The last part to a short story I'm working on:
Doors open! Magnificent yelled, overpowering the blare of TV noise from the front room.
I turned the knob and stepped inside a yellowing linoleum entryway. I rounded the corner to where Magnificent sat on her lumpy corduroy couch. The room was stuffy and reeked of artificial air fresheners. The mostly barren bookshelves, sparsely decorated with framed pictures of smiling relatives, were free of dust. The thick green carpet looked as though it had recently been shampooed. Crocheted blankets were folded meticulously over the arms of her couch. Pictures of angels and sunsets hung in an orderly fashion on the wainscoted walls.
I studied the back of Magnificent’s head as she watched the remaining minutes of a trivia game show.
What is Fort Lewis! She yelled in perfect sync with the contestant on TV.
Fort Lewis is CORRECT for 200,000 dollars. The game show host beamed as the contestant threw her arms into the air and the audience applauded.
Magnificent turned down the volume of the television using one of five remote controls she kept on a table next to the couch.
You there? She asked inching her head towards the back of the room where I stood, frozen, grasping the grocery bags.
Yes. I’m here. I didn’t want to disturb you during the last few minutes of your show.
Well, she won big didn’t she?
Looks like it.
They don’t get all that money though. You know that right? Most of it goes to taxes.
Her yellow hair bobbed up and down as she talked. I stepped around the couch to face her.
She was a petite, but plumpish woman with prematurely sagging skin. She wore heavy black sunglasses, a hooded sweatshirt covered in pastel paisleys, a long purple knit skirt and two pairs of mismatched pink socks. A fluff of yellow hair tied into a high ponytail sprouted from greying roots.
So it’s you. The lady with the kidney.
Um. Yes. I have two kidneys.
Well aren’t you the luckiest loser on the planet? Did you bring food? I’m starving.
I did. I brought food.
Well. You gonna eat with me, or what?
Yes, but I um.. I have to prepare the meal.
What’s to prepare about pizza or chicken? There is paper plates in the kitchen above the microwave and forks and cups too. I haven’t been in the state to do dishes lately so plastic is what we get.
I decided to make you something else.
Magnificent coughed and spit bile into a tissue.
Friggin cough. Damn it hurts. Damn! What else you making?
I’m going to make fish. Fish, salad and rice.
Well that doesn’t sound so good. I don’t like fish unless it’s fish sticks and I’m not crazy about those either. Oh well. You cookin’ I can’t complain.
I was pleased to hear this. I was not in the mood or brave enough to argue with her.
Slowly, Magnificent rose from her couch and shuffled into the kitchen. I followed closely behind watching the outline of her lumpy body. She smelled of cough syrup and floral laundry detergent. I imagined the failing kidneys beneath her skin eking out their final undulations.
You probably need pans and stuff. I got all that in these cabinets here. Salt and oil are up here above the stove. Spoons are in this drawer. How long you think this’ll take?
Despite a noisy avocado refrigerator, overhead florescent lights, dripping sink and cracked cabinets, everything was spotless and in its place. Her spice rack was labeled in her bubbly cursive: oregano, paprika, garlic salt, basil, thyme… and her dish linens were draped in perfect rectangles over racks.
Not long. No more than twenty minutes.
Well Ok then. If you’s cookin’ I think I might go and shower. It always clears out my lungs in a hot shower. I’m not gonna wash my hair or shave or anything fancy. Just stand there while the hot water tries to make me feel better. I guess it’s all I got right now.
By all means. Take your time.
I could only see a faint outline of her eyes as she stood and watched me through black sunglasses. I poured rice and water into a pot.
You sure you know what you are doing?
Yes. I’ve done this many times before.
Alright then, you keep at it.
As soon as I heard Magnificent turn on the shower, I began to assess the contents of her kitchen. A box of corn flakes, coffee, coffee filters and potato chips sat on her cabinet shelves. I found nothing but mustard, dill pickles, flavored creamer and syrup in her refrigerator and several boxes of frozen French toast in her freezer. There were plastic plates and cups one the bottom of one cabinet shelf and crystal dishes on the top shelf. Magnificent must have entertained at one point before her kidneys began to fail her. I imagined her friends would come over to watch game shows together while devouring chips and sour cream dip. They would play board games with colorful game pieces. Winners would get a giant bag of lollipops.
I have one set of white ceramic dishes from the department store. The box came with four of everything, large plates, small plates, bowls, mugs, but I have only ever used two of everything, either when my cousin pays her annual visit, when Corrine used to come over for dinner, or when feeding my cat Fidore leftover salmon skin. I secretly envy those who can host grand dinner events. Those who can remain composed in the kitchen while preparing exquisite roasts and vegetable sides. Those who can decorate a table with rare floral arrangements and origami napkin folds. Mostly I am envious of those who enjoy the company of others.
Entertaining, or even casually socializing with more than one person at a time is not part of my internal vocabulary. When I was in high school, a medium popular girl named Sandy invited me to one of her annual gatherings. I was shocked that she had even thought of me and blushed brightly when she asked me - in person - next to the water fountain. That weekend I found myself thumbing through her mother’s Good Housekeeping magazines in the bathroom while fifty or so guests paraded around her house with nauseating ease. After Sandy’s party, it was decided, I would never be cut out for group activities.
I removed one of Magnificent’s crystal bowls and held it up to the light. Flecks of yellow danced on the back wall behind me. I pulled down two plates, two bowls and two glasses and set the dining room table. I took two vanilla scented candles from one of her living room shelves, lit their wicks and placed them between a fake rosebud arrangement in the middle of the dining room table. I steamed the vegetables and fish and plated them along with brown rice and lemon wedges. I poured two tall glasses of goat’s milk, stood back and evaluated the scene before me.
Magnificent returned to the kitchen wearing a long denim dress with a faux rhinestone teddy bear brooch pinned to her breast. She wore a pair of white slippers without socks and her hair was pulled a little tighter into a similar high ponytail making her cheekbones and dark glasses appear more prominent. She examined the table and clasped her hands.
Well isn’t this nice! Haven’t used my grandmother’s dishes for years. I’m sure glad you found a use for em.
Yes. I hope you don’t mind.
Hell no. It’s best them dishes get some use otherwise what the hell they for?
I nodded in agreement and pulled a chair out from the table.
Here. Have a seat Magnificent.
Well I’ll be damned. If this isn’t four star service.
I sat down across from Magnificent and watched my mousy reflection in her dark glasses. She picked up her glass of goat’s milk, held it up to me and cocked her head to the right.
I clinked my glass with hers and we both took a sip. Magnificent made a sour face, put the glass down and coughed bile into a tissue. The neighbor’s music blared through the walls. Magnificent continued to cough.
Do you need anything? A glass of water? A cough drop? I asked her.
As she coughed I watched the veins in her forehead bulge. She shook her head and spit more bile into a tissue.
Damn cough! This is the shittiest way to live. Just shit. Pure shit.
She took a deep breath, grabbed her fork and began to eat. She chewed slowly, making sure to swallow every bite before putting more into her mouth. We ate without talking until all the food on our plates was gone. I stood and cleared the table.
You don’t have to do all this. You’ve done enough. I can help. I’m not totally useless.
I don’t mind. Just relax.
It’s all I do all day is relax. There come a point when all this relaxing gets boring and boredom is killing me more than my kidneys. Let me do them dishes.
Alright Magnificent. As you wish.
She thanked me for the meal and told me I was more than welcome to come back any time, just as long as it did not interfere with her beloved game show. When I left her house, I was unsure as to whether or not I would come back or if my kidney would end up inside her. For a second I wished I had not gone to the trouble of seeing who she was and eating a meal with her. Either I would give her a kidney and we would be bound inexorably by the bodily exchange, or I would simply try to carry on in the way I had been before her letter arrived.
As I drove home Rachmaninoff’s concerto number three filled the interior of my Honda. For the first time since I was eight when I accidentally ran over my cat with the push mower, I sobbed. Magnificent had crept into my life and there was no way of letting her go. I would think of her dark glasses and frothy yellow hair for the rest of my days. She would haunt me in the shower and every time I flipped the switch off after reading each night. She would loom over me in grocery store aisles and harass me during my lunch break. I would think about her always even if I tried not to.
Was it possible that if my kidney were inside her, my mind would simply focus on my Russian novels and my cat Fidore? Or maybe I would begin to think of other things. Perhaps I would finally have the desire to go somewhere exotic and beachy or wear something in blue or red rather than my usual staple color, khaki. I would take a salsa or jazz dance class. At work I would finally get gifts for people other than Bernard. I would learn to sing or play the flute. Maybe giving up my kidney was exactly the thing I needed.
I turned into my driveway, shut the engine off and sat listening to my own gasping breath. I was a coward. I had done nothing in my life to please anyone other than myself and hid from anything remotely close to fun save for the time I spent with Corrine. Corrine knew how to live. She knew how to laugh. My mouth was incapable of even pretending to stretch itself into a smile. I missed my friend. I missed watching her talk effortlessly to grocery clerks about the weather. I missed her porch and lawn decorations for nearly every holiday. I missed our companionship despite how brief and distant in may have been. She was my only friend and I wanted another one.
And so, it was decided as it was decided just ten hours before, my kidney would soon be housed inside Magnificent Square’s mushy body. She lacked the glow and luster of Corrine, but I was certain she had something to offer. I would call her the next day and arrange to cook her dinner again. I would make chicken breast and squash. Perhaps she would invite me to watch her beloved game show with her. That would be nice.