THREE VIGNETTES: MOVEMENT I - "THE APARTMENT" The scene is set on brownstone apartments stacked tightly next to each other in London. Somewhere sandwiched in the middle, number 327 sits with doors and windows locked and shades drawn. Alice Abernathy, a woman who just recently (and rather stubbornly) celebrated her ninety-ninth birthday, has a high pile of white hair stacked on top of her head. Wrinkles adorn every nook and cranny of her face, despite the fact that she had tried to fight against them with various creams for a majority of her adult life. Large, round glasses delicately balance on her tiny powdered nose, defying gravity. An old, extremely fluffy fur coat is wrapped tightly around her aged figure, and her colorful stockings create a vibrant accompaniment to her bright flat shoes. “One must always look one’s best," she’d often declare.
Alice lives alone. A proper cleaning hasn’t taken place in the household for quite some time. Coats, clothes, shoes, decaying flowers, plant pots, books, magazines, dishes, cups, paint supplies, easels, frames, and all manner of rubbish cloak the apartment in a dismal mess as far as the eye can see. In the living room, Alice is perched on a grey tufted armchair nervously twitching.
“He’s coming this time,” she murmurs irritably, “I know it.”
Her fear that death would soon be on her doorstep takes over her every thought. However, she doesn’t give up easily. For days and days she’s stayed, glued to her chair stubbornly playing a game of “if I don’t answer the door he won’t come. He can’t come.” Her reputation for having an iron will in her old age rings true.
Leaving the doorbell unanswered is a familiar routine of Alice’s. She was quite the professional when it came to avoiding carol singers around the holidays. She never understood why people think the elderly take delight in hearing carols screeched off-key. “Perhaps the people think it is a good deed to sing to strangers because it will somehow forgive any transgressions they committed in the past year. Life is too short to listen to poor performances,” she would say.
Alice hasn’t left the brownstone since her husband Joseph passed away many years ago. It is certainly lonely, but she prefers to surround herself in the memories of their best time together, “which is right here, number 327,” she’d say, sadly.
Their love was extraordinary. That much is true.
She was a painter and he was a singer. They first lived together squished in a small apartment in a dingy yet artistically thriving part of the city. Joseph was a ruggedly handsome man with dark hair, brown eyes, and an inviting smile that could make any passerby swoon. Alice’s hair was a blonde bob, and her freckled cheeks usually had a dash of red beneath them. Joseph would take on a few gigs a week singing in a club downtown, and Alice would sell her paintings on the street corner.
This was all they needed to make ends meet for a while, and they were happy.
As time wore on, it grew difficult for the two of them to keep their artistic escapades. The small apartment became too cramped, and there was almost no room for Alice to paint. Because of sheer exhaustion, Joseph’s voice couldn’t take more than three or four gigs a week. Rents around the city seemed to skyrocket. However, they knew they needed to find a larger place to call home.
Out of necessity, Joseph took a job in an office and Alice took a job teaching art classes. He still sang and she still painted, but it happened less and less as their schedules filled up more and more. Joseph’s boss worked him long hours nearly every day, and Alice didn’t have the energy to pick up a paintbrush after teaching classes all week. In fact, there came a point when Alice and Joseph couldn’t remember the last time they stayed up for hours solely singing and painting.
He grew quiet.
She grew sad.
“I’ll make this right,” he promised one night, holding Alice’s hands in his. He always kept his promises.
In the next weeks, Joseph went around his office telling tales of his love for Alice. “I will stop at nothing to get my dear Alice to paint again!” he’d valiantly declare. He wanted to earn enough money for a beautiful brownstone apartment he and Alice had their eyes on for quite some time. With this in mind, he volunteered for every opportunity for overtime and stayed late into the evenings. All the while he’d tell everyone, “There is no one else in the world I’d work harder for than Alice.” He’d repeat that sentence so often that everyone in the office could finish it for him.
Joseph’s tales of romance soon made their way to his relentless boss, turning his heart. “I remember when I once had passion like you,” his boss wept into his early morning coffee, “You must help me find it again!”
And just like that, Joseph was offered a partnership in the company. Creativity flourished and morale exceeded one hundred percent.
