Someone To Watch Over Me
Anita Roberts Soupir
As Nora trudged up the stairs to her third floor apartment, she tried not to notice the well-worn and heavily stained carpet covering the steps or the once sunny yellow walls that were now masked with dirt and grime. The air was heavy with the odors of old grease and stale cigarette smoke. She had lived here almost six months, yet the smells still made her gag every time she walked through the front doors. Nora could find nothing redeeming about the building and thought the best thing for it would be a lit match. She hated everything about the hovel she was forced to live in, but what actually pained her about the situation was that her four year old son had to suffer here, as well.
It was hard to believe that only a year ago she had been living the American dream with her handsome husband, beautiful baby boy and quaint, little home, complete with the white, picket fence. They weren’t rich, by any means, but they certainly hadn’t been scraping by either.
Nora tried to turn this line of thinking off. She knew it didn’t pay to let her mind travel down this particular path. The only thing those memories brought was a fresh batch of heartache. Hard as she fought, though, wave after wave of images flooded her brain: Her wedding day as she walked down the aisle to her groom. Evan had looked so handsome in his tux; dark hair gleaming in the candlelight, love shining from his rich, mahogany eyes and a smile that promised a lifetime of happiness. The day they bought their house. They had been standing in the cozy second bedroom, planning the color scheme, when he had placed his hand on her swollen belly. Evan had started telling their unborn child what a wonderful place they were going to make it for him to grow up. The first moment that Evan had held their son. The nurses had barely cleaned Ethan up and swaddled him in a soft, blue blanket when Evan snatched him and turned to show her. He was beaming with joy and love. All of those rainy nights cuddled together on the couch, Ethan sleeping peacefully in her arms while she and Evan watched a movie. He had always been a sucker for romantic comedies. Sneaking quietly to Ethan’s room so she could take in the scene of Evan perched on the edge of the tiny toddler bed reading their son a bedtime story. Looking out the kitchen window to the backyard where Evan was patiently teaching Ethan how to throw and catch a baseball. The look on Evan’s face as he kissed her goodbye for the last time, before heading off to work.
Suddenly it was too much. Nora leaned against the wall, choking down sobs, as the tears poured freely from her eyes. Why?
She wondered, not for the first time. Why was he taken from her so soon? Why was his life cut so short? Why was a drunk allowed to stumble from the bar and climb freely into his car without a second thought for anyone else’s well-being? Why did no one try to stop him?
The last two questions had haunted Nora for six long months. Every waking moment was spent battling the crushing despair that threatened to overtake her, with the only lifeline keeping her sane being Ethan. Her sweet, innocent boy was the sole good thing in her life right now. His image swam before her eyes; a younger replica of Evan. He was waiting for her to get home from work and would worry if she was late.
Nora forced herself away from the wall and swiped the tears from her eyes. She drew a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to regain her composure. She was angry with herself because she knew better than to start thinking about what might have been. Instead she had to focus on the here and now, which meant living paycheck to paycheck since there had been no life insurance policy to help ease the financial burden. She and Evan had been so young and naďve; it had never occurred to either of them that something terrible might happen. As for the driver of the other vehicle, he had perished, too, leaving no family behind. He had carried only the minimum in car insurance, which had barely paid Evan’s funeral expenses with just enough left over to clear their credit card debt. Nora had been faced with a tough decision; selling their home because she couldn’t afford the monthly payments. For God’s sake, she hadn’t even been working when the accident happened. After Ethan was born, they had gone on a strict budget so she could be a stay at home mom.
Nora had applied for no less than twenty-five jobs, but the only one she had been offered, other than the fast food joints, had been in the processing department of a medical billing company. The days were spent scanning documents for just above minimum wage. On Nora’s meager pay, her only option had been finding a tiny apartment in the city but all she could afford had been this dump. She had packed up the few things that they could bring with them and sold or donated the rest.
Before she realized it, her feet had brought her to the ugly, mud colored door of the apartment. Nora decided to freshen up before going next door to pick Ethan up from her neighbor. When she saw the reflection staring back at her from the bathroom mirror, she was glad of that decision. Her curly brown hair was coming loose from its ponytail where she had leaned against the wall, the sea-blue eyes were even more vivid against their red-rimmed background and there were tear streaks through her makeup. She quickly pulled a comb through her hair, fixing the pony, put eye drops in and reapplied a little makeup. To anyone who knew her, the tell-tale signs of her breakdown were still there, but Nora didn’t think Ethan would notice.
