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A garden table and two chairs decorate the sidewalk in front of one of the clothing stores here in the center of the Kingdom of Cross Purposes. Annie, who worked in this shop, often sat outside, a cigarette hanging from her mouth. Her little dog hovered nearby. I ran past her a gazillion times, with, “Hi, Annie, how are you?” Or I jogged in place and talked with her. During one conversation, she told me about her antiwar activism in the 60s.
Laura, Erma, and I walked to the shopping area last week to purchase scarves—head covering—for our trip to Turkey, where we’ll tour the Blue Mosque.
“Look,” I said, pointing to a framed photograph of Annie with her dog. The table had become an altar to Annie. No candles, but this lovely picture, a guest book, and a Bible. Annie was dead.
“I just talked with her last week,” I said.
Laura, reading Annie’s obituary, said, “Amazing if you did. She died May 3rd.”
I couldn’t believe it. And, then, I thought about how self-indulgent I’ve been lately, consumed with loneliness and the fourth anniversary of my husband’s death.
Now, each morning while running, I glance at that table, still an altar. One afternoon, I walked down and lingered, looking through the Bible at notes Annie had written to herself. All were inspirational. Later, I went back with pen and paper to record some of the words Annie had left. I sat in one of the chairs, and as I lifted her Bible, an employee opened the door and rolled out a rack of half-priced clothing. She looked at me. I explained that Annie and I had talked many times.
“Annie was a good soul, trusting. You could tell her anything and she wouldn’t repeat it, ” she said.
When she went in to wait on a customer, I looked through the Bible, running my hands over Annie’s handwriting on pieces of paper placed inside. And I took notes.
“Make every day count.”
“Don’t rush God. Wait patiently for your promotion. When it comes, know how to wear it.”
“Growing up a Christian. Witnessing by words. Witnessing by actions. Same sex marriage.”
I read the obit that ended with: “In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you perform a good deed for someone in need.”
I’ve thought so much about Annie, this tall, slender woman whose long, gray hair was knotted loosely into a fashionable bun. I’m sure she was a lovely young woman. She was a beautiful older one.
And I’m thinking about her, still. “Make every day count.” Something I’ve failed at recently. Mostly, though, I’m wondering about not noticing her absence. This speaks to my self-absorbed wallowing. And it’s a jolt, a message to start paying attention, again—being positive and helping others.
After I wrote the above piece, Laura and Erma came for dinner. I pointed out a few dark spots on my mouth. Large freckles. Too much sun and no sunscreen on my lips when I run. Maybe, or something worse. Erma said if my dermatologist couldn’t see me soon, she’d call hers, a woman who’s also her friend. Then, I read them my Annie story. We decided to return to the store for another look at the altar.
When the shop’s employee saw us, she came out. I asked more about Annie and the Bible.
Employee: “Oh, that wasn’t Annie’s. Somebody brought it. You know, those people who just drop by and leave Bibles. Annie was an atheist.”
I said, “So, what about the writings, tucked between pages in the Bible?”
“No, those weren’t Annie’s, not her handwriting. We don’t know who wrote them.”
Laura said to me, “So much for journalistic truth.”
“I haven’t sent the piece, yet,” I said. “This trip is a fortuitous continuation of my sleuthing.”
Then, Laura asked if Annie believed in same-sex marriage.
The employee, now our friend, said she was sure Annie did, because she championed equality. That Annie was the most giving and loving person she’d ever known.
“What about the dog?” I asked.
“Oh, Bandit wasn’t Annie’s. Belongs to the owner, but Annie adored him. Took care of him like she took care of everyone. That’s the kind of person she was.”
Laura, Erma, and I looked at each other and began to laugh. I said, “My article’s phony.”
We headed up the hill, laughing more. I said, “You think this is funny. Soon, I’m having my lips removed.”
Erma said, “From your lips to God’s ears.”
Laura said, “Don’t give me any lip.”
We got so tickled, I sat on the pavement, sure I was going to pee into my shoes. Wouldn’t be the first time.
Missy Beattie lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Missy can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bio: Missy Beattie lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Lip removal is unnecessary. Large freckles. Must wear zinc lip balm when running. Email: email@example.com.