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Sunday, July 16, 2017

(10) I HANDED THE JANITOR MY SPECIMEN.

January 1992
      I'm sitting in my study with the heat turned up, wearing a bathrobe on top of my warmly dressed self, and am still cold.   Kathie dislikes these freezing temperatures more than I do, with good reason.  Her washer and dryer are in an unheated room in the garage, so it takes a heap of courage just to throw a lapful of laundry in.  And she drives to Boston University two or three times a week, despite the fact that she's on sabbatical.  She's particularly excited about the creative writing course she's taking.  Of all the things she's doing to establish a life without Dick, I'm betting writing will be the most fulfilling. 
     She'll soon be on her way to Florida for a visit with Ed and Aliceann.  On the surface, she is handling the breakup superbly, but she lost her appetite when she lost her husband.  She gets "full" when she's had only enough for survival.  I'm afraid she'll get sick . . . I shouldn't say that, Mom wouldn't approve of the negative thinking.  But it scares me when she says she's worried, too.  If she'll hang on until February, Aliceann's TLC and TGC (Terrific Gourmet Cooking) will do wonders. 

     Got a letter from Ed's friend, Cleo.  She bought two copies of my book when I was autographing copies at Bookport, and then I never heard from her again.  I could only surmise that Take My Ex had offended her.  She's a very private person, and although I changed the names of Ed's inamoratas, perhaps she thought her character might be recognized.
     I was sad because I had tried not to offend anyone but figured I should respect her feelings and leave her alone.  In today’s note, Cleo apologized for having let so many months go by without getting in touch.  She asked if I'd like to go to lunch someday soon.
     The upshot is that Cleo and I are going to see "Shirley Valentine" Thursday afternoon and then go out for dinner.  The matinee is half‑price special for senior citizens, so the tickets are only $14 apiece.  At times like this I become lyrical about senior citizenship.
     Not long ago, it seems, I wasn't old enough to have a drink with my mother when we had lunch on Charles Street, near my Beacon Hill apartment.  Kathie must have been with us because I certainly couldn't afford a sitter in those days.  I remember saying to the bartender, "But I'm a mother!  If I'm old enough to have a baby, I ought to be old enough to have a drink."  He didn't care if I was Mother Superior.  All I got was no respect and a tall glass of ginger ale.

     I’ve sent the first twelve chapters of my second book to my agent.  After rereading them for the tenth time, I lost all confidence in their worth.  I felt the same way when I was working on the first book.  At one point I yelled at my computer in capital letters, WHO CARES ABOUT ALL THIS?  ENOUGH OF PICKING ON POOR ED!  ENOUGH OF THESE CORNY EPISODES WITH THEIR FEEBLE PUNCH LINES!
    My mentor and editor Ed Brecher reassured me, and now Kathie is doing the same.  She plans to edit the rest of the book during her Florida visit.
     After my theater and dinner date with Cleo, I came home to a message on my machine.  "Well, you little rascal, you, where are you at 9:00 on a Thursday night?  Call me when you have a chance."
     How gently Kathie led into the news that she was back from Florida after only five days.  She had bumped her hip on the airplane seat.  Her father and Aliceann were afraid she left because she wasn't having a good time, but to the contrary, she was so happy to be with them, she forgot to look at the bumped area for two days.  What a darn shame, after all those weeks of looking forward to a long rest Florida.   But there hasn't been a whimper.  Kathie doesn't waste time complaining.
    The abrasion is slowly healing.  Meanwhile, she has been editing further chapters of my book and working on her own projects.  I am thrilled with the creativity her writing course has inspired.   She is so excited by fomenting ideas, she says she finds it difficult to turn herself off at bedtime.           
     The lawyer for Sarah's mother has demanded that Kathie produce all her checks and bank statements going back to 1983.   This means Kathie must put aside what she was doing and spend hours digging out the requested material and listing hundreds of checks from her records.  She looks exhausted, and I know she's not eating properly. 
      She has great faith in her lawyer, a woman experienced in the area of divorce settlements, and is hoping she won't have to pay alimony to Dick.  That would be the limit.  He falls in love—or at least into bed—with the woman next door, and Kathie may have to pay him for his frolics. 
      I told her about the nice young man I had bumped into.
     "Literally?" she asked, clever girl that she is.
     "Yes, literally.  My bumper nudged him at a stop sign when I was thinking of something else."  I expected him to at least shake his fist at me, but he simply went on his way.  When we came to a red light, I went to his window to apologize.  "I want to thank you for not jumping out of your car and swearing at me."
     "It could happen to anyone," he said.  "Don't worry about it."
     If he'd been a few years older (like forty years older), I'd have proposed to him.  You don't often meet a courteous, tolerant male behind the wheel of a car.  If I could keep all the fingers I've been given in my day, my freezer wouldn't be big enough to store them. 

     Kathie called to tell me what happened at her writing course last night when the  professor asked her to read aloud to the class her latest story, "Rage."   When she had finished, Dr. Gold made the following observation:
     "What is happening here is impossible.  A writer has chosen as her subject a woman in a wheelchair who is going through a divorce.  There's no way this could work.  Why would readers be interested in these stories?  They'll be interested because the stories are funny and engaging, as impossible as it seems."
     Kathie said she began to get nervous halfway through these comments, thinking Gold was speaking literally and suggesting she change her topic.  To the contrary, this was his dry way of paying her a compliment.

     Timmy is a captivating baby.   Even his Uncle Ted says he’s the cutest baby on the South Shore. His mother brought him up to the golf club, where Kathie, Sarah, Sarah's friend Danielle, Tim and I were finishing dinner.   Kathy had opted not to join us earlier because it was too much of a hassle to chase Timmy around the dining room.  This time she didn't chase him.  She let him run from table to table, putting his arms out to friends and strangers, to the pleasure of everyone on the porch.  (At least they looked pleased.  I'll probably get a letter from The Committee on Restraining Grandchildren.)
     Ted and Maureen had coincidentally picked Saturday to use up some of their minimum, so once Timmy discovered where they were, he made a point of visiting them every five minutes. 
     At one point he trotted over to the entrance of the porch, and the next thing we heard was a crash.  He had leaned on the screen next to the door, and down it fell.  A chip off the old block—we called his father "The Wrecker" when he was a toddler.  Tim had difficulty replacing the screen, so Ted walked over to help coax it into place. 
     When we were leaving, I stood at the foot of the porch stairway holding Timmy, while his parents maneuvered Kathie's wheelchair down the steps.  Timmy watched as Kathie was tilted back for the descent—then suddenly a couple of alarmed sobs burst from his throat.  There's no question in my mind.  He was worried about what was happening to his aunt. 
     As soon as they reached the sidewalk, I put Timmy down and he ran over to Kathie, looking up at her to be sure she was all right.  Her hugs dried his tears.    Sarah is also a charmer at the grown‑up age of twelve.  As she climbed into the back seat of Kathie's car with Danielle, she made a comment I missed. 
     "Did you hear that?" Kathie asked. "Sarah says you're a neat grandmother."   I like being a neat grandmother, as long as the adjective has nothing to do with dusting and dishes.

     I spent the weekend filling in as pet-sitter while Kathie was at a conference in North Carolina.  Shoshi and Moby were easier to care for than grandchildren, although I do think Moby should be in diapers.  He might be insulted, but Kathie wouldn't have a carpet of so many colors.  Sunday afternoon I went looking him, so I could put him out in the pen with Shoshi for awhile.
     "He must be hiding under Kathie's bed," I thought when he didn't answer my calls.  I crawled around on the floor, lifting up the coverlet and searching in vain.   I found him in the garage, spraying a carton of newspapers.  At least Moby is paper trained. 
     I tattled on him when Kathie called that night.  I told her he was reluctant to go out first thing in the morning, and when I peeked through the window to make sure he was trotting  into the pen, he was doing no such thing.  He was standing by the door, waiting to come in again. 
     "He wanted his tennis ball," Kathie said.  "He likes to take it out with him and play with it."   
     So Moby and I have a communication problem, but there are times when he tells me exactly what he wants.  Monday morning I delayed feeding the dogs their breakfast, knowing that the next pet‑
sitter, Jenny, wouldn't be arriving until seven that night.   Since they're used to being fed at five p.m., I thought they wouldn't be so ravenous if they had a late breakfast.
     I let them out first thing in the morning, along with the tennis ball.  After letting them in again, I shut myself in Kathie's bedroom while I dressed, so I wouldn't have to look at those frantically wagging tails and listen to those stamping paws and hungry snuffles.  Suddenly I heard loud banging and thumping noises as if something were bouncing off the walls.  The something was Moby with his tennis ball, making as much racket as he could to get my attention.
     When I finally emerged and began fixing my own breakfast, Moby scurried over to his empty dish and began pushing it around and lapping it, all the while fixing me with a starving expression.  What could I do except say, okay, you win.
     I can see why Kathie loves her canine pals. They're not only good company but also splendid  conversationalists.  The cats say only, "I want to come in," or "I want to go out."  I do wish Murphy would learn to tell me gently, "All right, that's enough now."  He jumps up in my lap and nudges my hand persistently until I put down my book and massage his back.  He enjoys this for a spell, but when he decides to terminate our relationship, he does so with a scratch and a parting nip that feels nothing like a love-bite.     
    I had a strange interlude at the Hingham Public Library, where I checked out a couple of books, then decided at the last moment to go to the ladies' room.  I left the books on the far side of the counter. 
    When I returned, a tall, room‑consuming man was on the other side of the turnstile, blocking access to my books.  One of them was called A Squirrel of One's Own.   On top of the squirrel was the second book, a true account of a Victorian Englishwoman who had embarked on a passionate correspondence with a Don‑Juan German count, the author of a book she was translating into English.  The title of this sizzler was Contemplating Adultery.
     "Would you please slide those books over to me?" I asked the room‑consuming man.  As he did so, he looked me in the eye and said, "Are you contemplating it?"   
     For a moment I was confused:  Was I contemplating a squirrel of my own?
     "Would you like my telephone number?" he added solemnly.
     Now I caught on, and a dozen witty rejoinders came to me fifteen minutes later.  He assured me he wasn't trying to accost or molest me, and I could only come up with a counter‑assurance that I wasn't going to sue him.  I consoled myself on the way to my car with the thought that he was probably terribly married and/or a heartless Don Juan.  But all the same, why didn't I say, "Wait a sec while I get out my little black book"?  or "I love being accosted by heartless Don Juans.  How about Motel 3A tomorrow at eight?"  It's a bold and brave fantasy world I live in.

