Gladys shakes her head. It’s a wonder that vile man from up the street – Jess? Josh? With her blood pressure on the rise, she can’t recall which – isn’t right in the middle of this gang of conspirators.
Jealous they are. Each and every one of them.
When they leave, she steps from the window in a huff and snatches her cup of tea, cold now, having giving up hope on her prompt return. It’s then she realizes this all started last summer right after she’d gone out of her way to put together a Fourth of July block party. She had a drawing with a handmade prize, a wonderful barbecue, and even got Jack Stephenson – bless his soul, he passed just last winter – to play his guitar while everyone gathered ‘round singing “America the Beautiful.”
Though she’s been here for nearly 20 years, a stream of newcomers, mainly retired folks, have slowly filled the neighborhood, most in just the last couple of years. Was it so terrible to think it might be nice to have a “get to know one another” sort of thing?
Things have been no different with her job – or FORMER job that is. After giving her soul to the company for 35 years, there was a downsizing. And, of course, it was HER department that ended up being shut down, leaving her no choice but to retire.
So today, after having never missed a day at the plant, she’s home on a Monday, relegated to the pain of watching the neighbors gossip about her.
A knock at the door pulls her from her self-pity, and she cautiously makes her way down the stairs. However, she stops at the bottom step when she sees that man’s face – Jess, she remembers now – peering through the window. What could he possibly want?
“Yes?” she says, opening the door only a crack.
“Hello, Gladys. I was wondering, with such lovely gladiolas gracing your front yard, if you could take a look at my garden and tell me what I’m doing wrong. I can’t seem to find my green thumb.”
She feels the heat of a blush, then nods, pulling the door the rest of the way open.
“Oh...I guess I could.”
She follows him down the walk, then along the side of his house toward his backyard. As he opens the gate, she catches sight of an arch of balloons, under which stands most of her neighbors. A banner stretches across the fence which reads: HAPPY RETIREMENT!
“SURPRISE,” they call out.
Gladys can only cry.