The Messenger Gets it
by Mary Ellen Banfield
When Christine opened the sky blue front door of her white ranch-style house with the matching shutters on that rainy weekday afternoon, she started to practically hyperventilate at the sight of Mary Beth. Christine talked so fast that Mary Beth just stood there, with her dark blues eyes in a wide-eyed stare. She was feeling dumbfounded at what she was hearing. Two weeks prior to the encounter, Mary Beth left Christine a voice message telling her that she just wanted to drop off something at Christine’s house. Mary Beth didn’t mention what she would bring or who it was from. Knowing the tension between the sisters, Mary Beth wanted to keep the meeting as simple and low key as possible. Mary Beth was acting as the messenger for Brianna, Christine’s twin sister, who lived in Maine. After all, the estrangement between the twins had nothing to do with Mary Beth.
Living just five miles away in another town in Central New Jersey, Mary Beth drove through the misty rain to Christine’s house to deliver the beautifully scrapbooked photo album created by Brianna of old family photos which belonged to Christine. Brianna had painstakingly framed the old photos with colorful paper cutouts, journaled names, dates, and places to remember, and put all of the photos in chronological order—a true labor of love.
Seeing Christine for the first time in about seven years, Mary Beth noticed that Christine had gained a considerable amount of weight, which looked rather unhealthy on Christine’s 5’ 2” frame. Also, there were several teeth missing on Christine’s lower jaw. Mary Beth tried not to stare at the gap caused by the missing teeth, but she couldn’t since Christine’s tongue kept protruding through it as she spewed to overflowing with details of her diatribe.
Mary Beth began to hand the plastic grocery bag (containing the photo album) to Christine, but Mary Beth’s grip on the bag was unyielding, and she wouldn’t let go of it as Christine took hold and continued her tirade.
“I can’t talk to you,” Christine yelled from the threshold of her front door, even though Mary Beth was just an arm’s length away.
Mary Beth crinkled her nose a bit with her eyebrows practically meeting in the middle and asked, “What’s the matter? I just came to deliver…,” but was cut off by Christine before she could say anything more.
“I told you. I can’t talk to you, since you can have a relationship with my sister and I can’t!” Christine blasted back at Mary Beth, as Christine firmly gripped the bag and pulled it into the house with her right hand, but Mary Beth still wouldn’t let go.
“I don’t understand why you…,” but again, Christine talked over Mary Beth, not letting her get a word in edgewise.
“No, you wouldn’t understand. You wouldn’t understand how it feels to know that I’ll never see my sister again. You’ll never understand that my sister is too busy to see my mother. It’s killing my mother that Brianna won’t come to New Jersey and won’t call my mother,” Christine said as she wiped away, with her left hand, a little piece of spittle that landed on her chin as she took a breath and continued with her callous rant, “I just can’t talk to you. It’s killing me not to have a relationship with my sister while you do.”
Mary Beth’s face felt hot and turned a lovely shade of red, as it always did when she got excited, angry, or embarrassed, and she just stood there—all 5’ 8” of her in her raspberry pink LL Bean raincoat—on the black Welcome mat in front of the house, listening to Christine; still holding steadfast onto the bag with her right hand and gently pulling back on it to ease the bag back to the outside of the threshold. Christine was standing just inside her door, with her bare feet on the light blue carpet, dressed in jeans and a floral short sleeved blouse. She, too, pulled back on the bag, creating a kind of tug-of-war until Mary Beth let go. Once the bag was in her hand alone, Christine proceeded to pull herself and the bag inside and ultimately slammed the door in Mary Beth’s face.
For a moment or two Mary Beth stood there and stared at the door, with its white ruffled curtains, and wondered what the hell just happened. Then she returned to her car, sat in it for a minute or two staring back at the house without starting the car. Still she wondered what just happened. A few moments later Mary Beth started the car, backed out of Christine’s driveway, and drove towards home. She thought about what Christine said and felt confused by what it had to do with her.
For some reason, Christine chose to not be friends with Mary Beth anymore, since she and Brianna were still friends. It was Christine’s choice to avoid Brianna, but not Mary Beth’s. Mary Beth’s choice was to have a relationship with both of them. It made no sense to Mary Beth that Christine didn’t want her as a friend. Even though their friendship began and had lasted for more than forty years before this episode, it seemed to mean nothing to Christine.
