For my Readings in Contemporary Fiction class we had a choice of final projects. I chose to “add” a chapter to the end of Richard Yates’ “The Easter Parade.” A good book. I had a terrible habit of abruptly ending my works of fiction. So all though I am proud of this I dislike the way I ended it.
April 11, 2007
Readings in Contemporary Fiction
The Easter Parade, Part Three – Chapter 4
On her fiftieth birthday Emily picked up the receiver on her phone and dialed the number to Mental Health and Information Services. Her hand shook as she dialed the numbers and she had to start over several times before completing the call. A woman answered and Emily told her that she needed help.
“For what?” the woman asked.
Emily the knew the answer and for the first time in her life she was able to say the words that she knew was in the back of her mind but never had the guts to speak out loud.
“I’m an alcoholic and I think I am going crazy.” Emily exhaled a big breath and could feel her heart pounding. Sweat began to form on her face and the receiver was slippery in her hands. The woman told Emily the same thing that a different woman had told her several months earlier. Go to the Walk-In Clinic at Bellevue Hospital and speak to a social worker. From there an appointment to see a psychiatrist would be made and she would be given a list of AA meetings that she could attend. Emily said “Thank you” and put down the phone, her heart still pounding and her hand still shaking. She wondered if this time she would really go through with it. If she really would go to the clinic and make an appointment to see a psychiatrist or if she would chicken-out like she did the last time. Her trip to Peter’s had gone well after that first scene and Emily thought back to a conversation she had with Peter on her last night there.
“Aunt Emmy, do you have a minute? I would like to talk to you about something.”
It was the third evening after Emily arrived. Dinner had just ended and Peter had helped Carol clear the dishes from the dining room table and sat back down in a chair next to Emily. Carol was in the kitchen washing the dishes and the kids were watching the television in the living room.
“Sure Pete, I’m not going anywhere just yet. What would you like to talk about?” Emily took a drink from the can of beer that was in front of her, put it back down on the table
“Well, Carol and I have been talking about it, and we’d like you to stay here and live with us.”
Emily’s bus back to New York was due to leave in the morning and she was anticipating being asked by Peter if she wanted to move in permanently with him and his family. Things had gone better after the first day when Emily and Peter had argued in the driveway. Peter had learned the forgive-and-forget well lesson and his wife Carol was nice in the authentic New England way and not at all phony like Emily had expected. Four-and-a-half year old Sarah Jane had been joined by her two-year old brother Tony.
Emily rolled the beer can from hand to hand and didn’t look up when she answered. “Um, I don’t know Pete, that would be an awfully big move for me. And besides, I would just be a fifth wheel around here anyway.”
“No you wouldn’t. Carol thinks you great and the kids just love their Aunt Emmy.”
“What would I do? If I can’t find a job in New York then I could never find one here. I’d just be a welfare case.”
“Not welfare, nothing like that. You’re family. We’d love to do nothing more than help you get back on your feet.” Peter paused and looked at Emily before continuing, she still hadn’t looked up and was moving the can around in her hands even faster.
“Besides, there’s got to be plenty of things for a woman like you to do around here. You’re an educated, experienced big city woman. You have the people up here wrapped around your finger in no time.”
At the last line Emily looked up at Peter with a slight smile on her face. “Peter, you sure are nice. Sarah did a great job on you, but if I can’t find a job in New York where there are millions of jobs how could ever expect to find one here?”
Peter noticed the tone in Emily’s voice was more of a pleading one than an inquiring one. “Look, Aunt Emmy, the job isn’t really the point. We’ve uh, I mean, I’ve noticed that you’ve changed quite these last few times that I’ve seen you.”
“Well, you’ve looked sad and tired”
“Peter the two times you saw me before this were at Sarah’s and Pookey’s funeral. How was I supposed to look, happy to be getting to see my nephews?”
“I know Aunt Emmy, but that was years ago. Now you just look worn out and haggard. You just don’t look happy is all I’m saying.”
“Peter, I’ve been out of work for almost a year. I’ve never been without a job for that long in my life. Don’t you think that can be hard? Particularly for a woman at my age? We’re like old furniture Pete, nobody wants us.”
“Ah, don’t say that Aunt Emmy. You’re the original independent woman. And independent woman don’t get old, they just get better.”
Emily looked back down at her beer can and thought of that time that she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She was getting old. Even Peter saw it on her and he hadn’t saw her more than twice in the last several years.
“Yes they do. And yes am I.. I’ll be fifty in a few weeks.”
