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Ev McTaggart

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Just Ask Alice
By Ev McTaggart
Thursday, September 18, 2008

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Move to Florida? Not Alice Palmer!

Alice Palmer lived alone. Her house, an overgrown rambling ranch with ceiling-to-floor and wall-to-wall windows, a swimming pool and a frog pond out front, lay at the end of Runyon Road. Well, not quite at the end. A small private cemetery abutted Alice’s five acres and Alice always joked that her house was right next to a really dead end. The property was part grassy meadow and part thick forest, the kind that might harbour fugitives, Casey Splotnik often remarked. Among the cherry trees, the blackberry brambles and the little brook that meanderingly babbled behind the swimming pool was one of Alice’s favourite spots: the wooden bench down by the brook’s s-turn. Alice often sat there with her newspaper, absentmindedly touching the brass marker that read “In Memory of Jake Bronwyn.” Jack had been Alice’s first husband. She needed to remember him, even if he had run away in 1983.

Casey Splotnik worried about Alice living alone. “Don’t you feel lonely in that big house since Whit died?” she’d ask, practically every time she came for morning coffee, which was three times a week. Which was three mornings a week too many for Alice most weeks.

“Heavens, no,” Alice always answered gravely. “I was alone quite a lot when he was alive, too, you know.”

In truth, Alice didn’t miss her second husband Whit. If she had, she’d have gone crazy that last year when he was away more often than he was home. The neighbours thought he took a lot of business trips. Alice knew better.

Mary Killian, her neighbour five properties to the east, worried about Alice living next door to a cemetery. “Aren’t you scared? Don’t you find that creepy, especially now that you’re alone?” she’d ask, shivering and fixing Alice with her are-you-batty-yet stare.

“I suppose it could be a mite scary on stormy nights,” Alice would agree, trying to keep a solemn edge to her voice. “If I’m up, in the living room, I can see the headstones when the lightning flashes.”

In truth, Alice didn’t mind the old Scott Family Cemetery. The people in there—and they didn’t include Whit Palmer— were not likely to cause too much trouble at 666 Runyon, even if she had reneged on Whit’s verbal promise to sell half an acre to the Scott family so they could expand the cemetery. Her father had always said, “Hold on to your land, Alice. They’re not making any more of it.” She didn’t feel bound by Whit’s word. The land had been in Alice’s family for decades. Who did he think he was, whittling away at it? Wasn’t it enough that he’d sold off the six acres across Runyon, the old orchard, to some fancy pants developer from Toronto? Sure, the developer said he wanted the land for his private use, but Alice had visions of a high rise condo building facing her living room. Over her dead body.

That’s what she’d told Whit when he’d suggested, over breakfast one snowy day last January, that they sell the house and move to a condo in Fort Myers. Florida? She didn’t think so. “Over my dead body, Whit.”

She remembered his response. “That can be arranged, Alice.”

Of course, he was joking. Still. She couldn’t have him forging her signature like he did with the property across the road. Copying the curl in her ‘l” and the sweep of her “a” while she was choking with pneumonia in the hospital. Couldn’t have the home property sold to anyone. Couldn’t have bulldozers or grave diggers disturbing Jake’s memorial bench and finding Jake, the serial philanderer, underneath, sporting the inch-deep dent in his skull that she’d made with the shovel after she’d discovered Janie Wheaton’s panties in her laundry. No, that would never do. How very fortuitous that the snow blower had been on the fritz and Whit had had to shovel the driveway because he was adamant he not miss his regular weekly “card game”, otherwise known as Mitzi Lord. Mitzi had since moved to Fort Myers. As her nephew used to say, “What a co-inky-dink.” Alice’s eyes lit on the snow blower’s spark plug that sat on the fireplace mantel right next to the urn with Whit’s ashes. Heart attack. Death by spark removal.

Thunder cracked and seconds later, a sheet of lightning raced down the sky outside the breakfast nook. For the hundredth time, Mary Killian shivered and asked her usual question, her fingers clasped around the gold-rimmed teacup that had been passed down from Alice’s grandmother. “Aren’t you just a bit scared living here alone, Alice?”

Alice smiled. “No,” she said. “I’ve decided I like living alone and the cemetery down the road doesn’t bother me one whit.”

© 2008 Ev McTaggart


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