Sunday Dinner, by Glenda Burgess

Charles stood in the shadow of the clock, one hand at rest in the pocket of his vest pressed against his chest, the other poised in the air. He waited. The clock began to chime. Counting under his breath, his index finger tapped the empty space. The mark of the hour hit a one-to-two beat in exact rhythm with the thud of his heart. Good, he thought. Both tickers smack on the money.

The English grandfather clock, given to his maternal grandmother on her wedding day, kept the time well and had always done so. Passed down from his grandmother to his mother, the clock had marked the hours and quarter hours of Charles’s childhood in the family apartment high above the Hudson River. In his earliest memories both parents complained of the clock’s unsettling resonance, the solemnity of its bongs. Were you in the same room as the thing cranked up a cycle of chimes, you could barely think. Marking, marking, marking the mark of something, he supposed. Time, yes of course. But more than time. Two, no three, entire chapters of his family’s existence.

It was strange what a person could grow accustomed to. Eventually, only his mother took note of the ticking clock. Following his father’s death it struck Charles she wished it gone. The way she sighed and turned her back as the clock imperturbably measured out the portions of day and night.

The clock had come down to him on her passing, ticking steadily from one January to the next throughout the years of his life on Church Street. Standing in his foyer, furnished plainly he supposed with its square of muted oriental laid over the scuffed herringbone-patterned floor and narrow catchall-desk backed to the wall for his keys and mail, the massive clock dominated the entry. One barely glanced at the framed picture that hung above the desk. But now that he did, he noted dust edged the inner corners of the glass display of a long-dead aunt’s needlepoint panorama, an Americana-style quilted-fabric landscape of the street he lived on. The irony did not escape him.

Charles waited as the clock finished the chime of six. The dinner hour.

He waited for Margaret.

He plucked at his shirt cuffs, aware of the thinning cotton at the elbows of his shirt as he adjusted his dark-blue bow tie. This particular shirt was Margaret’s favorite: a striped-blue Oxford with small pearl buttons, double-buttoned at the collar in the old style. He wore the shirt for Sunday dinners, and today had impetuously added the monogramed silver cufflinks his father had given him on his graduation from the Lennox Hill Junior Academy. He rubbed at the tarnish on the links with the back of his thumb, thinking of that day at thirteen wilting under the hot sun, fighting the itch of the new wool suit. His father had beamed at him, his pink skin florid under a sheen of sweat. His mother dabbed at her neck with a scented handkerchief as the school chorus of uneven tenors and pitchy altos sang the last bars of the alumni song as they marched across the long grass to receive certificates of graduation. How strange, Charles thought, that he could remember this distant moment as though it were yesterday when yesterday itself slipped from recall.

The small apartment filled with the crackling sounds of the old tube radio, tuned to the station he and Margaret loved best: the one that played so-called “oldies” of the forties – the big band sounds of Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller. Music waltzed the still rooms, barely disturbing the airless spaces. A brassy trumpet laced over a low saxophone, and Charles imagined the notes slipping out between the slats in the blinds, drifting off over Baltimore, maybe even as far as the dark green of Johns Hopkins University, weaving like a summer breeze through the hearts of the young men and women holding hands, eager for love. With a start, Charles jerked upright, wobbled, gripping the doorway jamb that separated the foyer from the dining room in an effort to regain balance. You fool, he scolded himself. This “inattention” happened a great deal of late, his mind vacating his body unannounced – wheeling off like some field bird, clutching memories as yellowed and crimpled as the boxed photographs he kept under his bed.

Charles took a steadying breath and ran a hand through his neatly brushed hair. Attentive to detail and the importance of a good presentation, he automatically smoothed his vest. Truth be told, these habits were a holdover from his banking days. Nothing rested in the vest’s shallow pockets anymore but a tissue and his mail key.