     I went to a cocktail party at the Baslers' house, which they are renting for the summer.  If you were a good swimmer, you could jump into the Gulph River in their back yard and swim across to Ted's house. 
     As I was leaving, Carol called after me:   "Are you going to write about this party?"
     "Of course," I said, then wondered what I'd find to say.  I should know by now that I'll always find something to say to my computer, although I can be at a loss when talking to human beings.      
     On this occasion, I had my encounter at the Hingham Library to describe to the guests, so I told it to each of them until I noticed eyes getting glazed and my victims drifting away to "help Carol pass the hors d'oeuvres."  The group had come full circle, it seemed, and I was relating my adventure to people who looked as new to me as when I'd first met them.  Oh well.  As Ed's therapist said a few years ago, "If you find you're losing your memory, forget it."    
      At one point in the festivities Norma Jackson was standing next to me.  She gave me a big grin as her hand sort of naturally fell into my pocketbook.      
     "I think I missed my calling," she said, pulling out my cosmetics case.  "Being a pickpocket is a cinch."
     "I left my wallet under my car seat," I said, "just in case I met up with someone like you." 
     Then Norma’s husband wet his pants.  To be fair, someone jostled his drink and it poured down his crotch.  I was reminded of the one and only time Ed ever appeared in a play in Cohasset.  His buddies in the audience burst out laughing when he came out on the stage.  Although it was doubtless the novelty that amused them, he stopped short and looked down to see if his fly was open.  It wasn't, but Ed stole the show.

    The Malley family seems to be playing a game of musical airplanes and automobiles:  Ed is arriving in Boston today, Kathie is departing for Florida tomorrow, and I will be driving from Weymouth to Westwood to pet‑sit.  Tonight I’ll attend Anne Bell's bridge lesson.  If Ed wants to see his old girlfriend and his old wife at the same time, he should stop by the Hingham Community Center.  He could even play bridge for four dollars‑‑a lot cheaper than taking us out to dinner.
     I'm particularly eager for Ed to see five‑year‑old Gregory, who has changed from a lovable toddler to a character with a dual personality.  When things aren't going the way he wants them to, his customary sunny smile evaporates and is replaced by a dreadful scowl.  He folds his arms across his chest, says, "Okay,  that's it.  I'm going to die.  I'm going to kill myself." Or, "I don't ever want you for my daddy again.  I want a different daddy."
     What sort of disaster brings on these threats?  Something as simple as Maureen leaving the hockey rink with Gregory's brother, while Gregory is left in Ted's charge.  Ted told me hysteria sets in immediately, for no fathomable reason.  "Reason" is a foreign word to my grandson.  He screams and kicks and carries on as if he were being tortured.  Ted sees people at the rink staring and can read their minds:  CHILD ABUSE!
     Ted has learned that the best way to handle a tantrum is to act as if it's not happening.  If Gregory starts screaming in the car, Ted gets out and begins throwing a ball at the side of a building.  Within minutes, his son is tugging at his leg, all smiles and charm, wanting to play, too. 
     Ted and I agree that children can be difficult, and it's sad to realize that immature or inexperienced or over‑tired parents might lose control and strike their kids.  Even the best of parents (I'm thinking of me) can become so frustrated that hitting seems to be the only answer.  Then (like me) they regret it forever.

    
     Is there anything more shocking than to get home and discover your wallet is missing?  I had made only two stops last Monday, one to get $40.00 from the money machine at Rockland Trust, the other to buy a couple of things at The Fruit Center.  I called the Fruit Center; no one had turned in my wallet.  I drove back there and looked in the parking lot.  No luck.  Searched the floor of my car ten times.
     There were so many important things I'd have to replace—all my charge cards plus one of my blank checks, an alimony check from Ed, my Trust‑24 card, my license, and of course, the $40.00 that was still warm from the Trust‑24 machine.  .
     I dashed to the bank to close out the account that was so clearly stated on my blank check, putting the balance in another account.  Then I dashed home and called A T & T to report the loss of my charge card.  They canceled it and said I'd receive a new one in a few days.
     Now I had to call department stores like Sears and Jordan Marsh.  I was searching for the list I had cleverly made and clearly lost, when the phone rang.  I love my daughter‑in‑law, but for once I was disappointed to hear her voice.  No time for chatting with all those calls to make.
     "Hi," Maureen said.  "I hope I'm not interrupting anything--I just wanted you to know I've got your wallet."
     What heavenly words. 
     "Someone left it on my doorstep."
     When I picked up the wallet, everything was there except the $40.00.  I looked in the zippered compartment where I keep loose change.  That was cleaned out, too. 
     I told Kathie it must have been a needy person with a conscience who extracted my cash and left the wallet at Maureen's front door.  Picturing him or her having a much happier Christmas because of my contribution, I felt happier myself when I decided to deduct the missing money from my income tax.  ("December 14, 1992: donation to needy person, $40.00.")
     Other things have been among the missing this week, like half a banana.  I always put the remaining half on the bottom shelf of my refrigerator.  The first time it disappeared, I thought I might have sliced it into my salad the night before.  The next day I found it in my silverware drawer.  When my half-a-banana went missing again, I knew just where to look.  That's encouraging, isn't it?  Someone who knows that the banana must be in the silverware drawer surely has a few deductive powers left.  Now if I could only remember that I can't turn the TV on with my portable phone . . . .

     I'm so filled with anticipation, I feel as if I should be sending out birth announcements.  I'll be driving to Acton on Saturday to pick up a precious bundle, my new computer.   This baby is so much smarter than I am that I'm going to call her Minerva, after the Roman goddess of wisdom.      
    Learning even a fraction of her capabilities will keep me busy for the rest of my life.  One of the computer experts I consulted, in addition to Kathie and Tim, is a high-school friend named Bill Ford.  I wondered if I was making a mistake in choosing a desktop model instead of a lightweight notebook like the one Kathie takes on her travels. 
    "If I ended up in a nursing home, wouldn't the small size be better?" I asked Bill.    He said, "My father is in a nursing home, he's 92 years old, and he's got his desktop computer right there in his room."            
     When the experts try to explain to me how brainy Minerva is, my own brain is staggered.  Her memory can store not only a dictionary and a thesaurus, but the equivalent of eight novels.  She'd never lose track of half a banana.  With miniaturization, it's incredible how much information can be stored on one tiny chip.  HOW DO THEY DO IT?  As Ed used to say, "Mine is not to reason why." Mine is just to relax and enjoy an invention that is almost as much fun as a new baby, minus the warm, squishy diaper.

     My computer has filled a gap in my life, now that Kathie doesn't need me to shop for her and make nutritious shakes and organize her psychology journals.  I was happy for her that she had met an appealing man and fallen in love with him, but I suddenly felt unneeded.  Her mother-in-law, Mary White, expressed similar anxieties when the divorce became official ("Kathie, we'll still see each other, won't we?").  Kathie isn't one to neglect the people she loves. 
     During brunch last Sunday, Kathie told a story on herself that suggests she can be human.  She and Frank left Ted's house early Christmas Eve so they could drop in and see Frank's family at his brother's house.  A commercial that Kathie hates was on the car radio.  She and Frank have differing tastes in radio stations.  She prefers the ones that play classical music like WCRB and WBUR and WGBH.  Frank likes the oldies on WISH. 
     Kathie said she made a speech about how much she disliked that commercial; that was the trouble with Frank's favorite station, you had to listen to these dumb commercials.  Frank said nothing.
     When they returned to the car after their visit, the radio was playing something classical.  Kathie looked at Frank.  "How can this be?  You didn't change the station."
     It turned out the hated commercial had been on one of Kathie's favorite stations.  "Here I went and had a tantrum and Frank didn't say a word to correct me."
     I can't picture Kathie having a tantrum, but I'll have to admit that in Frank's place I would have said a word or two.  The story illustrates why she and Frank get along so well.  They both know what is worth arguing about and what isn't.       

