First published in Ascent Aspirations Magazine (2008)
“It’s too bad about Bea.” Hazel’s lips move as she counts her points for a third time. “One club,” she says more to her cards than the other players at the wobbly table.
Hazel puts on a brave face, but I’ve known her for twenty years. She can’t fool me. The last time she was this deep in denial was when Gus, her potty-challenged pug, died. And just like then, her body’s turned into a lamppost. Some folks think she’s anorexic. I know better.
Then there’s Marge. I shuffle behind her and peak at her cards.
“If she cared for any of us, she’d at least have waited until we had a chance to say goodbye. Dammit. What am I supposed to do with the roasting pan I borrowed? One heart.”
Talk about a turn around. Normally, Marge reminds me of Queen Elizabeth with her dirty white hair in tight curls, and a different hat for every occasion. Now she has bags under her eyes and goes off faster than a rocket in a fireworks display. The postman sure was surprised yesterday when she lit into him for delivering a piece of junk mail with its envelope in tatters.
“Well, I said my peace with the good Lord. I told him I’d behave myself if he let me stay around for a while longer. One no trump.”
That’s Grace. I put my hands on her shoulders and feel the tension in her body. She’s still not finished with her grandson Reggie, the one who died in Iraq last year, and now she loses her best friend.
“The Lord don’t care. I mean, we’re all going to go. Take a look at me. George, my sister Esther, and brother Ralph, gone. I’m all alone. Why prolong it? Pass.”
I don’t know Sadie as well as the others. We’ve been to a few gatherings together, but she’s new to this group. I’m a little surprised at how upset she is, but she’ll be fine. I hope.
“Aren’t you ever going to bid something other than pass?”
“Oh, please stop yelling, Marge. It won’t do any good,” Grace says.
I help her take a hankie from her purse and watch as she wipes her eyes.
“Sadie’s right, you know.” Hazel’s comment covers the four players like a giant feather, and they fall silent. The hum of the twin ceiling fans and the smell of fresh bread from the bakery next door entomb them.
I feel terrible that I can’t do more for my friends, but I know they each have to deal with the grief they feel in their own way. What bothers me more is that I didn’t share my true feelings about each of them sooner. I guess I found it easier to act like a friend rather than be one. And now… Well, like Sadie said, we all die sometime. It’s just my bad luck to be the first.