Life of a Crabby Old Lady


Matthew McFadden, Staff Writer

Margaret Fields banged on the door of the dilapidated house with her wrinkled hands, steaming with anger.  The door opened, and a twenty-something-year-old man who swayed lazily with the beat of the pulsing music answered Margaret with empty eyes.  “Wadda ya want?” he said, slurring his words.


“I have had enough!” Margaret screamed with her voice rough as sandpaper and her finger punctuating every word.  “Every night, you and your dirtbag friends blast that damn music until you pass out from all the alcohol you’ve had, and I never get any sleep!”  As the short old woman continued to yell at the taller man, the police for whom Margaret had called arrived.  The car’s headlights temporarily blinded the intoxicated man, shooting a searing pain through his head.


The deputy approached the front door, illuminating the cracked driveway that was sprouting weeds.  The drunken man fell to the wooden porch floor, unconscious, as the deputy walked towards Margaret.  “Party?” he asked.


“Every single night!  They’ve lasted from sunset to sunrise before!  Just look at the state he’s in!” she exclaimed, motioning towards the drooling man slumped on the floor.


“Don’t worry ma’am, I’ll call for backup and take care of this immediately.  Do you need help getting back to your house?” he asked with a kind smile.


“Do I look crippled?  I can get back just fine,” she retorted.  Margaret pushed past the deputy and stomped through the untrimmed lawn.  She entered her house and sat down on her sofa, sighing as she thought about how calm her neighborhood was before its expansion.


During the next few months, Margaret called the police a total of eighteen times.  After the man who threw the house party and four others were arrested on charges of disturbing the peace, Margaret began to call the police for any offence she witnessed.  She called for everything from cars speeding through stop signs to the lone bullet striking a wooden post on her porch.  With every call, her crabby reputation grew throughout the neighborhood.  Finally, the police decided to cite Margaret for wasting police time with her overuse of the emergency number.  She made the final decision to move after the government fined her £80 and placed a limit on emergency calls.


Seven months, 48 calls, and three realtors later, Margaret bought a house in a small farm town with one of the lowest crime rates in England.  In preparation for the move, Margaret decided to dispose of everything that had sat and collected dust in her basement for many years.  She flipped the light switch, flooding the dank basement with a dim, orange light.  Dust from the wooden railings collected in the wrinkles on her hands as she carefully made her way down the stairs.  She opened the white, beveled door at the bottom, revealing a cemetery: relics littered all over in piles, forgotten over the many years.


Margaret scanned the wasteland for the first time in years, observing the many objects thrown into the void.  ‘Useless junk,’ she thought to herself as she grabbed a garbage bag and shook it open, spewing dust through the cold air.  She breathed a deep sigh as she reached for the first item: a pair of white ballet shoes stained by dirt, a gift from her parents.  The snow white lace that her dad used to tie for her before her recitals was now frayed and torn.  Quickly repressing her thoughts, Margaret dropped the tiny shoe into the bag.


Margaret made it through the next several items without any trouble, but the sudden glimpse of a small nutcracker flooded her mind with memories.  She picked it up, examining the intricate designs etched into the polished wood.   As she watched the nutcracker’s mouth move up and down, she remembered the cold December night at the Nutcracker ballet when her parents had gifted her with it.  Even with their small income, Margaret’s parents had saved enough money to surprise her on her sixth birthday.  Scenes of streets filled with joyous families and trees strung with white lights that glinted off the crystals falling softly from the sky flashed through her mind as she realized how much work her parents had put into her gift.  Teardrops formed in her eyes as she remembered the unadulterated joy that flowed through her family’s car on the trip home


Margaret’s fingers clung to the nutcracker, refusing to let go, but her mind was set.  Margaret’s heart shattered as her happy childhood memories smashed into the bottom of the bag like a meteor.


As Margaret picked up an old newspaper with a letter to the editor that she wrote, she heard a faint jingling from beneath a pile.  When she found the source, her eyes began to water.  The raggedy stuffed rabbit’s black button eyes shone with a warmth as strong as the day her grandmother gave it to her.  For Margaret’s whole childhood, the pink rabbit was her only constant.  The feel of its rough fur reminded Margaret of the nadir of her childhood.


