(A novel by Susan Overturf Ingraham)
Prescott, Arizona, May 1978
[Eight years later, after another move to another city, Kate makes a decision.]
Kate pulled into the driveway and parked her car. She walked up to the double-wide trailer, located in a small but clean trailer park in Prescott, Arizona, and unlocked the front door. Placing her keys on the coffee table, she slipped out of her shoes and went to the kitchen for a glass of water. She leaned against the counter and drank while staring at the refrigerator. She reached out, opened the freezer compartment and stared at the large bucket of vanilla ice cream just inside. Hmmm, she thought, a little ice cream would be so-o-o-o-o good right now. I’ll have just a little dish. I know I’m not supposed to have it, but for heaven sakes, where is the joy in life? I deserve this for all the work I did this morning. And Al’s not here, so who cares?
Kate got the ice cream scoop and reached for a bowl in the cabinet. She scooped out one, then two, and then, after a slight pause, three scoops of ice cream, re-covered the bucket and returned it to the freezer. She walked to the living room and sat down on the couch, slowly dipping into the ice cream and savoring each bite. After several mouthfuls, she returned to the kitchen and added chocolate syrup and some nuts, as well as a fourth scoop of ice cream.
Returning to the living room, Kate avoided looking into the small mirror which hung on the dining room wall. No point in reminding myself, she thought, of how I look. Kate had been battling with her weight as well as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol for years. The doctor had told her that she needed to get rid of the sugar — especially the ice cream — but Kate had found it an emotional, uphill battle. All she had to do was look in the mirror to know that she was overweight. So she didn’t look. And she kept eating her ice cream, knowing that no one was there to scold her. Besides, she thought, I deserve a treat now and then. I’ve been a good girl. When she was finished, she would just destroy the evidence, and no one would ever be the wiser.
The empty house echoed only silence and stillness. No more kids and Al’s never here, Kate thought. Not much point of doing anything. Kate had just finished delivering Avon products to her customers. She felt hot, weary, and lonely. After finishing her ice cream sundae, she stretched her legs out and rested her feet on the footstool. She looked around the room at her belongings. This is what I have, she thought, after thirty-eight years of marriage. Here are the trappings of my existence. These items tell who I am and what I am. I’m living in a trailer with Al. And, of course, Al’s never here. I have to cope with this small space by myself. Why, she asked herself for the hundredth time, did we have to buy a trailer? Oh, sure, it’s a double-wide trailer, but it’s still a trailer. I never thought this is where everything would end. Not here. This is a far cry from the house my father built for my mother, the house I grew up in, she lamented silently, although her mouth formed every word.
When Kate felt sad, thoughts of her father came to mind, and she would remember the two times she tried to confront her mother about it — at her father’s funeral and before her mother died. Her father had often come into her room, late at night, and crawled into bed with her. She remembered it. She was sure. But no one else knew. She had never told Al. She had never told a friend. She had never told her mother or her brothers. Deep in her heart, however, she believed that her mother had known — and if she hadn’t known, she should have known.
The need to move became imperative because moving helped to keep the thoughts at bay. She picked up her empty bowl and took it to the kitchen, then stepped into the small backyard patio and looked at her flowers. Her heart slowed, she breathed easier. The memories and the fear faded, as they often did. The July air was warm already; in an hour, she had to meet Al for lunch. She wished it would be sooner.
Five years before, after Al had resigned, the first shock had occurred for both of them when Al didn’t immediately get a job. After a long six months of searching, Al had been offered a job at Yavapai College at the Prescott campus. Al felt it had been a good move, although he would have preferred a university, but Kate had not liked Prescott from the beginning. If someone had asked her twenty years ago where she thought she might be in 1978, she wouldn’t have chosen Prescott. Her goals as a young woman had seemed quite simple: She had imagined herself living in a large, lovely home, the matriarch of a large and loving family, the wife of a husband who worshipped her. Kate shook her head. Well, none of that happened, she thought.
Kate’s thoughts were interrupted by the telephone. She rushed to answer it, but there appeared to be no one there. She yelled into the receiver, “Hello? Hello? Hello? Is anyone there? What do you want? Why are you calling me?” She slammed the receiver down, her heart pounding rapidly. Who was that? she wondered. Why do I always get these strange calls? It’s only been two weeks since the last one. Is someone watching me? Does someone want to get into my house? Is Al having an affair, and that was his mistress trying to tell me? Was it Al, afraid to say what he wanted to say, that he wanted a divorce? I feel a danger smothering me. This call. Who was it? What do they want from me? Why can’t they just let me live in peace?
