The chair I use at my computer is a sturdy old uncomfortable antique. No matter how many pillows you stack on it, or in which position you sit, more than an hour in this instrument of torture makes your back ache and both feet go to sleep.
The books that I edit are submitted to our publishing company by e-mail. While I am in part old school, I like to curl up in my rocking chair (diet Pepsi and ash tray at hand) when I’m reading; there is also the miserable desk chair. If I were to read a 400 page submission from that chair it would either take me a year to edit the book, or my removal from the desk would have to be by wheelchair. So I print them off and put them in a file folder. I carry these folders around with me everywhere. If I’m not the one driving, I’m reading (red pen at the ready behind my ear). If I’m waiting anywhere, I’m reading.
Recently, I was stuck in a hospital waiting room while Bean had surgery. I had positioned myself in an out of the way chair behind the volunteer workers, a file folder with unread pages on my lap, a pile of annotated pages stacking up on the chair beside me. It was 5:00 in the morning, early even by a hospital’s standards, so I shared the room only with the two elderly volunteers at the information desk and one other woman, reading a book about Eleanor Roosevelt.
The waiting room was so quiet that the soft sound of squelching rubber soles on tile followed by a thump caused me to look up for the source. The lady had ice blue eyes sparkling out of a wrinkly face as pale as rice paper, under an unruly corona of curly white hair. Dressed in the geriatric version of jeans and a t-shirt, she wore khaki’s with a white oxford cloth shirt under a practical blue and white windbreaker. It was the pristine white Nikes making the squelching sound, the thump a mahogany cane with an intricately carved buckeye tree decorating its staff. I smiled at her. She smiled back, and started toward me, stopping where the tile floor became carpet to get her bearings.
As she made her slow, plodding way toward me, I could hear the labored breathing of an asthmatic, a malady she had apparently learned to cope with over her many years since its effects didn’t show in her bright eyes or determination to get across the waiting room. I moved my edited pages to make room for her to sit, shoving them into my briefcase in time to see her back up to the chair and drop, carefully avoiding bending her knees.
“You a teacher?” She asked while pointing absently with an arthritis twisted finger toward the file folder on my lap.
“No, I’m an editor for a small publishing company.”
The lady stared silently at me long enough that I was starting to believe she hadn’t heard me, and then she snorted.
“There are writers in Ohio?”
“There are writers everywhere.” I was fighting to keep the defensiveness out of my voice when she started to laugh and patted my knee.
“I’m kidding you girl, I’m not so far gone I don’t know about writers. I taught journalism at Ohio State for thirty years; believe me, I KNOW about Ohio writers.”
The tense moment broken, we exchanged names, (hers was Marabelle Feineman), and information on our purpose for being at the hospital, the weather, and the great season OSU basketball was having. At one point, she caught sight of the other occupant in the room, the lady reading the book about Eleanor Roosevelt, and tapped her cane on the chair beside the unsuspecting woman.
“That’s not the best book written about old Eleanor, you know? I promised myself I wouldn’t inflict my book taste on anyone, and look at me bothering a complete stranger, but you’re wasting your time on that dried up old lesbian. You want to read a book? Read Pompeii. Great story! It’ll stir up your wonder lust, get your blood flowing!”
The Eleanor loving reader hastily gathered up her belongings muttering something about getting coffee and beat tracks out of the waiting room, an event Mrs. Feineman found vastly amusing. We talked about dogs and husbands, jobs and kids. She explained her daughter was a judge in New York, her son-in-law a photographer for National Geographic. She said her son died in 1988, and I saw the pain still lingering behind her sparkling eyes.
“Once I followed a young man all around the mall.” Mrs. Feineman whispered in the quiet room. “I knew it wasn’t Teddy, but I just wanted to drink him in, his walk was the same, the way his hair fell over his collar…” she fumbled in her pocket for an inhaler as her voice trailed off, no longer strong enough to fight the asthma and the sadness.
I felt goose bumps rising on my arms, seeing the intensity of her loss still like a living thing clinging to her frail body. Before I could comment, or express my sympathy, a nurse stepped through the double doors across the hall and called her name. Mrs. Feineman’s husband was out of surgery and ready for a visit. She returned the inhaler to her pocket and when she looked back at me, the feisty 81 year old woman was back.
“You have a card for this publishing business of yours? I have a reading group, I’ll tell ‘em something about it if you want.” She painstakingly raised herself to her feet and adjusted her windbreaker before gathering up her cane.
I asked her how many she had in her group as I dug my business cards out of my purse and then gaped in surprise when she said 35 regular members…
“…ranging in age from 45 to 81, can you guess who the old coot is?” Mrs. Feineman winked at me, tucked my stock of cards into her pocket and started her painful journey across the waiting room. When she reached the desk she turned and looked back at me.
“Will you have one of your writers put this in a story?” She asked.
“No, I’ll write it myself.” I answered, smiling at her.
She laughed that shallow, dry chuckle of someone who can never get enough air into their lungs. “I didn’t think you were just an editor young lady, they never have time to talk to old women.”
I have no doubt that Mrs. Feineman’s reading group will each receive a copy of my business card, as well as her bridge club, ladies auxiliary and alumni members. I’ve never missed an opportunity to talk instead of read, but if not for my crappy desk chair which forces me to carry my work everywhere, who would ever have asked me about our business?