She crossed the room swiftly, walked across the narrow hall and rapped lightly on the door. Mrs. Lovitz’ dark brown eyes peered at her in the space just under the chain.
“Oh, Nora, I lost track of time, we were baking some chocolate chip cookies.”
Mrs. Lovitz closed the door, took off the chain and reopened it. She was a petite woman with close-cropped silver hair and faint lines around her eyes and mouth. Her appearance certainly didn’t belie the fact that she was in her late seventies, as she was still a very pretty woman. This caring grandmother-figure had been a godsend to Nora. When she found out their story and saw how stressed Nora was trying to find someone reliable and trustworthy to watch Ethan during the day, she volunteered without hesitation. Even though Mrs. Lovitz wasn’t living the high life, she had assured her young neighbor that she was comfortable and refused to let her pay.
Her keen gaze moved over Nora’s face before meeting her eyes once again.
“Are you okay? Has something happened?” she asked, with a concerned air. “Pardon my saying this, but you look like hell.”
Nora smiled ruefully, “I let myself take a painful trip down memory lane a few minutes ago and am a little worse for the wear.”
The older woman’s eyes held the light of understanding now, “Oh, Honey, I know how hard that can be.”
She wrapped Nora in a hug, but kept it short, knowing that it might start the tears afresh and not wanting Ethan to see her upset.
“When I lost my Charlie, I thought my life had ended, as well. We had been married for forty years and I was suddenly missing my other half. I didn’t know how to do things on my own. Everyone tells you it will get better; so many say it that you want to scream, but they are right. In time, it does get better; a little easier to get up each morning. Granted, I had a lifetime with Charlie. It’s unfair that yours had only just begun with Evan. If things ever get too rough for you to handle on your own, I hope you realize that I am just across the hall. I’m a good listener.”
Nora grabbed Mrs. Lovitz’ hand and gave it a quick squeeze, “Thank you, Mrs. Lovitz; you are such a blessing to Ethan and me.
At that moment, Ethan came running out of the kitchen, flour on his tee shirt and chocolate at the corners of his mouth.
“Hi, Momma, we made cookies today; want one?” he asked, giving her a bear hug.
Nora’s mouth curved into a smile, as she hugged her son, “Not right now, Sweetie, maybe I can take one home for later. I hope you haven’t eaten too many and ruined your supper.”
He pulled away and looked up at her with a very serious face, “No, Mrs. Lovitz said I could only have two. She didn’t want me to get full on cookies.”
“Okay, good, now why don’t you go get your backpack so we can go home. And, don’t forget to tell Mrs. Lovitz thank you.”
Later, when they were sitting across from each other over dinner, Ethan gazed at her with eyes entirely too serious for a four year old.
“Momma, why are you so sad?”
Nora was so surprised by his question that she almost started crying again. She thought she had been doing a good job of hiding her pain, but apparently she had been fooling herself. She started to lie, but caught herself when she looked into his dark eyes, filled with concern.
“Baby, I really miss your daddy. Every day, I wish he was still with us and thinking of him makes me sad.”
“I miss him, too, Momma, but I get happy when I think of Daddy. Whenever I’m sad, I remember playing catch with him or when he read me bedtime stories. You should find a good memory so you can be happy.”
Sage advice from the mouths of babes. Nora had been so wrapped up in her grief that she wasn’t allowing the good memories to bring her happiness. She knew that Evan wouldn’t want that. Not that she could ease the pain of his loss that easily, but she certainly needed to make more of an effort for Ethan’s sake, as well as her own.
“You’re right, E, I need to find my good memories. When did you get so smart?”
He giggled, which made her heart lighter, “I don’t know.”
The phone rang, interrupting their conversation.
“Finish your peas while I get the phone, okay?”
Nora walked to the living room and grabbed her cell from the coffee table, “Hello?”
“Hi, is this Nora Kendrick?” an unfamiliar voice asked.
“Yes, this is,” Nora answered.
“Nora, this is Kirsten from The Lowell Gallery.”
“I don’t know if you remember me since it’s been almost a year, but we met when you came into the gallery to show Mr. Lowell some of your photos.”