His successes at the office eventually helped him save enough money for the lovely brownstone he and Alice had always wanted. On a clear, breezy fall day he walked with her, covering her eyes until they arrived at number 327. Uncovering her eyes, he surprised her and said, “This is my gift to you. This apartment will be our new start. I’ll sing again, every day, and you’ll paint until all of the walls have no more room for frames.” Alice smiled as joyous tears fell down her cheeks. Joseph kissed her twice passionately and led her inside.
Alice was happiest this day and for many years after.
Some time passed and they gained a happy, intelligent daughter named Emily, and a stocky, goofy brute of a son named Freddy.
Warmth filled the brownstone for many years.
As the children grew older, Joseph became very sick. He was in and out of hospital for different complications of the heart. He was eventually put on bed rest and a nurse would come a couple times a week to see how he was doing and administer his medications.
But on a cold, blustery night one fateful October, Joseph passed away. Emily and Freddy were older now with children of their own, and they lived far away. They would come and visit their mother every once and a while, but their lives became very busy. All at once, it seemed, Alice was alone in the old brownstone.
The wind picks up outside. Alice hears a scratching at the door…and then a bark. The bark sounds familiar. She is intrigued but stays stuck to her chair in fear. The barking continues. And continues. Reluctantly, she slowly walks through the clutter of the living room to the front room window in order to see what is making all the fuss. She pulls back the curtain revealing a brown and white puppy roughly the size of a loaf of bread wildly jumping up and down. “It can’t be,” she whispers in disbelief, “Arthur?”
A small, rambunctious pup outside is the spitting image of Arthur, a very favorite dog companion she once had as a little girl. They would go everywhere together. Alice puts her hand to her chest as she recalls a certain family trip where Arthur gobbled up chocolates meant for her grandmother’s birthday. The poor dog threw up all over the party, much to many of the guest’s dismay. She blinks and looks again as the dog whimpers on the steps. Snapping back into the present she says, “Ah, I must really be losing it. Someone must’ve just lost a puppy. Imbeciles.” She whips the shades closed and falls back into her chair rubbing her temples.
A moment later, a knocking happens at the door. Alice looks toward the door, but shrugs it off. The knocking continues accompanied by a tiny voice, shrill in excitement. She slowly gets up and walks toward the door. She peers through the keyhole and is met by the face of a girl that looks to be only around age seven. She has bright red hair that seems to be forced into some kind of order against its own will with several bobby pins.
“Alice! Oh, Alice can’t you come and play?” the little girl tries to shout through the keyhole. Alice takes a step back, shocked. This little girl looks identical to one of her best friends growing up. She hadn’t heard from her in decades, but thought of her often, mainly in this iteration. Many fond memories were had, which mostly involved getting in trouble with whatever figure of authority was in their midst. Worry, disbelief, warmth, and fright sweep over Alice’s countenance. “No, I can’t play today. I can’t leave. I can’t play today!” Alice delivers shakily as she nearly tumbles back down the hall and into her chair.
“Bizarre…truly bizarre,” she sighs to herself, her heart racing, “it seems that my mind is playing tricks on me today.”
All of a sudden, a voice is heard off in the distance. It is a man’s voice, rich and throaty, supported and familiar. It grows nearer and nearer to her front door. Alice arises from her chair, lighter than ever, and walks to the door. She feels the years stripped from her joints and muscles. As she gets closer and closer to the door, she feels the time that has worn away her skin suddenly reverse. The dash of red that had left her cheeks warms back to its surface. When she reaches the door, she lays her face against the cool wood, listening. She listens to a melody sung by a voice she hasn’t heard for many years.
She opens the door and light pours in.
Joseph’s smiling face greets her as he walks up the steps of the brownstone. He looks just as she remembers him: handsome, young, full of hope and life. She catches a glimpse of herself in the hall mirror. She is wearing the same clothes, but looks just as he remembers her: young and beautiful, with little specks of paint on her face mimicking her freckles. It is as if the doorway had become a portal allowing them to travel back in time to when they first set eyes on each other.
Joseph extends his hand and they both walk down the steps to the sidewalk into eternity.
