Inner Remodeling

by P. b. Simpson

“Yes, Walter, I know the game is going to start at one, but you know how you get when you forget to take your pill.”

Margaret Smallwood always had a problem trying to open the pill bottles. She would go as far as stabbing the top until she got the job done. She complained to the pharmacist that more seniors would be alive if they weren’t messing with the bottles. The pharmacist just gave up after the twelfth or thirteenth time explaining to Margaret why the tops of the bottles had to be secured. She didn’t care the special way it took to open the child-proof tops—her husband’s health was all that mattered to her. The old refrigerator grumbled.

“Yes, Walter, the top is almost off.”

When she finally got the top off, Margaret put the blue pill in her husband’s favorite green bowl—something that stood out from the rest of the dishes. She made sure the bowl was clean because of Walter’s attachment. When guests would come over, he made sure to hide the bowl so no one would mistake it for theirs.

Walter had been deceased for a little over three years now. Nothing about the apartment—or Margaret’s attitude—had changed since his departure. Everything was the same as the day he died, and Margaret made sure that nothing would change now.

Margaret put the bowl in front of the refrigerator—like how you do with a cat.

“Walter, I have to change because Edna will show up soon. Don’t make a big fuss when she shows up. I promise she will be gone before the game starts.”

The refrigerator rattled a little as Margaret was started to head out of the kitchen. She turned slightly but didn’t say anything. She knew her husband was always talking under his breath when her back was turned. A long time ago this would’ve annoyed Margaret, but she learned over time to ignore this because he would just cool down once he realized that it isn’t a big deal. She went into her room and pushed the door closed
with her arthritis hand.

Margaret owned a number of shirts through the years. When she was younger, she had shirts that she took great pride in and made sure the fabric didn’t fade. The ones she treasured were any that her grandmother personally hand knitted. The freshly knit cotton sweater or dress that her grandmother would give to her every time they saw each other was a memory she never lost. Now Margaret cared about any shirt that could
cover up the old scars on her shoulders and back.

There was once a time when dressing
up and hitting the town was the most exciting thing Margaret would get ready for every week. Talking to people and finding out as much about her
neighborhood was appealing. That time faded over the years after she met
Walter. “Going out” eventually ended up just cooking his favorite porterhouse steak and listening to him belching out the cheap beer.

The soft rain outside started to tap the window as she was changing. The weatherman last night told her through the tube that the rain would last the whole day, but that wouldn’t change her usual routine. Margaret was someone that stayed indoors now-a-days.

The landline in the middle of the
living room started to ring, breaking Margaret out of her daydream. She knew she had a few minutes before Edna would show up, and normally it was an annoying sales person she would politely say no. She picked up the phone and said hello.

“Margaret, it’s—“

Margaret knew who it was before he could finish the sentence. Leonard “Leo” Schmitt lived in the same apartment complex as Margaret. A newly retired mechanic, Leo never shied away from his two loves: cars and Margaret. Both he felt he could talk for hours until your ears fell off. They had met years ago when Margaret was trying to get an oil change.
Margaret was married by this time, so Leo knew when to back off. When he heard about Walter, he would call Margaret once in a while to see how she was doing. Margaret didn’t mind talking to Leo, but made sure Leo got the hint that they were only friends.

“—Leo.”

“Hello, Leo,” Margaret said as she turned her back to the refrigerator and lowered her voice a little.

“Margaret, I’ve got the tickets to the baseball game for tomorrow night!”

Leo was a man who skipped the formal
greetings and got right to the main part. He would say how life was too short and that most of our time is wasted on speech we wish could erase. People would say how rude he was for his speech, and he would reply they were boring. Margaret didn’t understand it at first, but then got used to it.

Leo continued, “My friend Mr. Washington—you know, the barber on Mason—well, he said he wasn’t going to the game tomorrow night. I know the other day I said it was a longshot, but I still pulled off a miracle. I’m talking about tickets behind home plate. You said you weren’t a big baseball fan, but going to a ballpark and eating overpriced hotdogs is an experience you won’t forget. Would it be possible for you to come
with me tomorrow night?”

“I’m not sure, Leo. This is short notice and I do have plans already set up for tomorrow.”

Leo kept his upbeat composure, “Ok, I’ll hold on to the extra ticket for you if you change your mind.”

“Thank you, Leo.”

After she hung up the phone, there was a moment of thought running through her head that normally wouldn’t be there. It wasn’t that other men weren’t interested in her—she never wanted Walter to find out. Walter had once put a man in the hospital who thought it was a good idea to compliment Margaret and ask for her number. Margaret was the type of person that never wanted to see anyone hurt—especially on her account.

She made it back into the kitchen like nothing had happened.

“Walter, you were right about those pesky salesmen. They don’t understand how rude it is to call a private residence.”

Margaret saw the blue pill still sitting in the grass-colored bowl. The refrigerator was in the middle of cooling the expired olives and moldy cheese. She took the bowl, like when the family dog is done, and threw the pill away. She carefully washed out the bowl and placed it back in the cupboard. There was a sense of gratification on her face when a knock came from the door. Margaret dried her hands and opened the
door.

“Come on, Margaret, I thought you were going to leave me in that hallway for all your neighbors to see.”

Edna Harrington had no problem letting you know the problems she was witnessing with a smile on her face. She didn’t believe in yelling or screaming to get a point across, and she always stood up for her friends. She had been friends with Margaret since they were teenagers, seeing all the transformations that Margaret went through.

