The Carriage Driver³ - Proud Mary
It was noisy. The good kind of noisy, where lots of people were gathered. There was the clicking of cups and cutlery. People laughing, people talking over the sounds of the other tables.
Mrs. Sprague was there at a table near the door. She taught Mary English in high school. Both in Freshman English and Senior Composition. Next to her was another former student. He was a youngish looking author with wise eyes. He turned at the sound of Loretta’s voice and said, “Are you telling the story about the time you talked Mary out of going to the prom with the Jackson brothers? You told her she did not want to be ‘that girl’ you know as in who was ‘that girl’ who slept with both of the Jackson brothers on prom night. She always told that story and thanked you.”
Loretta turned back around to her table. Mrs. Jennings was there telling the story of when she warned Mary against what she called counter sharks. Jennings was her supervisor at the Woolworths. Middle age men would come in and proposition the counter help, knowing they could not escape. She taught Mary the easiest way to insult a man of a certain age. The laughter rose from the table. George from the Texaco sat next to Mrs. Jennings. He told the story of how Mary came to the station every Thursday from 1948 to 1952 driving her Nash Rambler. He said he asked her out once, but she had her sights set higher. Then she got the job with IBM and she went the other direction to work.
“She still had plenty to learn,” her friend Patty at IBM told the people sitting around the table. She looked at Mrs. Jennings. “You think the counter sharks were bad, we had the ‘great whites’ working at IBM. They felt the staff was their personal playthings. “Insults bounced right off of them. She and I took judo lessons for two years and plenty of men were turned away having learned a lesson about keeping their hands to themselves.” Again laughter rose from the table. Patty smiled at the memory. “We were all sad when she left to take that job at the University.”
Professor Stanfield at the next table was telling the story of how Mary taught him a lesson about how astronomy and literature where so tightly aligned. “We were talking about a paper that a student turned in. When she said, if there were no stars what would spark our collective imagination? I’ll always remember that. Literature is directly linked to the stars. Anyway, I am convinced.” He smiled, recalling the fond memory.
‘I met her at the university,” the painter Durant said. “Mary always made me smile. If I was sitting in the cafeteria, she would always come over to say hello, which lifted my spirits. Then she would say, why are you sitting there? Get to work, the world needs your art. That woman knew what I needed to hear. There is a nice portrait of her somewhere. Years and years ago she sat for a portrait. She had the bearing of a queen.”
Ben Green was sitting with them. “I knew her after her time at the university. She started her own business. Anyone here remember the antique shop she started up? There was a small inheritance. An Aunt passed away. Her house and garage were filled with older quality furniture and she saw that as an opportunity to strike out on her own. She was too softhearted to run a business, though the shop lasted until she met her first husband. She would go out in the mornings looking to acquire stock, then open at midday. In no time, she knew most everyone in the city. Students and professors frequented her shop. One student came in and wrote his literature papers at an old desk that he felt brought the words flowing. After graduating, he came back and bought the desk. She never told him that she turned down many offers for the desk, saving it for him, until he realized he could not live without it. I think, that’s him, sitting over there. He was famous, as an author, for a little while.”
“I have to confess, I am the first husband. The little antique shop was too slow a life, I thought. It took a good bit of convincing but she finally agreed to sell the shop. We went out and bought a few acres outside the city limits. We raised some beef and read books and enjoyed a few peaceful untroubled years. Then I got sick. She stayed by my side the whole time. She was completely loyal. Then I passed. She again looked around and made an assessment. Our home was filled with books. She moved back to town and opened a small book shop. My understanding is that in no time at all the folks at the university discovered her. She quickly built a network with other bookshops around the English speaking world where the dealers would cooperate in finding specific titles for their clients. Collectors from all over the State had her keeping an eye out for titles they coveted. She offered wall space for the local artists, allowing them to show their wares on a consignment basis.” He took a sip of coffee, “She was a force to be reckoned with.”
Mary’s Mother who was sitting at the head table overheard her daughter’s first husband telling the story. “I remember that shop. Mary loved that shop. We would sit in the evening once the shop was closed. I would make tea, and she and I would discuss all there was in the universe. Books, and romance and travel were frequent topics. She had such a wonderful imagination and such a big heart.” She sat back in her chair and addressed the man sitting next to her. At one time he listened to Mary’s confessions, but even now was not free to talk about them.
The sounds from the room were warm, almost musical.
Griffin readied the carriage. The upholstery was smooth and supple. Not a speck of dust was to be seen on the polished wood and oiled wheels. Nuelle’s coat glistened in the remaining daylight. Griffin and Nuelle shared their apple as was their habit. They waited for the arrival of Proud Mary. She arrived, once again in her youthful vessel.
“I read about you. I am so glad it is you that has arrived to fetch me. Life is indeed a long and winding road. Seeing you I feel I must have done something right.” Mary smiled and bowed her head. “Am I talking too much?”
Griffin held out his hand to her. Mary took his hand and stepped inside the carriage.
“I am here to take you wherever you want to go. But today, we have something unusual first. So with your permission, I am going to take you to a hall. So many of the people whose heart that you touched wanted to gather to greet you. They are waiting in a room that I am sure you will approve. Are you ready?”
Nuelle without waiting to hear her answer, stepped away from the curb. She pranced as though she were escorting the Queen herself. In what seemed only a few moments the carriage came to a stop in front of a castle.
Griffin stepped down. Nuelle pulled the carriage to the side of the castle, away from the entrance.
He extended his elbow and Proud Mary took it. They walked together to the big double wooden doors. A man wearing a tuxedo opened the doors for them and brought them to another set of double doors.
The doors opened and the people inside turned in unison. They rose as one. Griffin escorted Mary inside where the crowd broke into applause.
Creedence Clearwater Revival "proud mary -Rollin' on a river"
© 2017 mckbirdbks