The Mystery Blog
a work of fiction
by Joyce McDonald Hoskins
Grace and I
For the Palm Frond Retirement Community, Critique Group.
And for The Mystery Blog
Writer: Charles A. Fritzpatrick aka The Mystery Blogger
I laughed when I overheard these words yesterday. “Blog it, post it, tweet it, or it didn’t happen.” I thought it was all rather silly. But now I’m doing it. And believe me, what follows did happen. I will be writing this in my journal, posting it on my blog (anonymously), and reading for my critique group who have sign a confidentiality statement. I trust few with this story.
Journal entry: Wednesday Evening.
Some women always have a man. Always. Grace was one of them. Even when she was old, men flocked around her. Hell, Grace was never old. She still danced in stiletto heels when she was in her late seventies.
I met her in 1945 when I returned to the states. Happy to be home and alive, I went a little wild, as many of us did. We’d seen too much death, lost too many buddies, and felt far too much pain. Partying too much beat sitting in a military hospital, shell shocked.
They want me to go to bed now, but the nurse nodded and left when I told her I’m working on my autobiography. In truth, it will probably be a biography of Grace’s life. She was married four times, Grace was, and never to me. Much to my regret, and perhaps to hers. Yes, she asked me once why we never married.
The Palm-Frond writer’s group will pick my few paragraphs apart tomorrow. Tell me I’ll never get published if I continue to use too many toos. Damn, it’s hard to have a good laugh when there’s no one left to share it.
Grace, Martin, Abe, Colleen and I, now we were a critique group. Martin’s political satires brought home the bacon, too bad his ticker stopped before he finished that novel. What did he title it, White House, Black Sin? No. Right idea, wrong words. Happens a lot nowadays. It’ll come to me later. Abe, wrote a damn good sports column. He managed to get his book on baseball published. Sold well, but had him in court until the day he died. Colleen’s children’s books are still in the bookstores. Me? The one book wonder and it never published. The local police reporter with a file full of rejection slips. The rags never objected to my toos. Hell, maybe if I take out about a hundred toos and resubmit, it will float. Ha. Fat chance. And why should I care? I’ll not be here much longer, anyhow.
Sign off and go to sleep old boy.
Journal entry: Thursday Morning.
So, the group says I need to write either a journal or a novel, that I can’t do both in one book. Why the hell can’t I? If you can’t do as you bloody well please in your eighties, when the hell can you? I’d stop going to the group, except they’d probably send the shrink around to see why I withdrew.
After all, I suffer through the reading of their cookbooks, granny antidotes, and pet stories, so I’ll write, my way. And I will read this part, too. Yes, too, is my favorite adverb/adjective. And I’ll concede, most of the stories and even the recipes are pretty darn good. We’ve all lived long enough to give each other hell, and not take offense. No, I won’t quit the group.
Several people in the group pointed out, and rightfully so, that I didn’t say what Grace wrote. Poetry—so like her that I neglected to mention it. She wrote passionately, with no thought or desire of publication. She put her poems in small books with clapboard fronts, gave them away to friends, and sometimes strangers. She took the time to paint the covers—herbs, birds, flowers, butterflies—always delicate and lovely—of course.
Journal entry: Evening.
Grace’s grandson, Brandon came today. He has her platinum hair and he writes. Yes, the boy writes, and he writes well. His father was her first husband, Hector, the college professor. They met when she took a graduate course, but he was too ethical to ask her out until the course was completed. They married two weeks later. I was, as I was in her future weddings, the best man. I didn’t know him, but she insisted. As it turned out, I never got to know him well, he died before Brandon’s father was born. Brandon’s father was named for me, Charles, but he’s always been called Chase.
So, Brandon came in with a gizmo he calls a flash drive. Stuck it in the back of my computer and up popped my novel. Asked if I remembered how to do a word search and suggested I look for words I might have overworked. He thought I might want to start with too. Said if I do some editing and rewriting he’d show it to an agent that is shopping some of his work. Don’t know who would be interested in The Police Reporter’s Beat, nowadays, but what else do I have to do? Maybe, I can freshen it up a bit. Nothing to lose. Good kid, Brandon. He’s my godson, as is his father. Grace insisted.
You’ve probably figured out by now that I loved her. Not like I loved my wife, Suzette. It was a different love that Grace and I shared. Suzette knew. Fortunately, she understood. Maybe it was because she was French, maybe not. I really don’t know why, but she did, perhaps better than Grace or I.
