Society Ladies

The Green Tote Bag Ladies Society of Greater Boston and Southern New Hampshire was a too-long name for a group of women who wore obscenely large green purses on day trips into the city.

Josie Donahue found herself driving the twenty or so minutes East towards her first meeting for the society, not entirely sure what she was doing. It had been her son’s idea that she do it. She didn’t know what to expect, and after a week-long debate in which she cursed herself (but mostly her son) she’d resigned herself to at least go to the initial meeting. If it went badly, she’d leave and never look back.

It would be that easy.

From what she learned about the society (at least, what the pamphlet mailed back to her outlined) the Green Tote Bag Ladies Society met once a month, sipping tea and eating triangle-cut sandwiches discussing where their next adventure would take place. A group leader was selected once every first of May in a, what Josie assumed anyway, was a well-mannered, structured debate that ended in a secret vote. The vote was apparently drawn from the Original Tote—a stitched Kelly green bag with thick leather straps and a rough, almost burlap surface. From the picture on the pamphlet it appeared to be a heinously ugly thing.

Josie learned that Martha Golding had been elected the group’s leader for the previous seven years by a unanimous vote. The monthly meetings were held at her one-story cape near the state forest in North Reading. It was a tree-lined street that Josie assumed blossomed with cherry trees in the spring that dripped their faint pink blooms over the sidewalks and front lawns. For now, though, their reaching arms were bare, the road littered with a scattering of orange and brown leaves, the lawns of Martha’s street ravaged by the summer’s dying heat and fall’s early frosts. Still, it held the sort of preened appearance of perfection that Josie had never managed to achieve in her life. She slowed the hulking length of her car down as she approached the house. The driveway was already crowded with the cars of the other women, chatting outside in their fall jackets.

The Buick screeched to a stop by the curb and Josie winced at the sound. The women in the driveway turned in her direction, seeming to appraise her nearly ten-year-old car with its rusting hood, and mud-flaked doors. They were all dressed in need, floral patterned or checkered dresses that brushed against their calves in the autumn air.

They were also each carrying something in their hands and Josie had the sinking realization that she hadn’t brought anything along with her.

“Shit,” she whispered into the empty air of the car. She couldn’t back out now, not after they had all seen her—she’d have to suck it up. Without thinking on it any longer she snatched her plain black purse from the passenger side floor and slung it around her shoulder. She had yet to get in the door and she was already under-dressed, under-prepared and entirely out of place.

She was regretting the entire affair already.

*

The Green Tote Bag Ladies Society was something her son, Mark, had suggested a month or so earlier. He told her that she needed to make friends and that it would be “good for her.” He said he had seen the women out in the city at a coffee shop near his company’s corporate office. They were fawning over the chalkboard behind the baristas’ heads, asking dozens of questions about what type of coffee they should order, laughing like school girls and buying more baked goods than any of them seemed capable of actually eating. Mark didn’t make it to the city often—he worked and lived nearly four hours south, in the southernmost tip of Connecticut, practically New Jersey. He wouldn’t have thought much about the group of gray-haired, chatty ladies if it hadn’t been for the massive green purses each woman had.

“Ma, they looked like they were having a good time,” he told her. “I asked a woman near me if they were a club and she laughed and told me all about them. More than I needed to know really.” Josie could hear the sounds of the kitchen on the other end of the phone, Mark banging a spoon against a pan, the sound of running water from the sink. “Anyway, I told them you’d be interested.”

Josie felt a flush of panic she couldn’t entirely explain rush through her chest. “What did you do that for, Mark?” she hated how her voice sounded.

“It’ll be fun, Ma. You don’t do anything. You said you got that stu—” he seemed to catch himself, “—that dog because you’d actually go out to the park and get out again, but you don’t.”

As if to emphasize the point Ronald, her adopted, speckle-coated mutt of a dog rolled onto his back in the center of the living room. He slept near twenty-two hours a day.

“Ronnie doesn’t like the park,” Josie said defensively.

Mark audibly sighed on the other end of the line. “Look do this for me, will you? If you really hate it then that’s fine but at least give it a shot. When I saw those ladies out having a good time it made me think of you. I think you’ll like it.”

The conversation had ended there. Within two weeks a pale blue envelope appeared in her mailbox cordially inviting her to their monthly meeting. When she called Mark to tell him about it she did her best to keep any hint of excitement out of her voice.

