As I was cleaning out an old file just now, I picked up an old dog-eared manuscript – the old purply printed mimeographed kind. It was a short story my mother had written for her creative writing course when she returned to Mississippi State in 1976 to finish her degree.
It was entitled “The Love Mess” by Vivian Braddock. I sat down to read it got the surprise of my life – I thought I knew where she was going with it, but I way underestimated her.
I’m reprinting it in case you might want to check it out one day when you’re bored. You won’t be bored any longer. I was shocked because she was always very prim and proper and this story is outrageous.
Mother never got to finish her degree – she died one month prior to her graduation and thanks to Dr. Lowery of the MSU history department, she was awarded her diploma posthumously. She would be so thrilled to be published – even if it’s only on the internet, which she never even heard of.
The love mess by Vivian Lee Braddock
At the sharp ring of the phone, Bernice quickly stepped on the button to shut off the vacuum cleaner, and hurried to answer it. Expectantly, she picked up the phone and in her most musical voice, answered.
“Hell0…Oh, hi dear! My! it’s been so long since I’ve heard from you that I was beginning to think you’d forgotten your mother How are things going with you in your new apartment?…Sounds marvelous, but I wish you were not so far away on the other side of town. We just never see each other….
“Oh, you’re calling from the office. …Oh how sweet of you to invite me, but an old college friend is coming over from Jersey City to do some shopping and she called to ask if I could put her up for the night….Well, uh, are you sure it wouldn’t be too much bother for you? I mean working all day and then having us for dinner?…Oh? Martin will be there too?
“I’ve been wanting to meet that man who’s taking up so much of my daughter’s time. ….Tom”? He’s fine – but won’t get to town this week…No we’re not talking marriage yet, but just any day now, I suppose. He’s not the kind who likes to be pressured, you know. Oh, yes. I forgot you’ve never met him….Well, Josephine and I will be over around seven-thirty. Thanks a million. Bye, now.”
Bernice returned to her vacuum cleaner, stepped on the starter and hummed to herself as she finished the job she had begun. She looked at her watch. Better make it snappy. Josephine could be here at any minute now.
She gathered the cleaning equipment together and stashed them away in the closet. With a look of satisfaction she surveyed her bright, sunny apartment. Small, for adequate for a widow living alone. She gave a final touch to the bowl of fresh flowers she had arranged.
“I wonder what Jo looks like now,” thought Bernice. “ She was so pretty when we were together in college. We really should have kept in touch. But people get so involved with their own little worlds. Oh, well.”
Thirty minutes later, Bernice, freshly showered and dressed, answered her doorbell. The two women looked at each other questioningly for just a few seconds – trying to recall.
“Josephine! How wonderful to see you.” the two embraced briefly, laughing. “It really gave me a lift when you called. I’m so glad Jane Arthur told you I live here.”
“Just look at you, Bernice! Still the picture of your youth. How DO you do it? Plastic surgery?”
“Oh, girl, quit your kidding, and come on it. Here, give me your suitcase. I’ll put it in the guest room. I don’t like to start getting us in a rush right away, but my daughter has invited us to dinner at her apartment. It’s on the other side of the city, so we’ll have to leave soon. We can get in a good visit in the cab on the way over there.”
“Sounds great, but I’ll have to do a repair job on my face and slip into something more suitable for the occasion. It will only take me ten minutes. I promise. Ains is always bragging that he has the only wife he knows who never keeps a man waiting.”
“The bath’s just down the hall, and you saw where I put your things. If you need anything, just holler.”
As Josephine went through the ritual of putting on a fresh face, she and Bernice chattered back and forth – like two school girls again. Twenty-five years melted away.
“You say your husband is in Duluth this week?” asked Bernice.
“Uh, huh.” answered Josephine, struggling into her dress. “Ains’ job keeps him traveling a lot. When Ains, Jr. finishes high school I plan to go with him,” she continued. “Traveling now and then might be fun.”
True to her word, fifteen minutes later Josephine emerged from the guest room, lovely in an emerald green cocktail dress.
As the two waited in the lobby for their cab, Bernice said to Josephine. “Jo, you look ravishing! My daughter’s heart-throb will be having dinner with us. Don’t overwhelm him, now! Please, don’t you dare overwhelm my little girl’s brand new beau!”
They laughed. “I promise,” Josephine said. “How I envy these foot-loose fancy free youngsters these days. Can you imagine OUR folks allowing us to be out on our own like this? You must have a great deal of confidence in her, Bernice.”
“Oh, I do. But Carole has been married and divorced, so it isn’t as if it were I letting her go. But Carole is wise for her years – wise the hard way, I’m afraid.
They had climbed the stairs to the second floor and walked down the hallway looking for Apartment 2-B.”
“Here it is,” Bernice said, as she pressed the doorbell. Carole answered the door promptly. “Hi, Mother,” she said as she kissed her on the check.
“Carole, this is my friend Jo.”
“I’m so happy to meet you, Jo. I can remember my mother talking about her college friend ‘Jo’ for as long as I can remember. But please, come on it. Here, let me have your wraps. Martin is in the kitchen making drinks,” she called over her shoulder as she hung the coats in the hall closet.
“Your place is lovely, Carole,” Bernice exclaimed. “You must give us a tour.”
“Certainly, but later. You two have seats and I’ll be right in with the drinks. Carole hurried into the kitchen. She returned carrying a tray of appetizers. Following closely behind her was Martin with a tray of drinks.
“Bill Ainsworth!” Josephine shrieked.
“Tom Bradley,” Bernice hissed through her teeth.
The tray dropped with a crash to the floor.
“Uh oh!” he said, just before he slumped with a heavy thud to the floor. Overwhelmed, completely overwhelmed.
Diva: Personally I hope he had a heart attack and died. Or better yet, a stroke and the lower half of his body is paralyzed. And I would have called it The Love Connection. But Mother’s title probably says it best.