Learning to Live Part 2
Here's the next installment of a short story I wrote. Enjoy!
Anna left Amanda on the porch.
Ms. Gracechurch led her down to her house, a cheerful building fronted by an untamable garden. She called over her shoulder, “Will your parents mind if I take you on a little trip? To Adamsville and thereabouts?”
“No,” Anna replied truthfully, because her parents were probably asleep, and because they trusted Ms. Gracechurch with their lives. Or, more pertinently, her life. Besides, she had her phone.
“Will you mind?”
“No,” Anna said again. She was interested in what Ms. Gracechurch had to show her.
“Then let’s go!”
They got in a car that smelled strongly of pine and Ms. Gracechurch drove.
“This is where it started,” Ms. Gracechurch said, checking her mirror.
“What, Ms. Gracechurch?”
“Call me Meg,” Meg said. “And learning to live.”
They were silent. Anna wasn’t sure how to follow up something like that.
She pressed her forehead against the window, watching the trees go by. I’d like to be a tree, she thought. Tall and strong and purposeful.
Crisp, clean houses started gliding past, smoothly slowing to a stop as Meg parked.
She turned and smiled at Anna. Only it wasn't the usual smile. There was something of wistfulness in this, something of sadness, and it seemed all the more valuable for it.
“Time to get out,” she said.
They did. Anna looked around. They were in front of an ordinary house.
Anna glanced up inquiringly at Meg. She stared straight ahead. Anna was just about to say something when she spoke.
“It all started here.”
Anna wasn’t expecting this. There was raw emotion in her voice.
“I used to be married,” Meg continued. “I had a son. They were my everything.”
Anna thought, widowed or divorced? She immediately felt guilty, but she couldn’t help the way her mind worked.
“Then, one day,” said Meg,“my house caught fire.”
Anna thought, oh. Then, widowed.
“I don’t know what happened. Someone explained it but I couldn’t listen.” She paused. “Ask the right question.”
“Why couldn’t you listen?” Anna asked softly. She knew why, though.
“My husband and son didn’t make it, Anna.” She gave her a brief glance.
Why was she telling her this? Was she just lonely? Sad?
Anna liked to understand things. She didn’t understand this at all.
“My life burned down, Anna. Not just my family. It was… indescribable. Everything you own, everything you are, incinerated.
“But what you own is not what you are. I realized that. I also realized something far more important.
“I realized that I didn’t know how to live without them. My life was them. Everything I did was for them. And I was confused, because that felt wrong. But as a wife and mother, I was used to giving everything. I wanted to. I just didn’t know how without losing myself.
“What do you think I learned? Look.”
Anna looked. She saw in the window a woman on the floor playing with a toddler, a man at a piano with a child.
“Life… goes on?” Anna guessed.
“You know what, Anna? It really does. Even if I couldn’t stay here with my memories, other people could. That’s how I knew I needed to rebuild my life.”
“How did you?” asked Anna.
Meg smiled. “Time to get back in the car.”
She continued the story in fits and starts.
“I told you I didn’t know how to live without my family. I think I was so used to sacrifice as a concept that I felt selfish without it. Or, I don’t know. Incomplete. I’d been married a long time. I didn’t have a job, or friends I wanted to see alone, or hobbies. I felt... unformed.”
“Didn’t you have hobbies and friends from before?” asked Anna.
“They all faded,” said Meg. “They all lost relevance over time.”
They fell silent. Anna realized that they were heading downtown.
“I didn’t have a job,” said Meg, “like I told you. Just savings and life insurance. I needed an occupation.
“So I went to work.”
Excellently timed, the car rolled up to an office building.
Anna peered up at it. It wasn’t tall, but it seemed like it. Maybe it was all that brick.
“Did it help?”
“Oh, no. I hated it. But that is what caused my great change.”
Anna looked at her thoughtfully, then up at the building. It didn’t look like a place to learn things.
“Put the pieces together, Anna.”
“You learned how to live. You hated your job. Rebuilding. Book club. You learned… do that which brings you joy?”
“Precisely,” said Meg, delighted. “Well, to a certain extent. I had an epiphany that works quite well in thought but needs a bit more effort in words. It was something like… quit this job, so long as you get a new one. You see? Do not live a life you do not love, so long as you’re living a life.”
“Book club,” remembered Anna. “You’re saying I should quit?”
“Not at all. I am saying, however, that you don’t have to read that book. You can. You don’t have to.”
Meg studied Anna’s face. “Not getting it? I know, it seems selfish. I’ve tried to tell people, but they never understand. They think I’m saying do only what you want. That’s not what I mean.
“Let me show you something else. This might clear things up.”
The engine revved. They were on the road again.