She didn’t want him to know that she had actually, sort of, begun looking forward to it.

*

Martha Golding’s living room was a careful arrangement of a plush, velvet couch, flanking matching armchairs, and a high winged-back love seat. Hand-stitched pillows lined with petite golden tassels were effortlessly fluffed and placed upon the seats just-so.

Josie could feel a dampness run across the surface of her palms and heat rise into her neck the moment she stepped into the threshold. Her black loafers were scuffed at the toes, her slacks just a tad too short, leaving her ankles naked aside from the worn layer of flesh-toned stockings she had dug out of a drawer that morning—they felt incredibly out of place upon the plush, soft pink carpet beneath them. A carpet that had been painstakingly vacuumed into perfect alternating rows like that of a baseball infield.

“Oh!” exclaimed Martha. She was the image of a perfect hostess, gently laying a tray of prepared iced teas on the ornately carved coffee table in the center of the living room. “Welcome ladies, welcome! Come in now, don’t be shy.”

Josie was shuffled in by the small horde of women behind her. A cloud of stringently sharp perfume engulfed the room—chatter breaking out as triangle finger sandwiches, raw vegetable plates, a fruit salad, and a massive goblet of chocolate pudding were added to the table.

“Wonderful,” said one woman with curly blonde hair, so light it was almost white. “What a lovely spread.”

“Ladies, bags please!” Martha quipped, pulling out a tall coat rack from behind the front door. A half dozen arms spread from it and one by one, the women in the room hung their over-sized green purses on a hook.

Josie watched, the heat in her neck rising further to her face, blooming out across her cheeks. Were they ever going to acknowledge her? She was incredibly, painfully, obviously green bag-less.

“Lovely,” said Martha. “Please have a seat everyone. Eat, eat!”

The love seat was taken almost immediately by two nearly identical looking women (sisters, maybe?) who were groping finger sandwiches with both hands. The couch filled next, and even a rogue ottoman was occupied by more manicured, primped women. Josie found herself standing suddenly alone in the room without a place to sit.

Her mouth had gone dry.

The conversation in the room died down quickly, all eyes beginning to fall on Josie’s un-makeuped face.

“Oh! Sorry, dear, forgot all about you there,” said Martha, flashing a dull, dentury grin. “No matter, just a second.” She hurried from the room and Josie did her best to avoid dying for the time being.

Martha reappeared from the kitchen with a wooden folding chair under one arm. “This’ll have to do,” she said, creaking the chair open and placing it beside Josie’s worn shoes. She sank thankfully into the hard wooden seat, hoping the burning stares of the women around her would turn somewhere else.

Her sweating palms were clasped tightly together in her lap; gnarled fingers twisted painfully together, too painful most mornings to pour even a cup of coffee or turn on the water to run a bath. She was on a strict self-regimen of aspirin, the only thing that seemed to make the days manageable. She did her best to hide her hands in her lap as all eyes in the living room darted between her and Martha.

“So,” Martha began, taking a seat in the single armchair, swirling a glass of iced tea as though it were brandy instead, “you’re looking to join our Society?”

Josie thought this fact was quite apparent given her presence in the increasingly stuffy living room. “Yes,” she said slowly, clearing her phlegm-filled throat. She could practically see Martha wince at the sound. “My son told me about it—he spoke to someone a few weeks ago. I called and requested an invitation.”

“You’ll have to refresh me on your name, I’m afraid.” Martha’s dull teeth were clenched in a strained smile that did not reflect in her eyes.

“Josie—Josephine Donahue.”

“Donahue,” Martha repeated, her eyes trailing down Josie’s length, pausing at her worn loafers. “I see. You brought along your invitation, I presume?”

Her heart suddenly pulsed harder, a flush of panic swelling through her limbs. “I—uh—” she stumbled over the words. Her purse was on the floor. She reached to grab it. “I think I have it here.” Her hands were trembling as she dug inside—the goddamned thing had better be there.

Relief quelled the quivering in her fingertips as they touched the folded embossed invitation at the bottom of the bag. “Here it is,” she said, extending the paper to Martha who took it gingerly as thought it might hot—or covered with something foul.

“Lovely,” she said. The room was silent aside from the munching of the other women around her, and the occasional tinkling of ice against glass. Josie did her best to keep her eyes trained downward, studying the clawed feet of the coffee table.