He pulled open the small drawer of the console and removed a lighter and placed it in the pocket of his slacks. He crossed the dining room – an elegant, darkly paneled room of ample proportions that featured a pre-war chandelier and a square Queen Anne table that had belonged to his mother. The table was set for dinner, for two. Two chairs were pulled back ready for guests. Long-stemmed blue hydrangeas spilled out in lazy glory from a cut-glass punchbowl Charles had repurposed as a vase. He adjusted the stems, balancing the weight of the flowers, and then fished in his pocket for the lighter. His fingers gripped the ribbed, cool weight of it and he pulled the piece out, and having forgotten his glasses, he squinted at the initials on the front. CCS. Charles Castle Sinclair, his given name. Turning the lighter over with a roll of his hand, he studied the inscription on the back although that, too, as unnecessary as checking his own initials so closely did he know the Tiffany piece. Christmas 1948 – fondly, Margaret. It would have cost her a month’s salary, he’d guessed. Something grand like that.

He flicked the lighter to flame and cocked his wrist to the wicks of the tall candles on either side of the flower bowl. The dark corners of the room deepened in gold. From the kitchen came a pleasing aroma of honeyed ham and scalloped potatoes. The kind of meal his mother taught him to make after his father had died of a lingering pneumonia, and the maid let to go and her nights long at her new job. His mother recorded judgments in Federal judges’ chambers, the job a handout as it were, from friends of the family in practice with his father who had taken pity on the stunned widow and her teenage son. She worked neatly, by hand, working her way up to the new Dictaphone equipment. Charles confessed once to Margaret he had rather liked Sundays; how at the stroke of three his mother drew him to her side and turned the radio to Broadway tunes. Humming along, together they rolled out biscuits, and sliced potatoes, his mother instructing him in the preparations for Sunday dinner. Dinner set with an empty plate to mark his father’s seat at the head of the table.

The radio began to play a song Charles recognized with a pang: In a Sentimental Mood, in the hands of Duke Ellington. Whistling along with Ellington under his breath, he filled glasses with water and laid bread rolls on small plates, remembering how that particular song had been all the rage in the Baltimore clubs during the war years. On Saturday nights he and Margaret would occasionally take a window table in Gallagher’s on Charles Street, splitting their rationed cigarettes. He would order what everyone knew were watered-down brandies as the gray rain hit the pavement outside. The two of them content to listen, rivulets of water streaming down the misted windows. It had been Ellington’s fog and gravel horn in the background on the gramophone that April day in ’44, a birthday gift to himself. Margaret showed up at his door, the telegram in her hand.

*                    *                    *

Charles moved down to Baltimore in 1936 at the age of twenty-eight, in his possession a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Rather than accept the invitation to join his father’s former firm in Manhattan, he preferred to strike out on his own. He was uncomfortable, were he honest about it, around the friends and gin-and canapé hospitality of the very families whose fortunes were now so very different than his mother’s and his own.

Law school had saved him. Excused early from military service because of poor eyesight and a hip impediment, Charles took the rejection hard, feeling destined by his physical failings to live out his days in a particular eddy in life, sidelined from the main press of things. He worked his way through school, taking double the number of years law took his classmates. He took a position as an assistant to a law professor who had gone to Penn with his father. And like his mother, he was grateful. He applied himself diligently, and at last, graduated with several worthy clerkship offers. Later, when recruitment surrounding the second European war began to empty the farms and factories, slowly ransacking the ranks of the professions, Charles found himself the only one in his new law office under the age of thirty-five. And, the only bachelor. Nonetheless he eagerly scanned the papers for the war news, and talked with his mother by telephone on the occasion someone from Philadelphia or the upper East Side won a bronze star, or worse, failed to return home.

The flat Charles rented on Church Street occupied the top floor of a building three blocks off the leaf-shaded sidewalks that lead to the grounds of Johns Hopkins. Charles could walk to work, passing along the fronts of the graceful brick apartments, stop and buy his paper at the corner, his lunch at Sim’s Deli, and leave his shirts at the Chinese laundry. The eighth floor flat had five rooms – a luxury of space – and included both a functional kitchen and tall rectangular windows that looked over the street. Perfect in every way for a young trust lawyer. He converted one room immediately into his library, lining the walls with custom-built bookshelves of cherry. He placed his father’s club chair under the good light of the northern window and beside it a bamboo campaign table for his whiskey and reading glasses, his one nod to the traveling he had yet to do and still hoped he would. This was the room of Charles’s evenings, the chamber of his mornings, the hours of quiet Saturday afternoons.