Edna strolled by the refrigerator and gave the white rectangular box a little wave as she sat down at the kitchen table. Margaret took Edna’s coat and purse, and hung both on the coatrack next to the door. Edna shook her head just as Margaret was going to ask if she wanted a beverage. The refrigerator stopped cooling down the mostly expired
items.

“How are you doing, Margaret?”

Margaret sat down on the opposite side of Edna at the kitchen table. “I’m doing well. The weatherman said the rain wasn’t supposed to let up until tomorrow. I want to get some grocery shopping done today, but I don’t want to walk through this downfall.”

“And I heard it’s supposed to get worse before it gets better,” Edna said, turning to look at the refrigerator. “What does Walter have to say about the weather?”

This would happen most of the time Edna would stop by and visit—she knew she would get a response from Margaret. Margaret would keep her composure, but that didn’t stop her from feeling humiliated inside. This has been going on since Walter passed away—about three years now.

“He doesn’t mind,” said Margaret, coolly. “Are you still retiring from the dentist’s office this summer?”

Edna just smiled. “Yes, I’m finally leaving that place. Going to travel as much as I can. There are cruises at decent prices if you care to join.”

Margaret never thought much for the open waters. All she could think of right now was the excuse to give.

After a minute: “I’m no fun on boats. All I would think is the land. You don’t need someone out there ruining your time.”

“Or maybe we can start planning a retirement party so in six months we won’t have to rush one? You haven’t seen most of my coworkers in a long time.”

“I’m not sure about—“

“Margaret, just stop,” said Edna, raising her voice a little. “I’m just going to finally say it: you really need to stop this. Walter has been gone for three years now, and he still holds on to you like he did when he was alive. Do I have to go through the things he did again?”

Margaret sat there. She heard this talk before from Edna, but not to this extent. She tried her best to smile while the anger built up inside her.

“There is nothing wrong with the way I live. What you fail to understand is the happiness I had with Walter.”

“Happiness? I would think the visible and invisible scars on you would say different. How about we ask Walter what he thinks.”

Edna moved to the front of the refrigerator, opened it, and pulled out a half-gallon of curdled milk.

“Old milk—that perfectly describes Walter.”

“Enough!” said Margaret. She finally lost her composure. Neither of the ladies could hear the distant thunder as the tension in the room came to a boiling point.

“You’re right, this is enough,” replied Edna.

“I think it’s best for you to leave. I have other things to do today, and I’m not going to waste my time explaining my life to someone that doesn’t understand.”

There were no words left for either to say. The refrigerator made a rattle noise as Edna grabbed her purse and coat, making her way out the door and into the hallway. She didn’t slam the door or yell out from the hallway.

Even the thunder outside couldn’t shake Margaret away from her train-of-thought as she stood next to the refrigerator. She wasn’t sure if this time there was any going back between the two. Friendships come and go, but Margaret saw nothing more than departure with friends.

Then the power went out.

This would’ve been a freak out for
Margaret, but she stood in the kitchen with the same expression she had when Edna left. Time lost all meaning in this moment for her. A minute and an hour meant the same to her now. The thoughts were going in and out of her head at a fast pace. She was eventually tired of thinking and just wanted to sit down. Her legs moved backwards to the kitchen seat, and as she was sitting down a knock came from her door. She brought back her focus and stood up straight. Making her way back to the door, she knew what she would say to Edna.

“Edna, I—“

Leo was standing before her with a sunny attitude in a dark place. He had on his raincoat and boots like he was going out.

“I know this is unannounced,” he said, “but I just wanted to make sure everything was ok with you. A couple of my neighbors upstairs told me the power went out throughout the entire area, and the phones aren’t working. Not sure when the power will come back, but judging by this storm, it looks like it won’t for a while.”

“Leo, would you like to come in?”

“Sure. I was about to go out and check on my brother on the other side of town, but I can spare a few minutes.”

Leo stepped through the door. Margaret noticed his willingness to not touch anything or avoid making a mess. She asked him if he would like to take his coat off and he said no.

“Are you sure you want to drive out in this weather?” she asked, sitting back in her kitchen chair.

“I’ll be alright. This isn’t the worst I’ve driven before.”

Margaret notices with Leo’s expression he is going to ask her about the current bad mood she is projecting throughout the room. She had to quickly avoid the subject.

“Do you still have the baseball tickets?” she said.

“Are you interested in going?” Leo asked, pulling the tickets out of his coat pocket.

“I’m still not sure.”

“How about we do this.” Leo put the
tickets in front of Margaret. The look of the red and blue tickets made it feel like the room was lit again.

“I’m going to give you the tickets. If you want to go with me, then let me know. If not, throw them away or go with somebody else.” Leo looked down at his watch. “I have to go see how my brother is doing. Hopefully it will be clear skies tomorrow for the game.”

They were standing in front of the door as Margaret opened it for Leo. They looked at each other, both with expressions like they wanted to say something. Instead, they said goodbye to each other, and Margaret watched as Leo walked down the hallways and through the door to the stairs. She closed the door and made her way back to the chair in the kitchen.

Her muscles made it seem she had done a marathon today. The mostly dark room didn’t bother her anymore, and the rain outside was trickling away. The refrigerator sat there in the silence. The baseball tickets slowly made it into her hand, looking at them for a while.

“Behind home plate,” she said, gazing at the refrigerator. “You would’ve loved these tickets, Walter. Shame you couldn’t take me to something different.” Margaret set the tickets back on the table. She didn’t take her eyes away from the cooler. “Did I waste my life
with you? What would’ve my life looked like without you? Is it too late?”

The refrigerator stared, no noise.

Category: Featured, Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student