An Eleanor Rigby

“Eleanor Rigby, picks up the rice
in the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face
that she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for”
-Lennon/McCartney

 

The alarm clock next to Patricia’s bed read 6:02 AM. The alarm was set to go off each morning at exactly 6:05, but her eyes always popped open automatically at least 3 minutes early. She wondered why she never waited for the alarm to wake her. She knew the answer immediately; she didn’t trust it.

In the kitchen she poured coffee from the same automatic coffee maker that she’d owned for ten years. It was dingy and stained. She had seen the new coffee makers in exciting colors with great timer mechanisms, but couldn’t see any reason to buy one. Nobody else saw the coffee maker anyway.

As Patricia finished her shower, the phone rang. It startled her. Nobody ever called this early during the week. She briefly thought about not answering it, concerned it could be bad news. The caller ID said it was from her brother in New York. She hadn’t heard from him in weeks. Her heart was pounding as she picked up the receiver. “Robert? Is everything okay?”

“Whoa, Patty. Settle down. Everything’s cool. Just called to say hey.”Bobby was five years younger than his 30 year old sister, and was usually good about checking in with his over-protective big sister at least once a week.

“Don’t be patronizing, Robert! You never called last week. I was worried.”Her heart slowly returned to a normal rhythm. It felt great to get caught up, but she cringed at the thought of his living in New York–muggings, rats, crowded subways. Robert had stopped asking her to visit.

After the brief conversation with Robert, Patricia walked back into the bedroom. The first thing she did was make her bed. She smoothed the sheets very carefully, then fluffed the comforter and placed it neatly over the top. The pillows were also fluffed and positioned against the headboard in their carefully assigned positions. Large king-sized pillows in the back, medium-sized pillows next, and small throw pillows decorated with lace and ribbon in the front. As she stood back to admire the well-made bed, she remembered that it was Wednesday. She washed her sheets every Wednesday.

She quickly put the sheets in the washing machine and returned to the bedroom. She stared at herself in the mirror for about 30 seconds. She imagined herself with shorter hair, carefully shaped eyebrows, colored contact lenses, a sexy dress, red lipstick. Each day she added to the list of things she would change about herself if she had the courage. But like yesterday and every day before that, she put her shoulder length, naturally brown, straight hair in a low pony tail and brushed an ever-so-small amount of pink blush on her cheekbones.

From the closet she chose one of the four pair of grey slacks hanging to the far left. Next hung the khaki slacks, then the black ones–all of them a bit too big. She then reached for the white turtleneck from the turtleneck shelf and the black cardigan sweater from the cardigan shelf. Finally, she slipped on comfortable black loafers and headed out the door of her small one bedroom apartment.

Patricia walked quickly to the stairwell. She had never been in the elevator. It would mean standing close to people, or maybe being forced to have a conversation with a stranger. (All of the tenants of the building were strangers to Patricia; she had never met any of them.)

She scooted quickly down the five flights of stairs to the parking lot and her trusty 1988 white Ford Taurus. She would have to hustle to get to the library in time to finish the last chapter of Valley of the Dolls before she had to unlock the doors and begin her daily routine of shelving and reshelving books. She loved coming into the big empty building early in the morning—the sound her shoes made on the marble floors, the feel of the heavy oak chair as she pulled it from beneath the table, the slight echo of the pages being turned as she read. Seldom did she take books home from the library. Reading them in the library made it seem less like killing time and more like a hobby…less like escaping from her loneliness and more like part of her job.

She was content reading before and after work from books right there on the shelves, just waiting for someone to read. Books like Valley of the Dolls, The Stepford Wives, Maneater, The Nanny Diaries always appealed to her. But she also really enjoyed the classics…Moby Dick, Robinson Crusoe, Grapes of Wrath, anything by Ernest Hemingway. But for the last two weeks she had been lost in the world of Anne, Neely and Jennifer. Their climb to the top in the entertainment world, their dive to the bottom of drug addiction and their sexy lifestyle was the epitome of escapism for Patricia. She gasped out loud enough times to be thankful the library was empty.

Her boss, Lilly, had offered her promotion after promotion during her ten years at the library. Lilly would have loved to have Patricia at the counter helping patrons or in the main office handling employee and volunteer scheduling or inventory. But Patricia couldn’t imagine dealing with people at the counter or with other employees. She was content pushing the metal cart full of books around. If she piled the books high enough, she could make her way up and down the aisles without being seen by anyone.

Patricia finished the last page of Valley of the Dolls at precisely 8:00 A.M. She made her way to the front, unlocked the doors and opened them slowly. She was startled to see a young boy and his mother standing just outside the door. “Good morning,” said the woman cheerfully. “Do you work here? How silly, of course you do. Are you open now? We’re here for story hour. We saw it advertised in the paper last week. It starts at 8:00, right? Ryan, say hello to the nice lady.”Ryan complied with an unenthusiastic, “Hi.”
“Uh…I don’t know. I mean, no. Sorry. It starts at 9:00. “Patricia quickly stepped backward into the library and let the heavy door swing closed slowly. Why was she so nervous about answering a simple question? She wondered if she should see a therapist.