     I'm typing this on a deep blue sky, the color of the screen on Timmy's Question and Answer system.  I'm planning to use Q and A for my letters and Kathie's Word Perfect for anything creative. It has taken me ten minutes to get this far because I forgot how to double space, and how on earth to persuade the cursor, twinkling coyly in the sky, to get a move on. 
    Tim continues to be a faithful helper for Ted and me.  Ted's computer is so complicated that even mentor Bill Ford was stumped when Tim consulted him.  Tim was afraid he had killed the machine.  Bill suggested he turn it off and let it sulk for awhile, then try again.  The suggestion worked, but today Tim is confronted by new problems with his brother’s infernal machine.  I am struck by a profound thought:  Can God create a computer so sophisticated, even He can't operate it?
    Tim spent this morning at Ted's, then half the afternoon trying to help me retrieve Kathie's Word Perfect system which hasn't been itself since I accidentally destroyed its directory.  He finally decided he'd have to copy his Word Perfect files onto new disks, so I could then copy them back into my computer.  I drove to Kathie's this morning to get her disks, but she couldn't find them.  She had copied them into my computer, then I had given them to Tim so he could copy them, and now—oh, never mind, this account is boring.  I'll end with a story I heard at a Christmas cocktail party.
     One of the guests was a golf club member named Teresa, who had married three years ago and told me confidentially that the same sort of things happened to her that happened to me in my book.  She and her husband each had two children of college age.  It seemed as if at least one of them was always home on weekends.  Teresa works, so the couple rarely had an opportunity to be alone together.
    At last the time came when Teresa's daughter decided to stay with her grandparents in Norwell on a particular Saturday since they lived near an engagement shower she would be attending.  On Sunday morning, Teresa's husband waltzed into the kitchen stark naked.  Flaunting his designs on his wife, he chortled, "Alone at last!"
    "No, we're not!" Teresa said frantically, having just spotted her daughter's car in the driveway.  "Quick, run upstairs and put something one!"
    The best laid plans, as they say . . . .

    While I was staying in Westwood, Sarah called every day to ask if she could visit the pets.  I knew they'd be happy to see her, since all I did was feed them and let them out and speak sharply when they did things they shouldn't.  Like when I heard a strange scraping, rustling sound and discovered Shoshi with her front paws on the kitchen counter, helping herself to the cats' dinners.  Or when Murphy, about to go out the kitchen door, saw Pegeen scoot in, did a fast U-turn and chased poor Pegeen away from her dinner.  Or when one of the cats jumped up on the table to see if I'd like to share my dinner.  It seemed as if I were saying, "No!" or "Stop that!" or "Get off the table!" a lot oftener than I was saying "Good doggie" or "nice kitty."
    Sarah gave the animals the attention and petting they missed so much with Kathie away.  The first thing Moby did every morning was to go running down the hall toward Kathie's bedroom and her study.  Suspicious pet-sitter that I am, I thought maybe he hadn't been a good doggie outside and was looking for a suitable lamppost inside.  But I did him an injustice.  He was only checking to see if Kathie had come home at last.
    Sarah cuddled Moby, and Shoshi tried to climb into her lap, too, but had to settle for having her ears scratched.
January 30, 1993
From Ed
      Ever since Aliceann and I got married, you have been entertaining us with tales of various misadventures.  Your latest letter about coping with Kathie's pets inspired me to write the following treatise.
     When Aliceann is upset with her cat, she refers to her as "Your Rotten Cat."  For purposes of identification, the cat's proper name is Sybil, but as far as I'm concerned, Rotten Cat suits her best.
     I'm sure you're familiar with descriptions about a cat's character--smart, affectionate, capricious, haughty, etc.  Admittedly this animal isn't all bad, but she has a gift for driving me crazy and Aliceann hysterical (a psychoneurotic disorder characterized by tears, moans, groans, and shrieks.)
     As for Sybil, she is neither hysterical nor crazy.  She's getting elderly, and she just likes things her way.  For example, her eating habits are fussy, to put it mildly.  Not only is the proper food required, but the timing of service is also important.
     *"Where's that ROTTEN cat?"
     She dines on the shelf between the kitchen and the patio.  This shelf has a tendency to collect an assortment of odds and ends . . . papers, grooming items, small things we need on our boat.  If meals are not served promptly, everything is shoved off the shelf, a tactic that brings the desired attention.  If the food isn't to her satisfaction, the dish goes flying, accompanied by a facial expression that at best could be called a snarl.
     All of this, I suppose, is as cute and lovable as a baby weasel to its mother.  The genuine agonies brought on by Rotten Cat (sorry, Sybil), relate to her favorite game of "Hide and seek and PANIC."  You understand that this is a house cat who has never been out.  Thus Aliceann is justified in worrying about her getting outside where dogs, cars, and catnappers abound.
     This house is far larger than the cabin where she was raised.  In the old days at Cohasset, we worried about finding her in any one of ten places.  Can you imagine the sadistic delight she now enjoys with a hundred hiding places?  More beds to creep under, closets, cupboards, shelves, empty boxes, and what my old friend Julius Caesar called impediments.
     I expect you're wondering why the creature should be called ROTTEN.  Aren't these merely the symptoms of an ordinary, not too mannerly alley cat?  Well, judge for yourself.  When Aliceann first joined me in Florida, it was obvious that there were a lot of places where, if we were careless, Sybil might sneak out--the patio, garage, laundry room, and any door thoughtlessly left ajar.   We made it a rule that before we went out, we would check and be sure she was in the house.
     One day when we left to go shopping, there was no sign of Sybil.  After a cursory look around and a few thousand "Here kittys" and "Come Sybils" the panic began.  When I say panic, that was just the first five minutes in which every drawer, cupboard, box, under-bed, shelf, closet, rubbish barrel, and finally the pool and patio were searched.
     I know I repeat myself about the places in which she could be, but I repeated myself even more looking in those places.  When it appeared that she must have gotten out (prompting accusing looks from Aliceann which said, "You must have been the one that let this happen"), it was decided we should go out to look for her.  Sounds simple?  Beautiful Florida weather?  No.  A tropical downpour awaited us.  Instructions from The Boss:  You go up the street that way, I'll go this way.  Alert the neighbors, look in the yards, look in the pools.
     Being the uncomplaining, noble person that I am, off I went to find the poor, lost kitty-cat.  Shouts, hoarse calls, neighbors driving up and down the street checking the canals--we had everything but the National Guard.  Decrepit old geezer that I am, I eventually had to take time out to go to the john. 
     Wearily, I sat down for a minute on the sofa.  There before my unbelieving eyes strolled Miss Sybil, looking her most indolent and arrogant.  A big yawn, her tail straight up in the air, and a face that said, "You woke me up.  What's all the excitement about?"  Resisting the urge to commit violence, I let her live.
      Out into the deluge again to give Aliceann the good news.  Now I couldn't find her.  There rushed into my mind the old phrase, so-and-so looked like a drowned rat.  I looked and called and looked again.
      I found her.  She looked like a very tall drowned rat.
     The amazing thing is, we never really know exactly where Sybil has chosen to hide.  She has a variety of sleeping places: chairs, beds, rugs, and bookcase shelves, but when that critter wants to hide, the devil couldn't find her, and many is the time I've wished he could and take her with him.  They deserve each other.
     Sybil has another habit which may be flattering but is also annoying.  Cats are, as you know, semi-nocturnal animals who get up and wander around at night.  When Aliceann and I go to bed, it's a mob scene:  two adults, two dogs, and the cat.  During the night Sybil gets up and does whatever it is that she does.  (I know when we hear things that go bump in the night, it's Sybil.)
     When she's ready to return she jumps onto the bed.  That is, she thinks she's jumping on the bed, but actually she's jumping on me.  I know she doesn't weigh a ton, it only feels like it.  My theory is that she knows she's a rotten cat but still wants to be loved.  Thus, she wakes me up and insists that I pet her.  Well, as I say, she's not all bad, so I chuck her under the chin, pet her, and turn over, praying I can go back to sleep. 
     The end?  Oh no!  Out comes the paw, gently but firmly, and a raspy tongue conveying the message, "Listen, Bud, I'm not through with you yet . . . "
February 7, 1993
To Ed
    Just read The Rotten Cat.  Bravo!  By the way, I noted that you were half asleep when you were prodded and stroked with a raspy tongue.  Are you sure it belonged to Sybil?  I know she's smart, but who ever heard of a cat saying, "Listen, Bud, I'm not through with you yet."
   I strongly suspect Aliceann.