THREE VIGNETTES: MOVEMENT II - "THROAT OF SOIL" Agnes and Theodore Pipp were in love for many years. Their most prized possession, other than the love they had for each other, was a greenhouse behind their modest home at the edge of their property in rural Michigan. A quick walk through the garden was where their paradise stood; clear, green, humid, and perfect. Every day, the two of them could be found inside the greenhouse, covered in dirt from head-to-toe. They loved every minute of it.
Agnes had long, straight black hair that she usually wore up with a bandana to keep it out of the dirt. She would wear Theodore’s old button-up shirts with the sleeves rolled up to her elbows revealing tattoos of various flowers and filigree that covered her arms from her elbows to her wrists. She was a lover of beauty, simple things, and kept things nurtured and orderly. Thus, a greenhouse was where she thrived.
Theodore was dark-skinned with short, frizzy black hair that routinely contained bits and branches of the unusual plant life of the greenhouse. Agnes would gently and habitually brush it out of his hair and continue on with her work. He’d adjust his circular glasses and smile through his teeth until playfully tossing excess dirt in her direction. He was goofy and childish one minute, warm and loving the next.
They had many unusual plants and shrubbery acquired from all over the world. Pots upon pots of strange plants twisted, stretched, and bloomed all around the greenhouse. It was like magic once they entered the greenhouse. Large orange flowers near the door would open and close with Agnes and Theodore’s comings and goings, as if they could sense that they were there. Tall strands of foreign grasses lolled right and left to their own rhythm. Bean pods of brilliant purples and mauves seemed to glow in the evenings. One giant yellow flower had petals that spun furiously like the blades of a ceiling fan.
Despite the wondrous array of flora within the greenhouse, a group of blue flowers near the back were Agnes and Theodore’s most favorite. They sang a simple, beautiful melody to the blue flowers. No words were needed, only soft hums or simple vowel coos. The blue flowers would mirror the couple and sway back and forth in time. It was perfect.
One morning, Theodore woke up early to surprise Agnes with a new batch of blue flowers he had secretly nursed for her. Agnes awoke not knowing where Theodore went, but was suspicious of his antics as usual. She immediately slipped on her shoes and danced to the greenhouse knowing that if he was up to something, it was probably something sweet.
When she arrived at the door, she pushed it open and giggled, “Now, Theodore, don’t you dare jump out and scare me. You know how I hate it when you do that! Now what could you possibly be up to?”
There was no response.
“Alright, you! I mean it, don’t…”
She looked down to see Theodore passed out on the ground, the blue flowers in his hand. Agnes fell to the ground to try and shake him into consciousness. The plants of the greenhouse seemed to droop and lose their color. Agnes screamed Theodore’s name over and over. A neighbor heard the screams and ran to see what was the matter.
Theodore was dead.
Agnes was weeping uncontrollably on Theodore’s chest. The neighbor ran into the house and called an ambulance.
When the ambulance arrived, Agnes had to be forcibly taken away from Theodore in the arms of two medics and brought back toward the house. She turned back to see them taking Theodore away on a stretcher, his hand still clutching the blue flowers. She wanted to run to him, but she knew there was nothing she could do to bring him back. Still, she needed to be near him.
Back in the house, the initial shock subsided and Agnes grew quiet. The medics tried to console her as best as they could and sat her in a chair at the dining table. The neighbor promised to keep an eye on her for the remainder of the day and walked the medics out the front door.
When the neighbor came back inside, the chair was empty and Agnes could not be found. He ran out the back door. He caught a glimpse of Agnes hurrying into the greenhouse, closing the door behind her. Worried that she might attempt to take her own life, he ran to the greenhouse shouting and shouting.
When the neighbor got to the door it was bolted shut. Only a faint outline of Agnes could be seen through the opaque walls. All of the plants of the greenhouse seemed to stretch and grow covering the walls, enclosing Agnes inside. The neighbor tried talking to her, but Agnes would not respond. A half hour passed. The neighbor heard nothing.
Feeling as though there was nothing more for him to do other than give Agnes her space to grieve, the neighbor said, “I’ll be back to check on you soon with some tea.”
