Authors: Elizabeth Strout
When she cleaned the Ringrose house the next week, he did not show up, and she felt terribly sad and worried.
That Saturday, as the sun was slicing through the large glass windows of the doughnut shop, Mrs. Kitteridge walked in. “Oh, Mrs. Kitteridge,” Kayley said; she was surprised at how glad she was to see her. But Mrs. Kitteridge looked at her and said, “Do I know you?” And Kayley blushed.
“I’m the Callaghan—”
Of course. I remember you, riding your bicycle to that awful nursing home to visit that woman.”
Kayley said, “Do you still visit your friend there? My friend died.”
Mrs. Kitteridge looked her up and down. “I’m sorry about that,” she said. Then she added, “Well, not that she’s dead, who wouldn’t want to be dead living in there. Damn smart of her to die. My friend is still alive.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Kayley said.
Mrs. Kitteridge ordered three plain doughnuts and two cups of coffee, and she turned to the man behind her. “Jack,” she said, “say hello to the Callaghan girl.” The man stepped forward; he was a big person as well, wearing aviator sunglasses and a short-sleeved shirt that showed his saggy arms, and Kayley did not really like the way he said “Hello, Callaghan girl” as though he was slightly mocking her.
“Bye now,” Mrs. Kitteridge said, and they walked out, Mrs. Kitteridge waving a hand above her head.
A few evenings later, the telephone rang in their apartment, and Kayley’s mother answered and said, “Yes, of course. Here she is.”
Kayley had been playing the piano—ferociously she had been playing it, but she had stopped when the telephone rang—and now, when her mother said “It’s for you,” Kayley rose and went to the phone.
“Kayley? This is Mrs. Ringrose.”
Kayley opened her mouth but no sound came out.
“I won’t be needing you anymore,” said Mrs. Ringrose. There was a silence after that.
“Oh, I—” Kayley started to say.
“There are a few health issues in our house, and I’ve retired, as I’m sure you know. So I can take care of things. Thank you, Kayley. Goodbye.”
A wave of grief scooped Kayley up, and it would not let her go. She rode her bicycle through town, down along the coast, she rode and rode, thinking of Mr. Ringrose. There was no one she could tell about what had happened, and this knowledge stayed in her and made her feel almost constantly unwell. But she simply kept going, riding her bicycle, working at the doughnut shop two mornings a week, and the man who ran the place let her add another morning, Thursdays. But she was a devastated girl, and one afternoon as she knelt on Bertha Babcock’s kitchen floor with the toothbrush, she felt a real dizziness. Bertha Babcock was not home, and Kayley stood up and she left the woman a note. I CAN’T WORK HERE ANYMORE. She did not even empty the pail of water, and she left the toothbrush on the floor.
The next day, her mother came into the doughnut shop and said to Kayley, “You come straight home after work.” Her mother looked awful, furious and small-eyed. When Kayley got home, her mother was standing in her room. Kayley’s underwear and socks had been flung onto her bed, the bureau drawer stuck open like a tongue. “Where did you get this money?” Her mother screamed the words at her, and showed her the envelopes with the twenty-dollar bills and the one envelope with the hundred-dollar bill. Her mother took the money out and let it fly around the room as she tossed it in the air. “Tell me where you got this!”
“It’s my house cleaning money,” Kayley said.
“No it is not! You got ten dollars to clean house for that Ringrose woman, and there’s at least three hundred dollars here, where did it come from?”
“Mom, I’ve been cleaning for her for ages.”
“Don’t you lie to me!” Her mother’s fury was huge, billowing through the room.
Kayley’s mind worked quickly; she did the math even as her mother screamed; the other stuffed envelopes of cash were hidden in her closet, and she did not let her eyes look in that direction. Instead, she sat down on the bed and said, making her voice sound calm, “It’s my house cleaning money, Mom. From Bertha Babcock, who pays me fifteen dollars, so that’s twenty-five dollars a week.” She added, “And I went to the bank to get a hundred-dollar bill so I could have it.”
“You’re lying,” her mother said. “Bertha Babcock called here this morning and told me you just walked out.” Kayley did not answer this. “Who taught you that you could just walk out of a job like that? Who
you such a thing?”
Kayley watched as her mother screamed and screamed at her. And then a funny thing happened to Kayley. She stopped caring. Like a switch had gone off inside her. All the fear that had been escalating in her disappeared. She was done; she did not care. Her mother even slapped her across the face, which caused tears to spring to Kayley’s eyes, but she did not care. It was the strangest feeling she had ever had, and the feeling—not her mother—frightened her. Her silence seemed to cause her mother’s wrath to increase—“I’m calling your sister!” her mother yelled—and when it was done, when her mother had left Kayley’s bedroom, Kayley looked around and thought the room seemed vandalized: A pair of her underpants had landed on a lamp that had been overturned on her small desk, socks were against the far wall, her pink quilt had been ripped.
