Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Ruth meets Heather

Heather was in the drugstore, wandering the aisles near the pharmacy. She had come for her prescription, and like all of the others in the various chairs along the wall near the counter, was waiting for her name to be called. She scanned the shelves for interesting items, for something to catch her eye, keeping near the pick-up window so she would hear her name.

The next name she heard, however, was not hers, nor was it that of a stranger. It was Rachel Metz. Startled, she practically leaped to the edge of the aisle and peeked into the waiting area. She had not seen Rachel there before, and Rachel would have been impossible to miss. But it was not Rachel that rose and went to the counter, reaching into her handbag for her wallet. This girl was smaller in the shoulders, leaner, taller, and blonder. She had an air like Rachel, though, confident and strong. Heather wondered if maybe there wasn’t another Rachel Metz in the suburbs of New York City. Of course it was possible. Metz was a common Jewish name, and Rachel was even more so.

Then she overheard the pharmacist say something about passing on some instructions to Rachel, and it occurred to Heather that maybe this was Rachel’s assistant sent to pick up her prescription. They had spoken on the telephone before she and Rachel were to have lunch. Her name had been Ruth.

The girl accepted the package and folded the receipt into her wallet, closed it, and turned from the counter to the store. Hesitantly, Heather pushed herself forward.

“Excuse me,” she said in a tentative voice. The girl stopped, staring expectantly into Heather’s older face with bright blue eyes, wondering, no doubt, what this could possibly mean.

Heather plodded on before she could lose her nerve.

“Are you Ruth, by any chance?”

Looking surprised, Ruth nodded. Her face waited for the next clue to the puzzle.

Heather smiled. “I’m Heather,” she said. “We spoke on the phone the other day.”

Recognition and warm astonishment flooded Ruth’s gentle face, and she held out her hand, shifting the package under her arm.

Heather happily took it.

"Heather,” Ruth said. “Wow, how did you know--?”

“I overheard Rachel’s name, when they called it out for the prescription, and concluded that you must be Ruth. I’m happy to be right.”

“Me too. Gosh, I’m glad to meet you. I’m so sorry that Rachel didn’t make it to lunch the other day. I feel terrible.”

Heather looked at the crumpled package as Ruth drew it out.

“Is she...ill?” she asked.

Ruth looked down at the package too.

“Oh…. no,” she said. “I mean, she has a heart condition. That’s what this is for. She does seem to be susceptible to illness, though, generally, but no, she’s well right now. That’s not why she didn’t meet you.”

At that point the pharmacist called Heather’s name, and she excused herself and went to the counter. Ruth waited. She soon returned, clutching her own package.

“Listen,” Ruth said. “Do you have a minute or two? Are you in a hurry or anything?”

Heather shook her head.

“Would you mind walking with me a minute?” Ruth asked, taking Heather’s arm. She lead her gently through the store and out onto the crowded afternoon sidewalk.

“I need to admit something to you,” she said. “And I apologize in advance for this, but I feel like you should know, because it was my fault she didn’t meet you for lunch, not hers.”

Ruth walked briskly through the bodies, and Heather fought to keep close to her side as they went down the sidewalk. She continued talking.

“You see, I read through her email messages when they come. She doesn’t have time to go through them all, and she gets so much junk, so I just kind of go through them and leave her the important ones. Then often she will tell me which ones to respond to, and then she takes care of the rest. She’s been so busy, she really hasn’t had a lot of time lately, for frivolous things, and she considered a lunch date with someone she barely met sort of not too pressing. You know.”

At this point, Ruth looked at her in sympathy. Heather smiled weakly. She continued.

“But I remembered when she came back from the doctor’s that day, she said how much she enjoyed talking to you, and I thought she’d like to have lunch with you, so when you got the reply, that was from me. Only I didn’t tell her I replied. I set it up myself and put it in her calendar. She sort of just chose to ignore it. I’m really sorry.”

She emphasized the really and stopped in the midst of the swarming bodies, looking at Heather, who nodded solemnly. She looked out into the street, where someone in a car was honking furiously at a cyclist.

“Well,” Heather said. “I understand. I just thought I’d take a chance, because I really enjoyed talking to her too. That day.”

Ruth couldn’t tell her that it was also because she was just getting over Mia, and was reluctant to let anyone new in her life. She couldn’t say that she really would have agreed to the lunch at another time, had she not been dealing with feelings of rejection and disparity, that she had a tendency to fall in and out of depression and was right now very unwilling to be friendly and engaging with new people.

She could say, “It has nothing to do with you,” which she did. But that didn’t make Heather feel any better. “Because she really likes you,” she wanted to add. “She just won’t allow herself the opportunity to make a new friend.”

Rachel often frustrated people, Ruth knew. Ruth was one of the few who could distance herself from it and look at it rationally and not let it affect her. She felt badly for Heather, who could guess at none of this.

“I’m really glad I ran into you,” Ruth said, preparing herself to continue on alone. “I wanted you to know how sorry I was. Please don’t take it personally.”

She squeezed Heather’s arm and joined the foot traffic, and Heather watched her go.

“It’s all right,” she said, to no one in particular. “I’ll be all right.”

1 comment:

  1. if I were depressed, I would seriously cry for Heather right about now. (lucky for me, i'm not depressed) ;)


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