“Fifty’s not old. Heck, the bishop that runs my diocese is almost eighty and he’s still getting around great.” He smiled as he said this, and tried to put positive intonation in his voice.
Emily looked back up at Peter, who was looking her squarely in the face.
“He’s a man Pete. It’s different for men.” She felt her face getting hot, like she was blushing. She looked down again, hoping that he wouldn’t notice.
“Look, is there some thing you want to say to me? You’ve never been the one to play around with what you want to say.”
Peter paused and turned an looked towards the kitchen where the clings and clangs of Carol doing dishes could still be heard. Before he continued he leaned in closer and looked Emily directly in the eye. “As a matter of fact there is. Carol and I have noticed that you drink quite a bit Aunt Emmy,” he said motioning with head towards the can of beer that Emily was still playing with.
“Lots of people drink Peter, there’s no law against it and like you said; I’m an independent woman so I’m free to drink if I like.” Emily could feel her face getting hotter and didn’t return Peter’s gaze.
“I know that people drink Aunt Emmy, but not as much as you do. You seem to be drinking all the time.”
“I see. Is that what this is about, my drinking? Are you going to turn this into an inquisition Pete, huh, play the old game ‘Let’s crucify the drunk old woman who’s no good to herself or to anyone else?’ Huh, is that what this is”
“It’s not an inquisition. It’s just that you’re my aunt and I’m concerned about you, that’s all.”
“Like you were concerned about Sarah, Pete. Did you try to save her too?”
“Please, Aunt Em, don’t start that again. I thought we were through with that.”
The first evening Peter and Emily talked for several hours after Carol and the kids had gone to bed. Peter explained that his parents seemed to be a normal couple and noone had noticed if they both drank too much. Emily argued that Sarah and Tony were both drunk almost every day. Sarah drank because Tony beat her and Tony beat Sarah because he was drunk. The night ended with Emily crying herself to sleep on the couch in the living room.
“You were through with it but I wasn’t. My sister died and I felt like I didn’t even know who she was. All I knew was that her husband beat her and she asked for my help and I said no and then she died. And now my life is no better than hers was. I don’t have a job and my boyfriend went back to his ex-wife. At least Sarah had kids she could count on.” Tears began to fill Emily’s eyes. Her face turned redder at the prospect of crying again in front of her nephew and his family.
Peter reached over and grabbed Emily’s hand and squeezed it. “Aunt Emmy, my mother could count on her kids and so can you. Come on, move in here with us and let us help you. We’d be glad to do it. I think Sarah would be happy to know that you were living with us.”
“I don’t know Pete, I don’t know. I think it’s too late for me now.”
“It’s never too late, Aunt Emmy, it’s never too late.”
The next morning Emily left Peter’s house and returned to her empty apartment. She thought about what she and Peter had talked about but in spite of their talk her old habits slowly began to creep back into her daily routine. Her unemployment was just about to run out as was the lease on her apartment. If she didn’t find a job soon she’d have no way to pay her rent and she’d be evicted. She still spent days drinking beer because she couldn’t handle the hard stuff, and every once in a while she would almost get up the nerve to call Grace but felt too guilty about not having called her for so long that she couldn’t go through with it. Walking in the park was too hard for her and now the only trips out she made were to the corner delicatessen. Every time she went in there the proprietor smiled at her like she was in there for the first time. One day after a long day of drinking beer and sleeping in the couch she found herself hungry. She didn’t keep food in the house so as usual she made her trip to the corner deli. This time the proprietor didn’t smile at her.
“Why the long face?” she asked him after fetching her own tv dinner and six-pack of beer.
“I’m tired, very tired” returned the man gravely.
Emily placed her groceries on the counter top and mustered what she hoped would be a smile.
“Well, I got my own stuff today, I hope that helps.”
He began to put her stuff in a bag. “It does, it does. It just seems that some days this is harder than others.”
She handed him her money. “I see.”
“Sometimes I wish I had kids to turn the business over to so they could work and I could spend my days playing with my grandkids.”
“I see.” Emily thought of her own days alone in her apartment drinking beer and waiting for the phone to ring and someone to offer her a job. She compared them to the days spent at Peter’s house, playing her great-niece and nephew. She wondered if maybe she hadn’t made the wrong decision in coming back to New York.
He handed Emily back her change. “I don’t suppose you know anyone who’d want to stand behind the counter here and run around getting lazy housewives their boxes of cereal, do you?”
Emily was surprised by the question. Was this man seriously offering her a job? She had to look terrible. She hadn’t showered since the morning and she had that dry yucky taste in her mouth like someone who was sleeping all day on the couch.