But, I digress, as older people are known to do. Shit, the truth is, I’ve always rambled. Always. When I came back from the war I got a job in the newsroom writing the police reports. I got a title, Police Reporter, and almost enough money to buy cigarettes. We all smoked in those days. The newsroom looked like a smokehouse most of the time. Fortunately, I was living back home with Mom and Dad, so I didn’t starve. Anyhow, the editor always yelled at me for rambling. All I was supposed to do was go to the court house, pick up the police report and type it, verbatim. When I added a little here and there, the editor ranted and raved.
Fortunately—yes, that is another word I overwork—the readers liked it. As time went on, they gave me more freedom, and eventually I started doing a little investigating on my own. At first I didn’t have a car. I hoofed it all over town. If I used public transportation, it came out of my pocket. I got thrown out of the police department and run off crime scenes on a regular basis. If the boss got a complaint call, I got hell. Even after my column was syndicated, even after I started doing nationwide stories and won awards, I got hell.
But there I go, rambling again—back to the story. It was right after the war, I worked hard, drank hard, and chased women. Abe, only five years my senior, was already sports editor. Colleen, fresh out of junior college, was society editor—her uncle owned the paper. Martin was already a well-established political cartoonist and essayist. He was the oldest, thirty.
We were wild by the standards of the day, tame by todays. We three guys considered it our duty to watch out for Colleen. We constantly assured her parents that we would die protecting her virtue, and we would have.
One night we went to the country club—part business, part pleasure. Colleen was with a guy who sold insurance. I had a date with a girl from bookkeeping, can’t remember her name. Abe was with Helen. They later married. Martin usually struck out with the girls but he had a date with Suzette, my future wife.
Colleen and her date, Ed something or other, went outside. Martin and I were keeping an eye on her. Abe had a bad heart. It kept him out of the army. It’s a wonder he lived as long as he did. He made it to sixty-eight. Because of Abe’s heart, if there were any problems, Martin and I handled them.
In a few minutes, Colleen came back in without her date. Her face was red, there were tears in her eyes, and the top of her dress was ripped. Didn’t take much to size-up the situation. Abe, Suzette and Helen took charge of Colleen. Helen, a home economics teacher, had a little sewing kit in her purse. She fixed Colleen’s dress so her parents wouldn’t suspect anything was amiss.
So Martin and I took a little trip outside, and old Ed, something or other, didn’t make it to work for a week. The word around town was that he had been beat-up and robbed going home late. We were a close group. People soon learned not to mess with any of us.
A few nights after that incident I met Grace. The first time I saw her she was perched upon a tall bar stool, her lovely long legs posed in a revealing, yet ladylike, fashion. It was a private party, in the home of Colleen’s uncle. When I learned her name was Grace I thought it suited her well. She was with a man, of course. Standing close so I could overhear their conversation, her voice embraced my ears. Clear as a bell, soft as a summer rain, with a hint of a southern drawl. I was fascinated. She was telling the man about an art show she had been to a few days before. I knew a little about art—very little.
I sought out Colleen for a few tips. Turned out she had covered the art show, so I got some conversation starters from her, but by the time I maneuvered my way back to the bar, Grace was gone. I intro’ed myself to the man who remained, and asked where she had disappeared to.
“Off to her room, I imagine. She lives here,” he said as he picked up his drink and sauntered off. “Rich bitch,” I heard him mumble under his breath.
Well-brought up men were protective of women in those days. If I hadn’t been pondering the revelation that Grace was Colleen’s cousin, I would have gone after him. Punched him out, probably.
Once again cornering Colleen, I demanded to know why she hadn’t told me Grace was her cousin. She laughed and said, “Why darlin’, I intend to introduce you to her tomorrow night. I knew I could get you to the writer’s group I’ve been talking about starting if I dangled my lovely cousin before your eyes. Refreshments at six and the critique begins at six-thirty. It’s your responsibility to get Abe and Martin here. Write a few pages, fiction or nonfiction. You guys can whip something out on your coffee breaks. I’ve already started a book.”
“You’ll see. Now go work on your buddies and have them here.”
Women, they’re devious manipulators. I’ve always loved that about them.
Turned out my task was easy. Martin said he had a story playing around in his head, and this would give him a reason to put it on paper. Abe said he would wing it, and write a story about a baseball player.