Finally Nora felt a spark of recognition. She had met the lovely, young blonde woman at the art gallery where she had convinced the owner to take six of her pictures for display. It seemed a lifetime ago, when she had experienced much pleasure from photography. Nora used to take her camera with her everywhere and snapped away as the mood struck her. Back then, she was naďve enough to think she had talent and could make some extra money from her pastime. After all this time of not hearing from the gallery and with Evan’s death, she had forgotten all about it.
“I remember you now, Kirsten. What can I do for you?” she asked.
“Well, it’s more what I can do for you. I’ve been trying to reach you for a couple of months, but your home phone was disconnected. I finally found a post-it note with your cell number tucked away in Mr. Lowell’s office, thankfully. Anyway, I have a check waiting for you. Would you like to pick it up or should I mail it to you?”
“I’m sorry, what?”
Nora was more than a little confused.
“Your photos, Nora, they’ve been sold.”
She was dumbfounded, “Are you serious, someone bought one of my pictures?”
The woman on the other end chuckled, “No, they have all
been sold. We had a large exhibit featuring some very promising, up and coming new photographers. We sold four of yours that night and the other two a couple of weeks ago. You have a pretty nice sum waiting for you.”
Nora couldn’t believe her ears, “How…how much?”
“Almost two thousand dollars, plus Mr. Lowell would like to commission more from you. Would you be interested?”
Two thousand dollars!
She couldn’t have heard right. Plus a chance to make more!
“Absolutely! How many does Mr. Lowell want?”
Nora was surprised by how calm her voice sounded, when it felt as if her heart were going to pound right out of her chest and her knees felt weak.
“Since we have sold all that you previously brought in, he’d like at least six, but would take as many as ten. Do you have any available right now?”
“No, I haven’t had the opportunity to take any lately, but I could look through some that I have on a flash drive and have them developed within a week or two. There are probably four that he would like. I could have the rest at the end of the month, if that would be okay.”
“That would be just fine. I look forward to seeing the new pieces, Nora. I have to say, I think you are very talented with a natural eye for composition,” Kirsten replied.
“Thank you, that means a lot to me,” Nora said, the excitement making her voice quake slightly.
“You’re welcome. Okay, I should let you get back to your evening, but I still need to know if you want to pick up your check.”
“Oh! I almost forgot! I’ll come pick it up tomorrow after work.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow. Have a nice night, Nora.”
“You, too, Kirsten.”
Nora sank to the couch, in shock from the turn of events. It felt as if things were finally starting to get better.
“Momma, why didn’t you come back in to finish supper?” Ethan asked.
Nora started, having been so lost in thought, she had forgotten they were still eating.
“I’m sorry, E; I got sidetracked with the phone call.”
“You look happy? Are you happy?” he asked, with the innocence only children possess.
She smiled and pulled his little body to her, “Yes, I am happy. That was a good phone call. I’m sure you don’t remember, but I used to take pictures all the time and somebody paid some money to buy a few of them. They even want more.”
Ethan flung his little arms around her neck, “I know why you got that call. Sometimes I talk to Daddy, like he was here, and when I was eating my peas, I asked him to make you happy again. He listened, Momma!”
Nora’s love for this precious little boy swelled more than she thought possible. He was worried about her and wanted to help. She pulled away to give him a kiss on the top of his head.
“Ethan, what would I do without you? Do you know what a gift you are?”
“Momma, you’re so silly! Gifts aren’t people,” he said, with that infectious giggle.
Oh, Baby, that’s where you’re wrong. You and your daddy are the two greatest gifts I have ever been given.
Nora’s heels clicked on the hardwood floor of the gallery as she went in search of a glass of champagne. This was her first headline exhibit and her nerves were getting the best of her. The course of her life had changed completely and she still found it unbelievable. She wasn’t used to these black tie events yet and felt out of place in her little black dress.
It had all started with that phone call three years ago. She had been steadily selling her photos ever since, and making a name for herself until Mr. Lowell had decided that she deserved her own show. With the extra money, she had been able to move her and Ethan to a better apartment, although they still made regular trips back to the old place to visit Mrs. Lovitz. Nora had even been able to give up her low-paying job last year, when an opening came up for a photographer at a prominent newspaper.
Nora thought back to that day when Ethan told her he had asked his daddy to make her happy. She didn’t know if there was a Heaven, but she liked to think there was and that her late husband resided there; keeping a watchful eye over the two of them. Their own guardian angel.