Before the Daffodils Bloom
A short story of Love, Bingo, and End-of-Life Decisions
Philomena Flannigan eyed the garden hose dubiously through her bifocals. She wasn’t sure how such a simple thing could do the trick, but she’d heard it was effective. Perhaps it was to her advantage that she was small — maybe she would succumb quickly. Since she’d turned seventy-five, osteoporosis and cruel Father Time had both conspired against her and whacked a few more inches off her already diminutive height. She realized she’d have to wait for another day to accomplish her task, as the hose was filled with ice. It was just as well. Tonight was double-or-nothing bingo at the community center. If she won big, she’d splurge and buy herself a nicer casket.
Philly hadn’t come to this decision hastily. Three years earlier, she had lost her beloved husband Eddie to cancer. With his death came the realization that she wasn’t getting any younger herself. Although her blue eyes were still as clear as ice, she couldn’t keep up with the silly routines it took to live up to the world’s standard of beauty. Nor did she particularly want to. She was shorter and much plumper, and no longer bothered to pluck the hairs on her chin; she couldn’t see to pluck them if she wanted to anyway. She felt as if her hips and knees were crumbling like old concrete each time she stood up, and her arthritic fingers looked like gnarled twigs. So she made the decision not to drag out the end of her life, languishing for months or years on end. No. She would just get in the car, rig up the hose, and that would be that.
Her kids would be upset about her plans. Tough luck. It wouldn’t take them long after the fact to see the wisdom in her decision. She had raised them to be pragmatic and tough as an old boot, just like herself. They would survive. It would be a cold, hard winter, but they’d snap out of it by spring, just like the daffodils.
At the bingo hall, Philly sat about as far as she could get from Winnie Parker, the town big-mouth, and Mary Magdalena Goldstein, the town mattress. She preferred to sit alone, surrounded by her half-dozen or so bingo cards. She had a theory that if she lined them up just so, lady luck would be on her side. Fortunately, she found three empty chairs together back in the left corner. She staked out her territory, took off her coat, and lined up her cards and her markers.
“Excuse me, is this seat taken?” asked a rather frumpy looking old man. His pants were held up over his substantial belly with ridiculous suspenders, and his hair grew in white tufts out of the sides of his otherwise bald head. With his thick eyeglasses, he resembled a baby owl.
“As a matter of fact, it is,” said Philly. Come on! Go sit somewhere else, Hooty, she thought.
“Well, I don’t see anyone coming, and there are no more chairs, so…”
Philly couldn’t argue with him. Reluctantly, and with a loud, exasperated sigh, she realigned her cards and made room.
“Thank you. I’m Hank, by the way,” said the man as he extended a hand.
“Philly.” Philly took his hand and was relieved to feel a firm handshake, not the floppy fish she expected. “Good luck to you, Hank.”
“N-35,” called the lady running the bingo.
Philly was dismayed. Every time she had a number on one of her cards, so did Hank, and he had ten cards spread out all over the dang table. She could tell he was feeling the pressure, too — he kept glancing at her cards when he thought she was unaware. They were both down to one number for the win: Philly needed G-47 and Hank needed G-48.
“G… let me see…looks like G-49,” called out the lady in charge.
“BINGO! I’ve got it, up here in front,” called a big-bosomed woman in the front row. Winnie, of course. This whole thing had to be rigged. She won every damn week.
“Who’s the big-mouth in the front?” asked Hank.
“Ha! I knew I liked you for some reason,” said Philly.
“I’m done with this. Wanna go get a cup of coffee?” asked Hank.
“You’re on.” Philly rolled her eyes as Mary Magdalena Goldstein winked shamelessly at Hank on their way out the door. Hussy.
Weeks passed, and Philly and Hank struck up a genuine friendship. Both of them were down to earth, neither one was afraid to tell it like it is, and each respected the other for it. Hank had lost his wife ten years earlier. He had some health problems but didn’t complain.
“You know, Hank, I admire you. You come out each week to bingo just to watch Winnie the Winner win again, even though your back gives you so much trouble. It sounds like you have great kids. You seem genuinely happy,” said Philly.
“Well, I guess I am happy. I’ve struggled a lot, though. Losing my wife was something I thought I’d never get over, and then the health problems started. I’ve got this damn back and high blood pressure, and I can’t see worth shit. But it doesn’t matter, none of that stuff matters.”
“Well, that’s a good attitude, Hank. I’m not sure I could stay that upbeat in the face of some of the trials you’ve been through,” said Philly.
Hank looked down into his coffee mug then up at Philly with a piercing look.
“Philly, I don’t think you understand. I’m going to let you in on a little secret, but I don’t want you to try to change my mind because I’m finally at peace with my decision. Before spring gets here, I’m leaving this madhouse. I’m going home,” said Hank.
It took a moment for Philly to comprehend what Hank was saying, but then it hit her like a cold, fierce wind. His plans were no less than her own. On one hand, how could she make him see that suicide was not the solution for him? On the other hand, how could she judge him? Now it was Philly’s turn to talk.
“I guess I have something I should tell you, too."
Philomena Flannigan eyed the garden hose dubiously through her bifocals. The ice had lost the battle with the spring warmth, and life-giving water gushed out when she turned on the tap. She saw Hank smiling at her over his coffee mug as he sat on the front porch, and she chuckled to herself as she tended to her daffodils. They had survived another cold, hard winter.