“Well, that’s exactly what we needed, Josephine,” said Martha, dropping the invitation onto the table. “Please understand that the invitation is to attend one even with the Green Tote Bag Ladies Society of Greater Boston and Southern New Hampshire—the GTBLS for short—after which time a vote will held in order to determine your eligibility as a permanent member.”

For Christ’s sake… It was like trying to join some sort of cult. A cult of old ladies with ugly pocketbooks loose in Massachusetts. She wanted to say forget it, that her son hadn’t told her there was so much involved.

Instead, she felt herself nodding, looking ever like a desperate lonely old woman.

Martha smiled broadly—followed in suit by the other women in the room. “Lovely,” she repeated.

*

George had been dead for two years.

In the beginning every day had felt excruciatingly long—every instant of the day seeming to scream his absence. In the beginning she couldn’t sleep without the rhythmic sounds of his breathing beside her (despite how loud it had been, and how much she had hounded him to see a specialist for it). There was no one flipping the channels on the television while they ate dinner on the cough (and, subsequently, no one to holler at for changing the channel so many times).

Doing simple errands without him seemed impossible for nearly a year after. Once they were both retired, they had simply done everything and gone everywhere with one another. Either to keep from dying alone in the house—which, at the time seemed unlikely—or just being plain old bored. They worked on the buddy system. She went to his doctor’s appointments; he waited in a chair by the door while she got her hair frosted; she came along to get the oil changed in the Buick every 3,000 miles on the dot. Grocery shopping, pharmacy runs, trips to the bank—every mundane, simple task that they had once done together became a trek she was unwilling to take.

For a long time after, she just refused to leave the house—it was as simple as that. Maybe if she had the opportunity to prepare for widowhood she would have taken it better. In a way, she felt envious of the women who knew their husbands would die for months leading up to the event itself. They got to say the things that needed to be said, make the appropriate arrangements that needed to be made. They’d have the time to realize that they were sixty-seven with only one grown son who lived nearly four hours south with no friends, or relatives nearby to help with the aftermath.

Massive heart attacks happening in the middle of an ordinary Tuesday while watching cable courtroom television did not allow for such planning.

So that was precisely where Josie found herself after George had been pronounced, after the funeral had been arranged, and long after the plastic flowers in the cemetery had been cleared away by the groundskeepers.

Mark came and stayed for a time after. A few days, maybe a week, she couldn’t fully remember. It was just after he was married—his second marriage, that was—to a woman named Samantha. Mark helped with the dishes (he insisted on actually hooking up the dishwasher that was in the kitchen, but Josie refused), he had the oil tank filled, cut the grass in the front yard and raked the leaves falling early in the season, he emptied the gutters and hosed down the car in the driveway. He did all of the things George normally would have. Josie had watched, wrapped in a housecoat as he did, unwilling to get herself properly dressed.

He was like his father in a lot of ways, more than he probably would want to admit.

He didn’t talk about what had happened. He didn’t cry at any of the services, or in the days following. Josie knew it wasn’t because he didn’t care or didn’t feel anything. But like George, Mark was skilled at keeping every one of his emotions buried beneath the surface, digging them deeper over the years. Maybe that was what caused George’s heart attack. Decades worth of the things he never wanted to say or feel pressing in on his heart, suffocating his arteries until they could stand it no longer and everything erupted.

A part of her wanted to tell Mark this—to warn him to be like his father in that way, but she never did.

Instead he left the way she knew he would: with a kiss on the cheek, an ‘I love you’ given before he got into his sleek silver car and drove the four hours or so back home to his new wife. She would figure out the rest.

*

“How did it go?” Mark asked later that night. Josie had called him, despite herself, to tell him that she had gone to the Society meeting and that she was now obligated to go on a daytrip.

She did her best not to bark out a laugh—something the society ladies would certainly avoid. “It was interesting,” she replied. It wasn’t entirely a lie.

“Were the women there nice?”

The conversation sounded a lot like the ones Josie had with Mark while he was growing up. When he went to stay-away camp for the first time, or when he joined Little League. Did you have fun? she’d ask. Were the other kids nice to you? She really must have aged.

“They were just lovely,” she said, emphasizing the word, picturing Martha Golding as she said it. She could hear the receiver muffle on the other line and Mark muttered something, to Samantha she assumed.

“I’m glad you had a good time, Ma. I hate that you’re stuck in that house all day with that dog. It’ll do you good to get out and have some new activities.”