    Three or four weeks ago I told Kathie and Tim that something odd had happened with my computer.  I put a disk in the tray, and the computer swallowed it.  I tipped the casing on its side, but the disk didn't fall out.  I cautiously used a table knife to see if I could slide it out like a pancake but soon desisted, figuring this was no way treat a thousand-dollar investment.
    Tim was skeptical.  Could the disk be somewhere on my desk or on the floor?  No, I had looked everywhere, I said.  It had "Utilities" written on it, and it wasn't in its plastic box nor among my papers, nor anywhere else that I could think of except inside the computer.   Tim said next time he came over, he'd take off the top of the casing and look, just to satisfy me. 
    The strangest thing was that the computer still functioned.  I was able to put another disk into the A drive and had no problems with my documents.  Then last Friday Tim called and asked if he could bring me some delicious fish chowder Kathy had made -- and also little Timmy.  Kathy didn't feel well and wanted to take a nap.
    "Oh good!" I said. "While you're here, you can look inside my computer."
    Father and son arrived.  I gave Tim a screwdriver, settled Timmy at the dining-room table and began feeding him the minestrone Tim had brought for him. 
    After a few minutes, Tim walked in and said, "I knew I was here on a fool's errand.  Do you know where I found that disk?  Right . . . here!"  He reached behind my ear and pulled out the disk.  (Timmy loves it when his father plays the penny-in-your-ear trick.)
    "I took the casing apart," Tim said, "positive that I was wasting my time but figuring I'd humor you.  I looked all around the inside and was about to replace the cover when I caught a glimpse of a white circle.  I gave the circle a little push, it moved, and sure enough, it was your missing disk."
    We went into my study, where he showed me a narrow slot in the panel half an inch above the A-drive, into which I had accidentally popped the disk.
    Tim said this episode would go down in Malley history, so I'm writing this to make sure it does.  He couldn't wait to tell Kathie and Ted about his "fool's errand" and how sure he’d been that Mom was getting soft in the head. 
July 9, 1993
To Aliceann
     You're such a dear to ask about Keeping Up with Kathie.  That's on hold at present, since my agent and his assistant decided--get this-- that Kathie is too normal.  "Once well," Don writes, "she seems to function in an almost normal fashion . . . there is not the sense of agony and distress that the average reader should find in reading about this kind of experience. God knows that's to be desired by her, you, and the rest of the family, but it doesn't make for a dramatic emotional experience."
     Mary Ann, Don's assistant wrote:  "Another problem is that interesting goings-on among other family members are hinted at but never fully explained.  Vonnie gets a divorce, leaves her child with her brother and his wife to go to California, which brother then gets divorced, but no mention is made of what happens to Vonnie's son then.  Vonnie is killed in a car accident when her son is about 11 (possibly as a result of a drinking problem which is mentioned once in passing but never is explained) [what's to explain?  a drinking problem is a drinking problem], and again there is no mention of who then raised Vonnie's son.  Because Kathie adjusts so well to her handicap, her life story is actually less interesting than those of her family members, and they are the ones I wanted to know more about."
       One review of Take My Ex was written by Cindy Bartorillo of Frederic, Maryland:  " . . . I couldn't help noticing that one of Barbara and Ed's four children simply vanishes over the years.  On the very last page of the book you learn that she died.  The author's candor, like mine and yours, too, I expect, has limits. . .  "
    And yet Take My Ex was a failure, selling only about half of the seven thousand copies printed.  Writers get used to rejections and disappointments, but now that I've been shoved into my seventies, the days dwindle down to an alarming few.  How many do I have left to leave them laughing? Or at least try?

    I showed my dermatologist a strange bumpy place on one of my knuckles.  "Is that arthritis?" I asked.            
    "Yes," he said.  "This happens to people in their old age."
    I surprised even myself with my reaction.  I pounded the examining table and said, "No, no, no!!"  As if I could hold back old age with my denials.   
    "I shouldn't have used that phrase," the doctor said.
    "That's all right," I said.  But it was the first time I had heard "old age" applied to me.  Maybe by the time I'm a hundred and five, I'll be used to it. 

    I was lamenting to Ted about my dashed hopes for Take My Ex.
    "It was a good book," I complained.  "Your father was right, it just needed national attention."
    "I agree," said Ted.  He then came up with an Elmore Leonardish suggestion.     
    "What you should do is go to Florida, arrange to kidnap the Malleys' pets, and leave a ransom note, demanding something you've always wanted.  You'd be front-page news, and everyone in the country would want to read your book," he concluded.
    "I've always wanted a red convertible," I said.  "I wouldn't be unreasonable; a second-hand one would be fine."
    It was a great idea, I thought as I drove home, but there were a few problems.  How would I spirit two dogs and three Siamese cats out of the house, and where would I keep them?  In a leased red convertible, I decided, with the roof up, and the windows cracked, so the animals wouldn't get too warm.  After all, I was a kidnapper, not a sadist.
    But wait, how would Ed and Aliceann get to sleep without their five pets surrounding them?  Knowing the torment of insomnia, I would be guilty of sadism if I disturbed my beloved victims' slumber for even one minute.   I couldn't be that unkind.  Ted will have to think up another plot.

     With my August birthday approaching, the time has come to renew my license. .  For four years I've been hoping the old one would get lost, so I could replace the photograph with something less humiliating.  No such luck.  Even after my wallet began falling apart and I tacked it together with staples, the mug-shot hung in there, a hateful reminder that I am getting neither younger nor better‑looking. 
     Yesterday, when I reached the head of the line leading to the registry desk, I said to the clerk operating the computer:  "My old license says I'm five feet four.  Can that be corrected?"           
    "Sure, how tall are you?"
    "Five six and three‑quarters," I said, stretching my neck.  (I used to be five seven and a half before I started shrinking.)
     "We can't do fractions," the clerk said tartly.
     "All right, make it five six." I relaxed my neck.  "That's where I'm headed, anyway."
     I was passed along to the photographer.  Her artillery was mounted at an angle pointing downward toward a chair.  I would perforce be looking up at the lens, chin squared and upper lip  elongated.  The registry picture of four years ago had confirmed my belief in an evolutionary link to simian ancestors.  I looked like an ape wearing lipstick.
     If I had to be shot, I wished I could face my fate at eye level, but no one preceding me had made such a bizarre last request.  What reason could I give for my misgivings about sitting in the chair?  Certainly not the truth.  What cared the registry if the camera angle was unflattering?  How about, "I fell asleep at a nude beach and can't sit down"?  Naw, they wouldn't buy it; how many 70‑year‑olds go to nude beaches?  I was working on something more plausible, like "My religion won't allow me to desecrate the flag by sitting under it" when the photographer motioned me toward the chair.  Flash!  The first part of the ordeal was over.
     The next part was looking at the result.  It happens that one of my shoulders is lower than the other.  This flaw was unnoticeable in the Bachrach studies of twenty‑five years ago.  In the registry's effigy, I look as if I am dodging a blow.  Or missing a shoulder pad.  As for the simian resemblance, it had increased dramatically.
     What was I going to do with this horror show known as my "identification"?  One thing was sure.  No eyes but mine must ever bear witness to it.  If I were stopped by a policeman and he asked if he could see my license, I'd say no.  If he asked if I'd prefer to go to jail, I'd say yes. 
     Perhaps there's a method in the registry's candid caricature policy.  It makes drivers like me extra cautious. 

     Today I was cruising along toward the golf club in my new used car, festive pink ribbons still flying from its antenna.  What a change from my battered 1988 jalopy!  I felt as if I were floating on a cloud.
     Oh‑oh.  What were those flashing lights in my rearview mirror?  A police car?  Surely it wasn't following me.  I had gone through a light that was turning from yellow to red, but otherwise . . .
     I pulled over and rolled down the window.  My heart and stomach had changed places, but I tried to sound nonchalant.  "Did I make a bad judgment call at the light?" I asked the handsome uniformed man advancing on my car.       
     "No, that wasn't it.  I clocked you at ten miles an hour over the speed limit."
     "No!  Are you sure?"  (He was going to ask to see my license, I just knew it.)
     He was pleasantly sure.  Perhaps he was a reasonable man.        
     "It's my new used car's fault," I explained.  "It has a tendency to go faster than I think it is."
     "Could I see your license and registration, please?"
     I decided I would rather play golf than go to jail.  Reluctantly producing my license, I told the officer I hated the picture.  He promised he wouldn't look it, but he lied.  "It isn't any worse than mine," he said.
     I got a written and a verbal warning.  "If we meet again," the officer advised, "don't use the same excuse."
     My ill‑timed encounter with the law did nothing to improve my golf swing.  At the end of my non‑existent defense against Warren's wife and her partner, I told Warren the reason for my shaken nerves.
     "Well okay," he said, "but if we play again, don't use the same excuse."