Journal Entry: Morning
We went out almost every Saturday night and the next was no exception. Same group, minus Ed, something or other. Suzette and Martin weren’t hitting it off, and I had no interest in the bookkeeper. By the time we hit a few clubs late that night, we had switched dates. I drank a little too much. I shouldn’t have done it knowing we’d have to slip Colleen into her house. We usually did this by helping her to the garage roof where she could climb into her bedroom window. Young ladies were not allowed to stay out late hitting the hot spots in those days, but Colleen always managed to get by with it. Looking back I suspect her parents knew and looked the other way, sometimes.
That particular night we got caught because I made too much noise. Dang, there I go with those toos again. Anyhow, the truth is: I had way too much to drink. The sight of Colleen’s father standing on the porch in his robe sobered me up somewhat. I took all the responsibility for her being late. I said Colleen had been begging me to bring her home for hours, but I kept getting distracted. My habit of talking too much, and rambling too much got her off the hook.
Somehow that touched Suzette, and I think the woman loved me from that night on. We had a good marriage, Suzette and I, no children, but she was happy keeping house and caring for her little pugs. Bridge and cooking were her passions. We traveled a great deal, constantly after I retired. I have no regrets. I loved her.
But what about Grace? One might ask, and I’m sure one will, so I’ll do my best to answer. I know what’s on the tip of your tongue. You’re biding your time until I finish so you can say, “You said earlier, in paragraph three, line three that you did regret.” At least three of you are ready to attack old eagle eyes, now aren’t you? I pause here and give an appealing grin. I can still do it. Can’t I? So you say, “do you regret, or do you not regret?” I don’t know. Sometimes I do. Other times I do not.
I suppose it went the way it should. I married Suzette and was faithful to her.
Journal Entry: Evening.
Some have suggested that I loved Grace as a man would love his sister, but it was nothing like that. No, nothing like that at all. Suzette said we were kindred spirits, in tune to one another’s souls. Grace thought we were great lovers in another life. I don’t think I had another life, but if I did, I’ll take that one.
We never once made love. Not even the time we were stranded by bad weather on a day trip and couldn’t get back to town. We stayed in a motel, separate rooms, Suzette had no reaction, but Stu, Grace’s second husband, was suspicious. I liked him the least of the four.
Now, I’ll admit there were times when I fantasized and wondered what it would be like to make love to Grace, but those were rare occasions and I didn’t indulge my thoughts.
You’re probably thinking she was beautiful, and I guess she was, in her own way. She was rather careless about her appearance. Being raised in a family with old money does that to some women. Too sure of themselves to bother much with hair and makeup.
Enough for today. I’ll go down to the game room and see what’s going on there. They say we need to keep our minds sharp. Yeah, never know when one might need a sharp mind in this place.
Journal entry: Morning,
Some mornings I awake and feel sad when I realize I’m the only one left. This is one of those mornings. I thought about waking up, turning my head, and seeing Suzette beside me. She slept on her side facing me with the two little pugs curled into her back. There were four sets of pugs in more than sixty years of marriage. Every time the last of the pair passed on she would say she didn’t want another—that it was just too hard to say goodbye. She was right about that. She’d grieve and cry so hard my heart would break. I would wait a while, and then I’d bring her home two puppies. She would cry and they would lick her tears away. Strange, the last one passed on two weeks after she died. Burying the little pug, I remembered her words about how hard it was to say goodbye. I fell to the ground and cried. Grace found me and helped me into the house. She knew by intuition to come.
They brought my coffee and breakfast to my room and didn’t try to talk me into going to the dining room. A young reporter is coming at ten. Wants to interview a WWII vet. I said no at first, but then I remember how it felt to be turned down for an interview, and told him to come along. I’ll write until he comes.
Grace carried a full gallon jug of wine hidden in the folds of her peasant skirt the day I buried the little dog. We opened it even though it was still morning. “Might as well get soused if we’re going to cry. I don’t care if I get sick,” she said.
I remember heaving a great sigh and replying. “Don’t care about much of anything right now, except you.”
She wrapped me in her arms and we cried. Damn, tears come easy when you get old; ‘bout to cry now, remembering. Better take a shower and spruce up a bit. Dang reporter might want a picture of the old vet.
Journal Entry: Afternoon.
So, talking to the kid reporter went well. Nice kid. Got a long life ahead of him if he’s lucky. If the damn crazies don’t blow up the world, that is.
