Harriet’s only real sin is that she was late for church every Sunday. She always has an excuse. Her arthritis was acting up. The car won’t start. The cat got out again. Harriet’s friends were complaining that the hot days of summer were here again and the old church wasn’t air conditioned. Lacking a budget to fix what they had, let alone buy new things, the ladies proposed to the Minister that services be pushed back an hour earlier so they could be done before the day’s heat wiped out the few remaining aging parishioners. The problem was getting Harriet to show up earlier, when she was always late.
“Not everyone can get here earlier.” The Minister defended.
“Well, you need to talk to Harriet.” Margaret had put forward on behalf of the others who circled the Minister and nodded agreement.
Resentful of being pressured by them the Minister decided to give an off the cuff sermon that Sunday beginning with ‘everyone is waging a private battle’, ‘judge not lest you be judge’ and ending with Mr. Rogers’ ‘look for the helpers’ quote. A bit of a muddle be he felt he was making his point.
Some where during the sermon Harriet arrived and took up a seat beside her friends. “My granddaughter is visiting from College this weekend.” Harriet whispered to Eunice, who was closest, explaining why she was late again.
After the service the ladies gathering near the back of the church, except for Harriet who was already leaving. She waved aside the Minister. “I’m sorry, I can’t stay for the Social. My granddaughter is down from her college. She just enrolled there. I want to get home so I can drive her back to the College, and drive myself back home tonight, before it’s dark. My night vision isn’t so good. She packing and tidying right now, that’s why she didn’t come today. I don’t think she’s eats enough. I’m worried about her living so far from home. I’m the only family near her now.”
“You won’t stay for the Strawberry and Tea Social?”
“No, no, thank you. Tell everyone I wasn’t feeling well. I liked your helpers sermon.”
Harriet drove off.
Jeanne and Gertie confronted the Minister before he could take a break.
“Where’s Harriet?” Jeanne demanded. “Did you tell her we wanted to move the service back?”
“Was that her leaving?” Gertie asked. “Did you talk to her about being late all the time? I think we should lock the doors when the service starts and then she would learn.”
The Minister nodded. “Ladies. Ladies. Private struggles. Remember? I’m just going to share a little with you, in confidence, about what’s happening with Harriet to help you understand. Now, this is in confidence, right?”
They took offense that the Minster should suggest they might betray a confidence.
“Harriet told me she’s not well.” The Minister explained. “Her granddaughter’s not well. An eating disorder. And the granddaughter has no other family. And the granddaughter needs Harriet to drive her places, and Harriet’s worried about her vision.”
“Her granddaughter’s? Her granddaughter’s going blind?” Gertie interrupted.
“No, Harriet’s vision. Harriet’s worried about Harriet’s vision. Listen, we mustn’t judge, and we must respect her privacy.”
“She’s our friend.” Jeanette interrupted.
“Yes. And I’m sure she knows how much you care about her, but for now, I think we should just tell everyone, Harriet wasn’t feeling well today. That’s what Harriet wants. No fuss, she’s just not feeling well.”
Gertie and Jeanne agreed and then went out back behind the church where bowls of fresh strawberries and cream were being served. The Minister went to get himself settled with a cup of tea.
Gertie and Jeanne approached April, Margaret, and Eunice. “Harriet’s very sick today.” Gertie began.
Jeanne confirmed Gertie’s words. “Her granddaughter’s even sicker.”
“The college girl?” April asked.
“Yes.” Gertie said. “The Minister says she bosses her mother around all the time.”
“Harriet?” Margaret asked to clarify. “She bosses Harriet? Her granddaughter bullies her?”
Gertie was a little unsure now that she was being challenged on this point. She looked to Jeanne.
“She orders Harriet around, and Harriet is going blind. She’s going blind.” Jeanne said.
“We never heard this before.” April said. “Harriet’s never said anything. Why haven’t we heard of this before?”
Jeanne looked to Gertie.
“It’s a private struggle.” Gertie said.
“A private struggle.” Jeanne said.
“The Minister told us.”
“That’s what the sermon was about.” Margaret said. “Oh, the Minister does know. Well, of course she would tell him.”
“But were her friends.” Eunice argued.
“He’s a higher power.” April said.
