The Poet – Winter
The sky has cast off autumn’s gloom; glistens in sparkling blues and silvers, reflecting the snow that has covered the homes and lawns in a thick winter blanket. Helena has decided to follow suit. She reads the phrases aloud she has worked out with her speech pathologist to prepare her for tonight’s Christmas party: Merry Christmas! and How are the grandkids? and Best wishes for the new year! In all her life, there is nothing she hasn’t been able to muscle through; she has increased speech therapy to twice a week, paying privately for one, since her insurance refused to cover it. She is unrelenting in her practice.
Helena greets the guests in a floor-length garnet dress, her black hair is streaked to match her gown and cascades down her back. Gold-band bracelets climb from her wrists to her elbows. She has reclaimed her power; capable of conquering even this disease.
Kiki kisses Helena’s cheek. “Helena, so wonderful of you to have us. We haven’t heard a peep from you since your book tour. The conversation has been comatose at our ladies’ brunches without you. We were starting to wonder if we should take it personally.” Kiki laughs and Simon casts his eyes to the floor.
“Oh, you know – one thing after another. I was s-“ The word disappears. Find another word, another way… ”Not well. All better now!” Simon has insisted day after day she tell her closest circle of friends, but Helena answers that she doesn’t need their pity.
“Oh I’m sorry you weren’t feeling well, but you have to come to brunch next Sunday. We need our Poetess!”
“I’m teaching a… a lesson this spring. I’ll need some time to prep.”
“A lesson? Not for Carolyn’s class?”
“No! My class, not a lesson, a class. No worry. I’ll make time. I missed you too!”
“Wonderful!” Even as Kiki’s voice rejoices and she squeezes Helena’s hands, her brow furrows and her eyes flit to Simon.
Textbooks crowd the floor-to-ceiling bookshelf in Carolyn’s office. The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Helena stuffs a metaphorical finger down her throat. Degree certificates line the adjacent wall in chintzy black frames. Helena would rather be anywhere else.
“Helena, there is no easy way to say this,” Carolyn says. The statement slides sideways from her lips. “I’ve received reports from a few students.”
“There is speculation you’ve been coming to class drunk. They say you seem to be slurring your words. Losing your train of thought.”
Helena’s face burns, her ears pulse full of blood. “That’s – no! I-“
“Helena, it’s been more than one student. You know I have to ask. What’s going on?”
“I don’t have to-! I won’t-“ But her words slip away. After a lifetime of devotion to words, they forsake her. The betrayal cuts too deep. Carolyn is mid-sentence when Helena leaps from her chair and tears out of Carolyn’s office, her long hair flying behind her.
About the Author
Gretchen Gossett a practicing speech language pathologist. Gretchen has taken writing courses at Gotham Writers, including Intro to Fiction, Plot, Character, and Publication. She lives in Santa Cruz, California.