OPTIMISTS: CHAPTER THREE

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Two amazing individuals exhibit grit and courage despite the ides of evil and despair.

Submitted: January 11, 2016

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Submitted: January 11, 2016

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OPTIMISTS

A Short Story in Three Chapters

 Nicholas Cochran

Chapter Three

 

Later in the week, I helped Miranda and her mother move her from the hospital into her mother’s house. This was where she always returned after each dark event.

Maybe it was Mom’s food. Or just Mom. I found her mother to be almost as delightful as Miranda. Can one pass on a gene of . . . of what? . . . happiness in the face of doom; joy in each and every moment of life; warmth and concern for everyone else? 

Suddenly I thought that Miranda’s kids would be like a Carnegie Foundation Grant to the world . . . three kids with the ‘joy gene.’ They to their children; and then those to their children. What a beautiful dream.

At the time of her injury, Miranda had a perfect record with husbands: Zero for three. And the zeros were also the husbands. A drug dealer; a nightclub worker; and a philandering plumber.

Children came with the second and third zeros. Unfortunately.

Her eldest daughter started well enough, and, while leading a team of real estate specialists, was soon driving a Mercedes and banking a hundred thousand a year.

But then the dear little thing prodded friends and family alike into a real estate ‘fund’ that became a quasi-Ponzi scheme.

After squeezing all of her friends and relatives, she latched onto Mom and Grandmother.

All their life savings disappeared, sucked into the phony ‘fund.’ Then it all collapsed. She spent six years in the joint. I saw no evidence of the ‘joy gene’ in that one.

Miranda’s eldest brother died of AIDS after some indiscreet and unprotected sex in Senegal.

To that point, he was the first member of the family to travel outside the country. Perhaps thinking that ‘something could be done’, Miranda dropped everything and flew to Dakar, hoping to salvage some last words about her brother from the attending nurses and doctors.

She got malaria.

When she arrived home, her nephew, a very bright boy of her youngest brother, suffered a terrible concussion playing football and was paralyzed from the waist down.

Months of Miranda’s visits and encouragements brightened the boys’ spirits to the place where the doctors hired Miranda as a therapist.  Her nephew improved to the point where he was able to reach the abilities of a twelve year old. But his paralysis persisted.

Then Miranda’s mother died. She was a good woman who couldn’t help internalizing all the awful events of her daughter’s life, even though Miranda was able to let them slip south in the geography of her most unusual mind.

And so all those tragedies clung on, and finally stuck in her mother’s being, like foul-smelling offal.

First they burdened her; then they buried her.

*** 

 

“What will you do now Miranda, now that your husband’s gone?”

The silence was only because even she had forgotten that this call was about her. Her loss; her problems.

“Oh . . . oh never mind about me Peter. I have so many wonderful friends; they have been asking to help me ever since . . . well, ever since he decided not to go for treatments any longer.

I have so many invitations. I’ll be just fine. You’re so sweet to ask Peter. You are always so sweet. And so kind. I’ll be fine”

Spoken like a true Miranda.

I knew for a fact that she had very few, if any friends. Unless you count the diminishing handful of characters who swam about in the murkier side of her life.

In her ‘learning and language’ life, the women in that strata had quickly dropped her, once they learned about her prior life or heard about it first hand. But, like Cupcake Brown, Miranda had forged ahead and developed a reputation for erudition. And, of course, wit.

As an autodidact, Miranda stood alone. All her sufferings and setbacks found their balm in books. And lately, videos.

“I also have my iPad; and I’ve found lectures online from Yale and Harvard; and Oxford; and so many more. So I’ll keep my mind thoroughly occupied, Peter.”

Begun in prison, Miranda’s depth of learning had blossomed first into a project; then into a full time preoccupation with all things above the daily banal round.

While Senegal may have soured most first time travelers, Miranda was touched only by the adventure of it all.

Her malaria and the reason for her visit quickly evaporated on the winds of time.

France, Italy, Germany; visits were followed in later years by month-long sojourns in Rome, Paris and Vienna.

Next came the Far East: Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo and Kyoto.

And the more she traveled, the fewer her friends.

Somehow they could never reconcile this (still very beautiful) woman of drugs, prison and abortion with the woman who passed months every year visiting all the places that they had only dreamed of, or perhaps had spent three nights visiting on a Perillo bus tour.

Some even whispered that she was still dealing as a means to pay for all this gallivanting.

But although Miranda’s husbands were zeros in life, they were all excellent providers. One way or another. And even at this age, Miranda still worked part-time as a Neurological Therapist.

This, plus the fact that Miranda could also stretch a dollar, succeeded in keeping just enough in the family coffers to finance her travels. And most of the time she would take a husband. But not always.

All of this learning and travelling had paid off in one very significant respect.

From an early age her youngest son absorbed all the language and learning in the air, complete with his mother’s love of France.