She mumbled a half-hearted agreement. “Well, I’m still not officially a member. I have to prove myself on their outing tomorrow. Gotta show them that I’m Green Tote Society material.”

“Well, like I said before, if it turns out you’re not society material than don’t go back. At least you’re trying it though. Listen, I got to get going though. Sam and I are going out to the movies. Let me know how it goes, okay?” She could hear Samantha ask, What was that all about? before the line went dead.

Josie spent the remainder of the evening trying to put an outfit together, figure out what to do with her overgrown, gray hair and digging through the bathroom cabinets looking for any residual makeup.

In the ensuing silence of the house, after the TV had been turned off, the lights shut out, and Ronald had curled up on his thick dog bed in the corner of the bedroom, Josie resigned herself to play nice. Something Mark had said seemed to repeat itself long after their conversation had ended. If she didn’t end up being “society material” then she could leave.

“Why not me?” she asked the darkness of the bedroom. “Why not?”

Ronald rolled over with a groan and fell asleep.

*

Josie took in her appearance in the only full-length mirror in the house early the next morning. She had woken up nearly three hours before her alarm, wide awake in the early morning, her eyes straining against the pressing darkness of the room.

Ronald refused to get off his—admittedly comfortable looking—doggie bed as she stumbled around the room, turning on the bedside table lights as she did.

She had styled her hair—spraying half an ounce of permanent hold hairspray that had probably been at the bottom of the bathroom drawer for over a decade. Her head could have probably doubled as a helmet. Otherwise, she was quite pleased with the final product. She wore flat shoes (with a hint of a sparkle to them), light blue slacks and a white blouse that she had found tucked away in the back of the closet. She poked diamond studs into her ears and wore an old pearl necklace George had given her for their 35th wedding anniversary. In all, she was impressed.

She was the first to arrive in Martha’s driveway later that morning, stopping at the donut shop just before and picking up nearly two gallons of black coffee. She stuffed a brown bag with different flavored creamers, every assortment of sugar (including the brightly colors packets that were decidedly not sugar), stirrers, coffee cups and a fistful of napkins. As she hauled the coffee out from the passenger side seat, the other woman began to arrive in droves behind her. From their expressions they seemed pleasantly surprised with her appearance—or maybe just the coffee.

Either way, Josie was chalking it up as her first victory with the society ladies.

After going over an extensive itinerary with Martha the women had piled into just a few vehicles and driven the forty minutes south west toward their destination. Martha had been thoughtful enough to print one for each woman (Josie had finally gotten a head count, there were twelve of them, herself included) and so she filled the majority of the ride re-reading what was outlined for their day. It was detailed down to the hour: 8:30AM Leave House, 9:15AM arrive at trolley station, 10:30AM brunch—going on for nearly a full page. According to Martha’s handout they should be arriving (promptly) back in her driveway by 3PM that afternoon.

In no way did she expect to learn each woman’s name on the outing, but she had pulled a pen from the depths of her purse and began jotting down the names she gathered with a tag beside it to help her remember. By the time they were in the parking lot for the trolley she had a list of the other four women jammed into the car. Beth had the bleach blonde hair and the turtle shell glasses. Sarah had a high-pitched rattling laugh that filled the cabin of the car countless times on the ride down, and tufty, mousy brown hair. Marjorie sat to Josie’s left and constantly rolled the window down complaining of hot flashes even though she appeared to be closer to seventy and past the age where hot flashes were an acceptable excuse for profuse sweating. Edith was on her right and had shoulder-length silvered hair and bright red lips and rouge smudged onto her wrinkled cheeks.

Josie repeated the names again in her head, knowing without a doubt that they would slip from her memory as soon as they exited the car.

“What lovely weather today!” said Beth shutting the car door behind her. “We lucked out today, I guess.”

Josie was shuffled out from the back seat and joined the nodding and agreeing sentiments the other women gave. It was a decent day for the trip. The sky overhead was a clear blue and the sun had already rid the ground of the light frost that had clung to it early on.

“Right on time,” Martha said with an obvious air of pride. Her itinerary was already dead on.

After purchasing tickets at the front kiosk, the women piled into the trolley cars, pulling various supplies from their massive green bags. They were the only group on the trolley, being what appeared to be the first ride of the morning. The conductor (if he could be called that) still had a sleepy look on his face and a rough grating edge to his voice as he spoke over the microphone. “Good morning ladies,” he said with what he must have thought was a charming grin, “and welcome aboard.”

