Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A String Of Pearls

On visitation day, while others milled around
The Shalimar scented petite woman
Sat serenely in the huge wingback chair
As though she were a debutante holding court
Her pillbox-hatted blonde head was held up in a regal pride

Though not a single hair was out of place,
her makeup was melting In the Rogue Valley heat
Although the resident “beauty consultant”
Earlier ensured her it had been skillfully applied.

Although the walls of the assisted living center
Were recently painted 0n the most cheerful of pastels
The interior always still seemed to hold
A pervasive aura of gloom

She fingered a strand of pearls as though it were a Rosary
As she patiently waited for her imaginary guests
To come to her weekly tea party in the small crowded anteroom

Originally from Savannah, Georgia,
She was probably the last of the Belles
She was still thin and graceful,
But osteoporosis had made her as fragile as a feather

While the other heftier women at the home
Were dressed more causally in sneakers and sweats
She insisted on always looking her best,
On always being a proper “lady”
Wearing a suit, stockings and heels
Even during Medford’s 95 degree weather

She greeted her only visitor,
A state appointed social worker
A large black woman with very short hair
“Welcome, my dear!” the older woman smiled,
Her chin lifting daintily as she kissed the air

The younger woman glared for a moment
Here eyes then narrowed like a cat
Instead of returning the greeting,
She zeroed in on the jewels
Her voice rang out
“And just WHERE did you get that?”

The Grande Dame appeared even smaller
As she shrunk back in the chair
A la Blanche DuBois
While she clutched that string of pearls
Even closer to her side

Looking to the left
And then to the right,
She then softly spoke
“It was a gift from a gentleman admirer”
She effortlessly lied

“I remember that day
As though it happened yesterday;
Wore them to my coming out cotillion,
In the summer of 1963

My intended’s name
Was Lt. Cyrus Beauregard, US Army
He graduated Old Miss, Class of 62,
And was as handsome as can be

She whispered in a confidential tone
We had became secretly engaged
Before he was sent off to fight in Saigon!”

Tears welled up in her eyes of blue,
she produced a lace handkerchief …as though on cue
“he was a real hero, he won a Purple Heart
and he now rests in Arlington.”

The social worker appeared bored
By this romantic falsehood of this former waitress
But she put a cup of tea in the woman’s shaky hand
She feigned interest in the story just the same

Every week it was always a repeat story
The same coming out party,
But a different war,
Same clandestine engagement,
But a different fiancĂ©’s name!

The worker quietly asked her hostess
“Whatever happened to Lt. McAllister, the Marine?
“Who?” she asked
her eyes as blank as the cloudless sky
She had forgotten that figment of last week’s lie

Throughout the afternoon,
she recounted many a nonexistent event
to her state appointed friend

at the tea’s conclusion, she excused herself
the faux debutante retired to her room
the visitation had come to an end

She went to bed, closed her eyes
and dreamed for the last time
of a Prince taking her far away

Next morning, the social worker returned
The purloined imitation pearls to Meier & Frank
It was just the same dementia, the same kleptomania
But with a different client, on a different day.

By Lady Cascadia used with the permission of the poet.
All rights reserved

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