Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Purposefulness (Purpose in Life) (05/25/06)
TITLE: Muriel's Sundays
By Marita Vandertogt
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She sits in the rocker, her thin white hands clasping its arms like the talons of a hawk, digging, holding on tight. She watches out the window with eyes, large and liquid behind thick rimmed glasses. Muriel waits, like she does every Sunday, for Henry to stop by. A pearl studded comb holds thin strands of white hair off her face. And the same black dress she wears every visiting day is on her body, almost growing larger with each wearing.
“Expecting someone today Mrs. Wilson,” the day nurse stops at the rocking chair and offers her a tea. “It has lemon in it, the way you like it,” she says, as she bends over and stirs the china cup with a tiny silver spoon. Muriel lets go of the sides of the rocker long enough to take the cup in her hand and bring it to thin dry lips.
“Owww,” she yells, like she does every Sunday. “It’s too hot. I told you not to serve me tea until it’s cooled off, till I can drink it.” The words come from her throat more than her lips, in an angry growl.
“I’m sorry Mrs. Wilson”, the girl is shaken, unaware that Muriel stages the same scene every Sunday.
”You’ll hear from my husband when he comes through that door. The kind of treatment I get in here.” Her words taper off as she grabs the sides of the chair again and rocks, back and forth, continuing her vigil.
Meanwhile, people come and go through the doors. Sons bringing flowers, daughters extra clothing and grandchildren smiles and kisses. Muriel sits alone through the busyness keeping her eyes away from the Sunday crowds, with only an occasional glance in their direction.
Sunday visiting hours come to an end, and Muriel still sits in the chair, still watches by the window her eyes closing from time to time as she fights the need to nap. The day nurse stops by at the end of her shift. “Well,” she says to Muriel. “Can I help you back to your room before I leave?” she takes Muriel’s hand and tries to pry it from the arm of the chair.
“No,” her voice is sharp. “Not yet. He’ll be here. He comes every Sunday. Leave me be,” she says moving her face away from the girl.
“I’m sure he will Mrs. Wilson, but in the meantime, maybe you’d like to wait in your room.”
The old woman grunts a reluctant yes, and pulls herself up from the chair. The day nurse takes her arm, and leads her back to the room. “I’m sure he’ll be here next Sunday,” she says to Muriel. “In the meantime, it’s time for my dinner. May I bring it here and join you. I could prepare a tray for both of us?” Muriel doesn’t answer as she starts to unbutton the dress with shaky hands. “I’ll be back in a few minutes,” she closes the door softly behind her, and hears Muriel’s voice through the door as she leaves. “Bring a plate for him too. I’m sure he’s just late.” Though her husband had passed away a few years before.
Later that evening, Muriel lies in her bed, watching the door now instead of the window, trying to fall asleep at the end of another Sunday spent alone. She hears singing through her open window, coming from the little church down the street, less than a block away, and finally falls asleep, her cheeks wet with tears.
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