I went to the dining room for lunch. You have to stay on your toes around here and look good or they start probing at your body or brain. There would be a notation on my chart, took breakfast and lunch in his room. Damn, it would be so much better if just one of them were here with me. Brandon’s coming after lunch. Doing some upgrade to my computer. Just using that darn thing should keep my mind as sharp as eighty-eight year old mind can be.
He’s coming at two, after his class. He’s like his grandmother, always taking classes. And like Grace, he takes whatever he pleases. I might show him a few pages of this when he comes. Might. In the meantime, I’ll check my email. Now, that is something I do enjoy about computers, email.
Got some pictures from Abe’s granddaughter of her new baby. “Third baby, heart checked out clear for this one, too,” she wrote. Gosh, she sure worries over Abe’s problem being hereditary. Abe outlived the doctor’s predictions by forty years, so what do they know? Got some spam and deleted it like Brandon said I should. Tried working the crossword, but I still like doing it in the paper best.
So, back to my story. I stayed in the house eight years after Suzette died. Sometimes I think Grace and I might have gotten together then, except George was healthier than the first three. He’s still kicking, enjoys spending the money she left him, from what I’ve heard. Of course, she left most of it to Chase and Brandon. And because she was Grace, she left something to each of the group member’s children, grandchildren, and even the greats. She remembered Suzette by leaving some money to a pug rescue group. She left me all of her poetry. It’ll go to Chase after I’m gone. I’ll read it one day. I’m not ready, yet.
George was the only one she married who was younger than she. I guess that’s where my regret lies. It would have been nice to have had those last eight years. Just to have her with me. To sit on the lanai and hold hands, read a book together, work the crossword, maybe take a day trip. Things like that, without her having to check on him, or go home to him.
Nevertheless, we spent a lot of time together. Long afternoons when George was playing golf. Grace would read poetry; we’d play cards, or discuss a book or film. I didn’t give up the house and come here until she died. She died suddenly, as she would have wanted, in her sleep. Being a crime reporter, I wanted to be sure it was natural, George being younger and her being rich. It was. Aneurysm.
Decided to title my new work, Grace and I, although Grace and Us would probably be more appropriate. Ours lives were entwined and tangled like a ball of yarn a cat had played to death.
Journal Entry, Evening.
Where do I start? Suzette, I guess.
Suzette. What a woman. She came to this country to marry a GI. He didn’t seem so glamorous with his uniform gone and no job. She had second thoughts. Took a job in a five and dime selling candy. She had a pitiful little room, no money to go home, and time running out on her visa.
We probably never would have met if Martin hadn’t had a sweet tooth. And then again, knowing Martin, he wouldn’t have asked her out if he hadn’t needed a date. But he did and we met. Beautiful, sexy, sweet, she made me feel like a million dollars. And fun, oh, was she ever fun. Grace always said so. Suzette had very little education, but she was intelligent, well read, and could talk about any subject but politics. No wonder she and Martin didn’t hit it off. But we did. Who wants to talk politics when you can learn French by having it murmured in your ear late at night?
We married rather quickly because of the visa problem and my youthful passion. Mom was scared that in my haste I was making a mistake but she grew to love Suzette.
I didn’t want her in the five and dime, even though I wasn’t making much money. We moved into the little garage apartment at Mom and Dad’s. Mom was a seamstress and Suzette helped her in exchange for the apartment. After that, things started getting better for me. We bought a little house and Suzette got her first set of pugs.
Hitting the hot spots tapered off as our group matured and married. We’d get together every Friday nights for cards. We’d only go out on the town once in a while. Suzette and Grace were great dancers and sometimes, we’d roll back the rug and dance in one of our living rooms.
Of course—perhaps that is another phrase I overwork. What the hell. If a publisher is ever interested, that would be the editor’s job. I’d be dead or past caring, anyhow. Of course, the writer’s group continued to meet every Tuesday night. As spouses appeared in our lives, they were invited to sit in but few ever did, except for Hector. Hector would have been a vital addition to our group, but the cancer took him, just when we were getting comfortable having him.
Weddings became contagious. Grace and Hector, Abe and Helen, Colleen and Brian, Martin and Judy. Judy was a war widow with four children. She could talk politics, and Martin was a good father to her children. Colleen and Brian had one child, as seemed to be the tradition in her family. Abe and Helen had six, with Abe always commenting he hoped he lived to see them all grown.