On a cornflower-blue day in September 1941, the year the Americans unofficially entered the war, Margaret Barnell Reed arrived on Church Street. Given the ramping war effort in support of the Allies and the likelihood America would soon be drawn in as well, the entire eastern seaboard appeared on the move: factories gearing up, colleges thinning out. Margaret, a petite breathless girl in a green felt hat and matching swing coat, her white gloves gripped in her hand, appeared in his line of vision as he made his way home from the office. There she was, hopping about like a colorful finch, directing delivery of trunks and cartons offloaded from a delivery truck double-parked below his window. “The living room,” she said, her voice carrying the softest southern-Midwest accent. “Please, be careful.”

He nodded cordially as he passed her by and watched from his study as her belongings began to leave the sidewalk below. Three hourly laborers shouldered her goods up through the service elevator, moving in a line like worker ants into the freshly whitewashed spaces of Apartment 803, kitty-corner from Charles in No. 802.

They were to be neighbors. His heart did a strange erratic flip, his attention tuned to the musical notes of Mrs. Margaret Barnell Reed.

The next day, No. 802 introduced himself to No. 803. On following mornings as they emerged from their doors, sometimes colliding on their way to their prospective employments, Charles would bend down, retrieve and dust off the rolled paper and then hand Mrs. Reed her morning news. In time, he discovered she was working for a temp agency, filling in as needed until she could line up an appropriate teaching position. She nodded; impressed to learn he was a lawyer with Fidelity National Trust. He felt her curiosity. Her gaze floated from his tortoise-rimmed glasses to his pressed suits, gauging his reserved manner. He caught her quick glance at his ring finger. But he supposed many men did not wear rings. He needn’t explain himself.

One afternoon, Mrs. Reed invited him over for coffee, and as she poured from a turquoise percolator, passing him cream, she asked him all manner of questions about himself, his work, and his family in New York. She served a very nice coffeecake, considering the rations, and he helped himself to seconds as towards the end of their conversation she hinted delicately around the matter of what she termed his “solemn bachelor life.” Was he merely late to marriage or was there a tale? Given the war, everyone had a story, she assured him. Nonplussed, he replied he was busy at the bank and in no rush at thirty-three. Good foundations take time, he explained by way of an afterthought.

Her own husband, she confided anxiously, Mr. Clayton Reed, was currently in England, a bombardier for the Twenty-First Battalion, flying for Churchill’s boys. He was going to be a doctor, she assured Charles. Her hazel eyes shone with pride. He had already completed his first year at Johns Hopkins Medical School – Did Charles know it? Just blocks away! Founded in 1893? But of course Clay wasn’t yet a doctor. What with the war effort and all, patriotism came first, and as his eyes were good enough for pilot – as opposed to medic – he was needed in the skies.

They had only been married a year following her graduation from Calhoun College, a small private teachers’ college in middle Indiana, not far from her parents’ farm in Smithville, she said. He caught something lost, almost timorous in her expression but then she was smiling and he did not follow the thought, why she had come east, or if she missed her family, if she was lonely for her husband. Margaret bubbled with energy as she shared their plans to move back to Indianapolis once the war was over and after medical school and have a big family while Clay opened a general practice.

Charles felt dizzy with the gallop and energy of her chatter and even though he suspected she thought less of him for spending the war in the safe confines of an office instead of on the front, he sensed that she, too, felt the weight of her solitude and appreciated company.

In this way began a pleasant habit of “running into one another.” Of chance meetings in coffee shops, or the exchange of news in the elevator were they to bump into each other at the end of the day. Small courteous exchanges, by which Mrs. Clayton Reed came to play a very big role in Charles’s daily round.