As Lilly and the other employees began to filter in, Patricia collected books from the return bins and filled her cart. She always tried to be done at the counter before Lilly and the others got settled in. Although she liked them, Lilly especially, seldom did she engage in any small-talk. A half-hearted smile and an uninspired wave as she walked away were usually all she gave…or received.

Her morning went as it always did; reshelving books, non-fiction, periodicals, children’s, straightening shelves, finding the occasional book in the wrong section and taking it to its proper location. She always saved fiction for the end of the day. Today she needed to choose a new book to read. Maybe a horror novel; Stephen King. She quickly changed her mind, and decided to find a good classic or maybe a romance novel instead. Being scared wasn’t her idea of fun. She wondered what her idea of fun was. She couldn’t think of a single thing. The remainder of the morning was uneventful…just as she’d hoped.

Patricia had just finished her work in the non-fiction section when Lilly approached her.

“Patricia. How was your morning? I haven’t seen much of you; must’ve been busy.”
“Yes. Very busy,” replied Patricia as she looked at the floor.
“Anyway, a few of us are going to the new Mexican place on Smith Road for lunch. I think it’s called Juan’s. Would you like to go with us?”
“No, thank you. I have plans for lunch today.”
“Plans? Wow. That’s great. Good for you, Patricia. Have a great time and I’ll see you later. Maybe we’ll have lunch another day.”
Patricia wondered if Lilly thought that Patricia had a date for lunch. She felt a bit guilty for being inadvertently misleading, but she really did have plans for lunch–the same plans she had every day: Tuna fish, potato chips, two dill pickles and a large iced tea at Murphy’s Deli down the street.

She walked through the door of the deli and was shocked to see almost every booth occupied. She had never seen Murphy’s this busy before. She approached Seth, the host, and asked for her regular booth.

“Hi. It’s Tricia, right? How ya doin? I can seat you right over here. I know it’s not your regular booth, but I hope it’ll do for today.”
“That’s fine. I mean, if that’s all you have available.” And then, as she followed Seth to her booth, she mumbled under her breath, “My name is Patricia.”
“I’m sorry, did you say something?” He replied quickly.
“Never mind.”
She slid into the booth and indicated to Seth that she didn’t need a menu. He smiled, poured her a glass of water and motioned to the waitress. She came right over and said “Hi sweetie. Tuna salad on toasted wheat, chips, two dill pickles and iced tea. Right? Anything else today?”
“No, that’s all. Thank you Sandy.”
As she waited for her lunch, she looked around the small deli and was quite relieved that she had gotten this last booth. She’d been eating lunch at Murphy’s for almost three years, and she couldn’t imagine eating anywhere else. Even just the thought of it made her nervous.

“Excuse me. I hope you don’t mind my asking, but do you mind if I share this booth with you?” Patricia looked up to see a beautiful young woman standing over her table. “I only have thirty minutes before my next appointment, and I’m hungry enough to eat a whole cow. Waitress,” she motioned to a busy Sandy, “can I please get a salad with Italian dressing and a cup of vegetable soup? Thanks. “She was talking fast; almost panicked that she wouldn’t get lunch today. Patricia empathized.

Patricia answered, “Actually, I just told the waitress to bring my lunch to go, so you’re welcome to the booth. “She grabbed her purse and slid out of the booth quickly. She tried to look casual and nonchalant in her desperate effort to escape the uncomfortable exchange. She found Sandy near the front of the deli and asked for her lunch in a to-go box. It was only a matter of minutes before Patricia was on her way to the park. She would have rather gone back to the library, but she’d already told Lilly she had plans.

Patricia finished her lunch, and began to walk the block and a half back to the library. She walked on the opposite side of the street so she wouldn’t have to walk past Murphy’s Deli. She didn’t want to risk running into the bubbly woman who hijacked her booth. Patricia was amazed by what she saw in the store-fronts. A beautiful oak table in the antique shop; a red silk dress in the consignment store; a tray full of fresh pretzels and rolls in the bakery; sparkly diamond rings in the window of the jewelry store…she couldn’t remember the last time she had walked on this side of the street.

Back in the library, she walked past the front counter and heard Lilly and her co-workers come in the door behind her. They were laughing and joking about something that had obviously happened at lunch. “That was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen! Did you see the look on his face?!” And then from Lilly, “OK guys, keep it down. Remember? Library? People reading?” More quiet giggles, and then they returned to their positions behind the counter or in the office. Patricia quickly piled the books high on her cart and let the aisles envelop her like a warm blanket.

At the end of the day, Patricia pulled into the parking lot of her apartment complex. Home just in time to microwave her leftover casserole before the evening news came on. She set the table with a plate, a full set of silverware (even though she knew she only needed a fork), a napkin and a glass of iced-tea. She sat down at the small table facing the television and served herself a healthy portion of the somewhat dry, two-day-old, casserole. She decided that she would make lasagna the following evening. She would freeze half of it and the other half would last the rest of the week.

