Mrs. Bryant

Matthew Lederman

8/8/90

The gray-haired woman kneels in the shade of the large elm beside the flower bed along the white-painted wooden wall of the garage. She works the deep brown earth with a trowel, expertly, surgically, turning it over to expose the lower layers to the air. She removes a small weed with a quick strike, discarding it carelessly in the grass along the edge of the flower bed. She spears another weed and drops it neatly beside the first.

A blonde woman in a white cotton dress laughs loudly from the shade of the front porch. The gray-haired woman turns at the sound, squinting across the lawn into the sun reflected off the old, rambling two-story white house. A blonde-haired man in a white shirt and black jeans points a camera at the blonde woman. She poses and giggles. The gray-haired woman frowns for an instant and turns back to the flowers.

"Stop laughing," complains the man with the camera. "You're ruining the shot."

"I can't," she giggles. "You look too serious."

He lowers the camera and stands up straight, glaring at her. "I take my photography seriously."

She snatches a camera off a chair, points it at him, focuses and shoots. "So do I," she says solemnly.

He quickly puts the camera up to his eye, shoots a picture of her and drops it back down to his chest. They look at each other. He glares. She pouts. Their mouths quiver. They start to giggle, then shoot pictures of each other, laughing and giggling. "Wait," he cries, alarmed, "I'm out of film."

The gray-haired woman looks at the couple on the porch and stands up slowly, tiredly. She starts toward the house, stops, bends over and picks up the two weeds from the grass. She walks slowly across the lawn to the house.

The man rewinds his camera and removes the film. He pulls a notebook out of a camera bag and writes carefully in it, then puts the roll of film into an empty film box and carefully marks the box. He puts it into the camera bag and takes out another roll. He loads the camera deftly and snaps the back closed. The gray-haired woman reaches the bottom step.

"Take a picture of my mother," the blonde woman squeals.

"No!" the gray-haired woman protests angrily.

"I don't have enough film," the man whines. "Besides, she doesn't want me to."

"Yes, she does."

"No. I do not."

The gray-haired woman strides past them to the door. The man swings his camera up and takes a picture of the blonde woman watching her mother. Both women turn at the click of the shutter and glare at the man. The gray-haired woman spins angrily back to the door. The blonde woman looks at the camera and giggles. Her mother stops at the door and turns back toward them. "Do you and Dirk want...."

"Derek!" her daughter shouts.

"Some lunch?" the gray-haired woman ignores the correction.

"What are we having?" Derek asks.

"Whatever Mabel made," says the gray-haired woman sternly.

"Derek's a vegetarian," volunteers the blonde-haired woman.

"I'm sure we can find something for him to eat, Kate," her mother assures her. "This is Greenwich. Not New Delhi."

"Mother!"

Mrs. Bryant leads Derek and Kate into the house and down the hall to the dining room. She sits down at one end of the table. Kate stands beside the chair to her mother's left for a second, watching Derek. He slides into the chair on the other side of the table and plunks his elbows down on either side of his plate. Kate and her mother frown for an instant. Kate sits down.

A slender black woman in a white uniform brings out a tray of sandwiches and a pitcher of ice water. Mrs. Bryant looks at the sandwiches and then looks up at the woman. "Thank you, Mabel," she says coldly, dismissing her. Mabel stands, transfixed, sneering at Derek pawing at the sandwiches. He looks at Mabel.

"I'm a vegetarian," he announces through his nose.

Mabel looks at him and does not move.

"Mabel," Mrs. Bryant commands, "please get Dick...."

"Derek!" shouts Kate.

"Please get him something without meat," Mrs Bryant says.

"You eat eggs?" Mabel snarls.

"Poached," Derek sniffs.

Mabel strides proudly out of the room. Mrs. Bryant and Kate watch her go. Derek looks at himself in the reflection of his plate.

Kate takes a sandwich off the tray, removes the two slices of boiled ham pointedly and starts to chew the bread and cheese quietly. Mrs. Bryant takes a sandwich from the tray and puts it on her plate. They sit at the table, silent except for Kate's dainty chewing. Mabel returns with a plate of poached eggs on toast, drops it cavalierly beside Derek's empty plate and strides out of the room.