In high school they called themselves Brianna the Brain, Christine the Capable, and Mary Beth the Mouth. Those were the monikers they gave each other after they’d become best friends in their junior year. The only one who, after high school, continued to call Mary Beth the Mouth was Jennifer, the younger sister of Brianna and Christine. Mary Beth knew that she deserved to be called the Mouth, since she was always the one to put in a humorous comment, or two, even towards her teachers. Her sense of humor often got her in trouble. Mary Beth had a lot to say, and no one had to like what she said, but she’d say whatever anyway. She was just being honest.
At first it was hard for Mary Beth to tell Brianna from Christine and vice versa. Mary Beth needed to try to remember who wore which glasses—one had blue glasses and one had brown. Then she noticed the physical differences between the two, since they closely resembled each other, as siblings and twins often do. They had the same brown eyes and the most perfect eyebrows, without the use of tweezers. They were about the same height, but Christine had more weight on her than Brianna, and though they both had dark brown hair and cut in a similar fashion, Christine’s hair tended to flip out on one side—thanks to a cowlick or two. Brianna had what she called a “bubble gum” nose, since the cartilage at the end of her nose looked as if bubble gum was stuck to it, and Christine’s didn’t. So, Mary Beth could tell who’s who. It didn’t really matter, since they did everything together, but at least Mary Beth called them by their right names.
It all began when in their third period history class they noticed that they had, up to that point in school, been in all of the same classes. They compared schedules and realized that out of seven possible classes, they had six together, with only the last class of the day different —Mary Beth had a crafts class, and the twins had fine arts. So, from that moment on, they went everywhere together during school. Their friendship began fast and held steady throughout junior and senior years of high school and into the summers between and after.
When they were ready to hit the real world of work and college during the summer after high school graduation, Brianna and Christine found work as nurse’s aides in a nursing home, while Mary Beth started to work in a craft store at the mall. As much as Mary Beth wanted to go away to college, she attended the local community college in New Jersey, while Brianna and Christine were headed off to a small Catholic college in southwestern Maine. They promised to keep in touch through letters—old-fashioned social media using paper and pen, envelopes and stamps—and they did a fine job of it for the years that the twins were away in Maine.
Throughout Brianna and Christine’s years of college and Mary Beth’s early years in the working world (she only survived in the community college for a semester and a half and didn’t finish a degree), they managed to stay best friends. Since Mary Beth was the one who worked a full-time job and loved to travel, they maintained their closeness through phone calls, letters, and the occasional trip Mary Beth made to Maine to visit them at college and when the twins came home on breaks and holidays.
During those first couple of years of weekend trips they made a grandiose plan for after the twins graduated from college. They’d get a one bedroom apartment with a bunk bed and a single bed to keep their costs low once they were all working. Their dreams would be fulfilled as soon as Brianna and Christine were out of college.
The best laid plans rarely coming to fruition, as the three of them found out. Christine graduated college in four years, and Mary Beth got married that same year. Brianna met Francois in college and fell in love, and suffice it to say that Brianna wasn’t always concentrating on her studies, so she repeated her senior year of college. Brianna graduated from college a year later, got married just 3 weeks after her college graduation, and then Brianna and Francois moved to Rhode Island, where Francois was stationed in the Navy. Christine remained single for quite a few more years after Brianna’s and Mary Beth’s weddings, and eventually she married Max when she was 32.
When Christine started a relationship with Max, it was then that Mary Beth felt their relationship and time together slipping. Something had changed, but she still felt that Christine was her friend, even if Christine didn’t have much time to spend with Mary Beth. New relationships tend to suck a lot of time and energy from those in the new relationship.
The years began to pass, and life seemed good for all of them. They still managed to see each other from time to time. Mary Beth occasionally visited Brianna on weekends wherever Brianna was living. Navy life kept Brianna moving about every two years, so Mary Beth visited her multiple times in Rhode Island, once in Virginia, once in California, and whenever Brianna was home in New Jersey. Christine and Mary Beth got together on occasion for play dates with their kids, for lunch, or just to have a cup of tea and gab.
Years later when Mary Beth visited Brianna in Maine, Brianna brought out her latest scrapbooks and the two had tea, looked at old photos, and reminisced about one memory or another. “The Scrapbook Queen” was the new nickname Mary Beth gave to Brianna, since she did such a beautiful job of putting together old family photos and photos of her many trips all over the world. When Mary Beth saw photos of their families together in Brianna’s scrapbooks, she felt grateful for the time spent through the years with Brianna and Christine. Those photos represented good times in their lives; moments and memories, which were precious.
