Ann O’Malley

Matthew Banash

Ann wasn’t a freak of nature as much as she was simply of nature. Old? Yes. She joked that she needed the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to help her blow out all the candles. Or would she? She reminded herself to go on-line and research just how many members were in the choir. 129 candles were a lot.

Another year, a bigger cake to hold all those candles. And another visit from the local newspaper and TV news. Although lately, well the past twenty years or so, network news had started showing up. Cable news had been around for about ten or fifteen. Always first thing in the morning. Banging on her door. As if she couldn’t hear!

She couldn’t remember all the reporters, but she had been through a few. Some moved on to better affiliates, bigger markets, or the 11 o’clock newscast in the sky.  And the print journalists? So glad to meet her, then butter her up like she was a 3-year-old, then question, nod and scribble. Question, nod and scribble. Or their tape recorders! And now phones. Last year the older man from the Post dropped his iPad, more like a slate used by school children in colonial times, and this video started playing. Black men in leather chaps grinding to disco music. He was out of there quicker than Jackie Robinson.  

She hadn’t seen everything. She hadn’t even really seen that much. “Humanity will surprise you as much as you let it” was her famous quote. The toughest thing, the real challenge in aging like this was coming up with witty, pithy things to say to the obsequious fourth estate. She didn’t mind. She had 364 days before the next deadline.

She had reviewed her quips the night before. Would she be light-hearted? Profound? Eastern?   

Nope, she was name-checking The Monkees this year. “A coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave man, meh, only five-hundred or so” and then give them an exaggerated wink.

She woke up and made her two fried eggs, bacon and had a glass of Rumple Minze that left her shivering in the warming morning of late Spring. She left the dirty remnants of breakfast on full display for the scribes to see. “Oh,” she’d say, “I eat eggs two or three times a week,” and smile then offer shots all around before making her pronouncement. She practiced her quote several times as the clock ticked on and on. Nothing.

Her family was gone. Which was alright. They had all lived and died. That was the best she could say and be earnest about it, authentic about it. Some had drinking problems, some graduated college, others attended a Pentecostal church in Oklahoma. A few stayed in touch and others held grudges that only mortality could settle. Some died wide awake wracked by insufferable pain and others passed in their sleep dreaming dreams of no relevant significance. Last night she dreamed of her teeth falling out. Nothing.

She turned on her laptop. The only correspondence she got was an email from the 800 Pound Guerrilla’s Coat Factory wishing her a happy birthday with a coupon for 10% everything and anything in the store and another email with a chit for a dozen free oysters at Shenanigan’s Raw Bar and Flesheteria, a Go-Go Bistro, down on Mussolini boulevard. Her grandson had signed her up in perpetuity a few years ago. He would have been 72 next week. Both Gemini’s. He had light brown eyes with flecks of gold in them like his father. Nothing.

Then the headline caught her eye. A woman in Myanmar has just been confirmed to be 131 years old. There was no way she could catch up. Now, she would be just a footnote if mentioned at all. No longer Ann O’Malley of Pennsauken, NJ, but just “an American woman previously held the title”. Nothing.

If Ann was a statistical anomaly with her clear eyes, good health and erudite, if not snarky, quips, the outlier of American life, Thiri Hayma was pure, vibrant life, “Probably subsists on her undying generous compassion for every living being from the smallest to greatest in every nook and cranny of the Universe,” Ann said to herself, jealous. Then she wrote “English Muffins” on the shopping list stuck to the fridge.

“Well, I’m accustomed to the attention,” she consoled herself and then decided if you can’t not bullshit yourself after 129 years what good are you? She was jealous. And life was after all neither good nor bad but what you brought to it. 129 years gives you that spectrum of reference, that range of holy indifference, that life was about being honest with yourself because that’s all there really is. And besides, what good is a lie when you know it isn’t the truth? You can’t believe a lie you yourself fabricate and utter. No matter what. Damn, that should have been her quote! Just the same she wished Thiri? Hayma? a long happy reign. Should she make a congratulatory phone call? Her mother was always one for manners and protocol. She would have known what to do and would have told Ann exactly how to do it. She had been dead longer now than she had been alive. See insufferable pain. Nothing.

So, she grabbed a windbreaker, her favorite floppy hat and her car keys and shades then headed off to Shenanigan’s. She hadn’t had oysters in over 80 years! Not since Nasty Nick’s on OBX. The month didn’t have an “R” in it but screw that old saying. She checked her fanny pack for singles. Life’s too short. And not short enough.

Matthew Banash was born and raised in Pennsylvania and has lived in the Carolinas for the past twenty-five years. He writes poetry and short fiction. His work has appeared in Poetry Quarterly, The Blue Nib, Micro Fiction Monday, Crack the Spine, Bridge Eight and Barren Magazine.