April, three years later, Margaret stood helplessly at his door, her face streaming with rain and tears. She held an ink-stained telegram in her hand. Outside his window Charles heard the slam of a taxi door, the crack of thunder, and the tin hammer of a sudden spring downpour. He vividly remembered the cherry blossoms plastered to her dark hair. Small, pale pink petals. Her eyes, wide and shocked. Soldiers had come. His Colonel had sent a cable. Clayton Reed was dead. Shot down over the smoking factories of Dresden.

*                    *                    *

Charles busied himself readying the meal. Virginia ham was one of Margaret’s favorites. A farmer’s daughter, she had never quite gotten over the shortages of things during the war and often requested his home-cooked honeyed ham on the Sundays it was Charles’s turn to host. She liked the smoky taste, she said, laughing. Like cellar apples almost. Charles liked watching her laugh.

Outside the flat evening darkened early, in keeping with November. A persistent wind rattled the window glass, pressing beneath the sills in sharp whisks of cold. The radiators cranked on and off; the hiss and shimmy a reminder winter was near. The meat cooked and cooled, Charles methodically began to slice and arrange the ham on a serving platter, inhaling the citrus spice smell of cloves and browned pineapple rings. He concentrated, wielding the knife with care as his hand quavered so. Next, Charles removed the bubbling potato dish from the oven. He wobbled as he slid the hot dish on the trivet on the counter, pausing to catch his breath. His mouth watered, anticipating the goodness of the caramelized onion, bits of melted Gruyere and hot cream. He had prepared this dish for Margaret on the night the telegram came. She had eaten every morsel he placed before her, head bent and her shoulders hunched: small and alone. It had broken his heart to see her so. Couldn’t he call someone? Take her to her relatives, anything? She shook her head.

“No, Charles, dear, ” she said. “ Just let me sit here. If you don’t mind.”

“Of course, Margaret. Of course.” He cleared away the dishes, the clock’s slow ticking mingling with Margaret’s quiet tears. He washed up the plates alone.

It gradually came to pass that Margaret decided not to return to Indiana. She took up a new teaching post at a private girls school across town. Days and months passed as they once had, meeting for a shared coffee, bringing up one another’s mail, now and then Saturday night at Gallaghers. They were careful to never call those nights “dates,” for Margaret had taken widowhood to heart. Clayton’s death was her medal, her sacrifice. A wound she wore without self-pity or complaint yet as marked in her grief as the returning soldiers who had begun to reappear around Baltimore. Their service, their losses, visible in the dark glasses, neatly pinned sleeves, and wood crutches. A year or two after Clay’s death Margaret confided to Charles in a strange uncertain voice that she felt her life, too, were as truncated as Clay’s. How afraid she was she would spend the remainder of her life as in the days before the awful news. Waiting. Waiting for Clay. Waiting for her dreams to unfold.

Charles did not immediately understand this. His work was in trust law, designing and executing family estates. Death was a fact not a qualifier to his practiced eye. While conversations about life and death and the “what next” were difficult he found, once broached, people rushed to speak in the way the ocean fills a sand hole, grateful to talk about what they feared most: their feelings of loss, of being forgotten. Talking frankly empowered people to make sound decisions in his experience. Why was Margaret, so brave when Clay had been overseas, collapsing in his absence, albeit now and forever? Could love really be like that? Able to stop time? Trap people in wishing and refusal and never moving on?

In time he made space for Margaret’s new silences, accepted the distance he could neither define nor close. He knew the way life could grip you by the throat but not quite kill you. How something might mangle you beyond your ability to recover. He had felt that stranglehold: first as a boy, when his father had fallen ill and against doctors’ expectations failed to recover. And then again in a different way hearing Margaret’s laughter that first afternoon. How he stood in the street and watched in amazement as she jumped a rolled rug to retrieve a lampshade before it fell to the sidewalk. Nothing melodramatic. Just a laugh. But a beautiful laugh, like the a cappella melodies that drifted down Church Street from the college chapel. Like the music of summer’s nightingale.

Clay’s death rested between them in a way his presence had not. Not the end of the world. But something. On those Saturday nights they danced at Gallagher’s, Margaret’s steps mindful of his hip and slight limp, they were careful to hold each other lightly. But hold onto each other they did.

