Annie Szergiendo - Waiting for Meals on Wheels
     

    Annie Szergiendo sits hunched over. Her body has, through years of stillness, melted into and become part of her overstuffed easy chair. If she could stand, which Annie cannot, if she could straighten her bent body, which she also cannot, Annie might be five feet tall. Her straight gray hair is kept short, and falls around her head in all directions as if each hair cannot make up its mind about its neighbors. Her eyes are closed. Annie cannot see more than a foot in front of herself. She is waiting.

    On Annie's lap rests a clipboard. Its clip holds a paper towel - her place mat. The clipboard will keep the hot bottom of the aluminum meal container from burning her thighs. In front of Annie's knees is a small table on which are aligned knife, fork, spoon, and a straw. They are a precise distance from her hand. In the kitchen, where Annie seldom manages to explore, someone has left love for this woman, tattooed on the apartment as neat arrangements of silverware, plates, other ingredients of Annie's daily life. These items rest in readiness, lined up on a counter, at the service of weekend staffers who stop by.

    The tiny apartment refrigerator is immaculate. No one uses it enough to spill food there. Inside the refrigerator, lined up brown paper soldiers stand at attention: four lunch bags with unused oranges and plastic and cardboard drink containers. Annie's incompleted meals. It's a hot summer day and finally, after months of being nearly cooked alive in the apartment, someone has placed a fan where it blows across Annie's quiet face. She is waiting.

    In a neighborhood filled with fear of the usual robberies and muggings, Annie lives in a chair in a tiny apartment in Interfaith Towers. She keeps her door unlocked, slightly ajar. If Annie needs someone, or if someone needs her, she cannot open the door. No one robs Annie. And she is waiting.

    You climb three flights of concrete stairs carrying two waxy paper bags and a covered aluminum dish of hot food prepared by workers in the St. Francis Hospital kitchen. Climb, because you owe God thanks that you can climb. And you feel ever the need to remind yourself of the promises you made to God when you were in agony yourself at another hospital. A mere kidney stone. Your pain would be nothing to Annie. Your promises, though, might be worth keeping.

    Walk down the dark corridor. Food odors mix with dust in the dim light. You knock on Annie's open door. A high squeak replies. "Come on in." A rising inflection and an incredible warmth in three words. And a spirit so powerful it can only arise from some magic place. You walk to Annie and bend over to put hot food down on the clipboard.

    "How are you, Annie?" "I'm fine, thanks. And I'm *ready*." Annie was waiting, clipboard on lap, for you to appear in her doorway.

    The foil container has a lid held by crimped and sharp edges. "Can I open this for you?" "Thank you." Another blast of spirit, a gift from Annie, infuses your body. How does she pack this strength, determination, and most important, this smile and joy into two words?

    You remove the cover from the hot food. It has to be done properly - the foil edges get folded back down, lest Annie cut a finger. Next you open a milk carton, prepare the straw which was waiting in its precisely planned location on the table. An extra napkin is brought from the kitchen. A paper bag of trash, cartons from previous meals, rests at Annie's feet and you reach for it. "No, I need that." she warns. "It's ok, Annie, I'll just empty it for you, it's quite full. I'll put it back exactly where it was." "Thanks." She smiles again and a smaller wondrous bit of magic echoes around the apartment walls a time or two, settling into the small of your back.

    "Annie, someone here sure loves you, " you offer, messing where you have no business, and presuming you have a right to talk to someone about their life. Annie doesn't mind. "Yep." is all she says.

    You leave, for another month, neither of you likely to really contemplate the other much. You are a ripple in the river that loves Annie Szergiendo. And you are grateful.

    I am writing this recollection in February. There is no hot apartment, no fan blowing, and Annie's hair surely rests neat and undisturbed. She has gone.

    The county has discontinued its meals-on-wheels program due to lack of funding.

    Daniel Friedman's Poetry & Short Stories
    Daniel Friedman's bio

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