To calm herself, Kate turned and looked north out the back window towards the mountains, though her view was limited by trailers, houses, and telephone lines. It really isn’t much to see, anyway, Kate thought. She turned to the refrigerator and made herself another ice cream sundae. This will calm me, she thought, and help me to forget that phone call. Kate returned to the patio and sat down in a reclining chair. As she ate her ice cream, she began to talk to herself. This was a habit that had become increasingly noticeable within the last ten years of her life. In the evenings while watching TV, Al would tell her that she was moving her lips and whispering and she would try to stop it, but when she was alone she figured that it really didn’t matter. After all, people thought things in their heads all the time, so why should it matter that sometimes she just spoke those thoughts out loud? And, while she was alone, who could care about it anyway?
“Who made that call?” she asked herself out loud. “I’ll bet it was that woman, Janice Phelps. I’ve told Al that she spelled trouble. I wonder what Al is doing now. He’s suppose to be at his office and he said he had a meeting this morning. I wonder if he’s really at the meeting.” She decided to call his office. She stepped back inside, placed her empty bowl next to the first one in the sink, and punched in the numbers of the office phone.
“Good morning. Dr. Cullen’s office. How may I help you?” The voice was that of Mary Nash. She had been Al’s secretary since Al had arrived at the college. A woman of perhaps 35, she was unattractive yet efficient. She was also married and had three children. Kate didn’t like her much, but she didn’t think she was much of a threat.
“Good morning, Mary,” Kate said. “Is my husband there?” Kate tried to keep her voice calm and friendly.
“Oh, hello, Mrs. Cullen. No, he’s not here. He had a meeting with the other deans at ten o’clock and he hasn’t returned yet. Can I give him a message?”
“No, that’s fine, Mary. I’ll call back in a little while.” Disappointed, Kate put down the phone. She washed out both bowls in the sink and hid the evidence of her two ice cream sundaes. She returned to the living room and turned on the ceiling fan. The clock told her that she still had at least thirty minutes before she had to pick up Al. She picked up a magazine from the coffee table and flipped through the pages but couldn’t concentrate. This is so ridiculous, Kate thought. I hate being here, alone and bored. It’s all Al’s fault because he never thinks of me. All he cares about is that job of his. You’d think that I didn’t even exist.
Kate flipped on the TV and watched a bit of “General Hospital” while she gathered together her Avon invoices and prepared to send in the money she had made over the previous week. While she worked, she heard a slight thump at the front door. Was someone there? she wondered. Who could be at the door at this time of the morning? Cautiously, she stepped closer and looked out through the small window at the top of the door. She could neither see nor hear anyone. She unlocked the door and stepped out on to the front porch. There didn’t seem to be anyone at the neighbour’s house and she could see no one near her car. She turned around to go back in the house when she stepped on a grocery store flyer. How did this get here? Kate wondered. Was it here when I came home a few minutes ago? I don’t think so, she answered her own question. It’s been put here since I came home. She picked up the flyer; it appeared to be a simple piece of paper, but Kate wondered who had delivered it. Was someone using this as an excuse to get close to my house? Maybe to look in my window and see if I was home? She quickly re-entered the house, closed and bolted the door, and re-checked the back door as well.
The TV and ceiling fan rumbled in the background of Kate’s hearing. They calmed her nerves and made her feel safer. She finished counting her money, yet she still had time to kill before she went to pick up Al. Again she asked aloud, “Why did we have to get this trailer?” She could still hear Al’s arguments: “We don’t know if we’ll be staying. This is much cheaper than a house. You won’t have so much to clean.“ For Al, the trailer was his quick escape if things didn’t work out in Prescott. In the end, Kate had agreed. Maybe some day, she thought, I’ll come home to find Al and the trailer both gone*.