September 2, 1993
From Kathie
      Today is the first anniversary of my first date with Frank--the night you worried and wondered whether your first born had disappeared with a homicidal maniac.  And all the while I was enjoying myself at an energizing rock concert at Great Woods followed by a quick peck on the mouth as he hastened out my door.  The year that has rushed by since then has been unbelievably terrific—full of changes for both of us.
     Frank, as you may remember, is a city boy.  Where he grew up, the lawns were made of asphalt, and the horizon was a glimpse of sky peeking through the occasional gap between tall buildings.  Now that he lives in the country with me, a whole new world of experiences has opened up for him.  Among the events that have broadened his horizons during the nine months he has lived with me are the following:
     1.  a blistering case of poison ivy all over his arms; the heat, the swelling, the blisters, and the oozing were sufficient to torment his skin for twenty days and cool his ardor for three nights;
     2.  a ruptured and infected blister on his foot from stepping on a nettle while walking barefoot in the fields; that wound meant two weeks of antibiotics accompanied by acute diarrhea;
     3.  a bee sting on his posterior from a confused yellow jacket that flew up inside the leg of his shorts (no light at the end of that tunnel) and made him jump higher and run faster than he ever thought he could;
     4.  a confrontation in the garage with an arrogant raccoon who assumed the food in the barrel was intended not for the dogs but for masked visitors, and who was in no hurry to depart from the mess hall;
     5.  the successful trapping of a woodchuck who threatened him with acute bodily harm during their trip together to a new home in a lovely forest--and then ran off when released without a goodbye glance or thank you for the ride;
     6.  the successful trapping of a rabid raccoon who flopped around drunkenly in the have-a-heart trap until dispatched by the police who said didn't Frank know he wasn't supposed to be trapping wild animals even if they were eating his flower garden.
     7.  a frantic scramble back to the house just ahead of a swarm of pissed-off hornets who objected to having their nest run over by a mower and were intent on committing hornet-hari-kari all over his body;
     8.  another case of poison ivy that had attacked his legs and was advancing northward in a menacing manner.
     Last night, as he sat on a chair in the bathroom, his blistered legs soaking in astringent solution in the tub, Frank signed deeply.
      "What is it, dear?" I asked, as I sat with him companionably.
      "I was just thinking about life in the city," he replied nostalgically.  "The smell of a burning car, the sound of street gangs cursing and threatening each other, the wail of police sirens.  It was all so familiar and predictable there, so much more secure.  Country living is a lot more dangerous, if you ask me."
     Well, I gotta go. There's a wolf howling outside my door, and I want to let him in.

    A cool gray morning on the first day of fall, and already I'm feeling SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder.)  Somehow I don't think it would help to put all the lights on.  It's bad enough to be putting them on earlier and earlier every evening.
    But as I said to the bank teller on September 17, "Just think—in only six short months it will be Saint Patrick's Day!"
    Time accelerates at my age like time-lapse photography.  Slow down, Life!

    I heard something pleasant last night at Anne Bell's duplicate-bridge session.  There were several newcomers from Hingham, and a woman named Eileen Something and I began chatting.
    I mentioned that I used to live in Cohasset at Sandy Cove.  She looked startled and said, "What did you say your name was?  Barbara Malley?  I can't believe this, we were just talking about you a couple of days ago.  You wrote a book, didn't you--something like Throw My Ex-Husband Away, But Not too Far?"
     She said one woman from Cohasset kept praising Take My Ex to the skies, saying everyone ought to read it, it was a wonderful book.  Eileen said the woman knew me personally, but darn it, she couldn't think of her name.  I felt like telling her to put her head between her knees and think harder.  I forget names, too, but not important ones belonging to women of good taste such as Emily Post, Amy Vanderbilt, Miss Manners, and now this admirable admirer of my memoir.  I'm left with no choice but to consult my Ouija Board.

    I played bridge yesterday with seven other women at the home of Mary Ann Ward, whom I know through golf.  I was substituting for someone who was away and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  You bring your own sandwich for the lunch break at noon, and the hostess supplies coffee and dessert.
    During lunch I heard a story told by Millie Mitman.  Her mother, in her mid-eighties, was invited to a relative's wedding.  She was very excited about the event, wore a pretty new dress, and happily greeted everyone from her wheelchair.
     Then someone pointed out to Millie that her mother was slumped in her chair, with her head rolled over on her shoulder.  Millie thought she'd had a stroke and called for an ambulance.  She had the presence of mind to ask that the driver refrain from sounding the siren, so the wedding guests wouldn't be upset.
    The ambulance arrived quietly, and Millie's mother was rushed to the hospital.  Shortly afterward, came a phone call from the emergency room.  "Your mother has no problem," said the doctor, "except that she's drunk.  She'll be fine in the morning."
    Every relative who stopped to greet the dear soul had brought her another Old Fashioned.  Her son had been careful in recent years to water down her favorite cocktail, but this wasn't the case at the reception.  The next day Millie's mother asked her a lot of questions about the wedding.  For some reason she couldn't remember much about what went on.
November 1, 1993
    Kathie called last night and asked if she and Frank could drop by—he had a textbook he wanted to give me that would help with my computer.  I said they didn't need to go to all that trouble; I could get it the next time I pet-sat.
    "But we have an errand to do in Braintree, so it wouldn't be any trouble at all."
    So I told the guard at the gatehouse that my daughter and her friend would be dropping a book off to me.
    "I'll meet them outside my building," I said.
    "They're not coming up to see you?  That's no fun."  (This young chap and I have something in common:  we discovered a year or so ago that we both like Saturday morning's "Winnie the Pooh" cartoons.)
    I said I didn't want to delay my visitors -- they led very busy lives.
    At 8:30 there was a tap at my door.  I looked through the peephole and saw Kathie with a weird-looking character standing beside her.  I opened the door and beheld Frank, decked out in a costume consisting of a mop for a wig, a shapeless dress made more shapely by a pair of falsies, and a long triangular shawl.
    This is the first time in all the years I've lived here that I ever had visitors on Halloween.  Frank, or should I say Frances, showed me the money people had put in the poor old bag-lady's purse.
    "Would you take a picture of him, Mom?" Kathie asked, handing me her camera.
    "I want Kathie to be in it, too," said Frank.
    So I took pictures of the happy couple, and Kathie can hardly wait to see the results.  She keeps telling Frank he's handsome, and he keeps saying he's not.  Last night he was right.
    Before they left to trick-and-treat his parents, Frank borrowed my lipstick and a mirror.  He said his mother wouldn't be surprised, but his father would probably faint.

    I spent the morning with my accountant.  I had no royalties to declare on Take My Ex, but a princely (to me) $600 on the two books based on Mom's poems.  My writing expenses, including the new computer, were double that figure. 
    This yearly confession must make Norman think I'm taking three steps backward for every step forward in my writing career, but he's tactful enough not to point that out.  I say staunchly, "Someday someone from Walt Disney will see my mother's poems and realize they'd make wonderful animated cartoons.  I'll be balancing off my royalties with trips to Hollywood."
    Then I came home and found a message that made dreary old Income Tax Day the pleasantest one of my life.  A stranger who had liked my memoir looked up my number and left a long message on my machine.  It ended, "I just wanted you to know I'm a fan.  Thank you for some wonderful moments."

    My agent has rejected my second book, and the first one has had pitiful sales.  I don't understand it.  My editors were so sure it would be a hit, they had even picked out Jane Curtain to play my role in a TV series.  Whenever I heard from readers of Take My Ex, I never tired of the cliche, "I couldn't put it down."
    Now my hopes have crashed, landing me back in the real world.  I won't be able to help my children.  I won't be able to tell Ed he's off the hook on my alimony.  And I feel so guilty about failing Little Brown, I've been wondering if the ethical thing to do is to return their cash advance.  Kathie vetoed that idea.  She says publishers don't expect every book to be a best-seller.  "They just charge off their losses, Mom, so stop worrying."

    I have a new friend named Joanne whom I met through my answering machine a few weeks ago.  She told me someone had given her my book, and she thought I had a wonderful sense of humor, and she just loved the book.  As an afterthought, she said she lived in Weymouth, too, and gave me her phone number.  Returning her call, I learned she was an unmarried Catholic in her sixties,and was only halfway through the book.  Oh-oh, I thought.  How is she going to feel about the second half? 
    We made a date to have lunch.  Over the first course, I discovered that Joanne is not only a devout Catholic but also has a fervent belief in angels, including her guardian angel.  She had finished my book, and I could tell she was dubious about my chances of getting into heaven and associating with angels.       
    "I hope you don't mind if I ask you a question," she said.
    "Go ahead."
    "How could you bring yourself to write about personal matters so frankly?" 
    Because that's the turn my mid-life took, I explained.  It wouldn't be much of a memoir if I'd glossed over or omitted harrowing episodes.  And weren't my revelations tame in comparison to the torrid stuff you read in books or see on TV nowadays?  Joanne nodded.  I told her that other readers, especially divorcees, had related to my experiences.  One woman said she felt as if she were reading about her own life. 
    Joanne took the big step of accepting me as the non-angel I am, and we plan to get together once a month for lunch and a movie.                 

    The Take-My-Ex hoopla has died down, but the notoriety lives on.  A golfing friend told me yesterday that her husband, looking for something to read, had picked up her copy of my book.  His report: "All this happened to Barbara Malley?  Wow!  I'll be looking at her with new eyes the next time I see her."
    I am amused by that sort of reaction, rather than troubled.  Certainly my friend thought it was funny, or she wouldn't have quoted it with an impish gleam in her eye. 

