Meaning of Life

by Ruth Z Deming

"Come in, come in," she said, holding a cup of coffee.

She looked at the four of them.

"Where are your masks? I don't wanna die cuz you're not wearing masks."

"Sorry," said Shari, reaching into the pocket of her tight jeans.

Maggie watched as her friend put on two blue masks, securing them behind her ears.

"Got mine," said Oliver. "I'm off today from the library. Brought a couple of books I thought you might like."

"Table, please," said Maggie, pointing.

"I done forgot my mask," said Ian. Maggie fished inside her pocket and handed him a mask with the USA stitched on.

"Fan- cy!" he said. "Not sure if I like dis here USA anymore."

"Stop it, Ian! You're listening to that Fox News and that asshole Rush Limbaugh, who's finally gone to meet his maker," she said.

"Yeah," said Shari, with a shake of her blonde hair, "in the depths of hell."

Maggie ushered them inside and bid them sit on the heated back porch where they could watch the snow melting outside.

The ceiling fan turned idly. A red bird passed by quickly.

"A cardinal," said Oliver. "Annie and I have a nest in our front yard. We're teaching the kids the names of birds."

"Of course you are," said Maggie. "Librarians are very smart. Did you know I went to library school when my ex and I lived in Austin?"

"That would be the University of Texas - UT, for short - in Austin," said Oliver.

Maggie laughed. "Got one of the poorest ratings for library schools in the entire country. But I learned so much."

"Like what?" offered Oliver.

Maggie cleared her throat. "We studied dictionaries. A bunch of Websters,' American Heritage, the OED - using a magnifying glass -

"Oh, I know what that is," said Shari. "The Oxford English Dictionary, right?"

"Mind if I have a grape?" asked Ian.

Maggie pushed the fruit bowl in front of him.

"The cara cara oranges are amazing," she said, picking up a tennis-ball-sized orange.

"So, which was your favorite dictionary?" said Oliver.

"Hands down, the American Heritage. It had pictures. But just so you know, I do have a trio of dictionaries I bought on - "

"Don't even say it," said Shari. "Begins with an A and ends in N."

"Scuse me a minute," said Maggie, letting herself into the bathroom nearby.

When she returned, she said, "Ever hear of a UTI?"

"If you're a girl," said Shari, "you've had them. Unbelievable!"

"My wife Annie has urinary tract infections de temps en temps," said Oliver.

"So you go to bed, after peeing," said Maggie. "And then five fucking minutes later you gotta pee again."

Ian, wiping his mouth from the orange, asked, "Maybe my mom gets them. What does it feel like?"

Moans resounded from the table.

"Like your entire belly is exploding, exploding like it took a load of shrapnel, from one of the ridiculous wars we're always fighting," said Maggie. "I shouldn't be drinking coffee, but, well, I'm addicted."

A series of unfamiliar noises filled the back porch.

Everyone was silent.

"Snow," said Maggie. "Sliding off the roof top. Plus that neighbor next door, is shoveling his deck on the second floor."

His mutt "Clifford" was barking with glee.

"Talking about pain," said Ian, "our dog, Pete, got runned over by a car."

"That's awful," said Oliver. "Really really sad."

"Talk about it," said Shari. "It will help you heal."

"Mom was supposed to be watching him when she opened up the garage door. He raced outside like ... like he was gonna meet Grandpa - and we heard a thud."

The group imagined the sound.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

"Oh, how painful, Ian, how painful," said Maggie, preparing to get up again and go to the bathroom.

"Mag, do you have any chocolate? You always have the best chocolate here?" said Shari.

"On top of the fridge," she said. "I'm hiding it."

"Bless you, darling," said Shari, running up the stairs.

On the table she placed "Ice Cubes" - a tiny square of chocolate and hazelnut - and a packet of "Dove chocolates," sealed with a green close pin.

Every single one was labeled.

When Maggie returned from the bathroom, she said, "One rule, please."

Everyone listened. Rules? How could that be?

"No chewing. You must suck them. The best way to savor them. Your stomachs will thank you."


Ellie just finished watching the Ken Burns-Lynn Novick documentary on Ernest Hemingway. Ach, such anguish he went through and the audience, too. Then she spirited herself out of the house since it was Wednesday, Garbage Night.

She could barely see it was so dark. Her little solar lights that led to where the Yellow Plastic Garbage Bin sat in the street had her walking tentatively. Finally, in a Tall Bag, she tossed a few dead leaves of a philodendron, squished pages of a newspaper she received this very day, and red foil wrappers from Dove chocolate bars.

Once outside, sniffing the cool air, wearing a lovely silk flowered robe, she could not bring herself to go inside.

Standing with her back against the red front door, she stared up at the stars. How far away they were! She wished she could lie down on the cold grass and gaze upward and contemplate the meaning of her life.

To eat chocolate candy? To be a companion to her boyfriend Chaz? To listen to airplanes winging their way across the sky when she was falling asleep? To listen to Thelonious Monk and Dinah Washington singing a duet with Brook Benton on WRTI-FM?

She went inside and washed her hands with Dawn Detergent at the kitchen sink.

Up in her bedroom she slipped off her robe and lay with her matching blue and white pajamas made in Taiwan.

"Dear God up in heaven," she began. "Please bless Mommy and Daddy (both dead), my sisters Mara, SueEllen, and Connie, my late brother, Sam, and all the good people ....."

She was asleep in her bed among her books, brochures and magazines. She could not wait till morning when she could begin "Klara and the Sun" by Kazuo Ishiguru. Hadn't he won the Nobel Prize for Literature?

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