Josie could hear Sarah’s squeal of a laugh from the front of the trolley, obviously smitten with their host.

“We’re so glad you’ve decided to join the Guided Trolley Tour of the Old Colony Mill today. Our trip should be about forty minutes through town, so sit back and enjoy the sights.”

The guide began delving right into what was obviously a rehearsed speech about the town—going into great detail about the history of the surrounding area, and who had founded what important landmarks. He pointed out old, paint peeled buildings; statues at what must have been the center of town; giving useless facts about politicians and revolutionary icons that Josie hadn’t heard of since grade school.

Martha was entirely wrapped up with their tour guide, asking questions as they went, seeming to throw him off his routine. “Now what is that there?” she interjected at one point, indicating a covered bridge by a passing lake.

“That’s uh,” he faltered, “that’s actually a more recent addition. Not really part of the history of the town, I’m afraid.”

“Fascinating,” mumbled one of the women near Josie, snapping a picture of the bridge anyway. “What a beautiful town this is.”

Marjorie sat beside Josie and had taken the window seat, her bag between them like a small child. Josie had been doing her best to smile at all the right times, to chuckle at the tour guide’s (not really all that funny) jokes and to look downright cheery when Martha caught her eye.

“Do you have any children?” Marjorie asked suddenly, her eyes peeling away from the sights out the large, open window.

Josie cleared her throat. “Yes, one. A son, Mark. How about you?”

Marjorie smiled, though it seemed slightly strained. “Nine,” she laughed, “we were raised Irish Catholic.” She shrugged. “Three boys, six girls. Though now it’s two boys and six girls.”

Josie didn’t get the chance to offer any real condolences before the trolley came to a halt on the outskirts of the town and their guide began rattling off more facts. “You young ladies have been a joy,” he said, his voice and expression seeming to have livened up quite a bit since their departure. “Please enjoy your walk through the town square, and please stop at the Old Mill Shop for some brunch. I’ll be here to continue our tour which will, of course, end with a walk through the still functioning Mill itself.”

Marjorie stood, shouldered her seemingly heavy purse and gave Josie a tight smile. “Let’s get going. Hope you like mimosas.” She winked.

The Green Tote Bag Ladies Society needed four tables and a dozen chairs for brunch. Their waitress, a girl who looked barely over the age of 15, did her best to jot down their complicated, lengthy order, nodding all the while. It took three servers four trips back and forth to drop off mimosas, juice, waters, coffee, tea, omelets, fruit, bacon, toast, jams—so many things that Josie actually lost track. She let her plate be piled with new food three separate times, drinking down two mimosas with ease. Bubbly and tart, the drinks were smooth and the best thing she’d had to drink in a very long time.

As brunch went on the women seemed to get louder with their conversation, laughing so loud other customers seemed to be watching them with bemused expressions.

“—a donkey, can you imagine?” wailed one of the women at the other end of the table, following immediately by raucous laughter. Even Martha let out an un-ladylike snort into her glass.

“So Josephine, Marjorie says you have a son?” asked a curly haired brunette across the table. “Does he live nearby?”

Josie shook her head, replacing her fork on the table. Her stomach felt bloated against her waistband, her head buzzing just a little from the effect of the champagne. “Connecticut,” she said. “It’s quite a drive, actually.”

The woman pouted her lips. “What a shame,” she said. “Any grandchildren?”

“Not yet. He’s just turned thirty-seven. Married a,” she wanted to say lovely, but she didn’t, “great girl just a few years ago. His second marriage, unfortunately.” She wasn’t entirely aware that most of the attention at the table had shifted to her. She might have been more interesting than she thought. “I’m not sure the girl wants children, to be honest.”

Marjorie’s eyebrows raised, as did several other surrounding women. “No? No children, huh? What a novel idea.” She winked down the table which garnered a few chuckles.

“Give them time,” said the curly-haired woman with a grin. Josie couldn’t remember her name—she hadn’t made it to her cheat sheet yet. “I have six grandchildren at this point. Love them all, of course,” she said, “but they are a handful. Grandma is the built-in babysitter you know. I’d take a dog instead some days!” Some of the women laughed, others called her fresh. “At least you can leave them in a crate when you go on errands.”

“You can do that with your grandchildren too, you just can’t get caught!”

More laughter. “You two are bad!” said Martha, her round face flushed.