“The Minister is respecting Harriet’s confidence… confidences.” Jeanne said. “He’s respecting her confidences. So, he only told us. We have to keep it amongst ourselves. That’s what Harriet would want.”
“Why are they sick?” Eunice asked.
“I don’t know why their both sick. With the granddaughter it’s a problem with food.” Jeanne said.
April figured it out. “Well, if Harriet’s losing her eyesight it has to be diabetes.”
“I have diabetes.” Eunice said. “I take pills. I only have to take the pills for it, not the needles.”
Jeanette touched Eunice’s arm. “We know that, Eunice. This is about Harriet now. We worried about what’s wrong with Harriet. We all care about her.”
“Is her granddaughter a big girl?” April asked.
“Margaret, you met her granddaughter. She wasn’t big, was she?” Gertie asked.
“No. And she’s got legs.”
They talked for some time, quite concerned, but still able to well enjoy the afternoon social.
Later that evening, April was home told her husband, Troy.
“Her daughter better hope winter is late this year or she won’t seeing her for Christmas.” Troy said. “That college is on one of the worst roads for snow.” Since retiring, Troy’s work was lawn care and snow plowing and that was how he looked at the world these days.
April shut off the television and explained to Troy. “Harriet should not be driving. She’s almost blind. We think she might be clinical blind.”
“Why don’t you ask her?”
“Troy, that’s not… you don’t… Some things are private. They’re a private struggle. She’s our friend and we have to respect that. Anyway, she’s blind as a bat and she shouldn’t be driving at all. She shouldn’t even have a license.”
“Hey, you gotta do things as long as you can still do them.” He wrapped his arms around April and squeezed. April was having none of that. She pushed him away and got up off the couch.
“Harriet is a slave to that girl. And she’s got diabetes.”
“Who’s got diabetes?”
“One of them. Gertie said… no, Jeanne said…”
“Oh, not them, April. You tell them you got a pimple they’ll tell you it’s cancer.”
“Troy, don’t, I’m serious. They’re not making this up. They were told by the Minister. It’s true.”
The next day Gertie and April went to their meditation group. “I was looking on Doctor Google and I found an article that says blindness can be caused by many things. It could be cataracts, or glaucoma.”
“You can treat that with marijuana.” April said, searching for her donut pillow. She found the studio floor dusty and its hardwood painful to sit on. “We could get her some marijuana. It’s legal here. Do you think she would smoke? Cause they have these gummy bears. You can take it that way.”
They talked different get-well programs for Harriet for quite a while as the instructor was busy lecturing new attendees.
In Margaret’s concern for Harriet, she made a tray of baked ziti, as most sick people don’t have the energy to cook for themselves. Still warm, Margaret covered the tray in tin foil, wrapped it in small comforter, and then put it into an insulated food carrier. She had her James drive her over to Harriet’s house that afternoon. She knocked on the door several times. No answer. She had James walked around and knock on the back door. They both looked at the curtained windows. It was very hot and sunny out, but still, why had Harriet closed her curtains? They looked up to the second story bedroom window and called her name but no one came. None of the neighbors were home to ask them about Harriet, either. Margaret gave up. James thought porch thieves might steal the ziti if they left it, so they went home and ate it themselves.
That evening Jeanne saw Eunice at the open mic poetry readings. “April’s husband Troy saw Ron at the hardware store today. They talked, and Ron told me that Troy said April said Harriet was dying. She’s got cancer. Well, it has to be cancer. I bet her granddaughter brings her pot to smoke from that College she goes to. Oh, and Ron said Troy said the granddaughter’s bulimic.”
“I saw her shopping at that mall today.” Eunice argued.
Jeanne got heated. “Well, that doesn’t mean she isn’t dying. You don’t have to be in a bed in a hospital before you’re dying!”
Margaret called Gertie to set things straight, “Harriet is suffering from severe depression. Her house is dark, all the curtains are closed and she won’t answer the door anymore. For anyone!”
Gertie explained. “No, no, she’s not at her home. She’s in the hospital. She’s dying. It’s because she found out her granddaughter is drug addict.”
“Oh, we have to do something for her.”
That plan was dropped when the poetry readings began.
The next morning Jeanette called the Minister.
“Have you seen her?”
“We all saw her on Sunday.” The Minister replied.
“No, no, she’s taken a very bad turn since then. You were right.”
