On a brisk, windy Friday night I’m standing outside a resort hotel’s entrance where Betsy and I have just had dinner, waiting for the valet to bring our car around, Betsy inside away from the wind, all three lanes jammed with vehicles, mostly pickup trucks and SUVs, the hotel hosting a weekend convention, two other men nearby waiting on a valet.
A couple is unloading their pickup in front of us, both of them overweight, bent, limping, wobbling from side to side, the pickup’s back seat crammed with stuff. The woman pulls out a walker and then a pet carrier with an animal inside that she speaks to. She puts the carrier on the walker’s seat, turns back to the truck and takes out two Styrofoam containers and sets them on the pet carrier. A massive pickup is parked behind them, its owners and one of their teenage children heaving suitcases and two coolers onto a luggage cart, ready to roll into the hotel, described on its website as a tropical paradise nestled within hundreds of acres of tropical gardens.
The woman with the walker has pushed it inside and the man piles some of their luggage onto a cart, chuckling and chattering to himself as he works. On the truck’s bed cover, I see a case of soft drinks, 24 16.9 ounce bottles, the wrapper says, and three warehouse-size boxes of snack food. The man huffs on his way to them, and I tell myself to help him unload instead of watching him suffer. Is he chuckling because he’s embarrassed by the judging eyes on him, including mine? A staff member rolls his luggage cart away and leaves another for him to fill. He drops the soft drinks and snack foods on the ground by the cart, then limps to his truck and leans into the back seat, reaching for more belongings. I shift on my feet, thinking I could go around to the other side and push them toward him at least or pick up the heavier pieces and bring them around to the cart. After the back seat is more or less empty he wobbles to the rear of his truck, panting, pulls up the bed cover and props it open with a lift strut, chattering as he peers down at more of their property. He sticks a hand in and grips the handle of a suitcase that almost topples him when he raises it out with a grunt.
I take a few steps, looking for my car, and see it coming in the outside lane, which has somehow been cleared. I turn and wave at Betsy.
Inside the car, we comment on the hubbub as we make our escape from paradise, our house less than a mile away.
“Did you see the homeless woman?” Betsy asks. “She limped through the door holding onto her walker and talking to an animal in a plastic box. Her takeout containers fell off the box and fried food scattered across the floor. I could still smell it and see pieces of crust when I left.”
I tell Betsy she was not a homeless woman but a hotel guest driving in with her husband, also mobility-impaired, and I fill her in on their belongings.
“We have a nice dinner and those are the images we’re left with. Can you picture them putting all that junk in a hotel room? How long can they be staying?”
“Watching him, I couldn’t help seeing his point of view.”
“The hotel was extremely busy. They couldn’t give full service to all those people.”
“There’s more to it. I could have helped him.”
“Did you see anyone else helping him? We didn’t go there to work. You’re tired at the end of the day.”
“He was more tired than I am.”
“You didn’t make them bring all that paraphernalia, and you don’t work for the hotel. Are other onlookers now bothered they didn’t help them empty their truck? He might have gotten mad if you’d touched his stuff. If you had it to do over again, would you help him?”
“So forget about it. You did what you wanted to do.”
“It would have been better if I’d helped.”
“You should accept your decision. You didn’t help him. Case closed.”
“It will never close.”
When my neighbor friend Monica called me up angry and wanting an explanation I said I didn’t know what she expected me to explain. “The charity cocktail party?” she said. “I took the time to get ready. I was dressed and waiting for you. You stood me up.” I wavered. “You invited me,” she said. As I listened to her the invitation began to sound familiar. “ I forgot,” I confessed. “My plans changed. I didn’t go myself.” “What about me?” she asked. “She wouldn’t forget something like that,” I heard her husband, Harry, shout in the background. Monica said it didn’t make her feel any better to think I would forget her, and she ended the conversation.
