Mary Beth Writes


Harriet Amaryllis met John Blake in her twenties when she volunteered for a medical study; she did those kinds of things back then to make extra money. John, who was the intake guy at the clinic, looked at her name, looked up at her and said her name was the most beautiful name he had ever heard in his life.

She was so nonplussed that she stammered that her brothers called her Hairy.

John said, “Would you like me to clobber them out for you? I did a year in Vietnam. I have skills.”

They dated. John was two years younger and an inch shorter but the way he paid attention to her pulled her in. He listened to her old stories of growing up on a failing farm and to her daily tales of how the kids in her class acted. He told her his stories. No one on earth made Harriet feel more heard and seen and loved. He ruined her for tall, dark, and listless.

Harriet and John married and life rolled on. Kids, houses, not enough vacations to spectacular places but some. Careers. Worries. Some fights. A lot of talking.

John was the only person who called her Harriet Amaryllis and even he didn’t have enough time to say it every time he wanted her attention. But he used it enough. She told him that when he said her whole name she became, for a little bit, an amaryllis in a winter window growing toward light. As they got older and life became slower, he used it more.

It was a Wednesday afternoon in winter. The world was too icy to do anything outside so Harriet drove them to Menard’s. They didn’t need anything but the place was so huge they could easily walk around for an hour. They would split at the entrance and then each wander off to check out the departments that interested them the most. Mostly they just walked and eventually came across each other at some point.

Lately John had been grabbing a shopping cart; he said he liked the stability of it plus he liked being able to grab things like walnuts or light bulbs or a new drill bit.

She noticed that lately there were more slight changes like the shopping cart. He asked her to drive more often. He didn’t want to go into the city to dinner. He was going to bed earlier and he no longer liked to watch crazy old videos about dam infrastructure or kayaking in Russia or whatever else.

He didn’t talk about these changes and curiously, after a life together talking about everything, she didn’t ask. Of all the bumps and problems that they had talked through, suddenly they were not mentioning that he was slowing down. She wasn’t even sure if he realized it.

Sometimes she would wake in the night, hear him breathing, turn toward him and her heart would clutch so hard she could feel it. Getting older, getting closer to losing each other, was quietly terrifying. She would slide her hand over his arm just to feel how warm it was.

She would remember things then. On their honeymoon when he picked her up and swirled her around to kiss her. When he’d carry the kids on his shoulders and she’d yell at him to not walk into the branches of the neighbors’ trees. That time their 80-pound dog got too sick to walk and he carried her into the car and then into the vet and then they had both stayed with her as the vet eased her down. And then John had held Harriet Amaryllis until she stopped shuddering with grief and they could walk out the back door.

He didn’t wake anymore if she touched him deep in the night. He’d keep sleeping, so she would keep holding his warm arm, feeling the slow pulse of his blood moving under his skin.


She walked through the Menard aisles of DIY furniture. She walked under the dazzling fixtures in the lighting department. She walked in and around the doors and windows department because there was so seldom anyone there.

She’d been walking an hour but had not found John. Where was he? She looked down the aisles of tools but he wasn’t there. He wasn’t in the back where they stacked the lumber. Anxiousness began to swirl inside her. Where was he? Had he left the building? Was he lost in the parking lot? Was this the dementia they were both afraid to say aloud? What was happening? Where was John?

Then, like a rip through her brain, she heard the siren of an ambulance as it pulled to a stop in front of the store. She ran to the railing around the second floor; she saw the EMT’s pushing through a clot of people near the service desk.

She saw John’s red and black hat on the floor.

She turned towards the escalators and ran and she heard over the loudspeaker, “Will Harriet Amaryllis Blake please come to the service desk. Harriet Amaryllis Blake, please come to the service desk.”

She ran straight to the front of the store., to the service desk.

And of course, there he was. Standing there. Looking for her face, looking straight into her eyes.

“John…” she ran into his arms.

“I knew you would think it was me. I’m so sorry. It just happened so fast. I was standing by the electrical supplies, I want to fix that switch in the kitchen, and then this young woman next to me just said, “Hey, Sir… and collapsed. Right there, next to me, to the floor. Like that guy at the plant the year before I retired. I knew it was a drug overdose so I called 911 first and then I got another customer to get a clerk to call the service desk. This all just happened so fast. There wasn’t time to call you. I’m so sorry. “

He held her close, patting her back with his hand.