As she walked from the kitchen to the bedroom, she thought she heard a faint knocking, but dismissed it quickly. She certainly wasn’t expecting any company. Again, she heard knocking at the door. Who could it be? She tip-toed across the floor and looked through the peep hole. It was her neighbor from down the hall. She was pretty sure her name was Melanie. A nice girl who always said hello, but Patricia thought she was a bit pushy. As she stood looking at Melanie through the peep-hole, it suddenly occurred to her why she was there knocking at her door—the flyer. Melanie had caught Patricia looking at a flyer she had posted near the stairwell last week. “GET TO KNOW YOUR NEIGHBORS! COME TO MY PAD FOR A COCKTAIL PARTY…” The only other thing she remembers about the flyer was the smiling, winking frog at the top of the page. “I hope you’ll come. “She had said to Patricia. “Don’t you think it’s about time we all get together?” Patricia had nodded, smiled and quickly walked away. And here she was, standing at her door in a simple black dress, probably looking for people to come to her party. Did anyone else show up? Maybe she just needed to borrow some ice or something. “Don’t move…don’t breathe…floor might creak…she might hear you.” She thought.

Melanie left a few seconds later, looking rejected and sad. Patricia felt bad, but not bad enough to answer the door. She didn’t know anyone in her building. She didn’t even own a cocktail dress. She sat on the couch, reached for the remote and hoped that Melanie was okay. She watched two hours of television and went to bed.
Next morning as Patricia opened her eyes, her clock read 6:02. I need a therapist, she decided.

“Please, sit down.”
“Thank you.”
“It’s your hour…”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Why don’t you start with your name?”
“You know my name.”
“Pretend I don’t.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Humor me.”
“My name is Patricia Stevens.”
“What do you do?”
“I’m a librarian; assistant librarian.”
“Do you like it?”
“I’ve been doing it for ten years.”
“Do you like it?”
“Maybe assistant librarian is an exaggeration. I restock the shelves when the books get returned and, of course, I find a place for the new arrivals; new books.”
“Do you like what you do?”
“It pays the bills. You know, ya got to keep a roof over your head.”
“Marital status?”
“Single. It’s just me and, of course, Snow.”
“Snow?”
“My cat.”
“Why are you here?”
“I’m sad. A lot. Don’t know why.”
“Have you had a checkup recently?”
“Yes. I’m okay…physically. Dr. Greenberg is the one who recommended you.”
“I know.”
“Of course you know. I’m sorry. Don’t mean to waste your time.”
“It’s fine. Let me put it to you like this: Why do you think you’re sad?”
“I don’t know. I have a job, my own apartment (I sublease), and a kitty who loves me.”
“How old is your cat?”
“What difference does that make?”
“It’s just a question. That’s what I do. I ask questions. How old is your cat?”
“Thirteen.”
“If you had one wish, what would you wish for?”
“I don’t know. That’s a tough question.”
“Wishing is a tough question?”
“I would need time to think about it. I haven’t wished in a long time.”
“When was the last time you were happy?”
“I don’t know.”
“Where do you want to be in five years?”
“I don’t know. Where do you want to be in five years?”
“I’m the one asking the questions.”
“Sorry.”
“It’s okay. Look, in less than a couple of minutes, sum up your life for me.”
“I told you, it’s me and Snow. I go to work 8:00 to 5:00 Monday through Friday and 9:00 to 3:00 on Saturdays. I like to read and sometimes go to the movies.”
“That took you less than ten seconds.”
“What do you want from me?! I told you, I’m sad! I don’t know why! I do the same thing over and over—day in and day out! I can’t tell one day from the next! I don’t know where I want to be in five years! I don’t know what to wish for! Is there some Fairy around here granting wishes?! ‘Cause if there is, I’ll get in line! I’m here for you to fix me! I’m here to be happy again, even if I don’t know when I last was! That’s what I’m paying you for!”
“Can I ask you one more question?”
“Go ahead!”
“When was the last time you did something new?”
“Like what?”
“I don’t know; changed your hair, bought a new dress, drove a different way to work, talked to someone in an elevator…”
“I don’t do elevators.”
“Right. I’ll mark that down. We’ll deal with that later. When was the last time you did something new?”
“Are you telling me that I’m paying $150 an hour to have you recommend I buy a new dress!?”
“I’m sorry. Your time is up.”
“What?! I just got here! Where are my pearls of wisdom?!”
“Fine. When growth stops, decay begins.”
“What is that supposed to mean?!”
“Everyday that you decide to do the same thing over and over; everyday that you decide to play back your yesterdays; you stop growing. You want to know why you’re sad? I’ll tell you. You’re sad because, at some point in your life, you stopped taking chances. At some point in your life, you threw in the towel. I didn’t throw in that towel—Snow didn’t throw in that towel—you did. Every time you settle—every time you decide to ‘sit this one out,’ you decay a little bit more. You don’t want to be sad any more? Then do something about it. Sadness—loneliness—it’s a decision. I asked you when you first got here, over and over, if you liked what you do. You never gave me a straight answer.

… Start with that.

“Eleanor Rigby, died in the church
and was buried along with her name Nobody came
Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt
from his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved”
-Lennon/McCartney

by Julie Seitz and Fred Cuellar the Diamond Guy®