Edith Murray

 

Crooked fingers cut and paste new entries into a scrapbook. Its dog-eared pages, frayed, portray the life-and-times of an actor, birth through accolades—highlights fixed with tabs at the corners of yellowed newsprint.

 

"WE'RE OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD"
 

Jefferson Elementary School proudly announces its year-end production of THE WIZARD OF OZ, in a special adaptation by our wonderful music instructor Mrs. Kate Pogue. Susie Gilbert (Miss Havermeyer's class), who portrayed Alice in last season's ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, will play Dorothy. Other cast members include Lloyd Dakin (Mr. Garling's class) as the Cowardly Lion, David Grabbenstatter (Mrs. Turner's class) as the Tin Woodsman, Graham Doubletree (also from Mrs. Turner's class) as the Scarecrow, and Martha Ruske (Ms. Sutherland's class) as the Wicked Witch of the West. We're expecting great performances from these fifth and sixth graders. Bring your family and friends June 8th, 7:30 P.M., Excelsior Auditorium. And enjoy the show!

 

 

 

How glad Edith was to have kept it; this, and other fond mementos: a Xerox of his birth certificate (copied at the Hall of Records); the announcement of his christening (also a copy; she had arrived late, the church and sacristy long-since emptied of those who were invited); a lock of his flaxen hair—this last the first and only concession made by an overprotective mother who had paid a sum sufficient to defray the cost of guilt. Of those involved, who else but she could sense the depth of Edith's anguish... being the inadvertent author of its cause? And yet, and yet, the scales of justice had not tilted; each one suffered, each one gained, while both confessed to a single pang afflicting allied consciences.

The scrapbook's brittle leaves contribute brush strokes to a portrait out-of-context, indistinct against the kitchen's cracked linoleum, wheezing fridge, and sallow clapboard. Signs of joie de vivre are juxtaposed to Edith's somber aspect: Graham so handsome, charming, notable; she so homely, timorous, meek, resigned to secondhand experience, borrowed dreams, vicarious tenderness—her status evermore reduced to that of a shunned disciple.

Stiff arthritic knuckles resurrect spry, if plaintive memories of her life as a domestic. Forty years of cleaning households other than hers. For who? What for? If she could chalk up her servility to some purpose (save necessity's), claim self-sacrifice raised a family of her own (as opposed to 'theirs'), perhaps the drudgery would have bred some semblance of accomplishment... and relieved her (or deprived her?) of this motherhood-once-removed, awarded her a place among the album pages turned.

Without the scrapbook and its star, though... No! The thought was too distressing. She had Graham, albeit from afar, to have and to hold.

The clock hands creep, as Edith spends another morning of an overdrawn retirement with a mixture of entitlement and despair. She feels deserving yet unproductive, therefore loathe to take up space, as if a senior citizen, unemployed, were somehow obsolete—advancing age a one-way trip to involuntary idleness. Last stop: death.

But not before her pride and joy received his most exalted honor. An Oscar nomination loomed as a possibility. Much too soon; it would be months until the Awards in March. Graham's movie, unreleased, was still being shot, in fact, its progress mapped on Edith's kitchen calendar—where the fateful date, in advance, had been circled twice.

It is a target shared by publicist, post-production team, and cast, the latter roughing it on location in the wilds of Eastern Africa. Hence the photo—at which Edith, feeling apprehensive, stares, as she imagines beasts and primitives in a hostile, untamed land of drought and hardship, wars and refugees, filth, disease, and cyclic famine... fears unfounded insofar as she has never travelled abroad nor even ventured out-of-state; her world, if truth be told, is cramped, confined to inner-city streets, Midwestern perspectives, and Judeo-Christian Golden-Rule morality; would that others had done unto Edith Murray as she would have done unto them... given similar circumstances. For instance, she would not have rescued Spritz the Cat only to put him out as soon as he recuperated, as soon as he got used to quiet companionship and regular meals. Not that she was comparing herself to a stray; far from it. But kindness, once extended, should be consistent, likewise sustained, lest it merely serve to dash a needy creature's hopes. Spritz had prospered, lived a full eight years, under Edith's tender tutelage. Halfway through he recovered from back-alley traumas and remembered how to purr... a soothing sound and foot-of-the-bed vibration that made dead-of-night less lethal... his absence mourned protractedly when Spritz gave up the ghost... for weeks thereafter, Edith refreshed his water bowl.

 

 

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