     I shared my sister's funny card with the family when we went out for dinner the night before my birthday.  "Better a birthday than a baby" is right.  I have recurring dreams about finding myself involved with an adorable baby.  The dream turns into a nightmare when it slowly dawns on me that I'm expected to be responsible for this kid for years to come.  It is almost worth having the dream, I'm that relieved when I wake up.

    Last Sunday afternoon, Tim and I played golf.  Then I followed him home for a dinner featuring marinated tuna fish and swordfish steaks, charcoal broiled by Tim.  As the steaks neared doneness, he would hand me a morsel as an hors d'oeuvre.  The best seat in the house was the one near the outdoor grill.
    Kathy coped with the rest of the dinner with her usual ease but coped not so easily with Timmy.  He has developed into a character who wants center stage ALL THE TIME.  And what an actor he is, with his rolling eyes and his face of a thousand expressions. I don't know whether he has picked up his style from TV or was born with it or is simply going through a stage (center).
    "No, Mummy, it's not your turn to talk, it's my turn, then Isha's, then you again, then me—"
    "That's not the way conversations work, Timmy," says Kathy.  As she starts explaining how they work, he reminds her it is not her turn to talk. 
    "It's MY turn, and I--" (his eyes roll upward as he tries to think of something spellbinding to tell his audience)--"I um, I'm not hungry, so don't make any dinner for me.  Now it's your turn, Isha."
    "I'm starved," I say.  "But then I didn't eat a cupcake."
    After two bites of dinner, Timmy was ready for another cupcake.  His mother told him he had to eat more of his dinner.  "But I'm not hungry!  I'm full!" 
    "If you're too full for dinner, you're too full for a cupcake," Kathy said.  Mothers can be so unreasonable.
    A little later, Timmy wasn't too full to bite Lauren.  She came running to her mother, who sent him to his room and then went upstairs to have a talk with him.  His next appearance (center stage) was as droll an act as I've ever seen.  Kathy had told him he must apologize to Lauren or stay in his room.
    "He hates to apologize," she said aside to me.  "Lauren is good about it, but Timmy can't stand the whole idea."
    Timmy had reluctantly promised to tell his sister he was sorry, but he had a problem.  "I don't know where she is," he said bemusedly, with eyes rolling upward, downward, and sideways, as he staggered sightlessly around the kitchen.
    "She's right there in the living room where she was when you bit her," said his mother.
    "But I don't see her!" Timmy insisted, waving his arms in circles to demonstrate his sincere efforts to find his sister.
    He didn't apologize when he was pointed in her direction because the next thing we knew, Timmy was crying to his mother than Lauren had bitten him.      
    "Now you know how it feels," said Kathy with a lack of sympathy that baffled her son.  He demanded an apology from Lauren. "I'm sorry, Timmy," she said.
    "I didn't hear you," he said.
    "I'M SORRY!"       
    "What did you say?  I still can't hear you." 
    Lauren leaned over and shouted in his ear, "I'M SORRY!" 
    Blandly he repeated, "I can't hear you."
    In short, this grandson who is a charmer most of the time has figured out how to push people's buttons like a master manipulator.  

    Kathie finished editing the last two chapters of my book, which has gone through several stages.  It no longer focuses just on Kathie but covers the fifty-year tragicomic history of the Malley family.  I think it's funny and touching, but God knows what Colleen (my former editor at Little Brown, now an agent) will think of it.  I mailed it to her today and am keeping all my fingers crossed except the two arthritic ones.

   The disastrous tearing of Kathie’s left rotator cuff has made her temporarily as helpless as a quadriplegic.  She comments ruefully that she'll never pitch another ball game. 
     Frank has been wonderful—lifting her in and out of the car (when they went to the emergency room on Saturday) and helping her with bathroom necessities.  This is the kind of help she has always hated most, but Frank's gentleness and tact are a balm to her pride.  She loves him more than ever, and so do I.
      "What would we do without you?" I said, embracing him yesterday when I arrived with a carful of groceries from her list.
    “What would I do without Kathie,” he said.
    She is in less pain today, thinks her arm is getting better.  She won't be able to go to Frank's mother's for Thanksgiving but insists she wants me to come to her house. 
    "No, I want you two lovebirds to be together."
     "We will be together," she said.    
    "I mean together alone."  I hope I can convince her that I wouldn't in the least mind spending the holiday organizing my piles of manuscripts stacked not only in my study closet but on the floor and in my bedroom, as well.  I've been dreaming a lot about my mother and Vaughan lately and know I have a deadline to meet if I want to leave my apartment in a less chaotic state than it is now.  I wonder what the date of my departure will be and what will happen between now and then. 
April 8, 1994
To Ed and Aliceann
    Ed, I had a weird dream about you last night.  It must have been prompted by a TV movie I saw.  One of the characters was turning forty-nine, which was too close to fifty to suit him.  He didn't want a surprise party, any more than you did back in 1965.    
    In my dream, we were in Fort Lauderdale, but I was stuck in the condo for some reason, while you were carrying on at the beach.  You nonchalantly brought one of your conquests up to meet me.  You were 64, but she had it backwards and thought you were forty-six.  Hah! I said.  Even if you were forty-six, she'd be young enough to be your daughter.      
    I was very annoyed, of course, and said I'd thought we were having a vacation  like the ones when we used to lie on the beach and talk and read and go for walks.  You didn't have much to say, being busy fixing lunch for the bimbo.  It's a wonder you didn't ask me to fix it.    
    I said if this was the way things were going to be, I was going home.  You said there was a plane leaving at 4:00 a.m.  "Four a.m.?" I screeched, waking myself up.  That was lucky for you because I was ready to file for ex-spousal abuse.  If I were you, I'd keep an eye on him, Aliceann.

   
     The book I've been working on for over two years was read and rejected by Colleen.  Another crushing letdown, but I'm not going to let it ruin my life.  Half a day was long enough.  Colleen wrote:  "The problem is that there is no one subject to the book and a family memoir about everything that happened in one family, spanning many years will, frankly, be of little interest.  If asked, an editor or agent cannot just say, `Well, it's about the Malley family,' without getting blank stares.  Your other book worked precisely because it was about a certain aspect or angle in your life.  It had the theme and gimmick of a burlesquish romantic life, and it had the consistent tone of humor—that's what the book was meant to be and could be pitched as a humorous look at marriage."
    She once suggested I write about the dating game from an older woman's point of view.  I have three or four episodes in my computer ("Msadventures") but don't know how I could expand my material unless I went looking for Mouldy, Dried-Up Mr. Goodbar.  Not an appetizing assignment. 

      When I watched Tim install the two disks that came with my laser printer, it appeared capable of doing almost anything except stopping hiccups.  I'll have a fascinating old age learning about its mysteries, as well as my computer's, whose functions are still 90% baffling.
    For the last month, I've been attacking my massive collections of letters and manuscripts and photographs (Mom's and mine), trying to cut down on the task of moving, if I should have to do this at some point in the future.  Also, trying to spare my children from coping with All That Stuff when I leave for parts unknown.  I find there's one thing I can do in my seventies that I was never able to do in my fifties or sixties: either throw The Stuff out or store it in a space Kathie has made for me in her basement.

    I've been taking bridge lessons from Anne Bell two nights a week, Mondays at Milton High School and Tuesdays at the Hingham Community Center.   This week we had our last class on Wednesday night at the high school to make up for the one we would miss on Easter Monday.  My friend Mary and I were late, so we didn't have time to go to the Ladies' Room after our long drive.  That was okay, one could always seize the opportunity when one was Dummy.
    The school's disagreeable janitor appeared in the doorway of our class, wanting to know what we were doing there.  He acted skeptical of Anne's answer that she had notified the appropriate authorities.  Scowling, he slouched away.  I never thought to call after him, "Are the rest rooms open?"  I should have remembered that we'd had this problem with him the first couple of sessions.  He seemed to begrudge us the use of the school's facilities and the imposition on his time.
     In the middle of our first round, my bladder informed me it was time to go.  I sat tight until I was Dummy, then hurried down the long corridors leading to the rest rooms.  I thought to myself, I'll bet they're locked.  If so, I had a contingency plan I'd thought of as I passed the trash barrels. 
    Both rest rooms were indeed locked, so I rushed back to the trash barrel that was on the further side of a narrow partition with a window in it.  I grabbed the large plastic liner and retreated behind the partition, where I trusted I would be unseen if anyone came out of Anne's class.
    I was flooding the bag’s interior, when I looked up.  A few feet away stood the school's other janitor, a chap with thinning reddish hair, who was staring at me with shock and disbelief. I stared back at him with the same expression.  As I yanked up my clothes, I dithered an explanation of my bizarre behavior.  Then I carefully folded down the top of the plastic bag and handed him my specimen.
    "Perhaps you could take care of this," I suggested.  He accepted my gift and walked toward the Rest Rooms without going downstairs for the key.  I think he didn't believe they were locked.  He thought I was the kind of nut who always pees in trash barrels.  Talk about your bag ladies.
    I took Anne aside to tell her what had happened.  She got hysterical.  I told Agnes, my bridge partner.  She got hysterical and said I'd have to write about it.  So here it is, my latest Most Embarrassing Experience.
    "I'm glad this is the last class," I said to Anne.  "They're never going see my face or any other feature again."
    I'll close now, as I gotta go to the trash barrel.