On one Friday night, a few days after her fifteenth birthday, the sound of a glass bottle shattering awoke Margaret, tearing her from her dreams and throwing her back into reality.  As she leapt out of her bed, she could only hear muffled snippets of slurred speech and loud sobs from downstairs.  She had heard this argument many times before, but this night was different.  A loud smack reverberated through the house, followed by a piercing shriek.  “What the hell!” screamed Margaret’s mom as she ran up the stairs.  As she passed by Margaret’s room, the sounds of her mother’s despair broke Margaret’s heart in half.  Silent tears streamed down her face as her mother slammed her bedroom door and locked the world out.  Margaret spent the rest of the night lying awake, her head resting on her tear-stained pillow.


The next day was spent in terse silence, as if one word would disrupt the fabric of the universe.  Margaret’s dad sat in the living room, beer in hand, and watched the pale grey sky through the window.  Her mom stayed in her bedroom, leaving only for meals.  Every time she passed Margaret’s open door, she flashed an obviously forced reassuring smile.  That night, as Margaret was settling in her bed to sleep, her mother cracked the door open and whispered, “Can I come in?”  After Margaret nodded her head, her mother slipped through the doorway and pushed the flowing white draperies aside, letting the pale moonlight fill the room as if it longed to be like the sun; to foster life.   She sat down on the bed, brushing Margaret’s hair.


For the next hour, Margaret listened as her mother tearfully explained her and her father’s situation.  Although Margaret had known beforehand that divorce was imminent, the word seemed to tower over her when her mother said it.  “I can’t deal with him anymore!” she whispered as choked sobs escaped her trembling lips.  “I’ve tried and tried to get him to stop, but he just doesn’t care about us!  He comes home, and what does he do?  He drinks!  No greeting or anything!  I can’t do it anymore!” she screamed, breaking down and falling onto Margaret’s shoulder.  Margaret wrapped her arms around her and gently stroked her back, trying to console her heartbroken mother.


Digging through some of her ratty childhood clothes, Margaret’s arm became tangled in a loop of thick twine.  As she muttered curses under her breath and attempted to remove the string, she realized that she had found her old maid apron.  She felt the stained rubber front, and the memories of the summer before year twelve flooded her mind.


During the preparations for the divorce, Margaret’s mother’s attorney dug up some paperwork detailing their financial situation.  While Margaret sat in the attorney’s office lobby to wait for her mother, she thought about her parents.  As a child, their love seemed unbreakable, like a fortress.  She dreamed of the day that she would have the same kind of love.  Now that her parents’ love had broken her trust, she felt as if real, unfaltering love was unattainable.


After a half hour of staring at the blank walls, Margaret’s mother left the meeting room with a sorrowful face.  Margaret stood, and her mother wrapped her arms around her bony shoulders, hugging her tightly.  Silence enveloped them; it was the kind of silence that conveyed emotions better than any words could.  The door opened, shattering the crystal silence, and the attorney walked out, smiling sweetly at Margaret.  “Thank you,” Margaret’s mother said to the attorney.


“You’re very welcome,” the attorney responded, “I’ll call you to set up our next appointment.”


A blast of hot air greeted Margaret and her mother as they left the attorney’s office.  When they entered the car, her mother sighed and grabbed Margaret’s hand.  “When your father went out to drink at night, I would always ask how much money he had spent, but he refused to answer,” she said, her voice shaking.  “Today, the attorney gave me the financial statement for the divorce.”  She shuddered as tears began to form in her eyes.  “He spent almost three quarters of the money we had saved,” she said, tapering to a faint whisper as tears began to fall down her face.  “We can’t pay for anything,” she whispered, finally breaking down.


Ever since the financial meeting with the attorney, Margaret had been thinking about ways that she could help her mother earn money.  After racking her brain for hours, she decided that the best way she could help was to start working.  She searched everywhere she could find, but the only jobs that would earn her enough income required her to drop out of school.  She continued her search for jobs that she could take while remaining in school until, one day in late October, her mother returned to their house, crying.


“What happened?” Margaret cried as she ran towards her mother and embraced her.


