Under the Willow's Watch

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She sat, staring through the smudged window, watching rain silently hit the glass. The old woman wouldn’t dare go outside, to caress the memories of her once beautiful childhood. She blended into the outside world; her lightly wrinkled face and hair matched the bleak scene out her window. She couldn’t remember a time when she looked outside to see anything other than grey.

The constant buzz coming from the old fluorescent lighting was the only sound that filled the deserted grocery store. The man stood alone, watching rain fall outside the window. He saw a raindrop plop onto the sidewalk, but it didn’t leave a mark, for the sidewalk was already drenched. He went to the back of the store, looking for something to distract him from the ever present silence filling his ears.
***

With shaky hands, the woman reached into her rusty refrigerator. Grabbing nothing but air, she slowly crouched down to look into the shelf. Seeing nothing, she sluggishly moved to the living room and pulled back the heavy blue curtains to reveal a rain-less day. She picked up her car keys, and held the cold door-knob. She took a deep breath, put on her best face, and headed down the street.

Bling! The sole grocer sat hunched over a box filled with instant macaroni and cheese. He turned his head to see one of his only customers enter through the old door.

“Good morning Ms. Jones! Nice to see you again!” He grinned, his smile reaching from ear to ear, to get a ghost of a smile returned. She hobbled and disappeared into the canned foods isle. He continued to stack the dozens of boxes of the mac n’ cheese until he heard items hit the counter behind him. Ms. Jones opened her faded purse with bony fingers. He went to the counter and scanned the packages of food. Saltine crackers, a loaf or bread, three cans of soup, and a small box of cereal where instantly bagged and set aside.

“That will be nine dollars and twenty-four cents,” he said, as the receipt slid out from the the wheezing cash register. With a quivering hand, she gave him a large array of dollar bills and coins. Rapidly, he counted the change until he reached exactly $9.24. He handed her the bag, and she shuffled outside. He glanced outside, and saw the sky was grey again, threatening to rain once again.

Ms. Jones entered her waiting house. It sagged from old age, and cracks in the ceiling constantly grew larger every time it rained. She grew up in that house, and various scratches and dirty hand prints on the wall put memories into her mind every time they were passed. She closed her eyes, and shook the images away. She stayed in the house long after her parents died and her two brothers left to move on. She hated them for leaving her in the house to rot away, but she always realized she had a choice. She could have left, found a husband, had a house full of beautiful children, and lived in a place where she could be happy. But instead, something pulled inside of her and kept her there, and she lived in the shadow of the life she could have had.

The woman put away her groceries, and carefully opened one can of tomato soup. After it was fully made, she sat down at her table. She stared out the window, seeing her bleak surroundings. I bet it’s green somewhere out there, she thought, but that’s why they never come back to see me. With every ounce of her being, she concentrated on who she wanted to be. But she couldn’t hold on to that feeling that kept her moving. She got up and opened a cabinet. She took down a small pill bottle containing her anti-depressants, and a piece of paper.

The grocer sat behind the counter, as he had for many years before. He barely made a living, but he stayed. The rain fell again for the fifth time that week. He guessed there was always a rain cloud over Chicago, because he didn’t remember a day without one. He didn’t love his job, but he found it was too hard to find anything else after the sickening car crash that occurred eight years ago, when he was 23. He shuddered, thinking of what could have been if his family was still alive. No one was there for him, except for the run down grocery store that he and his mother used to always go to. It was the best place he knew of, and he clung to it, as if his life depended on it. Tears clouded his vision as he looked down at an old picture of his family. To shake his always looming sadness, he got up and picked up an empty box. He ran to the back of the store, and wiped at his wet face.

$9.10, $9.20, $9.45, $9.50, $9.51...

He recounted the payment he got from Ms. Jones that morning. Realizing his mistake, he grabbed the telephone and a yellowing phone book under the counter. He found her address and number and dialed it quickly. It rang for a long time until her raspy voice met his ear.