     One of the things that tickles me about children is their dawning comprehension of family relationships.  For example, Linda, at about four or five, called to her mother with the words, "Mummy, your sister is on the phone."
     Timothy Vaughan, now four and a half, demonstrated his expertise on who is what to whom during a visit to my condo yesterday.  He had played splashing games with his father in the pool, then played on the jungle gym while Tim and I used the opportunity to chat.  When Timmy began to get bored, I said, "Okay, let's go to the golf club for lunch."
    As we were leaving the barbecue area, we noticed a grandmother sitting with her grandson at one of the tables.  The two little boys showed enough interest in each other to warrant introductions. 
    "This is Timmy," I said.
    "And that man is my father," said Timmy.  "He is her son, and she is my grandmother, and I am her grandson, and she is his mother, and I am his son."
    As we went on our way, Timmy called over his shoulder, "You see how they all connect?"
    The little boy looked bewildered at having met so many people, all rolled into three, but the grandmother smiled, and my grandson's father laughed aloud.        

    During dinner at the golf club with Kathie and Frank and Sarah . Kathie said, "I'm going to run to the Ladies' Room." Sarah laughed and said, "Kathie, you can't run!"
    Kathie's response:  "It's just an expression people use, so I use it, too."
    "That's what's so great about Kathie," I said to Sarah.  "People don't feel as if they've goofed when they say something like, `I'm going to run along now' in front of her because she uses the same expressions."
    Kathie tells me Sarah will probably attend Lexington Collaborative until she is twenty-two and ready to cope with a job or marriage.  She doesn't lack for boyfriends.  She told us the one she met at camp this summer kissed her on the mouth right in front of her visiting mother and sister. 
    "What did your mother say?" Kathie asked.
    "She was shocked," Sarah giggled.  "The boyfriend I had last summer didn't kiss me.  We just put our arms around each other and hugged."
     It's hard to believe Sarah will be twenty-two in seven years, and I'll be an octogenarian.  At least I hope I will.  I'd like to see how things work out with Sarah and my other grandchildren.

August 17, 1995
To Ed and Aliceann
    I was thrilled when I began to open the package you sent for my birthday—an electric can opener, just what I’d always wanted.  But no, the box contained two packages.  I investigated the smaller one first, thinking surely it must be a sleeve of golf balls.  Instead, it was the Cinnabar.  One spritz, and the fragrance clung to me all night, giving me erotic dreams in which I wore nothing but a towel and my Cinnabar.   My subconscious, imagining I'm young enough for these shenanigans, loves staging scenes for the me-that-used-to-be.        
    Then I opened the other gift.  Nothing could give me more pleasure than Darrell McClure's "Little Annie Rooney."  I leafed through the pages with a magnifying glass until I found a clear imprint of the date the booklet was published. In 1933, I was twelve years old and read Little Annie in the funny papers and never would have believed the artist would someday be a cherished friend.  Even less that I would write a book, and he would be an important part of it. . .  .      

The time:  yesterday afternoon.  The message on my machine:  "Hi, Mom.  Call me when you get in.  I want to invite you to a party in January."  So I called Kathie and asked how come she was giving me such short notice, and what was the occasion?
    "Can't you guess?"
    "Frank's birthday?  Your anniversary?"
    "We're getting married."
     I began rehearsing the ceremony in my mind.  As I pictured them saying their vows, tears began rolling down my cheeks.  I had to switch my mind to another subject, or I would have burst into sobs—which I hope I won't do on January seventh.  ("Why not?" said Kathie.  "It's all right to cry at weddings.")
    The newlyweds will be going south on the 8th to spend their honeymoon with Ed and Aliceann.  I can't believe the oldie-weds will celebrate their tenth anniversary on February 14th.  Time passes faster and faster these days, like a video tape picking up speed toward its end.  Sometimes I wish I could rewind and change certain scenarios, especially the tragic ones.  But fooling around with Fate would alter other scenarios, perhaps with worse consequences.  As the adage says, "Be careful what you wish . . . ."

January 12, 1996
    The wedding was at the Unitarian Church in Needham.  I stuffed my pockets with tissues, preparing for a tearful break-down, but Kathie began the ceremony with a funny poem she'd written.  It kept me smiling all through the wedding vows. 
    We went to another part of the church to a big hall for the reception.  Frank comes from a huge family of brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews.  After the buffet, the photographer took pictures of the bride and groom with both sets of families.  Timmy, incorrigible ham that he is, tried to sneak into both groups but was pulled away from Frank's.
    "Oh, that's too bad!" said Kathie.  "It would have been fun to see him with all those Morrisons."
     The honeymooners couldn’t fly to West Palm Beach because a blizzard closed the airport for two days.  They changed their reservations to February in hopes that Florida will warm up.  My ex says he's been freezing in fifty-degree temperatures.  

      I’m having a memory problem.  Not that it's been that great for the last few decades, but I’ve started having strange lapses, as if I'd come down with Instant Alzheimer's.  I was forgetting not only names but faces I should have easily recognized.  Sue Barunas, for example.  She and her husband, George, showed up at Anne Bell's duplicate bridge game three or four weeks ago. 
    "Hi," I said cordially, when the couple arrived to my table. "This is my partner, Agnes, and I'm Barbara Malley."
    "I know," she said.  "Dorsey Roby and I played bridge with you in February."
    Trying to bluff my way out of my dilemma, I said to Sue's husband, "And where is it you and I met?  On the golf course, I suppose."
    "I've never seen you before," George said relentlessly.
    The next week the same couple arrived at my table.  They might as well have dropped in from Mars.  Sue had seen me examining the scores for the previous Tuesday.  "Did you notice who came in first?" she asked.  I said all I noticed was that Agnes and I had tied for bottom.
    "Sue and George Barunas," said Sue, pointing to the score sheet.
    "And that's you two?" I inquired, looking from one Martian to the other.  "Congratulations!"
    It wasn't until I'd seen Sue and George for the third bridge session that I began to register their names and faces. 
    I told my other bridge partner, Barbara Elliott, not to expect too much of me next time we played in our bridge Marathon.
    "Something weird has been happening to my memory,” I explained in an e-mail.  “I've been reading a book by an autistic woman and another one about the brain’s synapses and neurotransmitters.  I think my neurotransmitters aren't making the connections they should."
    I went on to tell Barbara about the odd things I've been doing, like pouring tomato juice on my cereal.  And bringing in the Sunday paper at 8:00 a.m., then getting upset at 9:00 when I didn't find it on my doormat. 
    "And Barbara," I concluded, "don't hesitate to get another partner for next year.  I'll understand."
    Barbara's advice:  "Stop reading books on Alzheimer's and stop worrying."

