By Chris Garson
Copyright 2013 Chris Garson
I often sit on the back porch to skim the headlines before going to work, but today I was taking the day off, giving me plenty of time to read the paper front to back. I figured that ought to ease my anxiety. After all, there’s nothing like other people’s misery to forget your own troubles. I devoured the lead story about yet another politician caught sexting. Wouldn’t they ever learn?
“Hey Phil,” shouted my cheery neighbor Madge while waving from her side of the waist high picket fence. Ernest, her husband, wanted a taller, more private one but Madge wrangled a coupon for the short fence, so that was that. With her other hand, she balanced a platter covered by a Suzy Homemaker red and white checkered napkin. “I brought you some cookies. Just made ‘em this morning.”
That was pure Madge. Only 6:45 in the morning and she’d already baked cookies. I swear to God, the woman never slept. If she wasn’t shopping or cleaning or baking, she was clipping. I grabbed the coupon section and met Madge at the fence. “You shouldn’t have.”
She made her fake pouty face. “Well, I’m not giving them away. Trade?”
“Sure.” We went through the same ritual every Wednesday. Wednesday was Madge’s favorite edition, not counting Sundays, because of the double-sized coupon section which I handed over in exchange for the still warm cookies.
“I was going to make banana nut muffins, but Walmart had a coupon for Toll House chocolate chips. Only $2.89 for a pound bag. I bought three.” Her fridge, freezer and cupboards were always stocked in triplicate, her pantry a shrine for box upon box of cereal she didn’t like.
“That sounds like a great deal.” I didn’t have the foggiest idea what a bag of Toll House morsels should cost, but trusted Madge to find the best deal. She always did, even before the smart phone. She’d wanted one for ages, but held out until Verizon ran a special. Eventually, she finagled a Galaxy S4 for $79.95. I didn’t have the heart to tell her it was a refurb. The first thing she’d done was download that app that scans bar codes and finds the lowest price. The app had nothing on Madge. She had coupons stuffed into her plaid plastic wallet the Galaxy couldn’t dream about.
“You’d better get going,” she nagged nicely and neighborly. “Or you’ll be late for work.”
“I’m not going in today, remember?” I bit into a cookie. The still gooey chocolate chips scalded the roof of my mouth. It tasted delicious. For this morning at least, I didn’t care how many grams of saturated fat I was inhaling.
“Oh that’s right.” Her face darkened. “I forgot. Today’s the day.”
I changed the subject. “What’ve you got going on?”
“Well … after I comb through these,” she flashed the coupons I’d given her, “I’m headed to the BP at the corner of Mill and Pinehurst to gas up the Saab. They always have the best price and if you fill ‘er up, they give you free windshield wiper fluid. The rest of the morning, it’s my usual half-price stops. CVS for hulless popcorn. Target for Fancy Feast Elegant Medleys – Toofer used to like chicken Florentine but lately he’s liked wild salmon Primavera best – and then DSW. Free flip-flops with my Savvy Shopper card. After that, Barnes and Noble.”
I arched my brow. The bookstore wasn’t part of her Wednesday routine.
“Groupon has a special going them,” she explained. “Buy one calendar, get one free.”
Madge has a coupon! Of course she does. “But it’s the middle of summer!” What in the world could she want with one calendar this late in the year, let alone two?
“You know me,” she blushed. “I can’t turn down a deal. After that, I’m meeting Linda at Whitman’s.” She started humming before breaking into the song. “Wednesday is Wing day at Whitman’s. Only 25 cents a pop. Eat wings, eat wings, never stop!”
I’d never eaten at Whitman’s and probably never would. The annoying wing ditty sounded like a mash-up between a Broadway musical and an aluminum siding commercial from the sixties performed by Oompa-Loompas. I’d heard it so many times that I switched channels whenever it blared. I’d rather listen to a mating track from Animal Planet. “And then?”
“After lunch, Linda and I are going to Valenci’s. We’re getting the full treatment – hair, nails, facial.”
“Valenci’s, huh? I heard they’re pricey.”
She nodded knowingly. “They are, but Living Social has a deal – two for the price of one. Linda and I are splitting it.”
“Sounds like fun,” I lied. Watching paint dry would be more entertaining than spending a day at the spa.
“When I get back, I’ll look years younger!” She twirled back towards her house and then stopped and glanced back my way. “Good luck today, Phil.”
“Thanks, Madge. Say hey to Ernest for me.”
The sun was starting to set when I heard Madge pull into the driveway. The Saab was blasting Olivia Newton-John’s Have You Ever Been Mellow. For Madge, the answer to that question was a resounding NO. Damn her, now that song would be rattling around my head for the next three days.
She bounced over to the fence, beaming from ear to ear, hair up in a bun and cherry lipstick glistening in the twilight. “Phil, Phil. Look what I got.” Two helium foil balloons trailed behind her. One read ‘Happy Birthday’ and the other ‘Get Well Soon’. “I totally forgot about that coupon until my phone reminded me. Thank God! It expired today. I don’t know how I ever survived without a smart phone. So many missed sales, so many lost coupon opportunities!”
Then she noticed my expression. “What’s the matter, Phil? Didn’t it go well today?”
“Not really, no.”
“Oh, Phil. I’m so sorry. Here.” She handed me the Get Well Soon balloon. “I just knew this would come in handy. What did the doctor say?”
I’d spent the entire afternoon coming to grips with the diagnosis. Despite everything leading up to the tests – the chest pains, the difficulties breathing, and the occasional light-headedness – I’d been in denial. “It’s not good, Madge. My ticker needs replacing.”
“Oh my god,” she blurted. My sentiment exactly. Then, she brightened. “Don’t you worry, Phil. I have just the thing. It came yesterday, in the blue Valu-Pak envelope.” She rummaged through the contents of her coupon wallet and handed me a slip of paper with the picture of an Indian man wearing a white lab coat. “Dr. Jayaraman is running a special through the end of August. Two heart transplants for the price of one.”