Early on, she took him with her—and the occasional husband—and together they developed a relationship based mainly on the appreciation of culture and civilization. Her son and his wife, and each new child, became guests of Miranda as the years went on.

Now the entire family avidly awaited each new invitation to travel with their favorite relation, their Queen of Joy. And they all have the ‘joy gene.’ There is not a happier family in the country.

 ***

John called me recently with his news.

His second wife was buried and suitably mourned.

He had hammered out a settlement with his daughter; his son had apologized (under pressure?) for not coming to the funeral; son’s wife sent some very belated, but apparently sincere, condolences, as well as an apology for unfavorably comparing the parenting ability of John’s second wife to that of his first.

And he was seriously considering selling the house.

“At least the real estate values have held up here,” pause, “so I guess I’ll be alright.”

***

 

Miranda called to tell me that she had joined a French ‘appreciation’ Society. She planned to visit Marseille in the early autumn.

Her ‘terminally-ill’ son, her second child, had died twenty-two years after the prognosis. But he had left a wonderful legacy—three kids with the ‘joy gene’—and a wife who he had loved deeply, and who, in return, had made every single day of those twenty-two years a celebration.

 The Ponzi daughter was back in a legitimate business and was now the president of a charitable foundation. And her mother’s best friend.

Miranda had met an acquaintance of mine, and was insisting on an extravagant dinner (her treat) to tell my wife and me all about it.

We had that dinner two years ago.

John and Miranda have now been married for one.

After their honeymoon—where else—in Paris, they took three months more; living in Rome, London and Madrid for one month each, and from the capitol they explored other cities and centers of fascination by using trains, buses and hiring drivers.

Upon their return Miranda, who had never lifted a tennis racquet, took some lessons. She made some progress to the point where John and she could bat a ball back and forth for an hour or so, without too much frustration on his part.

But when he left to do some of that occasional business he still took, she would go to the courts, find a wall, and hit balls for three to four hours at a stretch.

When they next went to the B & R or the Granite Club for a ‘hit up’, John would stand open mouthed with amazement as balls went steaming past him from the hand of his seventy-three year old wife. Was it his teaching, he wondered, or was she the second coming—albeit delayed—of Chrissy Evert? 

As each new consulting job took him out of town, Miranda’s skills developed exponentially. John tells me they now play for hours and he feels twenty years younger.

At her insistence, he now plays squash again on an almost daily basis. She does this because she knows it’s his favorite sport and his only real chance to be among good male company. He laughs a lot when he returns from the courts.

And she tickles him as he strips down for his shower.

John’s daughter is now thinking she settled for too little and is calling more frequently with some bogus shortfalls in her budget—for her daughter, who is now struggling as a university freshman.

John invites her and the daughter over and Miranda entertains and enlivens them. They leave with smiles on their faces and less than half what they originally requested. But they’re fine. They know it, and so does Miranda.

John is much calmer now when they’re around. And he rather enjoys watching Miranda beat them at their own game. Always with charm, a smile, a chuckle; and wit.

Miranda’s ‘French’ son and his family are frequent visitors. They and John’s second wife’s children, hit it off immediately, and now have regular contact in each others’ backyards in fair weather and on the slopes in the winter.

They have cottages very near each other and not that far from John and Miranda’s, close to Algonquin Park.

John is almost eighty-three now and looks like a really healthy happy sixty-five. He’s always smiling. Or laughing. Or hugging Miranda.

John’s son and the wife and the combined five kids, rarely visit. And vice versa.

Some invisible hindrance prevents the flow of warmth and goodness from reaching, let alone penetrating, the two family units; but Miranda is working on that.

She and the dentist have begun corresponding via iPad on the subjects of theatre and painting, as well as Neurological Therapy, now that one of the three boys has developed some tarsal tunnel problems from playing squash.

The son continues to mind the office and do the books. Miranda is working on him too, a fact that John rarely mentions but appreciates enormously.

John and Miranda invited me and my wife for dinner the other evening.

He has not sold the house, and told us he has no intentions to do so.

And why should he?

Miranda has completely cleaned out and redecorated from basement to eaves. It’s really quite remarkable.

The colors; the new floor to ceiling windows; the French doors to the patio and the back terrace; the new skylights; the new balconies and flower boxes. New furniture in beiges and light lemon; hangings and tapestries of vivid colors and striking scenes. A billiard table in the basement. A huge telescope on the new third floor balcony.

The reformed, and now highly respectable Ponzi daughter, contributed an immense ninety-two inch Mitsubishi television to the sitting room for John and Miranda to ‘attend’ lectures on line, as well as to view the best of the BBC and other world favorites.

And, of course they invite everyone who can come over, to enjoy evenings of dinner and wine and world travels via YouTube.

We all watch the big screen ‘travel show’ for hours after dinner while we laugh a lot and probably drink too much.

And Miranda ruffles John’s hair.


© Copyright 2017 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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