Through her choked sobs, she said,” They can’t do anything.”  Then, her voice rose, driven by despair.  “The damned attorneys can’t get any of the money back!”


Margaret held her mother tightly, trying to console her.  When her tears dried up and her sobs ended, Margaret asked, “What do you mean?”


“The attorneys tried to compensate us for the money we lost because of your father, but they could only get a few hundred because the pub he frequented didn’t keep legitimate records.  We are quickly burning through the little remaining savings,” she said, tears once again brimming in her eyes.  “I need to sell the car,” she cried.


As she watched her mother, a symbol of strength throughout her life, break down, crying into her palms, she decided that in order to help, she needed to quit school and accept a job offer from a maid service in the city.  “I’ve found a job,” Margaret said.


“Really?” her mother asked excitedly.


“Linda’s Cleaning Service.  It pays $6.25 an hour.  It should be enough to cover at least our basic groceries.”


Her mother leaped from the couch, wrapping Margaret in her arms.  “I’m so proud of you!” she exclaimed.


“Wait, there’s one problem,” Margaret said as she pulled away from the hug, grabbing her mother’s hands in her own.  “I need to drop out of school.”



After a moment of deafening silence, her mother pulled her hands away.  “No,” she said softly, shaking her head.  “No, I can’t let you do that.”


“Mom, I need to!” Margaret pleaded.  “We can’t make a living without it!”


“No!  You need to get an education.  You’ve always wanted to be a dancer!  You can’t be a dancer if you don’t go to school!”


“I’ll find another way!  And if I can’t,” she said, her voice softening, “then I won’t be a dancer.  I need to take this job!  We need-”


“NO!” her mother yelled, silencing Margaret.  “I will not allow you to throw away your dream like a piece of trash!  You have lost too much already!”  she screamed, tears beginning to flow down her face as she begged Margaret.


“Fine,” Margaret said after a pause.  “I won’t take the job.  I’ll keep looking for another one.”  She walked past her sobbing mother, into her bedroom, and shut the door, suppressing her guilt.  She opened the drawer of her bedside table and shuffled through a pile of business cards.  She found the card for Linda’s Cleaning Service, picked up the phone, and dialed the number on the card.


“Linda’s Cleaning Service, how may I help you?” Margaret heard.


“Hello, my name is Margaret Fields.  I was offered a position as a maid.  I would like to accept the offer.”  During the next month, Margaret dropped out of school and began working.  She easily kept it secret from her preoccupied mother, who was busy with her own job search.  Each week, Margaret snuck her small income in her mother’s purse.  She continued working at the cleaning service for ten months before she told her mother, who was mad at Margaret for lying to her.  However, she allowed Margaret to continue working, as she had only found a part-time minimum wage job.


Margaret set the tattered apron in the trash bag, letting her memories follow it.  Now, near the end of her clean-up, Margaret came upon a small, rustic wooden chest covered with intricate carvings.  She undid the rusted latch and lifted the top, listening to the squeaking of its hinges.  Inside the box, she found a myriad of torn envelopes, each hiding a letter from her mother.  She rifled through them until she found the very last letter that her mother had sent.  As she read through the tear-stained words, she remembered every detail of the events of those few days.


After she finished her bowl of oatmeal and glass of orange juice, Margaret put on her coat and stepped outside into the brisk fall breeze.  Her slippers crunched the dead leaves strewn across the ground as she walked across the brown lawn.  She reached the mailbox and pulled out the bundle of envelopes, shuffling through them.  When she caught a glimpse of her mother’s stamp, she excitedly ran inside, throwing the other letters across the table.  Ever since Margaret had earned enough money working as a maid to move out of her mother’s house, they wrote letters to each other every month.  Her heart swelled with joy, as this had become the happiest time of the month for her.  As soon as she read it, she began to write a letter back to her mother.

The next day, however, as she was writing a letter back to her mother, Margaret heard a knock on her door.  She walked over and opened the door.  Two policemen with somber faces stood before her.  “Hello ma’am, are you Margaret Fields?” the tall man on the left asked.


“Yes sir, I am,” she answered.


