MONDAY: The Reckoning


Copyright is held by the author.

MARY WANTED to buy the yoga pants on sale, three for five dollars one weekend only, the newspaper advertisement had said. She wanted all of them: the blue, the purple, the pink and the yellow, even as the sheer polyester material suggested that they wouldn’t last past a couple of stretching sessions. Mary grabbed them off the rotating clothes rack, and just as quickly, she hesitated with the yellow yoga pants in her hands. The rest were lying on top of each other on her shopping cart.

“Not sure if you like the yellow?”

A young skinny girl folding tank tops nearby sidled over. Mary remembered that the girl had kept an eye on her as soon as she’d stepped into the department store a few minutes ago, reminding her that the girl was here to help.

“I don’t need your help, thanks. I know what I want.” Mary had smiled, walking purposefully toward the brightly coloured rack that promised a lifetime of health and happiness.

“Not sure if she liked the yellow?” the salesgirl had asked.

“No, no, that’s not it at all,” Mary replied, looking at the fabric as though answers would form out of the running stitches that held together its different parts. She frowned. So what was it? The thought teased her, touching the surface like a dipped toe in water, but it remained elusive. All Mary had to go on, was a prickle at the back of her neck.

“Surely it can’t be the colour,” She mused. Yet she couldn’t stop looking at the pants. Maybe it was the colour yellow. It was summer after all. Could there be too much yellow? Yellow was Stacey’s favourite colour. “It reminds me of my granddaughter.” Mary smiled at the pants in her hand.

“Oh, that’s nice. You should take it then. How old is she?” The salesgirl’s voice came from the side. She sounded eager to help, but Mary didn’t need help.

Mary searched her memory. What about Stacey, and the colour yellow? What was her subconscious trying to say? She was supposed to remember something, what?

The image of Stacey’s bright yellow dress, the one with a frilly hem came to mind. In it was a chocolate coloured princess, dainty hands atop her head, twirling in Mary’s wood-panelled living room.

“Look, grandma! Watch me!”

Stacey danced for grandma every weekend, when Mary’s daughter Sophia and her husband Frank, dropped their only child off for free daycare and quality time.

“She’s six.” Mary said. She kept in her mind the image of a twirling Stacey. Just last week she’d danced, and just last week, she’d said, “Look at me, grandma, look at me!”

“I’m watching you, baby, I’m watching.” Mary had smiled. I’m watching you sugar. I’ll always watch you.

“Six, eh? Wow, you must be a proud grandma.” Nearby, the Salesgirl chirped, pressing a milk-coloured hand to her heart. Mary caught the movement from the corner of her eyes and her heart squeezed at the gesture.

“Yes I am. Very much so. And she’s six. She turned six in March.” Mary’s view blurred as heartfelt warmth shifted to a deep sense of loss. She suddenly remembered what she’d ran out of the house this afternoon to forget, in the form of yoga pants.

It was the article she’d read that morning in the lifestyles section of the weekend edition newspaper.

“Did you read this, George?” She’d asked her husband of 32 years, turning the paper over to him. He’d eyed it and then looked at her, expressionless. “I did.”

“It’s interesting, but I don’t agree with it. What did you think?”

“I thought it was interesting too.”

“Did you agree with it?”

“I thought that it was interesting, Mary.” George had looked back down at the sports section.

“Well, you said you read it, George. I want to know what you really think.” Mary had resisted the urge to cover his paper with her hand. She needed to know what he’d thought.

“I’m not sure I know what to think, Mary.” George had looked up and droned, his usually expressionless caramel face now drawn in tired lines. He’d reached over the breakfast table and covered her shaking hand with his own, and Mary had borrowed the warmth and strength of his touch.

“Well, I don’t agree with it.” She’d said and set her face. George had smiled at her and in that moment, his face had brightened up.

“Then I don’t agree with it either, my dear.” He’d said, his breaking voice betraying what his bland face didn’t show.

“Good. You know what I’m going to do, George? I’m going to start exercising today. I’m going to go for this sale today at LoPrice, and I’m going to start as soon as I come home. Do you want to come with me, George?”

“No, Mary, you go ahead. I’ll make us a healthy lunch, and then we can exercise together when we’re done eating.” George had promised. Mary had ignored the slight tremble in his voice.

Now, tears suddenly gathered at the back of her eyes as memory returned with a dull dong that struck her heart. The article, written by a doctor with multiple degrees, who had worked for many hospitals, and whose advice Mary faithfully read over 30 years, had said that denial was to be expected. That erratic behaviour was normal. That strange purchases and drastic lifestyle decisions would be made.

“I don’t think she’s right. She couldn’t be, could she?” Mary asked, rubbing the yellow yoga pants between her thumb and forefinger.

“Sorry? Are you okay, ma’am?” The salesgirl’s voice sounded unsure.

“This makes sense to me. Of course it does,” Mary said, willing the tears to disappear. She was starting a new leaf, after all, it was time to learn to relax and exercise. She wasn’t buying all the yoga pants in the store because just three weeks ago, Dr Bern had given her less than four months before the cancer did away with her 55-year-old bones. Even as she’d scoffed at her, Dr Bern had said something about the stages of grief, or death, or something absurd like that.

But now, the thought came through clear, much like her neck prickling demanded that she stop and remember. It couldn’t be denial, could it?

