The Same Story
A short story by Geraldine Sherman

First published in Chatelaine, June 1998

"At least I have my mind," she says. "I hated when my mother asked how many children I had."

"Yes," I say. "I know." Each time I visit, she reminds me about her mother, and her own fears.

"How's Harvey?"

"We're divorced." Six years ago. I know she doesn't mind when I tell her.

"You know, I never liked him. He was no gentleman. Not like your grandfather. Nathan heard a sad story..." and he cried, "...and he cried. A man beat his wife, Nathan cried. He was too good." I nod.

After Nathan lost the business, you never said a civil word to him.

"Let's go down the hall for tea. I brought a treat."

"You shouldn't. They give us plenty to eat." So why do you tuck packages of crackers into your dresser, into every drawer?

I take the book from her lap and put it on the night table, always the same book, open at the same page. I help her up and place her hands on the walker. 'It's a miracle that she can walk at all,' Dr. Bazen said. He showed me her X-ray. 'Talcum powder. Her spine's like talcum powder.'' In the lounge at the end of the hall I spread paper towels on the table and cut a cherry Danish into bite-size pieces. I tie a towel around her neck, covering the gold necklace I bought long ago in Venice.

"I love cherry Danish."

"That's good."

"I used to bake Danish, cherry and apple. All the time. Of course, I had help in the house. Nathan insisted."

Her Styrofoam cup is only half full. Still, she manages to dribble down her dress. Now the story's coming. When I persuade the boys to visit they always giggle. 'Not the Girl-With-The-Trunk again!'

"Did I ever tell you about the girl with the trunk?" No point trying to stop her.

"You remember Mrs. Cooper, the Salvation Army lady?" Sometimes she's Jehovah's Witness. Or Catholic. "She met this girl, a nice girl, needed a job. Quiet, never said much, where she came from, nothing. Brought a trunk with her. Clothes like you never saw. I want to ask how they got the trunk up the stairs, where they kept it in their tiny apartment above the Sunny Spot, but it's too late.

"She never left the house, seven days a week, never left. No mail, no phone calls. One day she asks if she can go for a walk. A walk, that's all. Takes off her uniform, puts on a dress, a beauty, and walks right to the station. That's it. The last we ever see of her. Even the police couldn't help."

Sometimes they receive a letter saying, 'Don't worry about me, or the clothes. Where I am, they would be like rags!' Or she tells them she has returned to her rich, repentant family. Other times she's with a man, an old man in Montreal, or Florida. Usually, like today, she just disappears without a trace. The trunk always stays behind.

"I have to ask, where is that trunk? Do you have it?" She's suspicious. People, things, places keep disappearing. "No. No idea." I don't remember ever meeting this girl or seeing her trunk. I'm not sure I know who Mrs. Cooper is. I take a Kleenex and wipe her mouth. "Buby, let me take you back to your room. I have to go."

"Drive carefully. Give my love to the girls." There are no girls. There are only boys, three boys. "Tell me," she asks, "how's Mother? Haven't heard for a while. Something wrong?"

"No, nothing. You know how busy she is." Sometimes I say she's in Winnipeg, visiting cousins. Or it's tax time, she's working hard. "I'm sure you'll hear."

My mother died last summer. I mentioned it once, how it happened quickly, a stroke. She simply turned away and said, 'Give her my love.'

Copyright Geraldine Sherman, 1998

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