“She’s at the hospital. They don’t think she has much time.”
“Oh, no. I’ll go see her. Today.” The Minister said. He always did his duty, even when resentful of being pushed about by his parishioners. He downed some ant-acids and drove himself over to the hospital.
That afternoon Jeanette called everyone else and they all arranged to meet up at the hospital at six to visit together.
“Oh, Jean, do you think the Minister is doing last rites?” Eunice asked.
At the hospital, Gertie arrived first. She stood by the Waiting Room door and as each friend came in, and she directed them to sit in the Waiting Room.
“I think it’s better if we’re all here together first so we can all go in together to see her. It might be too much for Harriet if we visit her one at a time. She might not have the strength.”
In the waiting room the hospital chairs were metal frame, poorly padded, and short on back support. Everyone kept shifting in their seats, going for little walks, and getting tea and coffee from an outdated vending machine. There were stacks of Prevention magazine and Reader’s Digest. One wall was taken up with a rack of rows and rows of pamphlets for coping with every ailment from Arrhythmia Heart Disorders to Zinc Deficiencies. Everyone took turns thumbing through the pamphlets and magazines.
Finally, Jeanette arrived, and her and Gertie approached Reception. The staff and Jeanette and Gertie were got animated and annoyed with a lot of questioning and talking over each other. April found her cellular phone and called the Minister, plugging one ear for the noise even with the Waiting Room door closed. “What room is Harriet in? They don’t seem to know. Here, at the hospital. We’re at the hospital. Now.”
The Minister sounded tired. “She’s not there. I went there earlier. I asked reception. I asked the nurses. She’s not there. Betty Thorold was there. She hasn’t seen her. Is she at our hospital? That hospital? Could she be out of town seeing a specialist or something?”
At this point the Gertie and Jeanette returned from the Receptionist counter. April hung up and announced.
“It’s very serious. They had to send Harriet out of town to see a specialist. Specialists. I think there were several. I think we should pray for her.”
Each woman thanked the Reception nurses as they left.
Friday and Saturday were quiet. On Sunday they all attended church hoping for some news. The Minister spoke about caring for each other, and Love Thy Neighbor, and some nonsense about respecting boundaries. Harriet arrived part way through the service. Everyone was stunned.
Harriet ran a finger along her shirt and whispered to Eunice. “I split the seam when I put it on this morning. It’s my favourite. I had to sew it back up. I didn’t want to throw it out.”
As the sermon ended the Minister came down to Harriet directly to see how she was. Harriet was very pleased. She told him that her granddaughter was planning to visit every weekend now that she was settled at the college. As long as the weather was good, and school doesn’t overwhelm her. She couldn’t stay again, because she had to drive her granddaughter back.
She made her way to say good bye to her friends who waited by the entrance doors for her.
Gertie asked Eunice, “Is she alright?”
“She said she hurt her hip, or something, this morning. She was trying to show me but the Minister was still giving the sermon.” Eunice explained.
“She broke her hip?” April said.
“A lot of people don’t come back from that.” Jeanette said.
As Harriet joined them April dug into her purse and found two pamphlets. “It’s good to see you, Harriet.” She put the pamphlets in Harriet’s hand and patted her. “Have a look at these when you get home.”
“Glad, you’re better.” Margaret said, handing her a pamphlet.
Gertie handed Harriet two more and half hugged her shoulder.
Eunice gave her another and kissed her cheek.
Jeanette handed her the last two. “We all care about you.” Harriet tried to look at the pamphlets but Jeanette stopped her. “Put them in your purse. You want to wait until you get home.”
Harriet did what she was told. She thanked them all and said her good-byes and drove home. It was only late that evening after driving her granddaughter back to college that she was able to sit down with an herbal tea and go through her purse.
Harriet spread the pamphlets on her coffee table. ‘Nosocomephobia; Overcoming Your Fear of Hospitals’ ‘A Guide to Bulimia.’ ‘Drug Addiction; Who Are You Hurting?’ ‘Dealing With Difficult Relationships’ ‘Medical Marijuana and Pain Management’ ‘Dealing With the Dark Clouds’ ‘Taking Those Last Steps.’
Despite it getting dark, Harriet called Jeanette. “Jean? Jean, did I miss something in the Sermon today?”