“You were saying…” the strange woman prompted.
Maggie sighed and shifted. The woman had sat too close to her on the sofa.
“Come on, tell me what’s bothering you,” coaxed the unwanted guest.
Maggie had hidden from Another One the day before, but this lady had pounded the front door with her knock-knock-knocking. Maybe she’d go away if Maggie answered a few questions.
“My children don’t care about me,” said Maggie.
“That can’t be…completely true,” said the visitor.
“What’s your name again? Why are you here?” Maggie demanded. “Are you with social services?”
“I’m Mary. I sang with you in the choir. Don’t you remember?”
“Oh yes, Mary. Your boy ran off to New York,” said Maggie.
“That’s right. He went to New York, but now he’s in New Orleans. Do you remember the rest?” said Mary.
“He changed his name and danced on stage as a woman,” Maggie stated. “He called himself Lulu. Or was it Lola?”
“Lulu,” said Mary.
“And didn’t he go to jail?” asked Maggie.
“Lulu did a few bad things, but she’s turned everything around now,” said Mary.
“Lulu. You actually call him that? He’s always been Robert to me and he always will,” Maggie insisted.
“I do call her Lulu. She prefers that. I got used to the new name, and it suits her,” said Mary.
“I’m sure it does,” sneered Maggie.
Mary let the rudeness hang in the air for a minute. She changed the subject: “Did your husband leave you before or after your boys graduated from high school?”
“After,” muttered Maggie.
“Why did he leave?” Mary persisted.
“That’s none of your business,” Maggie rasped.
“I understand. Sorry to intrude. How are your two sons?”
“Fine. They’re fine, but they never come to visit,” Maggie complained.
“Why is that?” asked Mary.
“I don’t know,” said Maggie.
Mary snorted a short burst and covered her mouth.
“You think that’s funny?” Maggie snarled. “Wait till it’s your turn. You’ll get old too.”
“But I am old,” Mary said. “I’m older than you. Don’t you remember?”
“Which Mary are you? There were three Marys in the choir when I started.”
“Mary Schumacher. I sang mezzo one row behind you.”
“Oh, I thought you died. We sang for your funeral. The church was half empty, and I thought, ‘Doesn’t that lady have any family?’”
“That must have been some other Mary,” Mary said with a smile.
“No, I’m sure it was you. You had that queer son and a trampy daughter with five kids by three men. She only married the last one after she got sick. Did she die from leukemia?”
“Why yes, she did. And Tom raised all the kids after she was gone,” Mary said.
“I wondered about that. Only one of them was his,” said Maggie.
“Two, actually,” said Mary.
“Are you all sure about that?” Maggie smirked.
“What does it matter now?” asked Mary.
“Matters to some more than others,” said Maggie.
“Two are Tom’s: the cute little girls, Katie and Laura,” said Mary.
“Well, some think that Katie’s pretty, but Laura has a flat nose and mousy brown hair,” said Maggie.
Mary said, “That’s right. But we all love Laura for her sweet personality. Her kindness makes her beautiful.”
“And she’s fat,” Maggie contradicted. “Fat girls have to be nice or no one pays attention to them.”
“And skinny girls can say anything they want?” Mary ventured.
“Only if they’ve got big boobs,” declared Maggie.
“I see. And did you have big boobs?” Mary inquired.
“Course, I did. Still got ‘em.” She placed her hands under her breasts and pushed them up.
“That must be wonderful for you,” said Mary.
“Would be if I weren’t 87. Now I’m just dried up and old,” said Maggie. She let her breasts drop and wobble on her stomach.
“You won’t be old…forever,” said Mary.
“ I’m not as old as you and I’ve kept my looks better than you have, but I’m old,” said Maggie. “I’m so old I feel every year in my bones. I tell Kevin that I’m ready to go, but I keep living on and on, miserable and more miserable.”
“Well, I feel better every day,” said Mary.
“But aren’t you dead?” said Maggie. “I sang for your funeral, and the church was half empty.”
“So, your boys don’t visit. Why is that?” Mary redirected.
“One says he’s busy. He calls me every so often but gets off the phone as fast as he can. And he cuts me off in midsentence whenever I say mention his ex-wife,” said Maggie.
“The one who cheated on him?” Mary inquired delicately.