    My Westinghouse refrigerator went to its final west in the dump.  I recalled the old joke about the woman who opened her refrigerator and saw a rabbit sitting there.  "What are you doing in my refrigerator?"  "Isn't this a Westinghouse?" asked the rabbit.  "Yes."  "Well, I'm westing."
    I should have known two weeks ago when Edy's frozen yogurt got soupy that something was wrong.  By the time I faced facts (and mushy frozen carrots), the weekend had arrived.  The 24-hour service people were unavailable.  Someone at the golf club told me repairs would cost as much as a new refrigerator.  For sure, a new one wouldn't match my Harvest Gold stove and dishwasher.
    I called Kathie for advice.  "We have a refrigerator in the basement that isn't that old," she said. 
    "What color is it?" I asked.
    "White, but so what?  You're not going to be in Better Homes & Gardens, are you?"
    It took another week to arrange the swap, but by yesterday the task force was ready.  Kathie called early in the morning to say Frank and his brother would put my new second-hand refrigerator into his truck.  Then Frank would meet Ted and Michael, who had just flown up from Florida.  They would arrive at Weymouthport in forty-five minutes.  "Oh sure," I thought, and told the gatehouse guard I'd be having guests in an hour or so. 
    Darned if the two trucks didn't arrive in forty-five minutes.  I had to abandon my computer and rush to empty the contents of the Westinghouse onto my kitchen counters.  The rabbit sat there looking sleepy and annoyed.   
    It's amazing what three men and a dolly can accomplish with such an unwieldy assignment.  I was shocked to see dirt, dust, rabbit droppings, and a Triple A battery lying under the Westinghouse.  (That didn't fall out of the motor, I told myself shrewdly.)  There was also a three-foot length of wire.
    "What do you suppose this is?" I asked Ted.
    He said, "That's why your refrigerator stopped working."  I looked at him in  dismay, and he grinned.  His jokes always catch me off-guard.
      I began hurriedly sweeping up the debris and trying to clean the worst of the stains with a damp cloth.  Ted told me not to bother; no one would see the mess under the replacement refrigerator.        
     When it comes to housework, my favorite words are "Don't bother."    
June 21, 1996
    Jack’s daughter called to tell me of his death.  I'd heard he contracted lung cancer three years ago.  He barely made it in time from Florida to her California home, in which she had set up a hospital bed.  Down to a hundred pounds, he died within a week.
    I'm thinking back to a day when I saw what nicotine deprivation did to Jack's personality, the change almost as dramatic as Jekyll's into Hyde's.  The four of us had left Cohasset for an afternoon cruise on Ed's boat, Aliceann toting one of her sumptuous picnic lunches.  I was enjoying the company and a beer when I noticed that something was wrong with Jack.  He was becoming increasingly curt and irritable because of a serious problem.  He had cigarettes but no matches.
    He asked tensely if there were matches anywhere on the boat.  Pained see him transformed from his charming, witty self to this tightly-strung, unsmiling stranger, I didn't think twice.  I became an enabler, searching everywhere for that essential packet of matches.
    "There must be some in the galley," Ed said.
    I practically crawled into the cupboard under the sink and finally found in a back corner what Jack needed so desperately.  He lit up, took several deep drags, and gave me a grateful grin.  Jack was back.  He had had his fix.
    He tried many times to stop smoking in the 70s.  He finally gave up, saying, "I enjoy the habit.  I don't care if it shortens my life by a year or two."
    "But Jack, it isn't as if you would be alive one day and dead the next.  Dying of cancer is a drawn-out, miserable process."  And that's what he suffered, courtesy of the American Tobacco companies.
     My favorite memories of Jack are in the small notebook he gave me soon after we met.  I used it to record his offhand remarks that kept me laughing for over a decade.  I often abandoned my beloved's company, not for a call of nature but to scribble in haste his latest quip.    
At Migis Lodge, June 8-10, 1973
     We went shopping to get some shorts for Jack.  I first went to the camera department to see if I could get my Nikon fixed.  While we were apart, he had a Jack-ish adventure.  A woman standing near him had been talking away at a great rate, not realizing her husband had drifted away.  Suddenly she looked around, stared at Jack and said, "He's gone!"
     "I know it.  I didn't know quite how to tell you.  I knew it would be a shock.  But I've been listening in case you had any questions."
And another recollection:
     This week one radiant spring day has followed another.  To Jack I was reporting that my golf was terrible, I couldn't hit a drive, I couldn't sink a putt, my scores were 120 and up.
     Toward the end of the week, the weather continued to be beautiful, and my golf continued to be rotten.  Jack listened patiently to my complaints.
     "Barbara," he said, "I've been thinking about your problems and I believe I have a solution.  Why don't you marry me and let me take you away from all that?"
June 17, 1988
    Jack called from Florida and said he was lonesome and wanted to talk and he missed me.  I had just finished a three-page letter to him.  Every time he asked me a question I'd say, "That's in the letter."
    Finally he said, "I'd like to think that someday I'll be able to hold you and kiss you again.  Before I die, I'd like to be in bed with you once or tw--ten times."
   
    The minute I saw the perky straw hat at Bradlees, three years ago, I knew it was for me.  The open weave would enable me to anchor it with bobby pins on windy golfing days.  I also liked the narrow black scarf that ended in a fluffy, feminine bow at the back and would go with everything. 
     The hat became my trademark.  When I occasionally wore another one, distant golfers had trouble recognizing me.  When I didn't wear one at all, they really got confused.  ("I think it's Barbara Malley."  "No, it can't be, she's not wearing her hat.")
    It didn't bother me when the sun faded the black band to a sort of putty color.  Putty color goes with everything, I told myself.  I wasn't tempted last month when I saw hats just like mine on sale at Bradlees.  Why waste the money? The handsome jet-black band would only fade by the end of another summer.       
    I wore The Hat when I recently played golf in Marshfield with Anne Bell and the Stevenses (regulars at our Tuesday night duplicate bridge sessions).  The day was a lot more glorious than our golf, but we had a good time, anyway.  Gerry and Alan invited us to stay for a drink, so we packed our clubs in Anne's car, and I took off my hat, placing it on the front seat.
    Looking over my shoulder, Anne drawled in her agreeable way, "Bahbara, I think it's abaht taame you replaced the scaaf on your hat.  You can find a nice one at the Faave and Daame."
    I gave the object in question a more critical assessment than usual.  Anne was right, the faded material looked frumpy and unattractive.  What a good friend she was.
    That night I operated on the hat.  I ripped off the glued-on scarf, which looked uglier than ever with its black underside now visible in the twisted length of material.  The general effect was of a goat's entrails.
    I set about attaching to the hat a sheer pink scarf from a bureau drawer.  It was long enough to make a fetching bow in the back.  I tried it on.  Anne would approve.             
    I brought my conversation piece to Tuesday night's bridge and launched into a speech about how our instructor not only had brilliant suggestions as a bridge teacher but  was also helpful in other areas of life.  Anne was smiling as I described the advice she had given me after our golf game.  Then, taking the goat's entrails from my pocket, I dangled them from my fingers and added
". . . although I really don't see what she didn't like about this."  The reaction was gratifying. 

January 1. 1997
To Ed and Aliceann
    By the time you get this, Kathie and Frank will be down there enjoying what we don't have up here.  Beautiful, balmy breezes and warm, well-bred weather.  Oh my, the lengths to which I go to achieve alliteration and not end a sentence with a preposition.   To describe the results of my cataract surgery, bananas have become such an intense yellow I could use them for a lamp.  Lettuce is greener by far than the valley in that book by I-forget-whom.  A favorite rose-colored pullover has turned hot pink overnight.  As for the pink in my cheeks, in reality it is a multitude of spider veins.
    Other shockers were the countless areas in my condo that weren't as clean as I thought.  In the bathroom, I tipped my head back for the eye-drops prescription and witnessed a ceiling covered with specks and spots.  I'm still trying to catch up with years of unobserved grime.
    Another effect of the operation was a droopy eyelid.  The doctor says it should be back to normal in a few months.  I devoutly hope so.  What good is one bedroom eye?
    Oh well, as long as it's good enough to see a golf ball landing in the rough, that's the important thing.  Gene Peterson has resigned because he intends to make golf his career and, I suspect, because he could no longer stand certain golf-club pains-in the neck. 
    Our best woman golfer, Nancy Black, described the new pro as "yummy."  Maybe I'll take a lesson and give him a load of my bedroom eye.  One never grows too old to dream.
January 28, 1997
     Frank has been doing some painting for me and always arranges to come on a day when Kathie can keep him company, usually a Friday.
    Last Friday I expected to be gone for the day. I spent the morning at Anne Bell's bridge course at the South Shore Country Club.  We students look forward to stopping at noon and having an excellent lunch in the dining-room.  I thought I'd have plenty of time to get to Cohasset for a "Marathon" bridge game at 1:30. 
    The service was nerve-wrackingly slow.  Finally the orders began to arrive, and I waved at the waitress who was passing out the soup-and-sandwich entre to those who had ordered it.  When I was ignored, I whimpered to my fellow diners, "I'm in such a hurry," flapping my arms the way Timmy does when he's excited.      
    It was 1:00 when I hurriedly began scalding myself with the soup, figuring I'd take the sandwich with me.  A few spoonfuls later, I poured ice water into the bowl, picked it up, and gulped the soup down.  At 1:10, after I waved to the waitress and flapped my arms some more, she brought me a take-out carton.   I raced for the coatroom and could only imagine the raised eyebrows that followed my departure. 
    I pulled up in front of Joan Graham's house at exactly one-thirty.  She came out into the cold to tell me she'd been trying to reach me all morning.  Her partner was sick, so the bridge was postponed until next Friday.
    Meanwhile, back at the condo, Kathie and Frank had arrived late because they had to pick up a part she needed for her wheel-chair lifter.  Frank hadn't wanted to appear at the repair shop in his painting pants but thought it wouldn't matter if he got paint on the oldish pair he was wearing.
    Kathie thought otherwise.  "Those are too good to turn into painting pants," she said.  So off came the pants.  Then Kathie decided his jockey shorts were too good to turn into painting jockey shorts.  Non-argumentative fellow that he is, Frank took them off, and began nakedly painting my front hall.
    "Wouldn't it be funny," Kathie said, "if Mom came home early for some reason, ran into a neighbor, and invited her in to look at the new paint job?"  About 17 seconds later, I tapped on the door and turned my key in the lock.  Upon entering the hall, I found Kathie giggling as she looked toward the dining-room at Frank's disappearing heels.  She said she'd never seen him move so fast and then told me why she was giggling.
    "That's okay, Frank," I called. "I've got work to do on my computer, so you can come out now."
    After awhile I realized I'd forgotten to bring my phone into my study.  "Frank," I called, "I'm going to back into my bedroom and get my phone. I promise I won't peek."
      It was a productive afternoon for both Frank and me.  I printed a copy of my revised Read Me a Rhyme, Please for a publisher, and Frank finished painting the hall.
    The next day I looked at his work and left a note on the kitchen counter:  "The closet opposite my bedroom has two or three little drips that probably happened when you were bollicky and I was backing to and fro.  Could the drips be sanded and touched up?  I figure Kathie can read this note to you while you’re painting, sanding, stripping, or whatever. . . .” 

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