by Charles C. Cole
My wife and I are retired, meaning we’re both in the house at the same time a lot more, which means, ironically, I spend more time outside in the yard than I used to, doing things I used to do inside, like trimming my nails, whistling and polishing my shoes.
My wife doesn’t like the smell of shoe polish. Nobody does. I used to set up in the living room while watching the evening news: cover the coffee table with protective newspaper for an elevated workspace. I don’t get up off the ground as well as I used to. Anyway, one Sunday a month I sit at our picnic table with my whole collection of shoes. We don’t have picnics often, so I’m pretty sure I’m not in the way.
I listen to the happy screeches of the young children in the neighborhood and wax sentimental about our former little ones. Our days of screeches are far behind us. We don’t have grandchildren; we have grandcats and grandpuppies. Though we receive “paw prints” on holidays and birthdays, they never visit.
Our brood collectively decided against continuing their species. Our college-educated son is a happily married gay man who thinks raising children is “so heterosexual.”
Our eldest daughter has two dogs and two cats, and she takes lots of photos and videos of them interacting; they are her family. Unlike her adorable pets, she never interacts with others of her kind, that we know of. She has never been in a relationship, at least not publicly.
Our youngest daughter is on a ship in the U.S. Navy. She repairs things. Based on the last time we compared physiques, her arm muscles are bigger than my leg muscles; she can handle herself. She doesn’t call home, but we get postcards from all sorts of exotic ports of call. I tease her and tell her she can work for Carnival Cruise when she starts her second career, after she does “her twenty.”
My wife reads books, listens to books, goes to two book clubs. At one of them, they meet in restaurants and drink wine and nobody reads the same book. She also watches movies adapted from books. For extra cash, she writes reviews of books. She even reads stories to children in a local bookstore. A couple of mornings a week, she volunteers at the town library, mostly reshelving books. When she’s home, she dabbles at writing an amusing tell-all book about her former life as a first-grade teacher and union president.
One day, I’m polishing my shoes when this nicely dressed, thirtyish saleslady pays a visit. She is approaching the side door when she sees me in the back yard.
I greet her with: “The woman of the house is in the shower, though I probably shouldn’t be telling you that. If you don’t mind the smell of shoe polish, I’ll hear you out. Whatcha selling?”
She introduces herself as Daphne. With her hair up under a little black pillbox hat and wearing white gloves, she dresses as primly as you’d expect from a turn-of-the-century one-room schoolmarm.
“We’re on a membership drive,” Daphne announces.
Daphne, I realize quickly, does not equivocate. “Got an invisible friend?” I joke.
“There’s a team of us in the neighborhood, canvassing as many homes as we can before someone calls the police and chases us off.”
“Now I’m interested.”
“We’re Wiccans. We’re having an open house next week, and we’re wondering if you’d be interested in stopping by.”
“Sounds exciting. Will there be any animals or virgins slaughtered? Maybe an introductory orgy?”
“No. Sorry to disappoint you. We’re not like that.”
“So much for my bucket list. What are you like?”
“Probably a lot like you. We want the world to get along We want to take care of the earth. We believe in respecting differences.”
“Why would anyone call the cops, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“They confuse us with Hollywood Satanists, here to check out which houses have the most vulnerable children to sacrifice to the Dark Lord.”
“Is that why you’re here?”
“Membership has been dropping. It’s hard to create a sense of community with all that empty space in the pews.”
“You don’t meet in a field of flowers or at night in the woods?”
“We have a mostly typical church, but without a cross or star.”
“Do you have a tree on the altar?”
“No, but we probably should. Just a big painting of the earth, to remind us of what we’re here for.”
“To take care of it.”
A chill goes down my spine. I’m being an ass. I soften my interaction.
“This must be challenging for you, recruiting.”
“It’s hard not to cry sometimes.”
“What do you read? At church, I mean.”
“Excerpts from Thoreau, Gandhi, Teddy Roosevelt, Albert Schweitzer.”
“Can you quote one?” It’s an unfair test, I know.
“‘The man who has become a thinking being feels a compulsion to give every will-to-live the same reverence for life that he gives to his own’.”
“A bit sexist, yes?”
“We think it’s important not to paraphrase, not to judge these great thinkers by our more nuanced modern standards.”
“I’m guessing that wasn’t Teddy.”
“Okay, I’ll go.”
“You will?” She is crying now, streaming tears. She’s pale, in shock. “I’m actually trembling.”
“I’m not saying I’ll join up. And I probably won’t bring my wife. I think she’s busy that day.”
“But I haven’t told you when.”
“It won’t matter; she’ll be busy.”
“I understand. Thank you! Thank you!” she says, and she grabs both my hands and squeezes.
“I have to know,” I say, “why are you wearing white gloves? I figure you’re trying to project purity, but they’re a little over the top.”
“Poison ivy. It looks awful! And it itches like hell! Here’s our flier.”
Be nice to at least one more person every day, I think to myself. Why isn’t that on my bucket list? Too hard. But this is a start.
Copyright © 2019 by Charles C. Cole