by Carol St.Ann
Rated: 18+ · Monologue · Friendship · #1153533
In memorium of my well read, practical joking friend, Connie.
A MADISON COUNTY EVENT!
Carol St. Ann
Approx. 1400 words
Whenever I would spend time with my beloved pal, Connie, there was always a towering pile or an overflowing tote of reading material close by. It was our intense need to devour the written word that introduced us seventeen years ago and immediately sealed our bond as girlfriends. We'd share stories, articles, novels, science projects, recipes, medical advice, you name it. We'd read it and proclaim ourselves overnight experts on any subject that dared to challenge us. Very few writers passed our stringent expectations and those who did became our immediate heroes. We spent many an hour picking their style and cadence apart until we discovered every literary trick they had up their proverbial sleeves.
Connie and I knew we had a good thing going. We'd meet at least once a week for lunch and about twice a month for dinner to chat about our hobby, uh, passion, uh, obsession...all right, addiction. No matter what the discussion, debate or argument, we'd always end the meeting by acknowledging how lucky we were to have found a partner with whom we could freely share our secret worlds of words.
Unbeknownst to me, however, the dynamics of our calm, sophisticated air of intellect and debate were about to undergo a radical change.
Let's go back to 1997.
Connie's desperation to speak to me one Sunday morning after Service was palpable. She vigorously made her way through the meanderers lingering about the church aisles and took hold of my forearm. Hastening me away from the pastor, she interrupted his efforts to guide me in selecting the next week's music.
In a hushed but deliberate tone, she instructed me as only a teacher can. "Put aside everything else you are reading and read this book first. The Bridges of Madison County. Got that? The Bridges of Madison County. Stop and get it on the way home. It's an easy read. You'll be done with it by tonight and then we can talk. I will phone you at about 8 o'clock to discuss it." She went on to say it was the story of a National Geographic photographer - who had found love while on assignment. Connie knew what a sap I was for a wonderful love story. She also knew I had begun a lifelong love affair with National Geographic when I was a teenager. She assured me it was the book I had been waiting for. Trusting that she knew my likes and dislikes as well as I knew them myself, I did not question her authority.
I knew what I had to do; Barnes and Noble made a sale that day.
Upon my arrival home, I put the kettle on and changed my clothes. In order to read the perfect book, one must be completely unconstrained and have all significant creature comforts close by. This was going to require that I brew a large pot of tea. I freshened up the sugar bowl and sliced a plump, fresh lemon. Then I selected my favorite mug from the cabinet and made up a tray to take to my study. I strategically placed it on the table next to my reading chair. Next, I turned off the phone and the computer. I selected Bach to accompany my read and inserted several hours' worth into the CD player. My favorite fuzzy throw was the last item on my list. I picked it up and made my way to the sanctity of my favorite chair for a reader's version of an afternoon delight.
As I made my way through the character introductions of the first few chapters, my brow furrowed, my glasses needed constant adjusting, and I could not seem to keep from fidgeting. I cannot imagine why Connie would have told me this was the book I had been waiting for; I just don't get it. This is not the fine writing in which we are typically interested... It was all I could do to keep from being completely distracted from the story by Waller's high-schoolish style, or lack of style as the case may be... She does not know me at all, I fretted. ...And after all this time together, talking books... Go figure... I consoled myself by deciding that it was the story itself and not Waller's writing that she wanted me to seek after. I did as was expected of me.
Before dinner, I was approaching the final chapters and took a moment to refresh myself. On my way back from the necessary room, I deliberately crossed my study to turn my phone back on. Connie would soon be calling. While standing at my desk fussing with ringer control, I picked up a handful of tissues in anticipation of where the story was headed. They sat next to my empty teapot awaiting their turn to be my significant creature comfort.
As the story and the day drew to an end, I had become consumed by the emotions stirred up by the two main characters and their ill-fated love story. It didn't seem right to subject them to the harsh glare of my halogen reading light. I lit one single candle in their honor, and let it burn while I dabbed my flooding eyes and pulled my throw over me. Curling up into the barrel of the chair, without realizing it I assumed a fetal position. Seems Mr. Waller was not the literary klutz I had originally presumed!
It was the harsh electronic beep of the phone that awakened me. Connie was eager to hear my thoughts. I wept as I shared my torn feelings of compassion and disdain for both the author and the couple. Honoring or condoning adultery on any level just doesn't sit well with me. And yet, there I was, an emotional puddle.
Afterward, I outlined my plans to get to the library first thing in the morning. I felt the need to weed through old issues of National Geographic until I found a photograph of this phantom photographer. It seemed odd that his name did not ring a bell. My inability to recall his face was driving me quite mad with curiosity.
For some reason, Connie found this amusing.
I didn't care. Next morning, I jumped out of bed in anticipation of the day. After hurriedly consuming my morning pot of java, I enthusiastically made tracks for the library and my personal version of heaven: hundreds of issues of National Geographic!
For some reason, the librarian had been expecting me, and she appeared to be amused.
It hit me as I sat at my table in the research room clumsily trying to balance a teetering pile of slippery yellow magazines. The research Librarian had also seemed to be expecting me and also seemed to be... amused.
It was an impeccably planned, flawlessly executed practical joke. Connie, my serious friend, my bossy, opinionated, teacher friend had pulled it off. And I, her streetwise, instinct-proud, sentimental friend, had risen to the bait. I took hold of it: hook, line, and sinker. It had further dawned on me that it was more probable than possible that she had shared her expectations for my unwitting victimization with more than just the two librarians.
As you can well imagine, Connie turned out to be one of the most significant women in my life. We shared many a practical joke after that - on both the giving end as well as the receiving, having dubbed that particular one our "Madison County Event". Through the years we often referred to it, laughing each and every time as though it was all brand new to us.
My dear, delightful Connie is gone now, but the memories of her and of that magnificent "Madison County Event" still linger warmly in my heart. I think of her often and most especially whenever The Bridges of Madison County or National Geographic or Robert James Waller unceremoniously come to mind.
Two years ago, while on a weekend trip with my friend, Barb, in celebration of my 50th birthday, I visited the covered bridges of Lancaster County in Pennsylvania.
I do not recall whether or not I mentioned Connie or shared stories of her, but she was there in my heart, and for some reason... I was amused.