Reading to Mrs. Smith

Reading to Mrs. Smith

It was my first day and I didn’t want to be late. I was seventeen and volunteering to read to shut-ins in their homes. I felt every bump of the rough pavement up into my nerve-jangled stomach as I drove my mom’s car along Cedar Road, looking for number 460.

The house was a modern light blue two-story house with a well-kept lawn and flower bushes. Already, I was creating a mental image of Dorothy Smith as a wealthy woman with gardeners and housekeepers to help her out.

I parked in the driveway behind a Volvo and picked up my satchel. I did not know what Mrs. Smith would want to hear, so I brought a few of my own books along with yesterday’s newspaper, just in case.

The front doorbell chimed and after a few seconds, I heard footsteps on hardwood floors. A woman in jeans and T-shirt in her mid-forties opened the door. I would have thought she was the housekeeper except for her dangling gold earrings.

My first thought was that it was the wrong house. “Is this 460 Cedar Road?” I asked, despite the large 460 in brass numbers right next to the door.

“Yes, that’s right.”

“I’m here to see Mrs. Smith,” I said, in case this was a neighbor or a family member.

“That’s me.”

Okay… “I’m here to read to you,” I said, feeling slightly silly.

“Okay,” she said. “What is this with?”

“It’s with a program from the library,” I said. Don’t judge. She probably has memory issues despite being young, and that’s why she asked to be read to.

She nodded. “Please, come in.” She held the door open and I stepped in. I took off my sneakers and followed her into a high-ceilinged living room with cream-colored furniture. She had me sit and got me a glass of water.

“What would you like me to read?” I asked. “I can read something of yours or I have some things with me.”

Mrs. Smith had me show her the books I had brought and chose Bossypants, by Tina Fey. Then she sat back and closed her eyes as I started to read.

The room was silent except for the muted tick of a wall clock. At times, I thought that she had gone to sleep, but her eyes would flick open every so often and I saw her smile at the funny parts.

I wasn’t sure how long I was supposed to read, but I read for an hour until my voice got sore. She sat up and smiled at me.

“Thank you,” she said. “Is this a regular thing? Will you be back?”

“Yes, if you would like. I can come next week at the same time.”

“That would be great.” She showed me to the door and waved as I left.

As I pulled out of the driveway, I couldn’t think why I had been nervous. It was an easy way to help someone out and actually fun, too.

I was driving back into town when my phone rang.

“Where are you?” the reading volunteer coordinator Jen asked. “Mrs. Smith called wondering where you were.”

A feeling like phantom ice water went down my back. How bad was Mrs. Smith’s memory problems? “I just left there,” I said. “Mrs. Smith, 460 Cedar Road, right?”

I heard paper rustling. “Yes, that’s the one,” Jen said. “Mrs. Dorothy Smith, 460 Cedar Road West.”

“Cedar Road West?” The ice water feeling increased to a waterfall. I went through an intersection and just briefly saw the sign saying Cedar Road East as I passed.

I instantly confessed everything to Jen, who thought it was hilarious, especially since the two women had the same last name. “But why?” I asked. “Why didn’t she tell me she hadn’t asked for anyone to read to her?”

“Maybe she thought it was a service to the community,” Jen said. “Or maybe she just wanted someone to read to her.”

“I’ll go see the real Dorothy Smith right now.” I paused. “Can I go back to 460 Cedar Road East next week anyway?”

This story was based on last week’s Muse on Monday prompt: Write a story that depends on one key piece of information.

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