“It’s Carla,” one of the women announced.
Her living room was filling up. Soon the book club meeting would get underway and everyone would look to her to keep the wheels of conversation running smoothly. Not just smoothly. There was her caustic tongue and once in a while blood would flow from a wounded ego. But everyone made allowances for her. She was just being Susan. Susan, whom they all knew and loved from the moment they moved into town. She was somebody.
“Carla’s started that story of hers again,” someone said. “How many times have we heard it now?”
Susan looked at Carla in annoyance. The short, dowdy woman was a menace to everything she stood for: fashion, decency, and good sense.
Carla was into her story full flow now. They’d all heard it before at different times, but to Carla every audience was a new audience. Some of them smiled. Others nodded indifferently. A few exchanged glances.
For Susan this was a catastrophe. Her book club was not going to begin on the heels of a dotty woman’s meanderings. But there was no stopping Carla once she started.
So Susan made comments. Short, pointed comments. Just funny enough to make some of the women laugh. She’d mock little details, keep a running commentary as if she were having the time of her life when she was really, really annoyed. But Carla only glanced at her bemusedly and kept right on going until finally she was done.
But not before most of the women were cramming their fists in their mouths to keep from laughing at Susan’s asides.
Carla was impervious. “I couldn’t have made it without Jesus,” she said, wiping away a tear.
“There’s kleenex in the bathroom. Why don’t you go get one?” Susan asked, mock sympathetically.
Someone gurgled with laughter.
Eventually the book club began its meeting. Susan sighed with relief. It wasn’t going to be a disaster after all.
The hospital room was filled with flowers.
“You emptied all the florist’s shops, I think,” Susan’s pastor told her. His healthy tan and his restless eyes belied his hospital room manner.
“Or all the funeral parlors,” Susan whispered.
He gave an uncomfortable laugh. Her family and close friends stood nearby talking quietly.
Susan looked at her pastor. She had a few days, at best, to live according to the doctors. They had washed their hands of her. Death was not their province. That was left to men of the cloth. Now here was one sitting by her and all he could offer her were platitudes and rehearsed speeches. None of it seemed real. None of it meant anything to her.
Was she going to go to her death like she was going to another book club meeting? Or a VIP’s for cocktails and dinner? Some place where she’d be the life of the party again?
She turned her head to the wall. Death was no gentleman. There would be a bill to pay. and she had spent a lot on credit. The cold chill that was slowly spreading through her told her all she needed to know. And she was frightened.
Regrets washed over her. Everyone seemed to her as strangers. And like strangers they had nothing to say of meaning to her. Least of all her pastor.
There was a stirring in the room. Her family was speaking to a new visitor. The pastor got up.
“It’s Carla,” he announced.