I sat on the antique loveseat in Ava, my accountant's office. I noticed the changes in the room which had occurred over the years. The couch was as hard and uncomfortable as ever and was becoming threadbare at the edges. The antique child’s car and fire truck were gone, probably to Ava’s two-year-old grandson’s home, of which he was Lord and Master.
She called me into her office and greeted me. Momentarily, I wondered, should I hug her? Her posture told me ‘no.’ I touched her shoulder in passing, a “half-hug” known between women as a sign of more-than-an-aquaintance-less-than-a-friend hug.
“Wow, look at you. You’ve let your hair grow long.” Ava pulled on a long lock and laughed ruefully at herself. “Well, you know. As the hair thins I hang onto what little I have left.” So true, I think to myself.
We smiled warmly at one another as we settled across from each other at her big oak accountant’s desk. “You’ll be proud of me, Ava. I pulled out all of the staples.” I said, admitting to my well-known addiction of “over-stapling.”
She ruffled through my voluminous paperwork, then grinned mischievously. “Missed a few.” She handed my numerical memoir of 2022 back to me, along with the staple remover. “Look here, two on one page.” Clearly a snarky comment, shared between two very good acquaintances.
We settled into our life discussion. As always, we began with our mutual friend, Fran, who had recommended Ava to me in 1998. Fran became my dearest friend until her death in 2011. “So, I guess Fran’s renter, John, has died. Tim and I drove by and saw that her house had been sold to an LLC. Fran wrote in her will that her house couldn’t be sold until John died.”
“Haven’t heard from John to do his taxes again this year, so I guess he’s passed.”
“They took down Fran’s beloved ancient magnolia. That would’ve broken her heart. But it looks like they won’t do a tear-down. They’re renovating. Tim and I peeked through the windows. They kept all of Fran’s Terrazzo floors, her beautiful kitchen cabinets including the corner glass cabinet, and the French doors…”
Ava looked up from her review of my life. “It was a beautiful home. She loved it.”
“Yes. She did.” My mind wandered back to Fran’s garden behind her kitchen window. On January 1, 2023, Tim and I had visited Fran’s home when no workers were about. I wanted to pay tribute to her life, her home and moving on. I stole a brick from her garden, so heavy, red, with an old spiral pattern. Fran and I had picked out the bricks together from an old builder’s remnants shop in Ybor. She was very proud of her blooming bromeliads and ginger plants surrounded by antique bricks. One brick now adorns my front porch, welcoming friends and family.
We shared a comfortable silence as Ava began excavating 2022. Tim’s job, my book sales, my book marketing travel expenses of Writing in Wet Cement and promotions for my upcoming book, Raising the Dead. All my very detailed index of deductibles were to be examined and remarked on. No Cathy-era comic strip of a shoebox full of receipts from this lady!
Talk returned to Fran, our pasts, children and grandchildren, siblings, marriages, divorces, family problems and family solutions, excavating the years. In the past we had discussed Ava’s twin son’s exploits. Now she shared photos of her grandson and his reaction to a new baby on the way. When asked by Ava’s son who he wants, a boy or a girl, “No.” he replies, I understood, exactly. I’ve learned through all of the emotional challenges in the lives of my own grandchildren as siblings arrived. Ava continued. “And my mother is in an ALF, but still needs a lot of contact and help. I’ve got five siblings in the area. You’d think they could all help out? No. Only me and my two brothers help out with Mom. At 92, my mother deserves all of our help, not just me, and my two brothers. All six of us live nearby.” She shook her head and frowned in sorrow and disgust.
I was reminded of my own mother, who died at the age of 83. Did I do enough? I had absolutely no help from my sister. I did what I could. I was always torn between the fragile lace of love: mine, hers and Tim’s.
Ava rattled on, expertly writing down figures, placing papers in three meticulous piles, magically sorting out our lives into mine, ours and the IRS’s. She finally tidied up the three piles, scanned her computer screen and said, “I found another business loss you can use. You’ve done well this year.” Well at losing, I thought.
I stood as she handed me all our forms, records, envelopes and my notes into neatly packed large manilla envelopes.
“Thank you, Ava. You’re the greatest. Imagine, Fran sending me to you all those years ago. Look what’s happened in our lives since then.”
We chuckled knowingly as we turned from one another, she to her office, me to my life outside the office door. At the door, I turned as did Ava, unexpectedly. We shared a special little smile, turned and went our separate ways.
As the door lock clicked shut behind me I smiled at the recognition between two longtime good-acquaintances-not-quite-friends history.
After all, who knows you better than your accountant?