This story is the August 2017 winner of the Literary Maneuvers challenge “Because I’m Insane” by SueC (Susan Coleman)
I live on the fifth floor of a senior-only apartment building. I have two windows in my apartment, both of which look down onto a small patio, several tiny gardens and a couple of benches with matching lawn chairs. These are for residents of the building to enjoy. In early spring the two trees shading the patio area are in bloom with pink petals. Aside from the fact that this small oasis is surrounded by a parking lot that is consistently full, it is quite a pleasant view from my windows.
In the very early morning, there are typically the same two or three older ladies wearing voluminous caftans, sitting on a bench under the trees together, sipping their coffees. The sun is barely up and I wonder why anyone would want to sit on a dew-damp bench that early in the morning. Or, I think, are they just trying to recapture what they used to do when they owned a home of their own? When the moments on a private patio at the back of a large, four bedroom colonial, was their only refuge. Early, of course, before anyone else was up, stealing time away from making breakfast for a demanding family; the solitude and quiet was a peaceful panacea for a life too full.
What were they now, these coffee moments on the apartment patio? Another peaceful retreat? What from?
My arms are resting on the sill as I try to listen, but five floors up is too high for anything to be heard, so I just imagine. From experience in the elevators and the hallways, I know it is not a discussion of a good book, or analyzing the evening news, or even a funny new show on PBS. It is more likely about their dogs, visits to the vet and how long a loving pooch has left on seizure medication. Or how often they “go” or if they had an accident anytime in the last century, or if they limp, or have long toenails. Well, whatever is discussed, eventually the caftan ladies finish their coffees and wend their billowing ways toward the back entrance of the building.
Most of the people in my building are refugees from somewhere. In their tiny apartments, on their cramped walls and stacked on any flat surface, are photographs and drawings from long-ago moments and lives left behind. They are never discussed, never pointed out with longing. They are simply part of the background and evidence that the ancient person we see before us once had a real life.
One day I make the effort to dress early and join the caftan ladies. The damp easily creeps into my jeans as they talk about life in the apartment building. They talk about their doctor appointments, taking the bus to the grocery store, how to get and keep food stamps and, as expected, their pets.
They look at me expectantly and I take a deep breath. I say, “I wish I still had a home; still had a family; still had a back yard with a patio I could sit on and have coffee in the morning and a beer in the evenings. I wish I could go to the beach and wear a bikini. I wish I had not gotten old so fast. I wish I could turn back the clock; re-do some things; get an education; love again. Dang it! I wish I could have a long night of hot sex!”
I throw my head back and laugh aloud at my outrageous comments. When I look at the caftan ladies again, they have already struggled to their feet and moved away from me at rapid speed. As they go, I hear snippets of their comments.
“Must be insane . . . “
Susan Coleman was born and raised in Chicago where, in sixth grade, she was taught by an nun from Ireland who was an inspiration. The nun’s merriment over SueC’s written assignments was infectious. Sue was ten years old, and has been writing ever since. A story about this nun resides on her website entitled “My Sister Mary Story.” (www.susancolemanwrites.com)
SueC’s education has never been focused on writing, but while studying to be a paralegal, she found research and writing to be her favorite subject. Whatever subject she took, she wanted to write about it.
She studies people, their reactions to events in their lives, how their joy expressed itself and how sadness was often overwhelming. She has taken psychology classes to understand human nature, and tries to recreate these emotions in the stories she writes.
Susan has three publications to her credit:
(1) A story for the now discontinued magazine Dogwood Tales, called “Gone Visiting.” It was inspired by her father, who had been placed in a nursing home. The story is dedicated to him.
(2) An Amazon’s Kindle ebook: “Allegheny Shade.” (2014)
(3) An Amazon’s Kindle ebook: “Surviving Nathan: A Murder Mystery set in the Dust Bowl.” (2017)
SueC is currently working on her third novel, and short stories.