The stove timer pinged and Charles started, surprised to find himself standing in the center of the kitchen, each hand still in a pink-and-blue oven glove. Embarrassed and half-wondering if he had been dancing, he removed the gloves, lifted the platter of sliced ham, and ferried it to the table, returning for the scalloped potatoes. He poured himself a snifter of wine, leaving Margaret’s glass empty. The snifter wasn’t correct service of course, but a round bowl made it easier for his arthritic hands to grasp glass. He used snifters for almost everything these days – even as a bathroom glass. He tilted the cabernet toward his nose, appreciating the mossy earth notes of the wine, reliving the celebration in ’52 on the day of his promotion to Vice President. Margaret had teased him, saying they really couldn’t have delayed it, given the advancing gray in his hair. Forty-four, he did not tell her this was a trait of his father’s – his black hair fully gray at forty.

The quarter hour chimed. Other than the glow of light from the kitchen, only candles brightened the table. The food was nearly cold before Charles realized nothing had been served and his cabernet was gone. From the globe of the glass in his hand winked back a reflection of an elderly, rheumy-eyed fellow. And at that moment he felt every one of his eighty plus years. The fatigue that lurked in his bones, his mind – his mind! – never anchored into things. The paper never read, his errands forgotten. Fragments of thought lead places he never remembered intending to think about; places he inevitably encountered Margaret.

Charles looked across the table to where Margaret usually sat. Empty plates reflected back candlelight. The hydrangeas’ muted in the dim light to a shadowy indigo. You fool, Sinclair, he chastised himself. You utter fool.

*                    *                    *

The rinsed dishes stacked at the edge of the stainless steel sink, glasses turned upside down in the drainer, and a dishtowel tucked into the belt of his trousers, Charles wiped the silver clean. He put the roasting pan to soak, scraped leftover potatoes into storage containers and set them on shelves in the Frigidaire. He moved without pause; the familiar routine offered comfort. He liked the familiar, not unlike the way he appreciated the creased leather of his reading chair. The seat comfortably compressed over the years by his father and then himself. Washing up was one of those things. A chore, yes; but a time he most loved being with Margaret. They cranked the radio up a little louder (as he did now), and swapped news and building gossip, sharing the cleanup of their Sunday dinner.

Sometimes more than gossip, sometimes things that took his breath away. One sunny Sunday afternoon, August 1965, Margaret revealed she was going in for a little surgery. Female trouble, she put it delicately, as she handed him a wet glass to dry. He felt his throat squeezed tight by an unseen hand. His mind raced with disconnected thoughts. Haltingly, he asked Margaret what, if anything he could do? “Oh, “she said, her smile quick, a rare self-consciousness about her, “just water the plants. Bring in my paper for me? Maybe you would come to the hospital… I have you down, Charles dear, as next of kin.”

That exact moment everything in his life connected to Margaret. He suddenly possessed a keen awareness of belonging. The way people who live all their lives together fit cleanly, the rough edges gone. After Margaret’s surgery he tended her convalescence: bringing her mail to the hospital, picking up her medicines. Days later he rode home beside her in the taxi, a hand on her elbow to hold her steady; at his feet, her small bag. He used her spare key to open her door, helped undress her down to her slip, the silk of it sliding under his hands as he unbuttoned her skirt and helped her into her small bed.

Over a Sunday dinner years earlier, he found himself choked up at the sink, confessing to Margaret how he missed his mother. Mother had died that winter, the year he was 57, calmly in the middle of his life. Gone, the peace of days spent helping clients that spooled comfortably from breakfast coffee to late night brandy reading the papers, the occasional Saturdays dancing with Margaret, or driving to Vermont together to see the leaves or across the bay to Easton for fresh-caught crab. It all felt hollow, he said. A cardboard cutout of a pretend life. Paste on paper. He felt ashamed somehow, and not a little frightened. For the first time he spoke aloud of aloneness. Rattled on about his regrets having never married, having never had children. There was no one, he said, to love or love him back. His was a lament of empty space.

