The Shining Houses
Mary sat on the back steps of Mrs. Fullerton’s house, talking — or really listening — to Mrs. Fullerton, who sold her eggs. She had come in to pay the egg money, on her way to Edith’s Debbie’s birthday party. Mrs. Fullerton did not pay calls herself and she did not invite them, but, once a business pretext was established, she liked to talk. And Mary found herself exploring her neighbor’s life as she had once explored the lives of grandmothers and aunts — by pretending to know less than she did, asking for some story she had before; this way, remembered episodes emerged each time with slight differences of content, meaning, color, yet with a pure reality that usually attaches to things which are at least part legend. She had almost forgotten that there are people whose loves can be seen like this. She did not talk to many old people any more. Most of the people she knew had lives like her own, in which things were not sorted out yet, and it is not certain if this thing, or that, should be taken seriously. Mrs. Fullerton had no doubts or questions of this kind. How was it possible, for instance, not to take seriously the broad blithe back of Mr. Fullerton, disappearing down the road on a summer day, not to return?
“I didn’t know that,” said Mary. “I always thought Mr. Fullerton was dead.”
“He’s no more dead than I am,” said Mrs. Fullerton, sitting up straight. A bold Plymouth Rock walked across the bottom step and Mary’s little boy, Danny, got up to give rather cautious chase. “He’s just gone off on his travels, that’s what he is. May of gone up north, may of gone to the States, I don’t know. But he’s not dead. I would of felt it. He’s not old, neither, you know, not old like I am. He was my second husband, he was younger. I never made any secret of it. I had this place and raised my children and buried my first husband, before ever Mr. Fullerton came upon the scene. Why, one time down in the post office we was standing together by the wicket and I went over to put a letter in the box and left my bag behind me, and Mr. Fullerton turns to go after me and the girl calls to him, she says, here, your mother’s left her purse!
Mary smiled, answering Mrs. Fullerton’s high-pitched and not trustful laughter. Mrs. Fullerton was old, as she had said — older than you might think, seeing her hair still fuzzy and black, her clothes slatternly-gay, dime-store brooches pinned to her raveling sweater. Her eyes showed it, black as plums, with a soft inanimate sheen; things sank into them and they never changed. The life in her face was all in the nose and mouth, which were always twitching, fluttering, drawing tight grimace-lines down her cheeks. When she came around
every Friday on her egg deliveries her hair was curled, her blouse held together by a bunch of cotton flowers, her mouth painted, a spidery and ferocious line of red; she would not show herself to her new neighbors in any sad old-womanish disarray.
“Thought I was his mother,” she said. “I didn’t care. I had a good laugh. But what I was telling you,” she said, “a day in summer, he was off work. He had the ladder up and he was picking me the cherries off of my black-cherry tree. I came out to hang my clothes and there was this man I never seen before in my life, taking the pail of cherries my husband hands down to him. Helping himself, too, not backward, he sat down and ate cherries out of my pail. Who’s that, I said to my husband, and he says, just a fellow passing. If he’s a friend of yours, I said, he’s welcome to stay for supper. What are you talking about, he says, I never seen him before. So I never said another thing. Mr. Fullerton went and talked to him, eating my cherries I intended for a pie, but that man would talk to anybody, tramp, Jehovah’s Witness, anybody — that didn’t need to mean anything.” “And half an hour after that fellow went off,” she said, “Mr. Fullerton comes out in his brown jacket and his hat on. I...
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