What with Abe’s six and Martin’s four, Suzette kept a shoe box full of greeting cards for all occasions. Which reminds me, I need to have something sent for Abe’s latest great-grandchild. The author heaves a heavy sigh here, as he will when he reads it for the group. Not because of the need to send something, but because it reminds him of his age.
Chase came back last night after dinner. Grace always said he was like his father. If that was the case, I guess I would have liked Hector a great deal, if I had known him better. Chase was one of those adult-like children, an intellectual like his father. Now Brandon, he is like Grace.
Chase and Brandon live together in the house where I first met Grace. A big mansion on the outskirts of town over a century old. I’m getting there myself. Grace lived there with each of her husbands. She was born and she died in that house. The same room, I’ve been told.
We always met there—the writer’s group that is. Not once did we have a meeting anyplace else. Chase wants us to meet this Tuesday night and read. He says it would be himself, Brandon, me, and Colleen’s daughter, Jillian, who has only recently started writing. I told him I would think about it. Not sure if I’m up to that.
But as I’m typing, Brandon calls and says he is picking me up Tuesday night. I told him no, that I didn’t have much longer. He said, “If you’re alive, I’m picking you up. If you’re dead, I’ll leave you.” I had to laugh. It was just what Grace would’ve said.
Maybe I’ll take the Palm-Frond coach over to the mall tomorrow . . . get a new shirt . . . look around in the bookstore.
It’ll be good to see Jillian, regardless. Colleen had Jillian late in life. She’d given up and thought she would be childless. It was quite a joy to all of us. Colleen was the youngest of the group and we knew it would be the last baby. We all spoiled Jillian, but she turned out well in spite of it.
Colleen wrote lovely children’s stories and adults enjoyed them as much as any child. Especially read by Colleen’s soft expressive voice, with just a tiny remnant of the Irish accent she heard her mother speak. Suzette always went to her bookstore story hour, sat on the floor with the children, and had a wonderful time.
You’re probably wondering if I ever asked Grace out on a date. I never did. My attraction to Suzette was strong. Also, I was not Grace’s social equal. That didn’t bother the four men she married, but it would have bothered me. Remember, we’re talking 1945. I was the son of a school teacher and a seamstress. Grace was the only child of the wealthiest man in town, possibly the state.
Today some would say that was chauvinistic of me, but nevertheless, I could never have let a woman keep me. Grace never would have given it a thought, but I would have. Oh yes. I would have given it a lot of thought.
Times have changed, but in my day a man took care of his wife. The day Suzette and I moved from our first little house to the bigger house was one of the happiest days of my life. I can still see her face when she first saw the kitchen. Making her happy made me happy.
It was different for Colleen. Her father wasn’t nearly as wealthy as Grace’s. He was the younger brother, and careless with money. He married a poor Irish maid. It was okay for Colleen to go to junior college and get a job. Grace was sent to finishing school, but she would joke and say she was never properly finished. She returned home after a few months.
We could never have made a go of marriage. Perhaps, I was too prideful, but if that hadn’t been the case, it still wouldn’t have worked. Sometimes, I think the reason her marriages never ended in divorce was because they ended in death. If Hector had lived, they likely would have made a go of it. He would have continued to teach, and never thought much about her money. Grace on one hand didn’t give a fig about the money, and on the other couldn’t have existed without it. As I said before, she lived her entire life in the family mansion on the outskirts of town. Chase and Brandon wanted me to move there instead of coming here. I figured if I never lived there when Grace was alive, I wouldn’t after she was dead.
The group met there for more than sixty years. Determined to keep it going after each death, Grace and I continued when we were the only two left. She joked that one day Chase or Brandon would find us there in the little room on the west side, dead. I don’t really want to go back there tomorrow night, but it will be good to see Jillian. Grace’s funeral was the last time I saw her.
Journal Entry: Afternoon
Hiked from one end of the mall to the other and back to this bookstore . . . pretty good pace, too. The tennis shoes Brandon insisted I buy helped. I’ll have to tell him. I strongly resisted his efforts to make my life more comfortable. Jeans, tee-shirts, and tennis shoes were never my style. Suzette had trouble talking me into Bermuda shorts when we were on vacation. But I have to admit, I am comfortable. Coffee with whipped cream, probably not real, two-bite size muffins, seven dollars and forty-nine cents. Oh well, what the hell, I’m not going to be here much longer, anyhow. Might as well spend it. Two nieces of Suzette’s, whom I’ve never met and a second cousin of mine get whatever I have left. I’d leave it to Brandon, but he doesn’t need money.