Is This Paradise?
By Faye Wickenheiser
She lay spread-eagle, face-down on the bed. Despite the double pane windows, cold seeped in around the edges creating a layer of ice along the window sill. Suddenly her head jerked up in a spray of soft blond curls. What was that? Was it water running? Oh no, not again! Maggie scrambled off the bed and hurried toward the sound. Grabbing a robe along the way, she stopped dead on the other side of the bathroom wall with the exposed studding. No, the water pipes had not burst again. Yes, it was the sound of running water, but also...singing? A man’s voice – but no one should be in there. Her tenant had moved out three months ago. Her knees bent of their own accord and she leaned heavily on the partitioned wall. Good grief Margaret Ann, what have you done this time?
The problem with the morning after the night before, besides a hangover, is the realisation that someone is going to have to pay for last night. Glancing around the bedroom she looked for clues to who the man in her bathroom might be. Clothes strewn all over, boxes and knickknacks piled in the corner. No clues, just her usual orderly disorganisation. Scanning again, she spied the wall calendar with today’s date circled several times in red. January 21, 1963. Her Dad died one year ago today. She remembered the night of the accident very clearly. Sitting by herself in the livingroom she had felt the loneliness spread out from her, and turn into an inky blackness which folded in on itself and returned as a wave to crush the breath out of her chest. When Maggie hung the calendar, she hoped it meant that the past year, with its series of disasters, was finally behind her. It wasn’t like her to dwell on disasters of the past; the calendar was circled for a different reason. Mortgage payment! Time was moving too fast this morning; she had to get to the bank before work and a glance at the clock warned her she was already cutting it close.
Searching frantically for her purse and finding it under the bed, Maggie dumped the contents on her dresser. After finding one pay envelope completely empty and only a few dollars in the other envelope, she said a few unladylike words under her breath. Scouring the top of the dresser for large currency, Maggie furiously grabbed and unrumpled several bills which she then shoved in her wallet. Her shoulders sagged in relief when she spied a couple of large bills peeping back out of the wallet. After a quick count she bit her lip and began furiously searching coat pockets, skirt fronts, and blue jean pockets. She picked up a pair of men’s dark brown dress pants off the floor, held them up high and briefly considered them, then shook her head and dropped them to the floor. Whatever line she crossed last night, Maggie knew that she could handle today without stooping to thievery. She always managed to make the mortgage payments somehow. The one thing she was proud of was, that, just like her Dad, and she always kept her word. She straightened out the few bills that were found in pockets and did a recount. She was still a little short.
Maggie dove into the pile on the dresser and began gathering up change when she discovered a gold wedding band.
Holding up the ring to the winter light coming through the window, she considered where in the world the ring could have come from and how in heaven’s name did Maggie come in possession of it. The clock screamed that Maggie had run out of time. Tossing the ring back on the dresser, she scooped up her change and dumped everything into her purse. She hurriedly got dressed then walked briskly to the bathroom door and banged on it.
“Can you hurry up in there? I have to go to work.”
“Sure thing doll-face.”
Doll-face? Who says that anymore? Good grief! Did she bring home somebody’s grandpa? Maggie looked around at her hand-me-down house and decided that there was nothing valuable to steal, so she shrugged her shoulders and shouted through the closed bathroom door.
“I have to go to work. Lock up when you leave.” Not that Moose Jaw was a high crime city, but she didn’t want the door swinging open. In this kind of weather the pipes would freeze and burst. She wouldn’t relish telling that story to the plumber; he already thought that she was an idiot for trying to resurrect her grandmother’s house instead of bulldozing it and building a nice new little bungalow.
No one understood how close Grams and Maggie became when her mom passed away. Maggie’s dad was one of the few people who knew how devastated Maggie had been when Grams passed away a couple of years ago. This is why her dad co-signed the loan, so Maggie could buy out the inherited share of Grams’ house from Maggie’s three siblings. Her sister and brothers couldn’t wait to see the small city in their rearview mirror, all of them promptly escaping after graduating high school. Everyone knew that if you wanted to make something of yourself, you had to leave this pint-sized prairie valley. Everyone except Maggie and her dad.
* * *
For a while Maggie and her dad worked as a father-daughter team repairing the old two-story home. Who knew that Maggie’s dad would follow Grams less than a year later—certainly not the banker who threatened to rescind the loan without another co-signer. It was also around that time that her relationship with the plumber started. Last March the furnace conked out and, this being Saskatchewan, she needed a new furnace in a hurry, so Maggie turned to the only heating and plumbing shop in town. They were more than willing to oblige and even let her put some of the bill on credit. Maggie meant to pay it off right away but the water heater followed in the same footsteps as the furnace.
Maggie had been making the payments herself by taking two jobs, and she’d hoped she could convince the bank that she didn’t need another name on the loan so she could keep Grams’ house. Maggie also had a renter to help pay the bills, but Rebecca got fed up and left after water came shooting through the bedroom wall. The plumber stopped the major water leaks with a temporary fix and by shutting off the hot water, but had refused to come back to repair the plumbing properly until the bill was paid in full. Maggie’s tenant couldn’t wait that long.