Later I texted her that since I hadn’t mentioned the party again she could have touched base with me or sent a reminder. Because I’d invited her, she answered, I should have been the one to remind her, which made no sense. How could I send a reminder when I’d forgotten I’d invited her? Was she capable of seeing that? Harry replied with a text: “You are not welcome at our house.” They lived across the street and two doors down, and I dreaded seeing them whenever I walked out my door.
I resented them for thinking the worst of me but accepting that the fault was mine I tried taking the high road. I called Monica, who greeted me with near silence, and apologized. I said I regretted my mistake and was sorry for the trouble I’d caused her. I offered no defense, except to say I was getting more forgetful. I hoped she could forgive me. I heard her speaking to Harry. “Why forgive her when she did it on purpose?” he said. “Why does he think I did it on purpose?” I asked her. “Why would you forget me?” she asked and hung up.
I’d never known Monica to be an angry person. She had always seemed a sympathetic listener. I wondered what she’d really been thinking when I spoke to her, and the fact that she’d turned on me so easily made me regret the goodwill I’d shown her in the past. Several months before I’d given her a gold link bracelet she’d noticed on my wrist and admired. It was a costume piece but had some style. I’d been wearing fewer bracelets, self-conscious about drawing attention to the age spots and discoloration on my hands. Now I pictured her eyeing it with anger and perhaps throwing it in the trash. In her state of mind I couldn’t think she’d take any pleasure in wearing it. The bracelet kept me awake for a couple of nights and I decided I couldn’t be at peace with it in her possession.
I texted her that I wanted the bracelet back. Under the circumstances I was sure the thought of wearing it repulsed her, I said, so why should she want to keep it? Put it in my mailbox, I suggested. I looked out the window, as if expecting to see her charge outside with the bracelet in hand, run up the street, and fling it at my front door. I imagined opening the door and catching the bracelet, my eyes meeting Monica’s.
She did not emerge, but a text soon arrived. “Now we see the big picture!” Harry said. A text from Monica followed. “All this to reclaim the bracelet? I’ll give it back if you promise to seek professional help.”
I haven’t promised her and she has not returned my bracelet.
As far as I knew, my sister, Anna, had not been struggling with her husband, Doug. They were in town, visiting me from out of state. They seemed the way they always did, Doug full of wise remarks and Anna smiling and nodding rather than laughing at them. We all laughed about going blank on certain words or names, which struck us as normal since we were in our seventies.
It was part of my routine to take an early-morning walk on the beach, and one day Doug said he’d like to come with me. The beach was a couple of blocks away and we got to the seawall in minutes and took the steps down, the Gulf gray and choppy, piles of seaweed washed up by the waves, lines of pelicans overhead, cloud cover, wind in our faces as we headed west.
What stuck with me was that Doug told me he’d been thinking. If Anna were to die before him, he said, he had two women in mind who could replace her. Questions occurred to me, none of which I asked. Was Anna sick? She was four or five years younger than Doug. Why was he saying this to me? Was he going out of his mind?
One of his prospects lived near them in the country, and she made pickles in her own kitchen. That was the way he described her. Did she know him well? I asked. Only slightly, he said. I had other questions but couldn’t catch my breath well enough to ask them. The other woman, he said, wrote restaurant reviews for the local newspaper. I waited to hear more about her. He gazed ahead, squinting, as if at his life without Anna. I couldn’t tell if he wondered what I was thinking. He‘d shown no sign of self-consciousness. A silence hung over us, except for the rising wind, and I pictured it blowing Doug away.
Back at the house, I considered asking Anna if they were both well. I kept imagining coming out with Doug’s alternate future and regretting it after I did. I restrained my anger at him and tried to ignore his ongoing clever remarks.
Months later, Doug’s health began to fail. Anna has devoted herself to his care, but his best days are behind him. News of his decline, I admit, raised a smile I could not completely subdue. But unless Anna reveals pent-up regrets, I don’t know if I’ll ever tell her what he said.
Glen Pourciau’s third story collection, Getaway, was published in 2021 by Four Way Books. His stories have been published by AGNI Online, Green Mountains Review, New England Review, The Paris Review, Post Road, and others.