“I am Officer Nelson, and this is Officer Miller,” he said, motioning to his left.  “May we come inside?”


“Of course, officer,” Margaret said, closing the door behind them.  She led them to the living room and sat down.  “Would you like to sit down?” she asked.


“I think it’s better if we don’t,” Officer Nelson answered.  “I have some bad news.  Your mother, Jane Fields, was killed on impact in a car crash late last night.  She was taken to the hospital and pronounced dead at 10:38 P.M.”


Margaret sat, stunned and shocked by the announcement.  “No,” she whispered as tears fell from her eyes.  She glanced down at her unfinished letter and wept, putting her face into her palms.


“Is there anyone you would like for us to call- any family or friends?” Officer Miller asked.


“There’s no one,” Margaret said through tears.  In a sudden wave of anger, Margaret snatched her letter and stomped into the kitchen.  “How could you leave me!” she cried, tearing up the pieces and throwing them into the trash can, letting the white shreds of paper fall with her tears like snowflakes against a dark sky.


Soon after the clock struck 11:00 P.M., Margaret threw the last piece of trash into the bag.  She hobbled over to the staircase and turned off the lights, plunging the empty room into darkness.  She pulled the bag upstairs, through her house, and into the garage, dropping it on the cement with the other bags.  Her old bones popped as she stretched, feeling sore.  She yawned and made her way upstairs.  When she walked into her bedroom, she laid on the bed and fell asleep immediately.


As Margaret made her lunch the next day, she heard the doorbell ring.  When she opened the door, a familiar looking man stood before her.  “Who are you?” Margaret asked, scowling.


“Uh, good morning, ma’am.  My name is Nathan Daniels.  I’m your neighbor,” he answered.


“Oh God, it’s you,” she said, frowning.  “What do you want?”


“I wanted to thank you,” he said nervously.  “After you called the police that night a few months ago, the judge put me on probation and sent me to a support group.  At first, I resisted, but now, I’ve recovered.”


“Yeah, whatever.  My dad said the same thing, but look where he is now.  Dead.  Thanks for coming by, though,” she said grumpily, rolling her eyes.


“Wait, wait!” he exclaimed when she began to close the door.  “I’m serious.  I haven’t had a drink since that night, and I found a job working at a gas station,” he said as he suddenly began to cry.  “I’m sorry, it’s just that my dad was a drunk, and that’s how this all started.  I really can’t thank you enough!” he sobbed.  Then, to Nathan’s surprise, Margaret walked forwards and embraced him.  She hugged him as if he was her son.  When she finally pulled away, there were tears in her eyes.


“It’s hard,” Margaret cried, sniffling.  “Would you like to come inside?” she asked, gaining some composure.


“Really?” Nathan asked in disbelief.  “I’d love to.”  Margaret led him inside, thinking of her father.


After an hour of talking with Nathan, Margaret asked, “Do you ever wonder what would’ve happened if your dad didn’t drink?”


Nathan paused, thinking, and said, “One night, about two years ago, I went to my girlfriend’s house the drunkest I had ever been.  She finally got fed up with me, so she dumped me that night.  When I got back to my house, and my anger had subdued, I fell on the couch and broke down in tears.  I started yelling, blaming my father, blaming him for destroying my life.  But through all that yelling, I never realized that it wasn’t him.  It was the alcohol.  It changed him,” he said, voice breaking.  “He was a great man before.”


“My dad was the same,” Margaret sighed.  “Early in my life, he was a model father.  Every night, he would tuck me in, stroke my hair, and tell me about his day.  He was the first to stand and applaud after every dance recital.  We had such a strong connection until he began to drink.  I felt so confused the first night when he didn’t come into my room to say goodnight.  Every long night I stayed awake, waiting for the door to open, I became more scared.  Eventually, I learned to hide in my room when he returned home, so I didn’t have to see him drunk.  When he left my mom, I had to quit school and start a job.  I was never able to become a dancer, like I had dreamed of for years,” she said, sobbing quietly.  “For such a long time, I thought that it was all his fault- that he was to blame for the grief we endured, but he was just sick.  He could’ve been fixed!” Margaret said, breaking down in tears.  “God, I wish he was as strong as you!”