“Hello, you have reached Sadie Jones, please leave a message.” He put down the phone before the beep sounded. He sat down again and put the change on the counter. Maybe she will come back soon, so I will give it to her then. It’s only twenty-seven cents, he thought to himself. He looked at his watch, then back to the extra change sitting in front of him. Why not? He grabbed his coat and and hat, and swiped the change off the counter. He put the closed sign over the door, even though he was sure no one would even notice. The torn out address guided him to a dreary grey house on the corner of the street two blocks away from the store.

He knocked on the chipping wood door of Ms. Jones house. There was no answer for five minutes, and he knocked again. He wondered if she was okay, or if she needed help, because he knew she wouldn’t be out of the house. She never seemed to leave it. He called her name and twisted the door knob, and the door opened with an agonized screech. When he entered the entry way, he was engulfed in darkness. His hand fumbled for the light switch, and the light slowly flickered on.

“Ms. Jones?” He called out, but only the creaks of the floor responded. He looked in the living room, and then walked around the corner. He realized he was in the kitchen and saw her sitting in a straight-backed wooden chair.

“Oh, Ms. Jones! I’m sorry, I was just worri-” He stopped mid-sentence when he noticed she wasn’t moving. He ran to her table and touched her arm. It felt cool and dry under his thick finger. He turned the chair so it would face him, and her neatly folded hands fell from her lap. He stood and stared breathlessly, looking at her completely relaxed face. The coins slid from his hand and hit the table. A penny hit and ricocheted off a folded piece of paper sitting next to a partially empty bowl of soup and an emptied pill bottle. He unfolded it and read the scrawled writing running neatly across the page.

I look at my life and realize all of the things I could have or should have done with so much regret. I knew I needed help for a long time, but I guess I told myself I’d be okay in the end. Which I was not. I think I’m writing this final note to tell whoever is reading this, that it’s okay to get help. We all need a little push to move past the bad things we encounter along the way, so I’m giving you that push. I want to change at least one life. And maybe, you will change someone else’s too.
~ Sadie Jones
He blankly looked at the note. He read it over and over until the words were almost engraved in his head. Finally, he put the note in his pocket, and found a phone in her living room. He called the police, and three people showed up almost instantly. Dazed, he watched her body taken out of her home and he sat in a living room chair. After what seemed to be hours, a woman finally told him that it was probably an overdose of her anti-depressants that killed her. He sighed, and settled into the chair.
“Mr. Daniels?” A tall woman said. He was startled but quickly responded.
“You can call me Rob.”
Oh, um, Rob, do you know of any family members we need to call?
“No, I don’t think so,” He thought for a moment. “No. I’m pretty sure she lived by her self.”
“Alright. We are done here, and we will help you if you need anything.” She walked out the door, and left him staring at the note he took out of his pocket.

A week later, Rob stood under a large Willow tree. Rain fell calmly, and it smelled refreshing. His hat caused water to drip in front of his face. The rain fell into the opened hole, thumping of the wooden casket below. After the ceremony finished, he walked to his car alone. He was the only one who attended. He contacted her brothers after finding a contact list, but they didn’t end up coming.

He drove for a while and found himself at Ms. Jones’ house again. He stood, looking out the kitchen window, with his hand rested on the chair. He gazed out the window, and made his decision. Rob turned around and was about to leave the house, when he noticed an opened tomato soup can sitting on the counter. He picked it up and left the house. He drove to his house and collected various necessities, and then drove back to the grocery store. He left a note telling the manager that he wouldn’t be back. He grabbed a bouquet of daisies that was inside of the store, and drove North.

The grass was still wet from the morning rain, but it looked replenished and green. Rob walked across the lawn to where the new headstone stood. Sadie Luanne Jones 1950-2007 was crisply written into the front of the stone. He slowly bent down and set the tomato soup can by the headstone. It was filled with fresh flowers, blooming in vibrant and beautiful colors. He stuck his own folded piece of paper inside of the can, and stood up again. He walked away with his hands in his pockets. He looked back, and drove away, in the opposite direction of his past.





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