When they first arrived in Prescott, Kate had considered taking courses at the college, just to prove that she could still do it successfully, but she had decided she no longer had the desire nor the energy to try. She had sold Avon products instead, and Al had all the car-shaped cologne bottles to prove it. “I hate this stupid job,” she said out loud, beginning to talk to herself again. “It’s beneath me. Even though I’m good at it and even though I make money with it, I hate it. I want to be working with Al. He’s shutting me out. I want to be there with him and then I’ll know that he’s not with anyone else. I haven’t been able to trust him for all these years and I have to keep an eye on him. I want to go to Al’s office and stay there all day.”
Kate had completely forgotten “General Hospital” on the TV. Her lips moved and twisted as she said over and over again, “I want to be at Al’s office. I’m 59 years old and I don’t want anything else except to be with him! If I’m there, he won’t do anything bad.”
Kate looked at the clock on the wall. It was eleven-thirty and she could leave soon to join Al for lunch. She wasn’t sure what she would do. In the end, she didn’t do much of anything but think, and her thoughts were mercurial. She recalled that just the previous night Al had slapped her. Why had he slapped her, she thought. Did he slap her? Or did I slap him? She couldn’t remember. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. She wasn’t sure when, if, or how it happened, and there were too many things to think about. The flyer. The strange phone call. All of these things had meaning, she knew, but she couldn’t put them all together.
Promptly at 11:45, she left the trailer and headed for the college campus. She parked at the usual spot and Al came out precisely at the time he had promised. They drove to a nearby Denny’s restaurant where they often went for lunch. Once they were settled at their table and their lunch had been ordered, Al asked cautiously, “So how’s your morning been?”
“Oh, all right,” Kate said, her voice flat and emotionless. She gave no hint to Al of her nerve-wracking thoughts and her never-ending fears, nor did she mention the silent phone call or the mysterious delivery of the flyer. She knew that Al often didn’t believe her, and she was in no mood to listen to his skepticism.
“Well, what did you do?” Al prodded. “Tell me about it.”
“Just some deliveries, that’s all,” she said. Her voice revealed what Al already knew: she was depressed.
“Did you make some money?” Al asked, trying to cheer her up.
“A little,” she said. “But, Al, it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. There’s nothing left for me to do with my life.”
Al looked at his wife. How many years had he tried to make her happy? Too many, he thought. It was like being on a train trip with no destination. “Kate,” he said patiently, “It’s not so bad. We’re still together. We’ve got kids and grandkids. I’ve got a job I like.”
This is so typical of Al, Kate thought. He always thinks in terms of himself. Never of me. She decided to change topics. “Al,” she said, looking straight at him, “I want to work with you at the office. There are things I can do there. I can be useful.”
Al had heard her pleas many times before. He was afraid that the college would be just as unwilling to let his wife work in his office as NMSU had been. Al chose to respond cautiously. He wanted to convince Kate that it was not a good idea to pursue this without causing a major disagreement. “Kate,” he said, choosing his words carefully, “we’ve talked about this before. You know you won’t get paid for this.”
“I don’t care about the money, Al. I just want to be there. You know I can do a good job. Please. Let me be there.”
Al saw the look of hope in his wife’s eyes. He knew that she would not stop trying. He began to think in terms of compromise. “Well, Kate, I guess I could use your help for a while. I’ve got a lot to do in the next few weeks with the fall line-up of courses. How about if you volunteer a few hours every day for the next few weeks?”
“Great!” Kate smiled. “When can I start?”
“How about tomorrow morning?” Al said.
Kate smiled. “Wonderful,” she said.
After taking Al back to his office, Kate drove home in much better spirits. She decided to clean out her closet. After all, if she was going to be working in Al’s office she would have to be well-dressed. She hadn’t worn some of her teaching clothes in years. She wondered if they still fit. She might have to go out and buy something new. The afternoon was spent in a frenzy of excitement as she made plans. She forgot, for the moment at least, about mysterious phone calls, flyers that advertised products she didn’t need, and women who looked at her husband.
That night she wrote in her diary, “At last Al has agreed to let me work in his office. I will be with him all day every day! We will be safe!”
- Continue to Chapter 34.
- Refer to Family Tree to keep relationship of characters in mind.
- Return to Family Legacies Table of Contents.
Disclaimer: While it is true that my characters were inspired by my own genealogical study, I could not and did not know my ancestors with the same intimacy that I have created in my characters. Therefore, let it be said that these characters are fictional and created from my own imagination. Similarity to persons living or dead is unintentional and coincidental.