A Hierarchy of Widows
By Jeff Baker
Cynthia passed the closed, quiet apartment door on her way upstairs. She’d taken the woman in B3 soup a couple of times, but she wouldn’t leave her room. 25 was an awfully young to be widowed. She walked up the stairs to her apartment, but when she heard the rain on the roof she made her decision and went back to knock on the door.
“Shirley,” Cynthia said when the younger woman opened the door. “You’re coming with me.”
The younger woman made a few protests but Cynthia interrupted her, talking as she led her to the ground floor.
“Now, I know you’ve been a widow for two weeks now, but my George has been gone for eleven years. I outrank you,” Cynthia said. Shirley hadn’t known there was a hierarchy of widows. Cynthia went on.
“Now I found sometimes that it helps to do something the two of you used to do together, but I need two people for this.” Cynthia said as she opened the old wood framed glass door. They stepped down onto the sidewalk which, as usual during a rainstorm, was flooded with water.
“Shouldn’t we go back in?” Shirley asked.
“Nonsense, the rain is letting up. Now where, ah! Here!” Cynthia reached down in the water and picked up a rock. “What we do is play hopscotch.”
“In this water?” Shirley asked, taking off her shoes.
“See the cracks in the sidewalk, those are the squares and you imagine the numbers; one, two, three, four, see?” Cynthia said pointing. “You imagine the numbers, here we go.”
She tossed the rock which “Plooped” into the water and then, with slooshy splashes, hopped on the squares and bent over to pick up the rock.
“Your turn now,” Cynthia said handing Shirley the rock.
“But I really haven’t…” Shirley began.
“Come on! It’s easy!” Cynthia said, grabbing Shirley’s hand and tossing the rock again. “We hop like this, follow me.”
The two women hopped, hand in hand through the water.
“But what if we fall?” Shirley started to say. Then they fell, splashing in the water. Cynthia began to laugh and Shirley did too. She sat there wet and cold and laughed and when Cynthia held up her soaked, handbag, dripping water, she laughed some more.
And when Shirley realized for the first time in two weeks that she was alive, she laughed all the harder.
—–for Ray Bradbury