"Look what I found in the flower bed," Mrs. Bryant says, taking the hood ornament from a Mercedes Benz from her pocket and showing it to Kate and Derek. Kate flushes angrily. Derek looks up from his eggs, yolk dripping down his chin.

"It's just a hood ornament," Derek pronounces. "It's not worth anything."

"Whatever happened to that boy?" Mrs. Bryant asks.

"Mother!"

"What boy?" Derek asks angrily.

"Oh, a friend of Kate's," Mrs. Bryant waves her hand lightly, dismissing the question. She turns to Kate. "What happened to him?"

"Oh, he still haunts me," Kate mutters.

"You see him?" her mother asks.

"I had him watch my cat when I was at Hilton Head," Kate admits.

"That was nice of him," Mrs. Bryant allows.

"The cat died," Kate says sullenly.

"When we were at Hilton Head?" Derek asks, incredulous.

Kate glares at him. Her mother raises an eyebrow. "I didn't know you were at Hilton Head, too, Eric," Mrs. Bryant says.

"Derek!" Kate shouts angrily.

"It was very nice of him to pay for the car," Mrs. Bryant says.

"He cracked it up, didn't he?" Kate scoffs. "You're lucky he hit the tree instead of the garage."

"Who is he?" Derek interrupts.

"A friend of Kate's," Mrs. Bryant explains patiently.

"Do I know him?" Derek whines.

"No!" Kate shouts. "And I wish I didn't either."

"Sorry," Mrs. Bryant says contritely. They eat silently for a minute. "I told him that my insurance would cover it...."

"Mother!"

"It was a lot of money...."

"Mother!"

"Probably more than he had ever spent on a car...."

"He was drunk, mother," Kate shouts. "He...."

"He was drunk?" Mrs. Bryant marvels.

"Yes."

"That explains why I found him... in the hall... you know... naked." Mrs. Bryant looks down, blushing. "You know. Peeing."

"Mother! Please!"

Mrs. Bryant pours herself a glass of ice water and takes a tiny sip. "What was his name, Kate?"

"Mother!"

"John!" Mrs. Bryant remembers. "John Stern. Did he ever finish law school?""

"John Stern?" Derek exclaims. He turns to Kate, bewildered. "I thought you said he joined the priesthood?"

"Oh, no," Mrs. Bryant assures him. "Not John Stern." She lowers her eyes. "There was something very Jewish about him."

"Mother!"

They eat without speaking. Mrs. Bryant nibbles at her sandwich and looks at the uneaten heap on the tray. Derek slurps his eggs into his mouth, wiping his lips and chin with the back of his hand. Kate picks at her sandwich and looks at her mother. "Mother? May I be excused?"

"Of course, dear."

Kate pushes her chair back and stands. Derek crams the last of his eggs into his mouth and, still chewing, stands up and follows Kate out of the room. Mrs. Bryant sits at the table for a minute, pushes her chair back, stands up and walks slowly down the hall to the front door. She stops and looks through the screen at Derek and Kate cavorting on the porch. She sets her jaw and pushes the door open. Derek holds his camera to his eye and advances toward Kate. Kate giggles excitedly.

"Come closer," Kate begs. "I like it when I can see my reflection in the lens."

Derek moves closer, twisting the focus ring with his left hand. "Stop smiling," he whines. "I don't want a picture of your teeth." He clicks the shutter, winds, cocks and shoots again. He drops the camera from his face and looks at Mrs. Bryant. "Kate?" he asks without turning to her, still staring at Mrs. Bryant. "Ask your mother if we can use the car."

Kate turns to her mother. "Can we use the car, mother? We want to take some pictures near the water."

"Of course," Mrs. Bryant says. She slowly turns to Derek. "The keys are on the table in the hall. Drive safely, Dominick."

"Derek!" Kate shouts.

Mrs. Bryant looks over at scarred bark of the elm beside the white wooden side of the garage and smiles.

Copyright 2005 Matthew Lederman. All rights reserved
Contact: matt@matthewlederman.com