Thursday, October 6, 2011

Elizabeth Willis Barrett

Betsy felt her façade go cold as though it were made of a very thin sheet of ice. The crack that had started creeping on the first of October finally reached her heart and the real Betsy emerged in a shriek: “Stop!” she screamed. “Stop! Stop! Stop! I can’t go on.” It was as though she and Monique had planned a little surprise for the ladies with their own playlet from the story. But Monique looked as startled as the rest and the stage belonged entirely to Betsy.

Betsy stood up with resolution in her bearing and a wildness in her eyes. “Follow me,” she croaked.

So the women of the 7th Ward Relief Society Book Club quickly put down their books, their purses, and their little plates—with a crème puff or two rolling to the carpet—and followed obediently. They were silent, but their looks said many things: “I think she’s a little bit crazy.” “Maybe she’s on crack.” “Whatever this is I am not going to miss it.”

They all followed Betsy down the hall and to the closed door of the guest room. Betsy put a shaky hand on the door knob and closed her eyes in an attempt to support her resolve. Had she belonged to another religion, she would have genuflected. As it was, she offered a silent prayer. “I prayed. I wearied heaven with my prayer….” But short of having the pile completely gone and the day’s events turning out to be a bad dream, she didn’t know quite what to pray for. She opened the door slowly as the women gathered behind her and rose on their tiptoes in an effort to glimpse whatever was in the room.

The catastrophic pile made each of them wince, and they took in their breath as one. Except Sister Lila Freeman who didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. She had a heap rather like it in most of the rooms in her own house.

But the rest stood in quiet contemplation, each trying to process the scene in her own way. For instance, Sister Jepson focused on the makeshift marijuana pipe that was sliding down one side of the mound and realized that hers wasn’t the only family that had been infiltrated by drugs. Sister Anthony focused on the “What to Do if You Suspect your Child of An Eating Disorder” book sticking out from the bottom of the pile and thought that finally she and Betsy had something in common. Sister Adrian Peters’ eyes were drawn to the crumpled pink slip sent from the Town of Gilbert announcing that the Woodward’s water would be turned off if the bill wasn’t paid. Adrian recognized that slip because she had received several herself. Sister Salter felt the frustration and desperation that the room represented in its present state and realized that maybe Betsy Woodward didn’t have everything after all. And for some reason, Sister Jacobs wrapped her arms lovingly around Betsy and huskily whispered a tear-filled, “I love you!”

Betsy gave a wan, distorted smile. There was nothing she could say. One by one the Book Club women dispersed, some touching Betsy’s shoulder in a gesture of understanding, until Betsy was quite alone. It was over. The worst had happened. Betsy put her back against the door and let her feet slide out from under her until her bottom hit the floor with a bounce.

The next day—Saturday—Sister Harris called to invite all the Woodwards over for a barbecue that night and Sister Jacobs called to invite them all for Family Home Evening on Monday. On Sunday the Woodwards were too late to claim their regular pew which was just fine with the kids and just fine with the Johnsons who were sitting there smugly. But as if to make up for losing their spot, there were many genuinely friendly smiles and in Primary several women stole moments away from sharing time and song practice to ask Betsy about where she used to live and how she felt about the election coming up and what books she would like the Book Club to choose for the following year. And Monique grabbed Betsy after the block to tell her that a group of friends was meeting at Applebee’s for lunch on Thursday—could Monique pick her up?

After lots of pleasant conversation with those that seemed to ignore her in the past--except for Sister Poltice, who seemed to hang onto her envy like a dripping ice cream cone-- Betsy drove home, humming a cheerful ditty this time with genuine feeling. As the un-veneered, far from perfect Betsy walked into her far from perfect home with her far from perfect children, she almost tenderly picked up The Selected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe from where she’d left it on the entry table.

Opening it at random, her eyes fell upon the words, “it was hope—the hope that triumphs on the rack—that whispers to the death-condemned even in the dungeons of the Inquisition…”
She smiled and carried the book to the badly misused guest room and set it respectfully on top of the disorderly pile. Her life wasn’t perfect, but thanks to her exPOEsure, at the moment she was nearly perfectly content.

1 comment:

NP said...

AHHH, a happy ending!!! Of course I LOVED the genuflecting part :) Great job Liz ~ I enjoyed every word.
Love & hugs,