Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: EMBARRASS(ED) (11/03/16)
- TITLE: A Great and Gentle Touch
By Ann Grover
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ADD TO MY FAVORITES
“Would you like to listen to your music, Mrs. Hansen?” I nod, and she riffles through my CD’s and soon, Greig’s Morning lilts gently. The girl busies herself, then she’s beside my bed again, bearing a basin and towel.
“Time to freshen up, Mrs. Hansen,” she chirps. She dabs at my face with a damp cloth, then unbuttons my gown. I cringe as she sponges my withered chest. I try to lose myself in the haunting cadence of Solveig’s Song as she continues to swab and wipe my body.
The violins do not save me from feeling mortified.
It isn’t as if I haven’t experienced a goodly share of embarrassing muddles in my life.
Back in the day, John and I had a farm. Cropland mostly, with a few cows and pigs and chickens. I stooked hay, milked cows, built fences, made butter, canned carrots. We fell into bed at night, exhausted but content.
One day during seeding time, John sent me to town for bolts or belts or some such thing for the tractor. “Might as well get groceries,” John added, writing down the parts he needed. “Save gas not having to run to town again.”
I was wearing my gumboots and shabbiest dungarees, for I’d been working in the garden. Usually I took time to clean up, but John told me he needed the part “tout de suite, my sweet,” as he planted a kiss on my sunburned lips.
We owned a 1946 Chevy truck. Once an apple red, she was gracefully fading under a perpetual cloak of dust or mud. Three-on-the-floor stick shift. I could handle her pretty well.
Town wasn’t much more than a hardware store, grocery store, library, churches, and a diner that served divine flapper pie. I got John’s tractor parts straightaway, then went to Hank’s Cash and Carry. Hank’s wife, Betty, rang up my groceries.
“Done seeding?” she asked, putting the coffee, sugar, raisins, and tins of beans in a box.
“Not yet. Tractor’s broke down.” I paid and hefted up the box. “Thanks, Betty.” The bell jangled as I left.
I’d just set the box on the ground beside the truck so I could open the door when I heard a voice.
“Julie Hansen, how are you?” Dorothy Perkins.
“Busy, as usual, thanks.”
Dorothy extended a white-gloved hand, then withdrew it, sniffing. “Ah, yes. You live on a farm, don’t you? Were you, uh, farming today? With pigs or ...” Her pert nose crinkled beneath the wispy veil of her hat.
“Oh, how tiresome for you. I’d invite you to our spring tea, but ...”
“Another time. Thanks, Dorothy.” I walked around the truck and got in. She fluttered her fingers daintily as I backed up.
Leaving the truck parked in the middle of the road, I got out. The bags of raisins, coffee and sugar had broken and spilled onto the road, and the tins of beans were rolling away. I chased them, and when I bent down to snatch them up, the backside of my old dungarees gave out. The ensuing draft didn’t cool the blaze that engulfed me from my tangled ponytail to my gumboots. I flung the dented tins and crushed box in the back and slid behind the wheel, my face burning, as red as the Chevy.
Onlookers grinned as I wrenched the stick shift. The truck shuddered and died. First gear, Julie, not second. Dorothy’s smile of pity and amusement was the last thing I saw as I lurched away.
So many yesterdays ago and so trivial. My foolish pride, banged-up and trampled in the dirt.
Now I am helpless, no longer lively and lithe like the woman-girl who tends to my needs. She’s oblivious to the humiliation her ministrations impose upon me. How I flinch inwardly whenever she wipes drool from my chin or folds back the sheet to unveil my spent loins.
“Mrs. Hansen?” Braid swaying, she leans near. Her face is blurry, so close to me, and she realizes it, drawing back until I can focus on her blue eyes.
“You have such beautiful skin,” she says. And with a touch as gentle as thistledown, she wipes away my tears.
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