First published in Catfish Stew, Vol. IV, 2006 1874 words
Kitty woke up feeling gloomy again, thinking of her late husband. Her eyes welled with tears. "I miss you, Harry." Testing the degree of pain in her knees, she stood. "But I guess I'm here for one more day."
The arthritis in her shoulders made it troublesome to pull on her housedress, but the automatic coffeemaker sent the smell of rich, dark coffee through the hallway and gave her something to look forward to. She reached for her cane and walked slowly toward the kitchen.
She stepped outside to get her newspaper and saw her angel had been there again. Most mornings, some kind person placed her newspaper on the porch railing. She wished she knew who it was. It would be nice to thank them somehow.
Just as she got settled in Harry's old recliner, the phone startled her.
"My goodness," she said. "Hello?"
"My darling Kitty, you sound absolutely ravishing this morning. How is it you stay so young while I keep getting older?"
"JT, you incorrigible flirt, why are you calling here so early?"
"Listen to you, trying to sound gruff. I can hear you smiling all the way across town."
"You caught me—ooh, wait," she said, grabbing the newspaper as it attempted to slip off her lap. She laughed. "How are you this morning?"
"Better, now that I've heard your voice. I have a proposition for you."
"You're so naughty," Kitty said.
Laughing, JT said, "I have to go to the Probate Office this morning and hoped you'd go with me."
"The Probate Office? Didn't Rebecca leave a will?" Kitty picked up her cup of coffee and shook her head as the newspaper fell to the floor.
"She did not. And a pain in the rear it's been, too. I've had mine in order for years, what with my diabetes and all. But I guess the both of us just assumed I would go first. She'd never had any indication of heart disease. Then one day, she was just gone. You have your's together, don't you?"
"Oh yes. Harry made sure we were both taken care of in that respect. Of course, we had lots of time to do it."
"I'd appreciate it if you'd go with me. I'll pay for lunch afterwards."
"Okay. But if you're thinking about a fast-food lunch, I'll pay and we can go somewhere nice."
"My love, you underestimate me. No fast-food restaurant could contain your immeasurable spirit. I was thinking of the Garden Grill on Kenton Street. How does that sound?"
"Lovely. Harry and I went there once. We liked it."
"It was one of Rebecca's favorites."
"All right, then. What time?"
"My appointment is at ten-thirty. I'll pick you up at nine-thirty, okay?"
"See you then."
Hearing from JT always made Kitty's day. They had known each other for over fifty years, having met in college. He made everyone around him feel good with his bright banter, his lively eyes, and his infectious grin. They'd lost touch for a time after they'd both married, but the wonder of the Internet had brought them back together and when JT's job brought him and his wife, Rebecca, to the town where Kitty and Harry lived, Kitty was thrilled.
After a small breakfast, Kitty dressed slowly, choosing a navy pantsuit whose jacket sported white piping along the lapels and cuffs. Her soft gray hair lay flat on her scalp, too thin now to fluff up much. But she was grateful she still had her own teeth to brush. She patted a layer of powder on her face and fingered dots of cream rouge to her cheeks. Her hand shook slightly as she coated her lips with the specific red lipstick she'd used for twenty years. Blotting her lips on a piece of toilet paper, her image in the mirror confessed what her mind wanted to deny.
"That's as good as it's gonna get for an old broad."
Cramped with desks full of people who looked busy, the Probate Office had that singular smell of a public office building—file cabinets, paper goods, copy machine toner. At least the chairs in the waiting area were padded. Thinly, but still.
A heavy-set woman in a floral skirt and black knit top appeared from behind a massive set of filing cabinets. She looked at the file she carried.
"That's me." JT rose and, affecting an Arnold Schwarzenegger accent, said, "Ah'll be back."
I should've brought my book, Kitty thought as she looked at the magazines. Field and Stream, Mademoiselle, Teen People, Rolling Stone. She shook her head at the inappropriate selection, and instead, studied the other people in the waiting room. Another elderly woman, who had thought to bring a book, sat with a younger woman; a man clutched a sheaf of papers and seethed frustration. In the corner sat a young woman, no more than twenty-five or thirty years old. She looked blank and on the verge of tears. Even as Kitty watched, the girl dropped her head into her hands and began to sob.
Kitty leaned on her cane and slowly rose to her feet. She crossed the room tenuously and sat by the young woman, then dug in her purse for tissues. The young woman accepted the tissues gratefully. She blew her nose and when Kitty eased her arm around the young woman's shoulder, she leaned into Kitty and continued to cry.
"Thank you," the young woman said finally. "I feel so lost."
"I know, I know," Kitty consoled. "It's very hard to lose someone you love."
