‘Franny’: A little piece of fiction

A little bit of fiction – not yet connected to a story. Come back tomorrow for another section of “A Story To Tell”.

No one wanted to be nice anymore and everyone was always staring down at their phones.

That’s how Franny Beiler felt about the world these days and she wasn’t afraid to say it.

When she was young people actually talked to each other, face to face. No, they didn’t always say nice things and they didn’t always get along, but they were a lot more alert and a lot less like a brain dead zombie; that much she knew.

The feet of the rocker hit the porch hard as Franny pushed her feet down. She felt turned up inside and angry at the world. She knew it wasn’t right but darn it, she was tired of being visited only if the battery on one of those darned cellphones died and her grandchildren were bored.

“Oh, Mom, there is nothing wrong with them being on their devices from time to time,” her daughter Hannah had lectured as she unpacked the groceries earlier that day. “They aren’t hurting anyone and some of their games are educational. Just because you didn’t have technology like this when you were younger doesn’t make it bad.”

Hannah closed the refrigerator door.

“Now, I got you that bread you like and some more of that ham you can slice up for your dinner. Robert will be over later with some dessert and to fix the buzz in the TV. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

Anything else she could do? Why? So she wouldn’t feel guilty for rarely visiting her own mother and always being too busy to stop and talk awhile?

“No, thank you.” Franny’s top lip had disappeared against the bottom as Hannah leaned down and kissed her cheek and walked toward the front door. 

“Call if you need anything,” she said casually as she closed the front door.

“Always nice to be talked at and not to,” Franny mumbled to herself as she rocked.

Franny knew she shouldn’t be so uptight and disgusted with everyone and everything but lately the frustration simply seemed to spill over. It was spilling over even more as she thought about her daughter’s condescending tone. She increased the speed of her rocking.

“Hello, there, Miss Franny.”

The voice of Joe Fields, the new pastor of the local Methodist church startled her. She didn’t like being startled and she jerked her head around and leveled a furious glare at the smiling, red faced balding man standing on her porch. 

“Well, good grief. I thought you Southerners were supposed to be polite. No one taught you not to scare an old lady?”

If the pastor was surprised by her snappy response he didn’t show it.

“I’m sorry Miss Franny. I have been told I have a quiet way about me and I guess that didn’t work out as a good thing this time.”

He laughed easily. Franny didn’t.

He stopped laughing and cleared his throat.

“Did my daughter send you here to talk me into coming back to church?” Franny snapped.

Pastor Fields found himself clearing his throat again. Suddenly he felt like he was 10-years old.

“Well, no, I mean, yes, but that wasn’t exactly what she said – I mean..”

The chair creaked loud as it rocked.

“Or did she send you here to tell me she’s sending me to a nursing home?”

“Oh. I-no-“ the pastor laughed nervously. “That wasn’t something she – I mean, she didn’t ask me about – or that is to say that I don’t know of any such plan –“

“Not sure I’d ever want to go to church with a preacher who can’t seem to figure out how to finish a  sentence ,” Franny said tersely.

Joe wasn’t sure if he should laugh or run  back to his car and drive away.

“Well, yes..anyhow, Miss Franny, I just stopped to tell you that anytime you want to come to church, I’d be glad to send someone to pick you up.”

He spoke quickly, before she struck him down with her tongue again.

“I’ll keep you updated,” she said dryly, looking  away from him to watch the neighbor’s pick up pass by the house. Henry Sickler waved and Franny lifted her hand in a quick movement and then laid it back on the rocker arm.

“Well, that would be –“

“But don’t hold your breath,” she quipped, still not looking at the young pastor.

Joe cleared his throat again and nodded.

“Well, okay then. Is there anything else I can do for you, Miss Franny?”

“Stop calling me Miss Franny for one. He may be dead but I’m still a Mrs. Thank you very much.”

“Of course. I’m so sorry. I meant no disrespect, ma’m. Down South we just use the term ‘Miss” as a sign of affection or respect.”

Franny felt a twinge of guilt. Maybe she really was being too hard on the young man. He was just trying to be nice, to do what he felt was his calling, or whatever. She decided to throw him a line and hoped he wouldn’t strangle himself with it.

“That’s fine. I’m sure you didn’t mean to be rude.”

She focused her eyes on a bird on the bush next to the porch instead of looking at him.

“If you ever need to talk – you know – about your loss . . .”

Franny snorted and rolled her eyes. Good God he’d just hung himself from the nearest tree.

“I don’t talk about loss,” she snapped. “There is no sense in talking about such things. If that’s all, it’s time for my afternoon nap. You probably have a nursing home or two in town to visit so don’t let me stop you.”

Joe stood slowly.

“Well, yes, uh, I should be going. You’re right.”

He tried to smile, to ignore the internal feeling that he wasn’t able to hit a home run on one of his first home visits as the new pastor.

“You have a good day, Miss- I mean Mrs. Tanner,” he said softly and at the risk of being yelled at again he added: “I meant what I said about being here if you ever need to talk.”

Franny nodded curtly without looking at him. She listened to him him step off the porch, walk down the sidewalk and to his car. When the sound of his car faded she tightened her jaw and fought the tears. She would not cry. She’d cried enough tears in the two years since Ned had died. She didn’t need to be reminded of all she had lost that day and she didn’t need to be reminded Ned wasn’t there anymore. Not by her family and certainly not by some upstart pastor from the South.

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