When Brenda came over she said, “Just leave us for a bit, Mom.” Sitting beside Kayley on her bed, Brenda said, “Oh, honey, what has happened?” Kayley looked at her; she wanted to cry now, yet she did not let herself. “Honey,” said Brenda, taking Kayley’s hand and stroking it, “honey, just tell me where you got the money, that’s all, honey. Just tell me.”
“If you added it up, you’d see it was my house cleaning money. And also from the doughnut shop.”
Brenda nodded. “Okay, I thought so. Mom just got really, really furious because you’d quit Bertha Babcock and not told her. Mom’s having a hard time, and she saw all this cash and thought maybe there were drugs involved or something.”
” said Kayley, and Brenda nodded understandingly, stroking Kayley’s arm now, and said, “Oh, honey, I knew it wasn’t drugs.”
After a few moments Kayley said, “I kind of hate living here with her. She hardly talks to me. And—and it hurts my feelings.”
“Oh, honey,” said Brenda. “Now listen, honey. Mom’s gotten super depressed since Dad died. And she was really too old to have had you—” Brenda leaned in and said, “But thank God she did!” Kayley looked at her sister, the dark patches beneath her eyes; she suddenly remembered how Brenda had said, “He wants it all the time, and it’s kind of making me sick.”
“Brenda, I love you,” Kayley said quietly.
“And we all love you. Now listen to me, honey.” Brenda waited and said, as though it were a secret, “Honey, you’re
You know that, right? The rest of us are more like Mom,” and she put her finger to her lips as though to indicate this should be kept secret. “But you’re like Dad. You’re smart. So, Kayley, honey, just keep on doing well in school and you will have a future. A
“What do you mean, a real future?”
“I mean, you could be a doctor or nurse, or someone important, Kayley.”
“Seriously,” Brenda said.
The next day, after her mother left for work, Kayley took the many envelopes of cash from her closet, and as she walked around looking for a place to hide them, she suddenly thought of the piano. She opened the top of it, and slipped them in, and watched them fall down to the bottom behind the wires. She had no idea how she would ever get them out, but they were safe there; she had stopped playing the piano.
She now expected nothing from her mother. And so when her mother was suddenly pleasant to her on certain evenings, Kayley was surprised and she was pleasant in return. She talked to her mother about Miss Minnie one night, and her mother listened. Her mother spoke of the different patients that came into the dental office where she worked, and Kayley listened. It was a doable existence.
And this is why one Saturday when Kayley came back from the doughnut shop and stepped into the living room and saw—like a person’s front tooth missing—the absence where the piano had been, she felt gutted, almost as though it was not real.
“I sold it,” her mother said. “You never play it anymore, so I sold it to a Grange Hall near Portland.”
Kayley waited, but no phone call ever came about the money.
On one of the last days of summer, Mrs. Kitteridge came back into the doughnut shop. She was alone this time, and no one else was there at the moment. “Hello, child,” she said, and Kayley said, “Hello, Mrs. Kitteridge.”
“You still working for that Ringrose bat?” Mrs. Kitteridge asked; she had just ordered two plain doughnuts.
And Kayley said, slipping the doughnuts into a white bag, “No, she fired me.”
“She fired you?” Mrs. Kitteridge’s face showed surprise. Then she said, “What did you do, play with her little
“No. She just called me and said I wasn’t needed anymore. And that there was illness in her house or something.”
“Huh.” Mrs. Kitteridge seemed to be considering something. “Well, her husband’s not well.”
Kayley felt an odd tingling on the tip of her nose. “Is he going to die?” she asked.
Mrs. Kitteridge shook her head. “Worse than that,” she said. Then she said, leaning forward, raising her hand to her cheek, “Her husband’s going dopey-dope.”
“Mr. Ringrose? He
“That’s what I heard. He was seen out back watering their tulip bed naked. And the tulips are long gone by.”
Kayley looked at Mrs. Kitteridge. “Are you kidding me?”
Mrs. Kitteridge sighed. “Oh, it gets even worse. I’ve told you that much, I might as well tell you the rest. She’s putting him in that nursing home where Miss Minnie was. Can you imagine that? They have to have more money than that. She could afford to put him in the Golden Bridge place, but she’s sticking him out there, and
say—and I have always said this—” Mrs. Kitteridge rapped her hand on the counter twice. “That woman was never nice to him. Not one bit.” Mrs. Kitteridge gave a severe nod to Kayley.