Previously: Retired teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley. She remembers letting it slip to Vernon that she didn’t like Nancy. Vernon decides to marry Nancy. Vernon is drafted.
“They caught up with me real fast,” Vernon said. “I thought it was nice of them to let me finish this semester first, though.”
Emma lumbered up the stairs and pushed Lucinda aside. “For God’s sake, get out of the way! Ain’t you got no common sense?”
“This is the fire marshal’s secretary?” Bertha’s voice trembled. “I got a message for him.”
Emma heard what Bertha was saying and charged over to her. “Bertha!”
“Yes, ma’am, my name is—“
Grabbing the receiver from her sister’s hand, Emma blurted, “She’s a damned fool, that’s who she is. Sorry for lettin’ her bother you. Good bye.” She slammed the receiver down.
“Emma!” Bertha’s hand went to her face.
Lucinda found herself caught between the worlds of present and past. Vernon was still there, but his voice was a distance echo.
“Who’s that? Another memory?”
She put her hand up. “Hush, Vernon.”
“Why did you tell that woman I was a damned fool?” Bertha was on the verge of tears.
“Because you are!” Emma retorted.
“I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings,” Vernon apologized.
“Vernon, I want to hear what’s going on.” Lucinda stepped away from the basement stairs.
“The very idea of callin’ the fire marshal!” Emma scolded. “Don’t you know I can’t afford those changes?”
Tears rolled down Bertha’s cheeks. “That’s a terrible thing to say to a complete stranger, that your sister is a damned fool!”
“Mrs. Cambridge?” His voice faded even more.
“You didn’t seem to mind to turn your sister into the law!” Emma wagged a finger at Bertha.
“It’s for our own safety, Emma!” She held up her hands in defense. “We could all die if this place caught fire!”
“You damned fool!” she bit back. “This place ain’t gonna burn down!”
“It could, the way you smoke all the time!” Bertha jutted out her chin.
“Bertha, now you shut up before you have another one of your fits and I have to slap you!” She didn’t wait for a reply but stormed past Lucinda down the stairs to the laundry room.
“Don’t you walk off on me! And I’m not gonna have a fit! I ain’t had a fit in weeks!” With that Bertha exploded into loud sobs and stormed out of the kitchen and up the stairs to her room.
In the new silence, Lucinda drifted back to that spring day in her classroom. Vernon’s voice grew strong.
“I came to say good bye. Please, Mrs. Cambridge, stop grading papers long enough for me to give you a proper good bye.”
“What?” Then she remembered what she did next to Vernon, and she wanted to escape. Lucinda forced herself into the present tense and walked away, going upstairs to her bedroom.
“I’m sorry for what I said the last time we talked.”
She ignored him as much as possible as she opened her door and went straight to bed. All this would go away, if only I could nap awhile, Lucinda told herself. Before her head rested on the pillow, she heard another knock at the door. She hoped it wasn’t Bertha. She could not endure another rant from the landlady’s sister.
“Miz Cambridge, may I come in?” It was Cassie.
“Of course, dear.” She sighed and sat up.
“Mrs. Cambridge, please,” Vernon pleaded.
“What, Vernon? I’m in a hurry. Cassie wants to come in.”
“Well, I guess I’ll go. Good bye.” Trying to be light hearted, Vernon threw his hand across his chest in a mock salute. “I’m off to Vietnam to give my life for my country.”
Lucinda stood and walked to the door to let Cassie in. “Humph,” she threw carelessly over her shoulder.” “You’d better worry more about driving home today than going to war. You’re more likely to be killed on the highway than on the battlefield.”