Tuesday, March 10, 2015


Martha Rigsby knew her way around a rocking chair. Her father knew how to build one too back sixty years earlier when he had built this one. She swayed back and forth effortlessly, like something mechanical, keeping rhythm with the eternal ticking of the mantle clock, it too having been built by her father, the master craftsman.

It was 7:30 and this evening was progressing like all the others. Her husband of fifty-two years was in the kitchen cleaning up the dinner dishes, washing each dish carefully by hand, drying them with a clean dish towel and stacking them gently in the cabinet over the dishwasher. Henry Rigsby had bought the dishwasher from a Greek man who sold them from the back of a tractor trailer. He was told that it was “practically brand new.” He brought it home as a surprise for Martha on her birthday, six years earlier. Martha wanted no part of it, and had demanded that Henry return it  and get his money back, but he never saw the Greek man again. Of course, the thing didn’t work. They had called a repairman to come fix it but it was missing several pieces, so there it sat taking up space. Henry liked to point out that it gave the kitchen more counter space. It was a sore subject.

Martha shuffled through the paper until she found the sports page. She loved the summer months the most, because she loved to follow her beloved Cleveland Indians. Henry was to blame for her obsession with baseball since it was he who had made the mistake of taking her to her first Indians game forty years ago. She sat in the left 
field stands and fell in love with everything. She watched the outfielders chase down 
fly balls. She watched other fans scream epitaphs at several Indains for swinging at 
pitches that were a mile out of something called the “strike-zone.” She listened to the 
venders barking out enticements for peanuts, popcorn, hotdogs and beer. She watched the Indians get beaten 16-2. She wouldn’t allow Henry to leave the game until the very last Indian had struck out in the bottom of the ninth. She wondered how people could be so rude as to leave in the middle of a game. She felt embarrassed for the players, so much so that, over the vehement objections of Henry, she wrote a scathing letter to the editor as soon as got home, blasting the Cleveland fans for deplorably bad manners. She became a baseball fan for life.

Martha shook her head from side to side as she read the box score. “Worst pitching I’ve ever seen,” she said to herself, “We’ve got no pitching.”

“What’s that, Martha?” Henry’s thundering voice startled her the way it always did. “I can’t hear you. I’ve got the water running.”

It’s our pitching,” she responded, “worst I believe I’ve ever seen.”

“You say that every year. I think it’s time you got behind a different team. How about one of the teams from California? The Dodgers have plenty of pitching.”

“Why should I follow a team from California?”

“Because that’s where our two sons live and our grandchildren. Seems perfectly natural that their grandmother would start following the Dodgers.”

Martha turned the pages aimlessly for a while, then folded the paper neatly and 
placed it on the coffee table beside the TV Guide. Henry walked passed her and lowered himself, like a dish, carefully into his recliner. The front of his pants was wet in a dark blue line just below his belt. Martha usually never failed to remind him that if he would wear the apron he wouldn’t get his pants wet, but tonight she let it go. He reached for his book on the coffee table. For the hundredth time he read about the trials and tribulations of Ishmael, Queequeg and Ahab. In his seventy-nine years nothing had proven as consistently delightful as Moby Dick. With each new reading he would somehow find something new. He read with the wide-eyed excitement of a school boy.

Martha watched him reading as she worked on a cross-stitch calendar she had started three years ago. As she looked at him she remembered how she once used to wonder what he would look like when he got old. Back then she believed that he would be remarkably wrinkle free, with a full head of salt and pepper hair. He would be handsome at any age, she had been convinced. She smiled to herself when she considered that she hadn’t been far off.

“You know Henry, you turned out to be a rather distinguished looking old fool, if I must say so myself.” Martha had surprised herself.  She had done that a lot lately. Words would come flying out of her mouth before she had a chance to measure them and calculate their effect.

“Well, of course I did.” Henry never looked up from Herman Melville.

Then suddenly, “Are you fulfilled Henry?”

“Yes Dear. Dinner was wonderful. I couldn’t possibly eat another thing.”

“No, no, are you happy? Are you content? Do you have regrets about our lives?”

Henry took off his reading glasses, folded them and placed them teetering on the arm of his recliner. “What kinds of questions are these?”

“They’re perfectly natural questions for people our age to ask.”

“OK. Actually, I couldn’t be happier. I’m 79 years old, reasonably healthy, married the only girl I ever loved, and I’m not in a nursing home.”

“I’m certainly not the only woman you ever loved.”

“Well, you’re the only woman I ever loved who would agree to marry me, and now that I think about it, I do have a regret…that I never got involved in real estate.”

“I just find myself thinking about these things more now than ever before. I think about everything we’ve done and I realize how much of a charmed life we’ve lived.”

“God has been good to us,” was Henry’s stock reply whenever Martha would start with one of her “have we been faithful stewards” speeches. After a while he picked up his glasses, found his place in the book and once again launched into the deep.

The front door flew open wildly, slamming into the Ben Franklin desk, sending the stained glass hurricane lamp onto the floor where it exploded into a thousand slivers of glass. He held a gun tightly with both hands fully extended in front of him. He slipped on the shattered glass as he scrambled to shut the door behind him.

“Either one of you moves, I’ll blow your goddamn head off!” His voice shook like the voice of a child. Sweat poured from his face and his eyes were wild and lost. Henry was motionless, waiting for his heart to start beating again. He held Moby Dick in a death grip. He tried to speak but his mouth couldn’t form the words. Martha looked into the eyes of the young man before her. She felt her mouth go dry and all the color drain from her face. Her fingers and toes began to tingle. She felt the vague sensation of a thought about to be spoken. “Is there anything we can help you with young man?”

                                                            To Be Continued