wanted to look around and think of him as a carefree child, then a young man whole and alive, while the other part of her wanted a clean slate.

Anna ran her hand over the white refrigerator and matching stove and trailed a finger in the dust on the country kitchen table and solid chairs. Through a large window was an expansive view of blue water. Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth reminding her that she was thirsty. Anna turned the taps at the kitchen sink. They squeaked, but nothing came. All that water out there but none where she was going to live. She walked down a hallway and peered into rooms until she found the bathroom. The taps in the sink and tub repeated the noise and the toilet had green liquid in the bottom. She stomped her feet against the tiled floor. Damn. There were a few bottles of water in the car, but how would she use the other facilities? She didn’t know how to rough it; Murray was supposed to teach her how to camp in the wilds.

Anna turned back toward a knock at the door. A woman shading her eyes looked through the summer mesh door.

“Can I help you?” Anna called.

Fingers capped with red painted nails clung to the door the stranger pulled open. “Perhaps I can help you. I’m Margaret Lamb from next door. What right do you have to be here? I’ll bet that you’re one of those agents come to sell the place since John passed on. He’s finally at peace. With the cottage boom, someone’s going to get a fair chunk of money for this property. John had this place a long time. I sure hope you do a good job of selling this cottage--and not to a bunch of party animals. I’ve been here since the eighties, so there’s not much I don’t know or things I can’t tell you.”

When the woman stopped to inhale Anna held up her hand. Mrs. Lamb understood the universal signal to stop. Words ready to tumble remained captured behind her ruby lips. Mrs. Lamb’s fingers fell from their flight in mid-air landing on each opposite forearm. She had her own body language stating closed to strangers.

“Mrs. Lamb.”

The head with red-tinged curls nodded.

“Please come in.”

The short, stout, elderly woman, dressed in a flowered over-blouse and pink slacks, stepped onto the kitchen tile. The screen door slammed. One white oxford disturbed the dust on the white tile, while the other looked like a beacon in the night against the black tile. Anna leaned on a chair.
Mrs. Lamb’s mouth moved, but Anna continued.

“I’m not a real estate agent. I don’t intend to sell. I’m here to live. I’m thirsty. I don’t have any water.”

“Miss?” the unspoken question hung as her voice, eyebrows, and head rose.

“Anna Jenkins.” She held her breath. She hoped that the months since the accident were enough time for sympathy not to cross her new neighbor’s face. She’d had enough of that. This pity party was over.

Mrs. Lamb didn’t recognize her name. Anna smiled. Mrs. Lamb might know everything in her town, but her knowledge had limits.

“Miss Jenkins, I can’t be too careful these days. And it seems to me,” Mrs. Lamb said as her eyes darted around, “that most young professionals would prefer something a little more modern without as much work as this old place needs.”

“Although I appreciate your watchful concern, it’s been a long day. I just want a drink of water and a comfortable chair.” Anna paused. The whine in her voice reverberated in her ears. She consciously felt the spring of her chemically curled hair, the collar of her once crisp cotton blouse, the lapel of her buttoned grey blazer and the creased press of the black pants. “Perhaps this house is just what I need,” she said.

“Don’t look so worried, dearie. Beach living relaxes most city folk eventually. Now come on over to our house. I’ll put on a pot of tea and Herman can answer your questions about the water.”

Anna followed Margaret’s splashes of color through a gate in the hedge to a white house with green trim and flower boxes with spring tulips nodding in the breeze. Mrs. Lamb opened the door to her home and stepped aside allowing Anna to enter.

Anna’s mind circled back to her Grandma and memories of an aroma of baking bread and simmering stew intermingled with floor wax. The afternoon sunbeams bounced from the bric-a-brac to the crocheted doilies on the stuffed backs and arms of couches and chairs. From the corner came the rhythmic sound of a rocking chair.

“Herman,” Mrs. Lamb sang out.

The newspaper lowered to reveal blue eyes behind round, wire spectacles and a toothless grin on his weathered face.

“Herman, put your teeth in! We have company.”

The newspaper rose. A slight hand reached for a glass on the side table. When it lowered again, a gleaming white smile flashed. “And who is this pretty girl?”

Anna hadn’t been called a girl in a very long time. She supposed that twenty-eight was a girl to someone who was probably on the other side of seventy.

Mrs. Lamb shook her head and rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. “Anna’s going to live in John’s place.”

He leaned forward in the chair. “Pleased to meet you, Anna! We’ve been watching over the place. Now I’ll have a better reason to keep an eye on it.”

