written by Pam Backlund Listen to story here
Some people are like clouds. When they disappear, it’s a brighter day. September sixteenth of 1888 is the day that Phyllis would always consider her sunny independence day…thanks to the bravado of her daughter Lettie.
Carmen had come to live with them after Carmen’s husband of 20 years passed away. It was supposed to be temporary…maybe a few weeks said Carmen. Phyllis said, “Take as long as you need” but secretly hoped for as short a time as possible.
Guilt about her onetime youthful indiscretion made Phyllis particularly antsy. Phyllis had had her daughter out of wedlock which embarrassed the family horribly. They’d been outcasts.
But Carmen and Phyllis had never really gotten along even before that. Carmen was the “alpha” of the children living in a dugout near Ben Ficklin’s Stage Station. And Phyllis wouldn’t stand up for herself. Mama and Papa had reprimanded Carmen for years. But Phyllis was like the runt of the litter.
Lately, however, Phyllis nightly would think of all kinds of ‘comebacks’ in response to Carmen’s offenses that day. Unfortunately she normally couldn’t think of anything sharp to say at the immediate transgressions…that is until that September 16th in San Angelo.
Prior to that day, she’d think of a retort only in the middle of the night.
When Carmen had said ‘You run your dress shop shabbily.’
Phyllis should have responded with, “I’m returning your nose. I found it in ‘my business.’”
Or when Carmen had said, “Too bad you never married, like I did”,
Phyllis could have responded “It doesn’t matter who I was…only who I’ve become.”
If only she’d thought of it. Why couldn’t she defend herself?
Was Phyllis afraid of change or of losing power struggles?
Phyllis’ daughter, Lettie was stunned at the awkwardness between the two. Lettie, being nineteen was ever the witty one when Carmen was in a derogatory mood. All three women would be in the dress shop sewing gowns for ladies going to the railroad celebration ball. Carmen would become venomous at the exertion.
When Carmen said, “You both should open a smaller shop on Chadbourne Street so that you would pay less rent. Then I wouldn’t have to sew.”
Lettie countered, “Thanks for your two cents, but I’ll give you a quarter to shut up. If anything, we need a larger room for all of the sewing we’re doing.”
Carmen said “No work for me. My pretending to listen should be enough for you”
Furious, Lettie responded, “I hope your day is as pleasant as you are.”
This kind of ‘back and forth’ between Lettie and Carmen annoyed Phyllis. She was thankful that Lettie armored herself. Phyllis was certain that toxic people, such as Carmen, don’t even realize how much they hurt others. Or do they?
Phyllis began to daydream:
-Somewhere in the world smart people were coming up with amazing quotations to address living with a narcissist such as Carmen.
-Somewhere in heaven was the father of her daughter who said he loved her with all his heart.
-Somewhere in the folds of the skirt she was pleating, was the boredom that gave her time to wistfully remember his kisses and passion.
-Somewhere in the past nineteen years she’d hidden her secret from everyone.
Her daydreams were interrupted.
“I said, ‘Every time I sit here, I have a fierce desire to be alone!’” said Carmen to Phyllis.
“Prearranged nuptials, hatred of intimacy and lack of children have made me a loner,” she added as she scooted her chair away from Lettie and Phyllis. “I much prefer to be back at my ranch in the open air. I don’t like being confined to a room with boring work.”
“Some people create their own storms and then get upset when it rains,” countered Lettie. “If you don’t like being here, why don’t you just go back to your ranch?”
“How can I expect my sister to raise you properly when she herself got pregnant at the same age that you are currently? I should take you, Lettie to the ranch. We will go.”
Lettie said, “I didn’t realize you were an expert on my life and how I should live it! Continue while I take notes.”
And so Carmen lectured the two of the advantages of living on a secluded ranch in West Texas. Phyllis couldn’t help but wonder how she would survive without Lettie in her daily life. Phyllis loved Lettie with her whole being. Carmen was certainly never going to take her away, right?
When Carmen made up her mind to take Lettie back to the ranch with her, Phyllis had had enough. Anger heated her core. Phyllis would have to put Carmen in her place.
Carmen said, “You look as red as a rose, Phyllis. But you know this arrangement would be the best for Lettie.”
Finally valor came to Phyllis.
“Since you know it all, you should know when to shut up!” Phyllis raged as she surprised herself with her seriousness.
Carmen shouted, “Your problem is ‘not knowing’ that you are the problem!”
“Keep rolling your eyes, you might find a brain back there.” Phyllis let her have it.
During the exchange between the sisters, Lettie sat in wonder and admiration of her mother’s sudden bout of nerve.
Carmen stood up and said, “They say opposites attract. I hope you meet someone who is good-looking, intelligent, and cultured like my Ray, while I take Lettie to the ranch with me.”
Lettie no longer amused, thrashed out of the building in irritation.
Both women were aghast at how they’d been talking about Lettie as if she wasn’t even present in the room.
“Ray gave me twenty good platonic years at the ranch. I guess you missed the boat when it came to men. Ray gave me everything except a child. So I’ll take yours.” Carmen said.
Phyllis finally said what had been on her mind for nineteen years, “Ray also gave me everything I needed. He gave me Lettie.”