“Everyone’s talking about it. That’s the only reason I brought it up,” Claire said.
All of the leather chairs were taken by a small family of four in matching yellow rain slickers and it didn’t look like they were leaving any time soon. She and Jerry were at a small table over by the window. Claire hated this narrow table, she on one side and Jerry facing her on the other. It was as if she was visiting him in prison. All they needed to complete the picture was a glass wall between them with a telephone they could use to talk to each other. This particular table was in a cramped corner of the shop so it was easy for others to overhear their conversation.
“Just because everyone’s talking about it doesn’t mean we have to.”
“She seemed like such a nice girl,” Claire said quietly.
“Seemed? She didn’t die, her dog did.”
“Shhh, you know what I mean, to be involved with someone who would.”
“Claire Amante what are you talking about? This poor girl doesn’t even know who did this, let alone being involved with them.”
“How would you know?” Claire didn’t wait for an answer. “Anyway it’s a crazy world. These young girls need to be careful. She’s such a pretty thing,” she said turning to look at Summer who had just taken over at the coffee bar. “Seems like she can take care of herself, I guess.”
Claire sipped her green tea and stared out past Jerry into the crowded parking lot. Ward Richmond had texted earlier to say he wasn’t going to be able to make it this morning. Claire missed Ward now. She knew he would want to discuss this latest bit of Coffee Shop gossip. Ward was well connected in town. He might even have some inside information, possible suspects, maybe even a motive. Even if he didn’t, he’d be happy to theorize. Jerry was too nice a guy for that. Although he hadn’t mentioned her, Claire knew she should ask about Darlene. She also knew that Jerry’s “time out’ from his wife’s illness was important to him. She didn’t want to appear rude, she also didn’t want to upset him.
“I can’t believe it’s been a year already,” Jerry said trying to catch her eye.
“Since the marathon bombing in Boston.”
“Yes, it’s all they’re talking about on GBH today.”
“Did you hear about the guy in Kansas?”
“Yes, the Nazi who shot three Christians in the name of Hitler outside a Jewish Community Center.” Claire knew her news. “How about the student in Pennsylvania who stabbed twenty students?”
“Okay, let’s not go down that path,” Jerry said. “The list goes on and on and it never seems to get better.”
“Well you started it. It does seem like we hear about everything bad that happens these days,” Claire said.
“Maybe it’s because there is no good news.”
The shop was emptying out. People heading off to work, or the gym, maybe dropping kids off at daycare on the way - each with a white cup held aloft, a sort of beacon or badge that spoke to their individuality as much as it marked them as part of a group.
“Jerry, how’s Darlene this morning?”
“She’s okay. The nurse’s aid is there now washing her hair." Jerry paused to sip his coffee. The nights are a little better since she agreed to the catheter. She held out on that as long as she could but, I guess It makes it easier on her, and me.”
“She’s in hospice, then?” Claire couldn’t see a way out of it now, besides Jerry seemed willing enough to go there.
Jerry was staring down at the table as if the possible responses were spread out before him. Should he parrot what the nurses said? It’s really just a change in status, it could last for up to three months. If she improved, the status could change. Instead he said, “Yes, I guess it’s the beginning of the end.”
“Jerry, don’t,” Claire patted his hand.
“No, no, it’s okay. We’ve talked about it. We adapt as best we can.”
“Jerry, you should be very proud. This isn’t easy, what you’re doing.”
“Nothing’s easy. I think it’s just love, Claire. She would do the same for me.”
“I’m sure she would, Jerry, I’m sure she would.”
Claire had only met Darlene once, shortly before the diagnosis. She was a small woman, a brunette with just a touch of gray and cool blue eyes that seemed to follow closely whatever her husband had to say. The couple had recently celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary by renewing their vows in a small ceremony in the little Chapel at the Seaman’s Church in Newport Harbor. Then, cancer.
The two friends sat in silence now. The young family in the leather chairs had gone out in their bright rain gear into the even brighter sun.
“Hey, the chairs are open?” Claire said, after what she was thought was a suitable silence.
“Oh, great. Would you mind if we just read for awhile? You know, instead of talking.”
Claire imagined Jerry hanging up the phone on his side of the glass, standing up slowly and turning toward the guard who would lead him back to his cell.
If you missed the previous installment of Success Through Failure click here: