Mistaken Hope

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“It’s going to snow today,” Mrs. Temple announced.

I glanced at the date on the calendar—July 17—and then out the window, where the heat was shimmering off of the pavement. I remember once when we were first dating, David had said summers in Arizona were hot enough to cook an egg on the sidewalk. I had laughed at what I thought was his joke, and he had gotten angry. He sulked for days after that, refusing to speak to me until I had apologized profusely, multiple times, and he felt I had served my sentence.

I turned my attention back to Mrs. Temple. “Do you think so?” I asked.

She nodded, swinging her feet as she sat in her favorite chair in the visitor’s lounge. “I can feel it in my bones. My bones never lie.”

There was reason to believe old Mrs. Temple was mistaken. Suffering from dementia but in perfect physical health, she had been living at Cherry Tree Nursing Home for the past six years, longer even than I had been employed there. She could tell me stories of working in Europe as a nurse during World War II, yet couldn’t remember her own name at times.

I watched her now as she hummed a toneless tune, twitching her fingers and swinging her feet. She always sat in that same chair; she refused to sit on the couch or on one of the plush armchairs. No, Mrs. Temple always sat on the sturdy wooden chair that directly faced the door where visitors would enter to come visit their loved ones.

“You weren’t here yesterday,” Mrs. Temple remarked, turning slightly in her chair to look at me.

I looked up, surprised she’d noticed, let alone remembered. “No. I had to take David to the doctor.”

“Oh, my; what a shame,” she said, though she had no idea who David was. “Is he all right now?”

“Yes,” I replied absently. “He’s okay.” I had spent the weekend in bed with the flu, and neglected to clean the house. David was furious when he returned from his business trip, and had screamed at me until he lost his voice.

“Are you growing out your bangs, dear?” Mrs. Temple asked me suddenly.

I nodded, trying hard to keep up with her usual sudden changes in subject. “David didn’t like them.”

“Oh,  that’s too bad. You looked so pretty with bangs.”

I forced a smile. David was furious when I came home from the salon with bangs without having consulted him first. The growing strands of hair hid the mark he had left on the side of my face.

“Well, anyway, we like to keep our men happy, don’t we?” Mrs. Temple asked me, as if confiding a secret. “Even if it means giving up something we would have liked.”

“Yes,” I murmured. “We do.”

Satisfied, she turned back to her humming and feet swinging. I tried to get back to my paperwork, but Mrs. Temple looked at the watch on her wrist that no longer worked, and informed me, “My son’s going to come visit me today. He loves me.”

There was reason to believe old Mrs. Temple was mistaken. Benjamin Temple hadn’t been to the nursing home since he had dropped his mother off all those years ago.

I simply smiled at her. “That will be nice,” I said.

“He will,” she insisted. “You wait and see.”

Becky had come in to take over my shift, and gave Mrs. Temple a sympathetic look. I nodded sadly. “How sad she still holds out hope he’ll change,” I whispered to her.

She nodded sorrowfully as I picked up my purse. I touched Mrs. Temple’s shoulder as I passed by. “You take care, okay?” I told her.

“Oh, yes, yes, yes,” she replied rapidly, patting my hand with her papery one. “Benny will take care of me. He cares about me. He loves me.”

I squeezed her shoulder and started to turn away, but she grabbed my hand. “You…” she paused as if she was struggling to find the words. “You—You shouldn’t…” she stopped, and I crouched down to face her, waiting patiently for what I was sure would be some nonsense advice.

She took my face gently in her hands and stared squarely at me. “Don’t throw your life away.”

She held my gaze with those soul-searching eyes for a few moments longer before patting my cheek and settling back in her chair. Dazed, I slowly rose and headed towards the door.

“Oh, and dear?” she called after me.

I turned.

“Button up tight. It’s chilly out there.”

I exchanged a glance with Becky as I headed out the door into the 107-degree summer day. The heat made it hard to breathe, and I groaned when I reached my car and found the front tire flat. I didn’t have a spare. David didn’t like to spend money on unneeded things. I pulled out my cell phone and dialed his number. He would take care of me.

“What?” he demanded as soon as he picked up.

I winced. It was Friday. Friday evenings he liked to have his friends over, and he didn’t like to have that interrupted.

“I…my tire is flat,” I choked out in dread.

“Speak up! I can’t hear you!”

“My tire!” I raised my voice slightly, but not enough so that I could be accused of being disrespectful. “It’s flat. I don’t have a spare. I—“

“Are you—” David let fly with his favorite expletive, “—kidding me? Are you kidding me, Hope?”

“I’m sorry,” I said softly. “You told me I didn’t need a spare because they were so expensive—”

“And now you’re gonna blame me? You’re the one who was stupid to get a flat, and you’re trying to put the blame on me? Nice, babe. That’s classic.”

“I’m not blaming you,” I whispered. “I’m sorry. What do you want me to do?”

“It’s Friday!”

“I know,” I answered. “Your friends are over, I know.”

He huffed out his breath, and I bit my lip as I awaited his instructions.

“Walk home,” he ordered. “It’s not far. You’ve done it before.”

I slumped against my car at the thought of an eight mile walk home in this heat. “But—”

The click in my ear signaled that he had hung up on me.

I sighed and retrieved the running shoes I kept specifically in my trunk for this purpose. As I removed my heels and tied my tennis shoes over my nylons, my engagement ring sparkled brightly in the sun. I examined it for a moment before getting to my feet. David loved me, I knew. I could just be difficult. He would change, especially after we got married.

There was reason to believe that I was mistaken.

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