Following Her Heart’s Desire
By Linda Germain
"STELLA…STELL - LAH!"
"Stop hollering, Stanley. The neighbors can hear you all the way to the corner."
Stanley seemed surprised to find his wife just over by the table. She was folding clean clothes; probably her tenth load for the day.
"Now, what is it, Stan? Are you in pain? Do you need some help or more pillows?"
Stella was the essence of patience. She stood in front of him so he could see how hard she was listening.
The sickly man smiled. He was happy to see her sweet face but almost ashamed he had succumbed to a moment of panic when he thought she was not there.
"No, Stell, I was afraid you had left or something."
She patted his face as she turned to scoop up the last bunch of towels. He seemed reassured. Stella continued her cheerful ways, almost by rote.
"Oh Stan, you know I would not leave you here by yourself. Even when I have to go out, there is always someone to take my place."
Stanley knew there was no one who could replace his faithful wife. She put up with a lot from him and deserved more than a weak man who needed so much. He wallowed in the self-absorbed world of regret and complaints. She did her best to keep him going and managed to tune out most of the whining. To her mind, he could probably do more, but he was scared to try. As long as she was there, why should he?
Stella was tired. The kind of tired that twines itself around a person’s bones and nerves and heart and starts to squeeze the life right out. She couldn’t exactly put it in words, but she sat on the front porch in the old green rocking chair, sipping a glass of iced tea and thinking on it. Stan was napping – again.
Every evening she heard the express bus to Memphis before she saw it. Every so often it was on time, but not so you could set your watch by. To keep herself entertained, she made up stories about the people that must be looking out the little windows by each seat. She even had a story about the bus driver; how he was a loyal employee with a safe record, had a nice wife who grew roses, and two grown kids who worked down at the mill. Sometimes she would change the number of kids, but the wife always grew prizewinning roses. That part seemed important to her.
When she felt like it, she would wave to the load of invisible people going down the road to what she surmised were infinitely more interesting lives than her own. It was while she was resting from today’s big laundry effort that the seed of an idea began to form in Stella’s sweet mind.
She started thinking she might like to take a bus trip of her own. Maybe she would just pack her old suitcase with the cord around it, put on her Sunday dress and ride to Memphis. She’d always wanted to see to those ducks that lived at that famous Peabody Hotel.
Stanley’s cousin Maudine might come over and see after him for one day. That’s the thought Stella was having as she fell asleep in her own bed upstairs the night before things in her boring life changed forever.
She had washed Stan’s face and hands and fixed his covers the way he liked them. He took his medicine and drank some water. The fan was set on low; the side rails were pulled up on the rented hospital bed. The last thing she did was put the bell close by so he could call her if he needed something. He usually managed to need something two or three times before morning.
The summer sun was up early and pushing its way into the night cooled bedroom. Stella had been sleeping soundly when all of a sudden something jolted her awake. It was not a noise. It was lack of one. She realized Stan had not beckoned her all night. She jumped up and hurried down stairs in her bare feet. From the door to the front room where he had lived for a year, she could see he was in the same position he was in when she had last kissed him on his cheek and said, "Sleep well dear, and God Bless."
Before confirming what she already knew, she plugged in the percolator and went out on the porch to think for a minute. She wrapped the old pink afghan around her shoulders and curled up in the green rocker. It was still early; time for the bus coming back from Memphis. She usually didn’t see it going the other way. She would drink some strong, hot coffee while she thought about the folks returning home, or wherever they were bound. After that, she would call Doc Bradley .He would know what to do. Mostly, she just wanted to not think about it and to watch for the bus.
After the funeral, Stella spent months carefully packing the few things that meant anything to her. She had no plan, but something deep in her gut made her keep taking baby steps towards a future she could not see. The local mission took all Stan’s clothes, even his work hat. Joe Bob down the road bought all the tools and that broken down excuse for a truck. She didn’t know what to do next.
Every morning and every evening, waiting to see the bus go by, she would pray, "Dear Lord, I know you have a plan for every life; I’m waiting for you to tell me mine so I can get on with it." She read her daily devotionals from her nearly worn out Bible, always waiting to hear – she knew not what.
One cold day her next step seemed perfectly clear. She put on her good wool coat and scarf and her warmly lined boots. She placed a few clothes in her beat up suitcase with the cord, slung her sensible purse over her left shoulder, tucked the old Bible under her arm and stood out by the mailbox until she heard the morning express to Memphis making its way down the road. When it came into her limited view, she boldly held out her thumb, as if hitchhiking.
She listened for the air brakes as it rolled to a stop right where she patiently waited. She stepped up high and said good morning to the man in the gray uniform and hat, as if she were acting out a script written just for her. He told her the fare, which she already had in her hand, having called the station to make sure. Then she sat in the very front seat so she wouldn’t miss one thing on the way to Memphis, because she would not be back this way again.
When they passed Maudine’s house, she waved, but of course no one saw her and besides, they would never suspect Stella of having an adventure.
She turned her head to look at the kind driver and caught sight of the most beautiful rose in a little plastic vase taped to the left side of the bus’s big dash board so as not to obstruct his view. She almost giggled. For some reason, she just knew things would work out. She might even ask for a job in that grand hotel; that is, after she saw the wonderful duck marching ritual that happened twice a day.
She sighed in a most contented way and opened the old, worn Bible. It was still quite a little ways to Memphis.
* * *
Note: The grand Peabody Hotel has been in operation in Memphis, Tennessee for over 135 years. It was built in 1869 and rebuilt in its present location in 1925. Beginning in the 1930’s The Peabody ducks have had a home in the lobby fountain. (Not the same ones). They are escorted twice a day: down from their sleeping quarters in the morning and back up at night.
Linda Germain loves to write stories about lives that are not afraid to turn around. Our Lord offers forgiveness and a chance to be washed as white as snow. That is a good first step in the right direction. You can write to Linda through the Letters page of this magazine.
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