On repeated check ups, the neighbor would call out to Agnes but get no reply. He would leave a steaming cup of tea outside the door only to find it later, cold and filled with flies.
Agnes never left the greenhouse, and could be found kneeling on the cool ground in front of the blue flowers. She stayed locked inside.
Vines and roots soon began to cement themselves to her limbs. She found it hard to breathe. She broke into a fit of coughing and dirt spilled from her throat. Soon, she lay motionless as dirt and roots engulfed her entire body. It piled higher and higher until her body was no longer visible.
The neighbor heard the coughing and raced to the greenhouse. Once he arrived at the door he tried the handle and shouted, “Agnes! AGNES!” but the coughing had subsided.
It was silent. He heard a crackling sound and watched as the plants eerily peeled away from the walls.
The door unlatched. He tiptoed inside.
Agnes was gone. All that was left was pile of dirt in front of the beautiful blue flowers.
A beam of sunlight pierced through the roof of the greenhouse onto the fresh soil. Slowly, a bright green stem began to grow. Up, up, up it grew. It grew tall and sprouted leaves.
Opening up with lilting elegance, a flower bloomed with petals as blue as the company of flowers surrounding it.
THREE VIGNETTES: MOVEMENT III - "VISIONS" June.
Darla Bimble’s family got the call on the 14th from the hospice nurse with the bright red hair saying, “Okay, it’s all set and the equipment is available on the 25th, so plan accordingly.” The Bimble family wrote down it down in their calendars. This was not an event to be missed.
On the day of the 25th, younger brother Arnold Bimble was late, of course, and sister Daphne Bimble had been there since the morning tidying up Darla’s room.
Darla Bimble was dying.
Darla has been in a hospice center for three months. It was a very unique hospice, one of futuristic methods. Although Arnold was skeptical and wary of the price, Daphne and the rest of the family agreed it was the best place for Darla’s last visions.
The hospice was simply called, “Cinema,” and a marquee was even installed on its façade. It used to be an old mansion in the deep woods of New Hampshire. It was converted into a hospice center only very recently, and its red brick charm and lived in quality made it a comfortable choice for Darla and the Bimble family.
Another selling point of, “Cinema,” was the fact that it was one of the first hospices to offer “visions.” These so-called, “visions,” allowed all the members of a patient’s family to witness their loved one’s life passing before their eyes right before they die via a state-of-the-art projector attached to the head. The nursing staff was also highly qualified and could pinpoint down to the second when a loved one was going to pass, thus giving the family plenty of time to travel to New Hampshire to catch their loved one’s show. That being said, Darla, at ninety-two, had lived a full and exciting life, and her show was surely going to impress.
Darla’s room was small so as the family piled in, it became a bit cramped. Each member shifted accordingly by weight and height to make sure everyone got a decent view. The nurse with bright red hair had to squeeze past various tummies, feet, and breasts to get to Darla, but she didn’t mind. This was a big event and she hadn’t seen a turnout like Darla’s in quite some time.
The nurse with the bright red hair began attaching a pasta strainer fitted with a projector, wires, knobs, and other accoutrements to the top of Darla’s head.
Complimentary popcorn was floating around the room as the nurse adjusted the projector over Darla’s eyes.
“Okay. Everybody ready?” the nurse with the bright red hair shouted with excitement. The entire family erupted into cheers and cousin Emerald Bimble shut off the lights. The nurse flipped a switch and the wall opposite Darla flooded with light and images.
The air was thick with nostalgia as Darla’s memories were projected onto the wall in a flurry of light and sound. It was a complete Bimble family history. “How’s that for personalized entertainment?” Chuck Bimble gloated affectionately.
There was not a sad face to be had. Awe, reverie, and hilarity replaced all melancholy. The show lasted for quite some time, but no one grew bored or weary.
When the show drew to its close, the nurse with the bright red hair removed the projector. The jam-packed room slowly emptied and, as each family member left, they whispered in Darla’s ear, “Nice show!” or “Superb!” or “Now that’s entertainment!”
Darla’s show had expired, but the reviews were unparalleled.