Sneak Peak: Life, Part Two
In this scene, our recently widowed heroine, Lydia, has been told she can’t adopt a dog from the shelter until her application has been vetted. She wakes up alone in her big house.
Lydia lay in bed with the covers over her head.
In books, sounds the house made always frightened the lonely heroine. But Lydia didn’t have that distraction.
Charles had maintained the house so well that no stairs squeaked, no furnace rumbled, no tripled-glazed window rattled even when assaulted by a gale-force wind.
Lydia hung suspended in a sensory deprivation chamber.
While she nestled in her plush duvet, she imagined Alfie curled in the corner of his cold cage, huddled against the cacophony of yelping, whining, desperate dogs. A tide of murderous resentment rose within her against the rigid shelter bureaucrat who kept her and Alfie apart.
At least last week she’d had decisions to make: lilies or gardenias at the memorial service, mahogany or rosewood for the casket, granite or marble for the tombstone.
This week, nothing.
The day stretched ahead of her, an endless expanse with no responsibility whatsoever.
Bitterly, she recalled weeks at work when all she’d wished for was a day with no decisions to make, no one clamoring–Red type or blue? Funny headline or informative? Google ads or Facebook?
Careful what you wish for.
Instinctively, she reached for her phone on the bedside table to check her email.
In her working days, her in-box filled overnight.
Now, nothing but an exhortation from Nordstrom to buy shoes.
But as she stared at the screen, a new message popped into her box. Subject line: lunch today? From Madalyn Schilling.
Noon or one, Madalyn wanted to know.
Lydia tried to restrain herself to wait until after breakfast to reply. She didn’t want to look desperate.
But god forbid Madalyn got another offer.
Thank you. Noon at Casa Bella will be lovely.
At the restaurant, they went through the “ladies who lunch” ritual: hugging and complimenting each other’s outfits. They studied the menu and ordered calorie-less, tasteless salads and glasses of white wine.
Finally, the waiter left them alone.
“So, how are you?” Madalyn asked.
“Fine.” The answer to that question was always fine. No one wanted to hear “depressed,” “lonely,” “adrift.”
Madalyn made a face. “I shouldn’t have asked such a stupid question. Tell me the worst thing that’s happened this week.”
Lydia made a sound half-way between a laugh and a sob. Where to start? The terms of Charles’s will? The rejection by a dog shelter? “The days are so empty,” she finally whispered.
Mercifully, Madalyn didn’t insist that free time was a blessing. “You’ll have to work on developing a new routine.”
“Don’t tell me to do volunteer work. I’m not spending my days arguing with catty bitches about fundraiser decorations.”
Madalyn smiled slyly. “Yes, Betsey and her crew are to be avoided at all costs. How about taking a class?”
“What kind of classes are offered during the day? Flower arranging at the senior center? I need a job.”
Madalyn peered at Lydia over the rim of her wineglass. “Surely not, dear? You’re…comfortable.”
Comfortable was the word rich people used to make themselves seem like regular guys. Probably Melinda Gates insisted she was merely comfortable. “I suppose I’ve always been comfortable. But I wasn’t ready to retire.”
“So why did you?”
“Because Charles wanted to travel with me before he got too old. It would have been selfish to deny him that pleasure after all he’s given me.” Lydia bit her lip to stop the trembling. “But then he went and died the day I quit.” She cradled her head in her hands. “Oh, God—I’m such a horrible person. How can I be angry with him? He’s the one who’s dead. I’m just unemployed.”
Madalyn stroked her arm. “It’s not uncommon to be angry with loved ones for dying. I was furious at my grandfather for allowing himself to be hit by a drunk driver and leaving me to cope with my crazy family.”
Lydia lifted her head and wiped her eyes. The last thing she wanted to be doing was making a scene at Casa Bella. “Thank you for understanding, Madalyn. I’m okay now.”
Madalyn waited until she’d taken a sip of water and straightened her blouse before resuming. “Can’t you go back to Imago as a freelancer?”
“I don’t want to sit at home and write ad copy all alone and submit it electronically. It’s the water cooler I miss. I want to be in on the action—planning, meeting, deciding. And they don’t need me for that anymore. I’ve been replaced. By a 28-year-old.” Lydia took a gulp of wine to numb the vision of Bryce Salazar sitting at her desk eating soy nuts and drinking kombucha.
She squinted at Madalyn. “What do you do all day?” Lydia knew the question sounded rude, but she had to know. What did women who didn’t have to work do with themselves?
“Our Ginny still needs a lot of my attention.”
Of course—Lydia knew that. Tom and Madalyn’s youngest daughter had autism, and although she lived in her own apartment nearby, she wasn’t totally independent. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply—”
Madalyn waved off her apology. “I do a lot of volunteering at the special school Ginny attended. Maybe you could tutor there. It’s very rewarding.”
“I don’t think I’d have the patience. Neither Charles nor I wanted children. I don’t have regrets about that. Little kids make me nervous.” Lydia gazed through the window at the shops across the street. “Maybe they’d hire me at the bookstore. I could put my English degree to use and talk to people about novels all day. That would be nice.”
Madalyn wrinkled her nose. “Retail is never nice. Customers are rude, and you have to work holidays. Besides, the woman who owns that store is a real dragon.” She cocked her head to study Lydia. “Do you have a master’s degree in English?”
“Yes, that’s what I was doing when I met Charles. I was stuck. I knew I didn’t want to keep going for a PhD, but I didn’t know what I could do with a half-finished Master’s. Charles encouraged me to finish the master’s and then he recommended me for the job at Imago. And I’ve been there ever since. Until two weeks ago.”
Madalyn’s face lit up. “What about teaching college English.”
Lydia shook her head. “I’m too old to go back to get my PhD now.”
“All you need is a Master’s to teach at Palmer Community College. My friend Louise is chair of the English Department. She’s always looking for adjuncts to teach freshman writing. You’d be perfect! The pay is dreadful, but that doesn’t matter. And you wouldn’t have to work nights and weekends like you would at a store.” Madalyn pulled out her phone. “I’ll call Louise right now.”
Lydia grabbed her friend’s hand. “Wait! I don’t know how to teach a class of college students.”
“Pish! How hard could it be? You’ve been a college student. You’re a professional writer. You have a Master’s degree. I say, Palmer Community College would be lucky to get you.”
She pulled free of Lydia’s restraining hand and dialed.
By the time they’d finished their salads and declined dessert, Lydia had an appointment for a job interview the next day.