The young woman sat up and wiped her eyes. "Did you lose your husband?"
"I did. And it's been difficult. I miss him every day."
"I don't know what I'm going to do without Steven. We only got married six months ago." Her eyes filled again and her mouth stretched wide. "And I'm twelve weeks pregnant," she said, her voice tight.
"Oh my." Kitty held the young woman again until she'd cried herself out.
"Do you have children?" the young woman asked.
"No," Kitty answered with practice. "My Harry and I . . . we wanted children . . . but, well, it never happened and we were very happy, just the two of us. We have some nieces and nephews. They're all grown, of course."
"Steven and I wanted children all along—" An unexpected laugh erupted from her lips. "Maybe not quite this soon. We'd hoped to be married a couple of years before we got pregnant, but—oops!"
She smiled then, and even through the runny nose and red, puffy eyes, Kitty could see why Steven had been attracted to her.
"I'm Nancy, by the way. Nancy Sisson."
"I'm Kitty Brogan."
"It's nice to meet you, Kitty. May I ask you something?"
"Does it get better? They say it will but . . . ."
"Well," Kitty started, "my Harry's been gone almost nine months, and . . . I didn't think I could go on without him, but I have. You have to. My friend, JT, and his wife, Rebecca, were lifesavers. Then, three months ago Rebecca passed away. So JT and I try to console each other. Some days are harder than others. Do you have family here?"
"My mom and my sister were here, but they had to go home last weekend."
"Family is very important at a time like this."
A man holding a file folder appeared. "Mr. Jenkins?"
The seething man clutched his papers even tighter, stalked across the waiting area and followed the man to a desk just as JT emerged, smiling from ear to ear.
"Mrs. Brogan," JT said. "It's lunchtime!"
Kitty took Nancy's hand in hers and patted it. "There are some tough times ahead, to be sure. But you'll be fine. You'll find strength you never knew you had—for Steven's baby. And you're young. One day you might even find love again. You'll see."
Nancy and JT helped Kitty to her feet and Nancy hugged Kitty tight around the neck.
"Thank you so much . . . for just being here today," Nancy said.
"I'm glad I could help, dear. Take care of yourself."
Having ordered their lunch, Kitty and JT sipped on glasses of wine.
"I think sometimes, God is cruel," Kitty said.
"You mean that young woman?" JT asked.
"Well, yes. It's one thing to take Harry and Rebecca—we've all lived long and happy lives. But they were just getting started."
"God has a plan for each of us you know."
"But to take him so young. He couldn't have fulfilled his purpose yet."
"Perhaps his purpose was to make that baby."
"Hmmm." Kitty considered that.
"I've often wondered what my purpose could be," Kitty said. "We didn't have any children, I've never had an important job. What am I here for?"
JT took both of Kitty's hands in his and gave her an incredulous smile.
"My darling Kitty, a person doesn't have to have an important job or be an influential figure in order to achieve God's purpose. I've known all along—and Rebecca agreed with me—you are a positive force of nature."
Kitty, preparing for a sip of wine, stopped her wineglass in mid-air and cocked her head. "Excuse me?"
"You care, my dear, and you're not afraid to show it," JT swept his arm toward the Probate Office, "even to total strangers. I've seen you flash that smile on surly clerks and servers and they come up out of whatever funk they're in. Their whole demeanor changes."
"But I so rarely feel positive myself."
"You hide it well, then. Just this morning, I was feeling down. Frustrated about this meeting at the Probate Office, missing Rebecca, thinking what's the use of going on and why did I have to. But as soon as I heard you say hello, it was like an injection of happiness lifted my heart."
Kitty felt emotion creep into her throat. "What a wonderfully kind thing to say, but . . . ." Kitty dabbed her eyes with her napkin.
"And Harry!" JT continued. "Harry told me he would've just given up if it hadn't been for you. Even if you're not positive for yourself, being positive for others is a purpose unto itself. You are an extraordinary lady and I'm grateful to know you." JT kissed her hands before releasing them.
"I'm grateful for you, too, you know," Kitty answered. "And Rebecca. I don't know what I'd've done without you these last months."
"We wouldn't have had it any other way. If truth be told, rare is the person who discovers penicillin or that organs can be transplanted, or any of the life-changing, incredible things on this planet. I believe people are here to take care of each other—to love and be loved."
That night, Kitty didn't feel her regular bedtime aches and pains. In fact, she'd been happy and singing softly to herself since JT had dropped her off at home. She'd awoken feeling lousy, dreading another day, but a chance encounter and some kind words had changed her outlook for the future.
"Tomorrow I'll leave a little note for my newspaper angel," she said with a smile.