With every turn of the page, Brianna and Mary Beth would laugh over something silly that one or the other remembered when seeing an old photo. Mary Beth thought that scrapbooking helped to somehow heal Brianna’s estrangement from her family.
The estrangement began when the twins’ grandfather—her mother’s father—died during the early spring seven years earlier. At that time New Jersey began to feel the relief of the winter melting away and see the colors of spring all around. Maine, however, was still knee deep in snow and cold. The funeral for Pop was scheduled for a Wednesday. Brianna’s children were to take their statewide standardized tests that week, and Francois was away on business. Brianna asked her mother to hold off the funeral until later in the week, when the tests would be over and Francois would be home. Her mother said, “No.”
Torn between her two important events, Brianna opted to stay home with her children for several reasons. The standardized testing was a priority for the children. The weather forecast in Maine was for another snow storm that week. The trip was nine hours long—without stopping—longer with the usual bathroom breaks, gassing up the car, and grabbing something to eat. Brianna would have to drive the entire trip alone with the children, which she really didn’t like to do. She’d pray for Pop’s soul in the privacy of her own home, and she felt that Pop would forgive her for missing his funeral.
Her mother wouldn’t forgive Brianna for missing the funeral. Her mother wouldn’t take any of her phone calls, nor would her mother answer any of the many letters Brianna sent over the next few years. The estrangement was forced upon Brianna by her mother, and Christine sided with her their mother.
When Mary Beth got home after she dropped off the photo album, she called Brianna, just to tell her that photo album was now in Christine’s hands, but also to let her know how Christine had treated her. Brianna apologized for having to put Mary Beth through that.
Mary Beth had her portable phone on speaker mode because her hands were busy trying to fix dinner and she told Brianna, “There was no way of knowing how Christine would react. The reaction I got was, to say the least, like Christine was a lunatic. Don’t worry about it. Whatever is going on with Christine has nothing to do with us. Christine will just have to work it out on her own.”
“Yeah, but she really shouldn’t have said those things to you, of all people. You were just doing me a favor,” Brianna said with a hint of a catch in her voice, as if she was going to cry.
Taking a deep breath in and releasing it, Mary Beth said, “Brianna, I think that we are better off without Christine, since we don’t need that kind of negativity in our lives. It’s hard for me to lose a friend, and I know it’s hard for you to not speak to your family, but I know you’ve tried. Giving Christine that beautiful photo album was above and beyond what you were asked to do. I think the album seems to me like you’re still trying to make nice with Christine, but Christine just doesn’t see that, at least not yet.”
“Maybe, but I still feel terrible about her actions. Don’t you?” Brianna queried.
Mary Beth thought about her relationship with Brianna, who was more like a sister to her anyway, and so she said, “Eh. I’ll get over it. Hey, I have an idea. I’ll be your sister and you can be mine. I always wanted a sister, and you’ve always been there for me, through thick and thin. Deal?”
“Deal! Hang on a sec, Francois’s calling me from the basement,” Brianna said as she dropped the phone with a sharp noise.
Mary Beth thought the clunk was the phone being dropped on the kitchen counter in Brianna and Francois’s cute, Cape Cod style house, where the moose roamed around in her back yard.
Brianna picked up the phone and said, “Sorry about dropping the phone. I’ve got to go¸ but I want to continue this conversation. Can I call you over the weekend?”
“Sure. Love you and miss you,” Mary Beth said.
“Me too,” Brianna said, and they both hung up their phones.
That evening, as Mary Beth still pondered the day’s event. She had the thought to send Christine an email. She just wanted to send an apology of her own to say that she was sorry if she had upset her. She then thought about the last email she sent Christine, and it was weeks before Christine responded. Mary Beth turned to the only other method of “safe” conversation—Facebook messenger.
When she went to create the message, Mary Beth found that Christine had already unfriended her on Facebook. Then Mary Beth thought she might send Christine a note via snail mail, but decided to let it go. She was not about to tempt fate and get in the middle of a family squabble, no matter the consequences to her. Mary Beth knew that she would miss Christine, as she had for the last several years, when she realized that their friendship was substantially less than it once was. She knew that she couldn’t really erase the memories of Christine, or anyone else that spent time in her life. Brianna and Mary Beth would just keep their memories and photos of The Brain, The Capable, and The Mouth’s good times together where they belonged: in their own photo albums.
***A self-proclaimed “Jill of All Trades and Master of Some” (and she has plenty of experience in just about everything–including teaching English on the college level), Mary Ellen has been writing stories for as long as she can remember. She attributes her love of writing to her grandmother, who was her first pen pal.***