“Actually I might. Can I get back to you?”
“Sure,” the proprietor said with a big sigh, “you know where to find me.”
The next several days went as usual for Emily. In the morning she drank the last of her beer and in the afternoon she slept. Then in the late afternoon she went to the deli to get her dinner. She almost felt guilty having to face the old man behind the counter. He hadn’t asked her again about the job but she felt like he was thinking it just the same. But he was his old friendly self and they just went back to exchanging the same friendly banter as always. One day she was asleep on the couch when phone rang, waking her up out of her nap. She wasn’t expecting anyone to call her but got up to answer it just out of habit.
“Hello,” she said, still sounding half asleep.
“Hi, Miss Grimes, this is Mr. Williams. I’m your landlord?” said the person on the other end of the line, more asking than saying that last part.
“What can I do for you Mr. Williams?”
“Well, I don’t need to tell you that your lease is up and I was wondering if you wanted to sign-up for another year?
“Well, I actually hadn’t thought about it.”
“Oh, well, I know that you haven’t been working and I’m concerned that you might not be able to handle the rent payments for much longer.”
“If you can’t stay in the apartment anymore I’ve got people that will take it. I just need to know, so I can tell them that they can have it or not.”
His voice didn’t have the sympathetic tone of someone who was hoping that his tenant would be able to stay, but instead the cold tone of some one making a business decision.
“Are you still there?” Emily hadn’t answered him.
“Yes, I’m here.”
“Look, I’m not trying to pressure you. I just gotta know if you can pay your rent or not.”
Four weeks later Emily was signing the new lease on her apartment. The job at the deli didn’t pay as much as the work writing ads but it paid the bills. And it got her off the couch. The day after the call from her landlord she walked into the deli and announced that the proprietor had found new counter help. “Great” he said, sounding very surprised, “I thought you’d never say yes.”
“I’m just as surprised as you are.”
Her paychecks weren’t that great in the beginning but after she proved that she could handle fetching boxes of cereal and putting salami on rye without screwing up, the proprietor put her on full time. Shortly after that he “officially” made her a manager that came with a store key and the responsibility of opening the store on weekdays. She did fine at first, showing up for work on time and ready to go but old habits die hard. Now that she didn’t have days free to drink Emily took to going to bars after work for one or two. One or two became four or five and Emily found herself waking up in strange men’s apartments and going in to work late wearing the same clothes she had worn the day before. The old man frowned and looked at his watch when he saw Emily come in looking tired and like she had slept in a laundry basket, but he was happy that he didn’t have to be at the shop the whole time and he liked her so he hadn’t said anything to her about. He knew how hard it was to be an unmarried man this late in life and figured it had to worse for a woman.
One day several weeks later it was ten-thirty. Emily still hadn’t shown up for her shift that had started at nine o’clock. The proprietor had run some errands before work and was just showing up himself to find the store still not open. Just as he finished unlocking the store Emily came around the corner and walked into the store behind him. She was haggard as usual and this time she smelled like she had just closed the bar. He pulled Emily aside just as she came in.
“Look Emily. You’re a great girl, you know I love you like you were my own daughter but I just can’t have you doing this.”
“Doing what Speedy?” Emily asked like she didn’t know what he was talking about. Everyone called him Speedy after he won the state championship in the 110 meter dash in high school.
“Coming in late like this. Wearing the same clothes that you had on the day before. Smelling like you slept in a booth a bar.”
“I’m sorry Mr. Speedman. This won’t happen again I promise. My alarm didn’t go off and I didn’t have time to take a shower.”
Speedy sighed. It was the same type of exasperated sigh that Emily had heard several weeks ago. “It’s not just today Emily. This isn’t the first time.”
Emily was getting nervous and started to sweat. The mixture of sweat, booze, body odor and dirty clothes created a rancid smell that was obvious to both of them. “What do you mean? I’ve never been late before.”
“Yes you have. You’re late all the time. I hear it from my vendors. You show up late. You make mistakes on the orders. You forget to sign the receipts.” He shook his head. “I don’t know what to do. You seem like a nice girl, you were out of work. I tried to help you out. I thought this would be good for the both of us. Now I don’t know what I am going to do.”
Emily couldn’t believe what she was hearing. As far as she knew this was the first time that she was really late. The other times didn’t count because she got there right after the store opened.
“And one time you screwed up the Amex Inc. lunch order you know what a big account that is. I can’t afford to lose any business. It’s tough enough with the bigger stores opening up. I have to do something. I have to do something.”
