Despair

Rosemary Mueller had grown up in a small rural community; in her case a midwestern farming community only a hundred miles or so west of the Appalachian coal fields. She was an excellent student and aspired to become a teacher, a vocation she pursued for half a dozen years before meeting and marrying the extraordinarily wealthy J.B. (Harry) Mueller. Now, here she was almost half a century later, a widow with an extraordinary fortune hanging around her neck like an albatross.

“I hate this city!” Rosemary said to her best friend, June, one morning. “I hate it for the way it treated Harry all those years. I hate the newspaper, and that wretched editor Jason Seltzer. I hate all those la-de-da Chamber of Commerce types who never once tried to get behind the myth and see the real man. Every story about Harry ever published by Seltzer and his predecessor — who was, by the way, even worse — painted Harry as cheap, mean and vile.”

“But Plum, isn’t it just a mark of how successful you all were at creating his public image as a miserable bastard? You certainly had me fooled all those years! And apparently everyone else as well. You can’t really blame the newspaper or local businessmen for believing what he asked them to believe.” Then after a moment, she added hesitantly, “He certainly had me convinced.”

June saw the momentary anger flash across Rosemary’s face and disappear, and then Rosemary continued. “Oh, Harry, how could you leave me like this? And why did you make such a ridiculous amount of money in the first place. I’d like to kill you!”

At this, Rosemary paused for an instant and she began to laugh as she added “If you weren’t already dead.” At this, June joined her and their laughter filled the room where they were sitting so completely that both Linda Sue and Madeline came to the doorway to see what the matter might be. Since neither had heard Rosemary laugh for many weeks, they chose not to interrupt and instead walked quietly away to the continuing sounds of laughter echoing down the previously quiet halls of the house.

Finally, the laughter subsided and Rosemary and June both began to cry, in Rosemary’s case, not the uncontrollable wailing or heavy sobbing of recent weeks, but softly and gently in gratitude for the anger which they both felt passing out of the room just then. Rosemary no longer felt the rage she had periodically felt toward Harry ever since the morning she learned he had died. And for the first time in many years — decades really — June felt as if she knew and understood a completely different Harry, someone worthy of her friend’s love, and the person Rosemary recognized. June just knew now she could have liked Harry if she had only just seen behind the mask.

Sometime later, they wiped away their tears as June said “You really loved him, didn’t you? And I know he really loved you.”

“Yes,” Rosemary replied. “And now I need to do something to make him proud.” She became very quiet and June excused herself and went to her room.

At lunch that day, Rosemary sat down without speaking to or even really acknowledging anyone else. Since Harry’s death, the whole household had become accustomed to gathering together for these noon rituals and trying — always unsuccessfully it seemed — to cheer Rosemary up. But they all sensed that today was different from the previous days all the way back to the morning Harry died. June, Madeline, Linda Sue talked quietly among themselves about the weather, local news and gossip and assorted other matters, all the while aware that Rosemary would join them when she was ready. Meanwhile, she ate her lunch quietly, staring straight ahead and not really seeming to notice any of them.

Suddenly, she said to herself simply, “Yes.” Looking at her niece she said, “Mary Sue. I want you to call Edward Graham and tell him I would like to meet with him and John tomorrow, or as soon as they can arrange it.” Looking toward Madeline, she said, “I’d like you to call Jason Seltzer and tell him I’m like to have an interview with him or his best reporter. Next Monday or Tuesday would probably be best. That will give me a few extra days to arrange things. Whet Seltzer’s appetite a bit, tease him with something like I’m going to give him the best story he’s had all year . . . Something like that. You know how to dangle some bright shiny object in front of his beady little jaded eyes!”

Finally, “June. I want you to start digging out some information for me from Harry’s private files. I know its all there — chapter and verse — but I just can’t face going through all those files by myself yet.”

“Now finish your lunch everyone.” Rosemary said resolutely, “there is work to be done.” Her three companions all finished eating in astonished silence at the change that had come over Rosemary so suddenly this morning and wondering what she was getting them into. When they all started to get up to leave a short time later, she said, “June? Would you please stay for a few moments, I have to give you a clearer idea of what you are looking for.”

After the others left, Rosemary said, “I’ve just made a bargain with God” and hesitated. “I know,” she said. “That sounds very pretentious, even blasphemous, perhaps, but that’s really how I feel right now. Anyway, I’ve resolved to not only tell the world about the kind, generous, modest person that Harry was; the man that only I knew for all those years. And I want to give them the evidence, chapter and verse. That’s what I want you to do. I know Harry had a private, secret really, set of files where he kept all the correspondence with Edward and others detailing his anonymous gifts over many years. It’s all upstairs in his private office. I need you now, starting this afternoon really, to start digging through those files and finding all that you can. I’m going to give that smug so-and-so Jason Seltzer the biggest story of his life! Can you help me with this?”

“Of course. I’ll get right at it.” Then, after a pause, “I’ll probably have a few questions for you as I go along.”

“Certainly. I’ll be here when you need me, except I’ll have to go out for awhile tomorrow or the next day to meet with Edward and John.”

“Well then,” June said as she rose to leave, “I’d better get on with it. Can I get you anything before I go?”