She stiffened beside him, her scrub cloth suspended. He plunged on. What were they if not something, that something, to each other? He had dreamed a life beside Margaret, even as she floated unmoored from her own. He sensed the imminent coming apart of things. Soon he would retire. Not long after, he might grow ill, it was not unthinkable he might die. He blanched at the thought of it. The days spent in a chair constructing thoughts out of shadows.

He absolutely knew what he must do. What if it wasn’t too late for him, for them? He turned to Margaret. “Marry me, Margaret. I’ve loved you always. Won’t you…after all this time?” He closed his eyes, and then opened them again to look directly into hers. “Let’s make a life. You and me.”

Margaret had not stirred as he began his strange speech, frozen, up to her elbows in suds at the sink. Withdrawing her arms now from the water, she dried herself upon her apron, brushing back the wisps of gray curl that had escaped from behind her ears. She studied him as he stood looking at his shoes, mortified by the words that had spilled from his mouth. He felt her compassion even as he sensed her distance, the impenetrability inside her. He could not meet those beloved, familiar green eyes.

She licked her upper lip. Sighed. “Oh, Charles. You know I love you,” she said. “But this is the best I can do.”

The quick smiles, coffees, and shared Sundays. She had given him so much – and he had wanted more. He said nothing as she let herself out of his flat, blaming himself for pushing her away.

In the morning, he left daisies wrapped in wet newspaper at the foot of her door. That evening she brought over take-out from Sim’s. Without explanation or preamble they fell again into their old ways. Relieved, Charles vowed silently to never speak of the matter again. This was enough. It had to be.

He wiped the last of the spoons and nested them in the velvet-lined cutlery box. The image of Margaret’s face – What, nearly twenty-nine years ago? – rose clear before him. Her soft, freckled skin, the slight lines of age about her mouth and eyes. The musical voice he loved as much as the Debussy or Grieg late night symphonic recordings from the Met. In that way Margaret was his pleasure, his comfort.

For fifty-two years Charles and Margaret had been neighbors. For most of those years he had loved her. That was all there was to be said for it.

Chores complete, Charles left the kitchen to snuff out the candles on the dining room table. The table stood empty once again, the bowed hydrangeas alone. He paused and gripped the back of one of the chairs. Tears swelled down his face, soaking under his collar, his Sunday shirt collar, Margaret’s favorite. The fancy shirt purchased together at Harrods’s their first autumn trip to London’s theatres and museums. He stood, gripping her chair until the tears stopped.

*                    *                    *

The hour was late, and Charles was tired. He read in his chair under a single lamp, a halo of illumination cast about the chair and his book pile. Suppressing a yawn, he set his glasses down on the bamboo table and drew the wool lap robe higher. He felt cold. Thoughtfully, he fingered the snifter at his side, and sipped what brandy remained from the night before. He could not sleep, and frequently spent the hours of the night in his chair alternating between dreams that feathered across his consciousness and abrupt awakenings, listening hard for beat of his heart in the echo of the clock. Reassured, he would drift off once again.

Charles picked up the book he had begun reading the evening before. It was a memoir, the kind of thing that Truman Capote might have written. Strong, bare words: sentences that grabbed your private haunts and wrung out emotion like bathwater from a washcloth. Last night he had found it to be too much: the words made him regret too much, and miss too much. He needed strength to mark the days, not regrets. Nonetheless, he reopened the title page once more and comforted himself with the scrawl of Margaret’s pretty handwriting. Calhoun College, 1940.

Margaret had first experienced life beyond the cornfields of Smithville at Calhoun. How often she revisited the story – the enormity of leaving her father’s farm to attend college up north in Wimmel, just spitting distance from even bigger Indianapolis; her delight in the pleasures of city life and social ways. Of course she applied herself diligently to her studies – She must not disappoint! – but there at Calhoun she met her roommate’s older brother, Clayton Reed. A tall, blue-eyed boy with the muscles of a summer laborer, Clay’s dream of medicine pushed him farther still from small town life. All the way to the east coast and the ivy-brick halls of Johns Hopkins. How impressed Margaret had confessed herself to be. How taken with this earnest young man. One of their own and yet bound for things far more exciting than selling life insurance and weekend county fairs.