“I just got a dog,” said Josie sheepishly. Some of the woman cooed at this newly revealed fact. “Well about a year ago. He’s a mix, not sure what he is really. Came with the name Ronald.”

“Ronald!” exclaimed Marjorie. “That’s Sarah’s husband’s name!” Another round of laughter rippled across the table and someone else made a joke about her ex-husband being a dog too.

Josie found herself laughing a good part of the afternoon—long after they had left the Old Mill Shop and long after the warmth of the mimosas had left their limbs and long after the trolley dropped them back off into the parking lot and they began the drive home. They had finished the day with a tour through the Old Mill which had remained basically untouched since 1863. Martha had flirted (or at least what she must have considered flirting) with the mill director into allowing them to tour the strictly off limits upper level of the mill. It turned out to not be much more than a dusty attic-like space used to store the old mill equipment that needed repairs, and cleaning supplies. There had been, of course, many lovely’s given at this.

She had complimented many of the ladies on their clothes and their manicures. They all shouldered their massive green tote bags around for the afternoon while Josie carried her plain black faux-leather one, feeling ever more like the odd man out. For the first time since she had received her initial invitation in the mail, a part of her felt a twinge of jealousy about the big obnoxious tote bags. She wanted one, she’d be lying to herself if she said she didn’t. This was the first time she’d been out of the house for any real extended period of time since George died—the first time in an even longer time that she’d been out with a group of women her age.

Mark’s words about her not being “society material” had settled into the pit of her stomach somewhere along the drive back to Martha’s home. She had actually forgotten about the vote for a good part of the day, feeling already like she was a member, a society lady herself. Why couldn’t she part of the group? Why couldn’t she make finger sandwiches and talk about reality television? The thought that this could in fact be her last outing with these women made her quite sad. More than sad really—she felt a wave of anxiety wash through her chest at the idea of sitting home along later that night with no future plans.

“So glad you decided to join us today, Josephine,” said Martha once they were gathered again in her pink and floral living room. She took her usual seat in the high winged-back chair like some sort of monarch. “I hope you had fun.”

Josie could feel the eleven sets of eyes in the room fall on her. “I did,” she replied, taking a small sip of her iced tea. “Glad it was such a nice day for it.”

The other ladies nodded in agreement.

“Formalities are formalities, I’m afraid Josephine,” said Martha turning and grabbing the Original Tote from behind her chair. “We’ll have to convene for just a moment to discuss everything, and then each woman will drop her vote into the bag.” She shook the bag as if for dramatic effect. “If you don’t mind stepping outside for just a few minutes—I’ll come and fetch you when the voting is over, and we’ll tally them here.” She smiled and nodded toward the door.

If Josie still smoked, it would have been the perfect time to light up. She pulled her navy blue coat around her waist a little tighter, a chill creeping into the afternoon air.

She wondered what they were saying about her—whether or not they had liked her. They were probably discussing what she wore and the jokes she told. They were probably criticizing the fact that she didn’t bring even a fruit plate to her first meeting.

Then again, they could have found her charming. They might have liked her hair and outfit—and not just said friendly things to make her feel better. She might have had a shot at this thing after all.

Less than five minutes later Martha returned to the door and ushered Josie back inside. “All set, dear,” she said. “Take a seat and we’ll just count these up.”

The other ladies were smiling politely towards her, sipping their drinks and munching lightly on the assorted snacks left out on the coffee table as Martha began to unfold and tally the votes from inside the bag.

It might have been the anxiety—the feeling that she actually might not be voted in, the idea that she’d have to say her goodbyes, force her thank you’s before shuffling out of the door to end the night at home alone—that made her want to shout. That made her want to tell the women in the room to cut the act—to quit pretending that they were some sort of exclusive, high society group.

To have them face the truth—that they, like her, were lonely old women aging faster than they wanted to admit. With grown children who didn’t call as much as they’d like, with grandchildren they didn’t see enough of (or in Josie’s case, didn’t exist), with husbands that were dead, or as good as—the type that plopped themselves in front of the television with nothing left to say—the ones who slept in separate beds in separate bedrooms. With sisters and brothers long dead, or moved away. Some in nursing homes with none of their shared childhood memories left.

With aged, creaking joints and bones, sagging faces and skin that bore no resemblance to the women they had once been.

They should admit that this was the truth. But they wouldn’t, and neither would she.

And maybe, in the end, they’d be happier because of it.

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