“Herman. I’m checking with the doctor. Ever since you’ve been on that heart medication, your mouth says everything before your brain censors it.” Margaret walked behind his chair and rested her hands on his shoulders, skimming her lips across his thin hair. “The water needs to be turned on in John’s house.”

Anna concentrated on searching out stray pieces of fluff on her jacket. A trick she had learned at grief counseling when moments of tenderness shared between a couple triggered memories that were best held until she was alone.

When she dared to look up he patted his wife’s hand on his shoulder, and with his other hand Herman glanced at his pocket watch. “Too late today. You’ll have to go to the town office at nine tomorrow. Janice will have you organized in no time.”

“I’ll go and put on the kettle.” Mrs. Lamb gave Herman another little tap.

“Sit down and relax until tea’s ready. She makes a good cup of tea even if I still prefer coffee.”

The sound of cups rattling on saucers seemed to resound in the brief silence as Anna and Herman both gazed out of the window at the rolling water.
“You look puzzled, Anna.”

Was it her imagination or did Herman’s teeth click with each syllable?

“I could buy some water and stay there tonight, I suppose.”

“Not that easy, girlie! There’s the bathroom to consider--no water, no flush.”

“There must be a hotel in a resort town?” She didn’t want to leave. She’d finally catapulted herself into her future.

Margaret placed a tray with teapot, china cups and saucers and a plate of cookies on the low sofa table and her red nails took flight again. “Yes, but it’s closed right now, getting all cleaned up for the summer visitors.”

“What about the Donnelly B&B?” Herman mumbled between bites of cookie.

“You’re a genius. I’ll call right now.” Margaret jumped from the chair on which she’d perched like a bird on a wire.

After Margaret left the room, Herman leaned toward her. “I hope we get to be friends real soon so I can take these teeth out.” He tapped his upper plate with his finger.

“Herman! I can’t leave you for a minute on your own.” Margaret came back into the living room flapping a piece of paper. “They have one room that’s ready and if you’re not looking for bacon and eggs for breakfast, they’ll put you up. You could always come here for bacon and eggs.”

“More tea, Annie?” Herman clicked.

“Herman, her name is Anna.”

“But she looks like an Annie. You know I call them as I see them, Margaret dear.”

“At least have the courtesy to ask the woman.” Margaret and Herman both turned toward her.

Anna drained her cup. “I’ll be floating down that lake if I drink anymore. Thanks for the offer of breakfast, but I’ll be fine with whatever they serve.” Anna stood.

There was of course Little Orphan Annie, Annie Oakley, or even Annie Hall. She should nip this in the bud but her new neighbors looked hopeful. “Can I think about being Annie?” She opened her purse and brought out her notepad and pen.

“Don’t take too long. If he gets it in his head, that’s who you’ll be.”

“I promise. I’ll give it consideration. Could I have directions to the B&B please?”

“The best way for you to get there is to go back to your place turn south on Fourth Street until you get to the Kinookimaw Road then turn east and then at the intersection, turn south again and drive until you see the sign.” Margaret turned and pointed with each new direction.

Anna wrote down directions. How hard could it be?

“Don’t listen to her. Just back out of the driveway and return the way you came into town. This time you’ll go up the hill and at the three-way stop continue on straight ahead until you see a nice white fence on your left and then the sign.”

“Yes, you can go that way, too.”

“Got it.” She waved her note pad. “Thank you. I’ll lock up and drive there now. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Margaret followed her to the opening in the hedge. “It’ll be nice having a woman next door. Herman and John always seemed to have a lot to talk about. My Herman misses him especially now that he has to stay put after his heart surgery.”

“Is he going to be all right?” Anna’s heart changed tempo.

“Doctor says as good as always once he heals. He just has to let things mend.”

“I’m glad. Thanks for popping over.” Anna turned toward her door. She took long breaths. He’s going to be fine. He is going to be fine. Anna knew about the critical time between a heart failure and being alive from her career as a trauma nurse. She pulled the door closed and walked back down the stone stairs, unlocked her car and settled into the seat. I don’t even want to reverse for one small moment but even Annie Hall didn’t get her new life without a few steps backwards.

The cottage would be there tomorrow as it had been for half a century. It required hard physical labor to bring back some of the luster and that is probably what she needed, but not today. Right now she didn’t have the strength to unload her boxes and cases from the trunk and back seat. She pressed down the gas pedal and drove out of the valley. With a golf course on her right and a white, log fence on her left, the railing stopped like a gapped tooth and a sign announced the Donnelly Bed and Breakfast.

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