“Yeah, that one. He doesn’t want to know anything about her and acts as if his first marriage never happened. She still lives in the neighborhood and I see her at Publix. She tells me what she’s been up to, and I pass it along to Kevin,” said Maggie. “You’d think he’d take an interest.”
“Didn’t Kevin remarry?” Mary asked.
“He did,” Maggie said.
“Is he happy now?”
“I guess. But her family lives up in Jacksonville, and Kevin moved there. Ursula’s Mom and Ursula’s Dad and her two brothers and her nieces and nephews are important,” Maggie growled. “I’m not that important. I only see him twice a month if that woman lets him out of her clutches. And then he stays for an hour, keeps glancing at the clock like he’s got more important places to be, jumps into his car and races straight back to her.”
“I’ve heard that he comes every week and brings groceries,” Mary said.
“Where’d you hear that?” Maggie demanded.
“And doesn’t he mow your lawn and gas up your car?” Mary asserted.
“Only when he feels like it,” Maggie groused.
Mary put a hand on Maggie’s shoulder, and the old woman shrank away.
“My God, your hand’s so cold!” Maggie cried.
“Really?” Mary replied. “Your house is so warm I’d think my hand would feel toasty.”
“Your girl died of leukemia,” said Maggie.
“Why, yes she did. You like to talk about that, don’t you? I remember that you brought that up a lot after choir practice,” said Mary.
“Did I? I don’t remember,” muttered Maggie.
“Oh yes, you did,” Mary said. A pleasant smile played across her lips. “You had a theory that you often shared about her illness. Do you remember your idea?”
“No. Theory? No.” Maggie stammered.
“Oh yes, you do,” Mary insisted. “You wondered whether her pill addiction caused the leukemia. You passed me an article about drug abuse and hepatitis.”
“—titis. You never seemed to be able to distinguish between hepatitis and leukemia, but you were very sure that Chrissy caught cancer from dirty needles,” said Mary. “And you wouldn’t believe me when I told you that Chrissy never shot up.
“Needles…I don’t want to talk about that,” Maggie snapped.
“You seem sensitive about needles. Are you afraid of them?,” asked Mary.
“Kevin’s sensitive…I’m not sensitive about anything,” said Maggie.
“What’s your other boy up to these days?” Mary asked sweetly.
“Not much,” Maggie whispered.
“Brett’s been away for a long time, hasn’t he?” Mary nudged.
“Not so long. It seems like he left yesterday,” replied Maggie. “I sang—”
“I heard a rumor that the police found him in Miami.”
“Miami? Brett’s in Miami?” asked Maggie. Her eyes teared up.
“They found him in a dumpster in Little Haiti.”
“What was he doing in a dumpster?” asked Maggie. A drop rolled down her cheek.
“Still had a tourniquet wrapped around his arm,” Mary continued.
“Shut up!” barked Maggie.
“The needle was gone, but there was a fresh puncture wound.”
“Bitch!” Maggie screamed.
Mary patted Maggie’s shoulder and said, “There, there. Did I say something to offend you? I’m sorry. Folks get so upset these days about the least little things.” Mary smiled sweetly as if she truly felt apologetic.
Maggie tried to pull away, but Mary clenched a bony forearm and held tight. Maggie began to shiver.
Maggie said, “Who are you?”
“I’m Mary Schumacher from the choir. I sang mezzo one row behind you.”
“But why are you here?”
“Just for a social visit. You seem lonely,” Mary said gently as she tightened her grip.
Maggie didn’t pull away. Her arm felt numb, and the ice flowing through her veins had become soothing. She nodded her head and began to slump.
“That’s right,” Mary soothed. “You’ll feel better soon.”
“Didn’t you die?” slurred Mary.
“Not so much,” Mary offered.
Maggie straightened and swatted at Mary’s hand. She couldn’t dislodge it from her arm. She sank again and groaned.
“Leave me alone,” Maggie pleaded.
Mary said nothing.
“Why did you come for me?” Maggie gasped.
Her voice faded on the last syllable. Her eyes closed.
Mary held Maggie in her arms and rocked her until she stopped shivering. A rattling sound briefly disturbed the settled quiet. Mary stroked the white hair on Maggie’s scalp, put her blue lips close to Maggie’s ear and whispered, “Because no one else would.”