Hustling to the bank late that Saturday morning with the cash she had managed to scrape up, Maggie willed herself to remember the events of last night. It had been payday Friday and she remembered sticking the pay cheque from the cafe in her purse. On her way from the cafe to her second job at the bar, she stopped to speak with the plumber. Maggie just dropped by to ask when she could expect the plumber back to finish the repairs. Their discussion turned into an argument and he demanded to be paid in full immediately or he would call in a collection agency. She couldn’t risk that. After emptying her savings into her chequing account, along with depositing her cafe paycheque and all of her tip money, there was finally enough to cover the cheque she had just written to pay the plumbing bill. From there she spent a long Friday night working at the bar. She also remembered seeing Rebecca and staying afterward for a couple of drinks. Then life got fuzzy.
* * *
Today being a Saturday, the bank was really busy and the teller rolled her eyes as Maggie deposited a series of rumpled bills and then began to count out the change from the bottom of her purse. As soon as the payment was made, Maggie rushed towards the door. She was almost there when a voice called behind her.
“Maggie,” he cleared his throat and yelled loudly. “Oh Maggie!? Would you come into my office for a moment?”
Slowly she turned and saw Mr. Marsden, the bank manager, gesture toward his office door. Maggie wasn’t fooled by his attempt at a kindly smile, underneath the well groomed portly exterior and tailored dark green suit was a heart that beat to the tune of the all boy’s club. Ducking her head down into her coat collar she walked toward him as though entering the high school principal’s office. Mr. Marsden demanded a quick meeting with Maggie regarding the loan on her house. The meeting did not go well as his type of logic didn’t appeal to her. Maggie left with the words “You have until the end of the month to find a co-signer or face termination” ringing in her ears.
* * *
Maggie completed her shift at the cafe in a daze. After all of the time that she had spent in that house, first with Grams learning how to be a mom to her siblings, then with her dad as they spent hours replacing the old lath and plaster—no, she just couldn’t lose her home. It was only when she realised that she would be late for her job at the bar that Maggie put a little hustle in her step. She arrived at Good Time Charlie’s Bar by 8:30 pm slightly out of breath. “Hey Joe. Sorry I’m a little late.”
The man clearing glasses and wiping down the bar looked up, a crooked smile crossing his face. “Hey kid, no problem. I’m kind of surprised to see you. I already called Cindy in to cover your shift.”
“You gave away my shift?”
“Well, last night when you left with that fella, you said you were off to get hitched to a plumber.”
“What are you talking about? A plumber!? Does anybody know what’s going on here?”
“I do.” He walked in holding up the gold wedding band from her dresser.
Maggie eyed him suspiciously. He looked familiar but that could be because he had been here in the bar drinking every night for the past two weeks. He was five-foot-ten, clean shaven, not handsome, but not too bad looking either. He wore a long woollen dress overcoat and well-polished dress shoes despite the cold.
“Let’s go doll-face, the preacher’s waiting.”
“Hey Magpie! It’s the janitor from the air force base that I was telling you about. You know the one you left with last night. It’s Allan, right?”
“Joe?” Maggie beseeched him, suddenly feeling like the time when she fell into the community pool and couldn’t tread water.
“Well Magpie, I gotta tell you, at the end of your shift last night you and that friend of yours, Becca I think, and a bunch of the Technical Institute boys started pouring back doubles. Then I remember you standing on a chair and yelling, if any guy here can fix the plumbing in your house you’d marry him. Boy, you sure were tuned up! Then Al pipes up and says, you mean it? You says, hell yes! Then Al says, okay, you’re on. I’ll fix it. You pointed to him and said, Sold!” Joe shrugged his shoulders and raised his hands apologetically. “The last thing I saw was you two sashaying out of the door telling me not to expect you today because you were going to get hitched.”
Maggie felt her knees go weak and grabbed the nearest table for support. Maggie, searching Al’s face, quietly asked,
“The sound of running water this morning...”
“Was me filling the bathtub.” Al sounded much too calm.
Maggie was going to appeal to Joe one more time and then she caught sight of Cindy clearing glasses at a nearby table.
“Oh. Well. Then I guess there’s nothing left to say.” Her mind groped for a different solution. Surely he didn’t mean to hold her to a drunken promise, did he? Al looked like he meant it, showing up all spruced up with a ring and everything. She decided to test his resolve to see just how far he would take this.
“Can we stop by the house so I can change quick?”
“You bet. But let’s make it fast sweetheart,” Al tapped his watch, “Time’s a-wastin’.”
* * *
As she crossed through the livingroom toward the bedroom to get changed, Maggie noticed a pillow and blanket on the livingroom couch. It was obvious that someone had slept there last night. Standing in front of a partially deconstructed closet, Maggie grasped at the fleeting images of last night flickering through her brain. The images floated away before merging together into something concrete. Quickly grabbing the new dress that she wore to her brother’s grad from the closet, Maggie dashed into the bathroom to change. She ran water into the sink, then the bathtub and flushed the toilet. Everything worked. Allan is a man of his word, she told the woman in the mirror. Maggie liked that. She decided to give him a chance and to determine what he is really made of; she went to join Allan at the front door.
Faye Wickenheiser, a fourth-year Luther student, will convocate in June 2011with a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in English and religious studies. Currently, she works part-time at Farm Credit Canada and is immersed in home renovations.