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THE DAISY PLATE

LAURA WILLIAMS

Marge Files. It was a name from a different life, BC—before children, back when I regularly changed out of my pajamas and could leave the house without an infant car seat in the crook of my arm. I wasn’t so much surprised to hear Marge had died, as I was to hear her landlord wanted me to come look over her possessions.

            “Someone should care about the things we leave behind,” he said on the phone.

            “I suppose,” I said. “Why me?”

            “You were the only one to ever visit. I live downstairs, see, and I remember you coming like clockwork for a while. You were the only one.”

            I wanted to tell him there’s a big difference between visiting someone and tending to their diabetic ulcer, but he sounded like a nice man and I didn’t want to be a downer.

            “How’d you get my number?”

            “Easy,” he said. “I called the home care agency and asked about the red head.”

            The next day at noon I dropped the kids off at my mother’s and met the landlord outside the duplex. He had a bib of sweat on his ribbed tank top and tufts of hair on his shoulders.

            “S’cuse my appearance,” he said. “Been clearing out her apartment. Hot enough to melt butter up there.” He wiped his forehead with a red bandana and tucked it into the back pocket of his Wranglers. Then he turned and led the way.

            It was odd going up the dark staircase without Marge’s obscenities raining down.


***


            “Go away! Don’t want your &#%! Girl Scout cookies,” said Marge from the top of the stairs the first day I met her.

            “I’m here to change the bandage on your foot, Ms. Files.” I used my sweetest tone and held up my orange medical bag for good measure.

            “Beat it, you bloody &#%!!”

            I went back to my car and called my supervisor. “She won’t let me in, Tammy. And she used really filthy language,” I said, still rattled. My mom once washed my mouth out with soap just for saying the word hell.

            “If you can’t handle an eighty-four-year-old woman with a touch of dementia, maybe you’re not tough enough to be a Healing Hearts home care nurse,” said Tammy. “If that ulcer gets infected again, she could get sepsis and die. Then we’d have a lawsuit on our hands. So I suggest you go back there, right now or—.”

            At the time, I didn’t know why Tammy stopped short of a consequence, but I soon learned she had the habit of drawing her finger across her neck to her employees, even on the phone. Still, I got her meaning and wasn’t about to let some old meanie get me fired, especially after I’d just signed the lease on a brand new Mazda 3. I mustered resolve and marched back up the stairs.

            “Let me in or I’ll recommend you be placed in a state facility, Ms. Files.”

            It was a good bluff. From that point on all I had to do was mention a nursing home and Marge would let me in.


***


            Two teenage boys, the landlord’s sons presumably, were busy making a pile out of Marge’s belongings. Galaxies of dust motes hovered around the mountain of yellowed curtains, crocheted doilies, wire hangers, and wool. I noticed a collection of hardbound black books—The Leatherstocking Tales by James Fennimore Cooper. Rusty baking sheets, pots and pans. Pantyhose. Stubby heels. A foam roller still coiled with some of her coarse, grey hairs.

            The landlord wiped his forehead again with the bandana. “I knew something was wrong when I came to collect her rent check last week and there were no curse words. Heart attack. Found her right there.” He pointed at the bedroom doorway, conjuring an unpleasant image of Marge in her final moment.

            “Take anything you want,” said the landlord, flapping his bandana toward the pile.

An umbrella, bent metal ribs. A parasol, broken wooden ribs. A creepy, porcelain-faced clown. A cookbook splattered with sauce. One of her pink slippers. The housecoat she always wore. I half expected to see Marge’s scowling face in the center.


***


            Back when I was a home care nurse, I met a lot of old people living alone. A few made a big deal out of my visits, setting out tea biscuits and Earl Grey. Most clients, however, merely tolerated my blood draws and blood pressure checks as they watched Price is Right or Judge Judy. Then there was Marge, meaner by the day.

            I didn’t think a profanity could be worse than bloody &#%!, but Marge soon settled on slut, as she shifted her beady eyes from my blossoming baby bump to my naked ring finger. It cut deep because I hadn’t planned on getting knocked up. And certainly not by Doug Bender. Even so, I wanted to do the right thing and was losing patience waiting for a proposal. To my upmost chagrin, Doug and I didn’t get married until Stella she was old enough to be our flower girl and William Marshall was a seed. Anyhow, looking back, I don’t know how I managed to absorb Marge’s insults with such grace. I just cleaned her open wound, applied fresh bandages, and left, without a word—until my last shift.

            I was bursting at the seams with Stella, ready to hang up my stethoscope to be a stay-at-home mom. Incidentally, the agency was also dropping Marge as a client. It had taken a long time, but her ulcer had finally healed. Knowing I’d never see the old lady again, I worked up the gumption to give my thoughts a voice.

            “You bring your misery upon yourself,” I said as I packed up my bandages.

            For the first time ever, she laughed. “I’m not miserable. I just prefer to be alone.”


***


            I think about it all the time, especially when Doug says he already ate at Big Boy when I made dinner. Or when the kids are being monsters and my dad tells me I should’ve kept the nickel between my knees. Or when my hairstylist knows all my business because my mom was in the day before. Or when I call my friend to talk and she tells me I should get a therapist. I think about it all the time. How nice it might be. Alone. Sometimes I even take the daisy plate out of the cupboard, hold it in my hands, and think: Someday.


***


            One of the boys tossed a set of tarnished candlestick holders out of the china cabinet across the room. No one used candlesticks anymore. Everything in the pile was obsolete. A life’s worth of trash. It was all so depressing.

            The other boy, emptying cabinets in the kitchen, began throwing plates through the open doorway onto the heap. They reminded me of Doug’s clay pigeons, how he tossed them in our backyard, but there was no BOOM of the shotgun, no spray of particles, no crying babies, no sirens after our neighbors called the cops—just clink, clink, crack.

            A plate rolled down the pile, a survivor, completely intact. I picked it up, admiring the painted daisies on the edges. It was the perfect size for a cheese Danish. Turning the porcelain in my hands, Someday took form: The kids at school. Doug at the construction site. The phone off the hook. Sitting by the window in a bath of sunlight with nothing but birdsong in my ears. I imagined how I might feel, what I might say, if someone knocked on the door.

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