OLD Mrs. Alonzo, in a voice that scared the daylights out of you, called and asked me to come and see her in the Home. It was a gruff, deep, billy-goat croak (though male or female, you couldn’t tell). I pictured her dark, lifted face, tarnished like a mirror, the light tilted in her glasses, her mouth open-as if that would help her to hear any better-the wire dangling from her hearing-aid. So Professor Alonzo had finally put his old mother away. I said, “Oh, Mrs. Alonzo,” and she was flattered that I recognized her over the phone.
I have an old grandmother of my own, on the other side of the city, so I used to look in on the professor’s mother now and then. Feeling guilty-I knew it should have been the other old lady instead. The Alonzos lived one above the other, in identical flats. Grottoes. His furnished in books, top to bottom, leather library chairs-billiard table green-curdling cigar smoke, whiskey decanters: the life of the mind was masculine turf. Hers was a matter of bric-a-brac, lace doilies, shaky-legged tables, and snarled faded carpets which reminded me strongly of the worn hair on the back of her head. The TV set was always blaring full blast; it didn’t distract her in the least, she couldn’t hear it. She pressed her hand to her noisy bosom, breathing rapidly and loudly. You couldn’t help feeling a sense of alarm, as if she were breathing down your neck.
About the Author
Bette Howland is the author of W-3, Blue in Chicago, and Things to Come and Go. She is currently working on a novel, City of Refuge.