Calhoun College… Margaret’s golden time, Charles reflected. The years life opened its arms wide and Margaret Barnell, the skinny girl from Smithville, Indiana, population 140, walked right in and danced. Had he ever experienced such a time? It troubled him he lacked a ready answer. Perhaps Margaret was his golden time.

Margaret had saved every book, every campus playbill and dance ticket, every cashmere sweater. All the love notes Clay, down for visits and larger than life in his JHU sweater, wrote as he courted her throughout her senior year. Clayton Reed married Margaret Barnell a week after graduation and moved her to Baltimore to be with him at Johns Hopkins. Happy beyond her wildest imaginings, Margaret tucked all her college keepsakes into boxes. Six month’s later Clay, even more handsome if that were possible in his black bomber jacket, shipped out and she lost their campus housing. Margaret moved to Church Street. After Clay’s death, she shoved the boxes, and her past, into the back of her closet.

Only once had Charles witnessed her open those boxes, and then only to fish this book and press it into his hand before she went into the hospital. “It will give you something to do. Besides fret,” she said.

Charles replenished his brandy: the liquor warmed his chest even as it stung his tongue. He rubbed his finger over the faded handwriting, bringing some part of her near. He had a thought then, perfect in its poetic obscurity. “More the mirror of my own,” he murmured. Neither he nor Margaret had any living heirs. Why not? What might have been was as important as what was. His heart told him this. How one could live life in two places, the imagined and the real.

The English clock creaked to life, chiming the hour of midnight. Charles Castle Sinclair closed Margaret Barnell Reed’s college novel, eyelids heavy, and slipped into a light sleep, undisturbed as winds of November swept the dark streets clean.

*                    *                    *

THE INDIANAPOLIS STAR, Tuesday, January 3, 1994

Today, officials from Calhoun College, located outside Indianapolis, Indiana, in the small town of Wimmel, Indiana, are shaking their heads in amazement at a recent bequest to the college of three million dollars in the name of an unknown alumna, a Miss Margaret Barnell of Smithville, Indiana. Miss Barnell, a teaching graduate from the class of 1940, left Indiana after graduation to live in Baltimore as the wife of Lieutenant Clayton Reed, also of Indiana. Lieutenant Reed interrupted medical studies at Johns Hopkins Medical School to train as a fighter pilot in the opening months of World War II.

Lt. Reed died in combat over Dresden in 1944. The couple had no children.

Mrs. Reed taught in Baltimore at The Shriveton School for Girls, retiring in 1976 after forty years of service. She never remarried. Margaret Barnell Reed passed away in 1991 after a brief illness. She was seventy-two years old. She has no surviving family members.

What has officials puzzled, offered the spokesperson for the Calhoun College Foundation, Mr. Randolph Stern, is the fact this sizeable bequest was made from the estate of one Charles Castle Sinclair, also of Baltimore, Maryland, no known connection to the college. A former Vice President of Fidelity National Trust, Mr. Sinclair passed away of heart failure December 2, 1993. He was eighty-five. Never married, Mr. Sinclair resided on Church Street near the Johns Hopkins University campus for nearly sixty years. Those who knew him described Mr. Sinclair as a keen intellect and a gentleman, if an exceptionally reticent person.

According to officials, the Margaret Barnell Reed bequest carries the stipulation the bequest bear only her name and be used to establish scholarships to assist able young women in the pursuit of advanced studies in teaching. Fidelity National Trust, the executors of Mr. Sinclair’s estate, remarked only that Mr. Sinclair and Mrs. Reed were next-door neighbors.


Glenda Burgess is a winner of the Rupert Hughes Award for Literary Fiction and a New Century Writer Short StoryAward finalist. Her memoir, The Geography of Love, was celebrated as one of the Ten Best Books of 2008 by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, named a 2008 Books for a Better Life Award finalist, and chosen as a Target Breakout Book Pick, a “Top 25” carried nationwide.

http://www.glendaburgessbooks.com/

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