Bucks County Writers Workshop
The Glass Ball by Connie Wrzesniewski
Aunt Clara didn't like doctors. For major things she just went right to the hospital. She wasn't exactly a hypochondriac, more of a griper, a chronic complainer, you could say. For sure, she exaggerated a bit. Hardly a day went by that she didn't have some ache or pain that plagued her, but nothing that you could put a label on and call an actual illness. For instance, the day she met Uncle Ed back in the forties, she swore that she got shrapnel in her shoulder. From that day on, she always referred to it as "my shrapnel shoulder." It all happened at the canteen.
They were dancing to the beautiful strains of the Glenn Miller Band in the dreamy light of the glittering glass ball revolving in the ceiling--you know, the kind with the tiny little mirrors all over it. As they glided across the floor, she gazed up into his gentle brown eyes. He smiled down at her tenderly from time to time returning her gaze. It was real romantic, like they were suspended in time.
Just as he was about to plant a big one on her cheek, there was a huge explosion. Everyone scattered, diving under chairs and tables. The glass ball seemed to drift down towards the floor in slow motion before it shattered on impact, sending shards of glass everywhere. No one really got hurt, but it did send shock waves out all over the place.
Aunt Clara, in her haste to take cover, dove under a table and lightly grazed her shoulder on a chair leg. She screeched out in her high pitched, shrill voice, "The Japs are coming! I've been hit ‚ I've got shrapnel in my shoulder. It feels like it's on fire." The sound of her voice could have brought the air raid wardens running from all directions of the country. She actually sounded like a wailing siren when she hollered. But, I guess the whole thing seemed pretty scary to her.
What really happened was that a sliver of glass from the revolving ball landed in the thick shoulder pad of her new dress. But for the rest of his life, poor Uncle Ed heard about the night they met and how she got the shrapnel in her shoulder.
The truth of the matter was that the old boiler downstairs in the basement had blown up and rocked the entire building, fooling everyone into thinking that the Japs really had landed in America. But that was just one exaggerated episode in her complicated life.
Another event that bears repeating was the time that Aunt Clara was out working in her beloved garden. It was the day of their tenth wedding anniversary ‚ she married Uncle Ed a couple of months after he came home from the war. Hollyhocks were her favorite flower. You see, Uncle Ed was a real romantic guy. The night they met at the canteen, he took one out of the vase on the refreshment table and pinned it on her beautiful baby blue dress, sort of like a fancy corsage. Ever since then, it was hollyhock heaven for the two of them, love at first sight.
Anyway, Aunt Clara was tenderly raking around the hollyhock bush when she accidentally hit the snapdragon behind it. This action greatly disturbed the bee that was quietly resting inside the head of the snapdragon. The rest is history. From them on, she swore that the bee dived at her like a kamikaze pilot, swooping down and attacking her nose. Actually, the poor bee never even got near her nose. No, she hit her own nose with the hand rake as she frantically swatted at it. The frightened bee couldn't get anywhere near her, what with all the flailing and shrieking going on. She wound up in the ambulance with poor Uncle Ed at her side as she wailed all the way to the hospital that she was 'allergic.' She never quite finished her sentence, so nobody knew exactly what she was allergic to, especially since allergies weren't popular back then.
Aunt Clara never did get to cut any of the hollyhocks for the dinner table that night. That pretty much got her nose out of joint ‚ that, and the fact that her shrapnel shoulder had started to act up from all the gardening she'd done that day.
Eventually, the swelling on her nose went down and the pain in her shoulder eased up. But, the bee never did recover from the shock Aunt Clara inflicted on him. No sir. After that incident, the bee camped out over on the neighbor's side and vowed never to venture back into that crazy woman's yard again, for fear of shortening his life span. As it was, when she swatted him with the hand rake, she damaged his proboscis, which rendered him hard-of-smelling, and in a bee, that's a very serious condition. Why his very livelihood could depend on it.
And I'll tell you one more thing. Years later, Aunt Clara went to the cemetery to check out her burial plot and clean up her tombstone ‚ because she thought it was real important to get that set up just in case she or Uncle Ed should die in a hurry. It was a beautiful sunny day, not a cloud in the sky. When she heard the buzzing sound, she swore that same bee followed her there to her grave. She was busying herself with dusting off the tombstone and setting in some hollyhocks when she became aware of it.
"Damn bee, it sounds just like a dive bomber," she said out loud.
She got all excited again. The flailing and the swatting and the siren shrieking automatically started right up. But it turned out there was no bee at all in sight. You see, now that Aunt Clara was older, she was a bit hard-of-hearing and mistook the sound of the weed-whacker behind her for a bee. In all her confusion, she accidentally hit the guy doing the weed-whacking and knocked the darn thing out of his hands. Of course, when it fell, it never did hit the ground. No sir, it landed neatly on her shrapnel shoulder. You can guess what happened next.
That's right -- poor Aunt Clara made another trip to the hospital and so did poor old Uncle Ed. As she sat on the examining table of the Emergency Room, the nice young nurse tried to calm her down. Aunt Clara was still wailing about the shrapnel in her shoulder after all these years while the nurse was trying to get some medical history on her. As she checked her over, the nurse asked her a lot of questions about any diseases she'd had in the past and stuff like that. Before you know it, one thing led to another and. she asked her about her past employment. Turns out that Aunt Clara was a sleever at the Quartermaster Depot during the war.
"Piecework is what I did. I used to sew sixty sleeves a day onto the shoulders of the military uniforms. Used a treadle sewing machine in those days too. I was the top seamstress around. Gave Rosie the Riveter a run for her money, I did. I used to get so mad. The madder I got, the faster I sewed. Hated that war! Half the boys didn't have an arm to put into a sleeve when they came home."
"That kind of work can be pretty tough on your upper body, Clara. Did you ever get that bursitis in your shoulder checked out by a doctor? Only you know how painful it gets. Does it ever feel like a burning knife piercing through your shoulder?"
Aunt Clara just stared at her with a puzzled expression.