It couldn’t be. It simply had to be that she was fighting, that she didn’t believe in being told with certainty what was to take place. No one had any right on earth to say when another would die.

“I just want to dance with her again.” Mary said.

“Uhm…ma’am, I’m going to go get my supervisor okay? You’re kinda freaking me out.”

“I just want to see her dance again.” She just wanted to see Stacey twirl and dance again and again, from the living room space up to the reception hall on her wedding day.

“She won’t stop crying.” Mary heard a whisper not too far away but it sounded like background music.

“Yeah, the brown one holding the yellow pants.” The whisper continued. Approaching heels on the linoleum floor beat in rhythm to her own heartbeat. Tick, tock, tick, tock.

“Ma’am, ma’am?” Another voice, this one mature and businesslike.

“I don’t want to die.” There. It was out, and with it a tidal wave of tears that must have started from the bottom of Mary’s feet. Her knees buckled.

“Okay, ma’am, it’s okay, I’ve got you. I’ve got you.” The voice was far away. Many hands reached out, they seemed to come from everywhere. Bright neon nail tips on younger looking ones.

“She has a young granddaughter.” A loud whisper from the salesgirl.

“That’s enough, Linda. Ma’am, what’s your name? Do you want to come with me, we’ll go to my office.”

“I don’t want to die.” Mary looked up at the tall woman whose red face looked both heartbroken and flustered.

“I can’t die. I have to dance with Stacey. I have to buy these yoga pants, and I have to dance with Stacey.” That’s what she’d agreed with George, the day Dr Bern had dared say such awful things. They’d agreed that she was going to twirl and dance her death sentence away. They’d agreed there was no need for tears because they’d fought through many battles before, and this too would pass.

“Don’t be silly, of course you’re not going to die.”

The offshore voice, but it was enough to stop Mary in her tracks. She stood up stiff and looked up at no one in particular through watery eyes. “No, I’m not. That’s what I said. I’m going to see Stacey dance on her wedding day.”

“Of course you will, how old is your daughter?”

“Granddaughter.” Linda, the salesgirl whispered.

“Granddaughter. She’s six.” Mary gently removed herself from the hands that held her, then realized her knees were still weak. She sat on the bench against the mirrored wall, the entrance read, “Changing Rooms.” Shoppers walked by them in a hurry, oblivious to the goings-on, eager to get as many deals as possible it seemed.

“Oh — I see. But why do you think you’re going to die, ma’am?”

Mary looked at her shaking hands, willing them to steady. This was embarrassing, she couldn’t tell George about this. She just wanted to go home.

“Dr Bern. She said that I’m dying, that I don’t have much longer to live.” There it was again. Words she’d never said out loud or even allowed herself to think. Words that not even Sophia and Frank knew, for Mary didn’t yet want to scare them with foolish talk. George hadn’t thought that wise, but George had also suggested that they have a large barbecue to see everyone before it was too late. Too late for what? He hadn’t answered.

A week after Dr Bern spat out her foolishness, Mary had seen George hidden in their washroom, looking through their wedding album. She’d peeked through the slit between the door and its hinges, wondering at the scared look on his face as he trailed the pictures with shaking fingertips. What was there to be scared about? Hadn’t they faced worse before? The bankruptcy 20 years ago, the two miscarriages, the house fire that destroyed everything?

Now she wondered about her own reaction to the article she read this morning.

“Oh,” the supervisor said, sounding like she’d waded into deep waters.

“Silly, isn’t it?” Mary didn’t look up. She was feeling stronger now. In just a moment she’d get up and pay for her yoga pants, then she’d go home to George.

“Ma’am is there anyone I can call?”

What a silly thing to have happened, that little breakdown. Mary sucked in air and slowly exhaled. That must never happen again. What had Oprah and all those other people said? We attract what we think? Well, that must never happen again. From now on, only positive thoughts. No more death talk. She was going to buy the yoga pants, all of them, including the yellow one.


  1. So well-written, the impact powerful. When I read a story like this and being of a certain age, it sends me out to hug loved ones who haven’t been hugged in a while.

  2. The idea behind this story compels a reader. So much emotion! It’s difficult to execute this amount of pathos without going too far to sentimentality or too close to abruptness. I thought Katsivo did a good job in getting a balance.

  3. Lovely. Nicely constructed — curiosity peaked with a slow reveal. And then we must deal with it.

  4. Julia,
    Good job. My heart went out to your character.

  5. Wow, thank you for your comments. Very encouraging :).

  6. This is beautifully written, profound, and for lack of a better word, sincere. What I’ve always loved about your writing is your ability to take a “simple” situation (in this case, shopping), pick an aspect of that situation, and mesh different emotions into it. Mary has 55 years under her belt prior to the realization that her life was coming to a close. There are many, much younger, who are experiencing the same. As mentioned by other readers, this does remind you to treasure life and loved ones.

  7. Wow!
    Well written. Felt like I was in that store. Shed some tears for Mary, but also took a deep breath with her and wiped away the tears with a smile on my face. Power in positive thinking!!!

  8. Julia, you always write so beautifully! I really connected with Mary and found myself crossing my fingers that her doctor was wrong (as silly as that sounds….) Keep up the good work.

  9. […] we re-post a favourite story or poem from the CommuterLit archives. Today we present the story, “The Reckoning,” first posted Sept. 8, 2014. Click on the link to […]

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