He saw his hat on the floor and chuckled. “Well, seeing that couldn’t have helped the situation.”

They walked over to it and he bent to picked it up and stuff it in his pocket. They left the store and walked to the car. He got in the driver’s seat and then sat there a moment, looking straight out the windshield.

He took in a deep breath. “I’ll call the doctor when I get home. I don’t know what’s going on, either. We will figure this out.”

He turned to her and began to grin. “But Harriet Amaryllis, we’ve got today.”



I know the feeling… Dating a man nearly ten years your senior when you’re already knocking on 70’s door keeps one wondering, as do health issues, and distance… He says “I want to celebrate you in any way that I can while I can… I’m too old to change my ways and you probably are to, but for now at least I believe that I want to spend my time together with you, however we can manage to do it…” We have no clue whether or not this will go anywhere or not, so we take every day we have as a gift…
Mary Beth's picture

"Every day as a gift."

Thank you! This story filled my heart. "Every day as a gift," and being able to age together, is another one. Patricia
Mary Beth's picture

Thank you for responding. It means a lot to me.

You touched all the right places with your story, Mary Beth. Beautiful. I remember MANY years ago in the Chicago days. I was over at your house with the boys. Your phone rang, you hung up and turned to me with a stricken face and told me that someone's child had died suddenly - gone in an instant. You said those exact words to me, "Every Day is a Gift". You never know when life will change forever.
Mary Beth's picture

Wow. I don't remember that. I do remember when my mom was in the hospital and I needed to be able to drive the five hours to her town to see her ASAP - and you watched my littlest one and let the older two be dropped off at your house after school. I saw my mom in Michigan hours later, because you said sure and just stepped in. My mom only lived another month after that.

oh my, this hit me so many ways........i love it

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Thunder and Courage

After I write a story, I like to let it sit and steep. This story has been in the 'story cellar' for two years. I woke up this morning thinking about it, so I think it's time to put it here.

I'm surprised by how much courage  some people have when they think they don't have much at all.  This is my take on that thought.

PS: if you like this story, forward it to others you know who might like it. Thanks. 


Thunder and Courage

The Pilgrimage of Wally, Diego, and Miles

I wrote this story nearly 20 years ago. Our second kid was getting ready to go to college, our youngest was in middle school. I needed to find a job - and trying to find a satisfying one when you still don’t know, at the tender age of 50-whatever, what it is you want to do … that is a tricky time for many women. For many adults.

Where Love Died...

(This is a fictional short story I wrote in 2001.  The photo is from Kathryn Rouse. Thanks.) 

           We'd been driving for hours. The unending trees of upper Michigan were a dark corridor around us, the sky above was unpolished silver. I was weary and my neck ached.


            I glanced at my son, just waking from a monotony-induced nap.


            "Where are we?" He lifted his shoulders, easing the kinks from the awkward way he'd slept. "Are we close yet?"

Lucy's Light

 The kitchen was, as children's picture books and women's magazines love to (cloyingly and deceptively) describe, "abustle with holiday cheer." Mrs. Willard had just pulled the Thanksgiving turkey from the oven to where it now rested in Norman Rockwellian splendor on the counter. Her daughter Caroline was flinging butter pats into hot, defeated potatoes being pummeled by the Kitchen-Aid.

Mrs. Willard's oldest daughter, Lucy, was tucking brown ‘n serve rolls into the turkey-themed-napkin that lined a turkey-shaped basket.

Field of Dogs

This was written in that bend of the year between Thanksgiving and full winter, when so often there is a feeling of anxiety. We are marooned again in too-short days. We are prone to becoming stranded in long nights among our old and unsettling memories.

This story started on a November evening. And although this is fiction, in my opinion it wouldn't have to be.

A Small Owl

My first Joyce Andrews story is Outside on a Very Cold Night.

This is my second Joyce Andrews story. Joyce is around seventy years old and lives by herself in an old farmhouse that is twenty minutes from the expressway between Milwaukee and Madison. She divorced her first husband decades ago; then raised good kids who have their own lives now. In her 40’s she married John, a wonderful man who died several years later.

She’s smart and brave and has lived a complicated life.

She isn’t done yet.

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