They were the only two people in the store and no one else could hear the exchange but Emily still felt embarrassed and ashamed at being scolded like she was a little girl. She was almost fifty years old. She went to college. She worked in the advertising industry for most of her life. That was a man’s job that she did and now she couldn’t even hold a job running a cash register in a deli. She started to cry.
“Speedy, please. I know I can do this. It won’t happen again I promise.” Speedy’s attitude changed once he saw the tears.
“Look Emily, why don’t you take a couple of days off and get yourself straightened out. Do that and come back in and we’ll talk. Ok, kid?” There wasn’t anything for Emily to do but leave. Customers were starting to come in and she didn’t want to make a big a scene and embarrass Speedy any more so she left and went home. There was nothing waiting for her there but an empty space that only made her feel more depressed. She took a shower and thought back to the offer Peter made her. Had she made a mistake by not accepting it, she wondered. What will she do if she loses her job?
She had a pounding headache. She couldn’t remember what had happened last night. All she could remember was going to a bar around the corner from her apartment building. It was the place she went to whenever she couldn’t think of anywhere else to go and she didn’t feel like going home. The next thing she remembered was waking up next to a strange man in an uptown apartment. She was already late for work and didn’t have time to go home and change. She opened a can of beer to get rid of the headache, then, she thought, I’ll take a nap and go talk to Speedy later and tell him how sorry I am and that it’ll never happen again. Speedy was willing to take a chance on me and give me a job when no one else, he deserves as much she figured. Just as she lifted the can of beer to her mouth to take a drink the phone rang. The sudden noise of the ring gave her such a jolt that she almost dropped the can.
“Aunt Emmy? Hi, It’s Peter.”
“Oh, ah. Hi Pete.”
“Is everything all right? Your voice sounds a little hoarse.”
“Yeah, everything’s ok. Just coming done with a little cold. So, what can I do for you?”
“Sorry to hear about that Aunt Emmy. Don’t you know what day it is today?”
She thought it was Wednesday.
“Well, sure it’s Wednesday. That’s not it. Today’s your fiftieth birthday. I’m just calling to wish you a Happy Birthday.”
Emily hadn’t even realized it. She did her best to sound normal. “Oh, well, thanks. How are Carol and the kids doing?”
“They’re great as usual.”
“Of course they are. You have a perfect little family Pete. What was I thinking?”
“Are you sure you’re ok Aunt Emmy? You don’t sound too good?”
She put the can of beer on the table and began to stroke her throbbing temples. “I’m fine Pete, really. For someone who doesn’t even know that it is their birthday I suppose I’m doing great.”
“Look, there’s another reason that I called.”
“I figured as much. What’s that?”
“I was wondering if you had a chance to think about what we talked about? You know about you getting into some type of treatment program?” Before she left Pete had made Emily agree that she had to look into an alcoholic’s treatment program or else he wouldn’t let her leave.
“You know Pete I’ve been kinda of busy since I got home. You know I’ve got a job.”
“Hey, that’s great,” Peter said sounding excited. “What are you doing? Back in the ad business.”
As grateful as she was for Speedy giving her that job, she was too embarrassed to tell her nephew who had shown her so much confidence that she was nothing more than a glorified cashier that she lied.
“Yeah, back to doing ad work. Just temping for now, working through an agency. Hoping to get on full-time once a position opens up.”
“Like I said that’s great.”
“You know Pete I really should run. I told them I’d try to come in today if I was feeling up to it. Will you say hi to Carol and the kids for me?”
“Sure Aunt Emmy, anything for you?”
“Thanks Peter, it was sure nice of you to call.”
“Like I said, anything for you Aunt Emmy.” He paused
“Well, Pete, if there’s nothing else I really should be going.”
“Ok Aunt Emmy. And remember what I said. It’s never too late.”
“Good-bye Aunt Emmy, I love you.”
Peter’s final words stung Emily as she put down the receiver. She could feel tears forming n her eyes. “I love you.” She hadn’t heard that since the last time she saw Sarah. “My brilliant little baby sister. I love you” she had said. All I said in response was how nice that was, Emily thought, until Tony gave me a look and I felt like I had to say it in return. Tony. That sister murdering drunk bastard Tony. Emily was now crying hard and she stopped trying to muffle her sobs. She fell into one of the kitchen table chairs. ‘That sister murdering bastard Tony’ She thought again. “Sarah, my sister Sarah. What happened, what happened, what happened” She was talking now between her sobs.