30 Stories in 30 Days #21 – “The Sophias”
Tom kissed his wife Barbara and watched her get on the escalator to the bookstore’s second floor. He turned to the right and walked into the café area. Several of the tables held students highlighting textbooks or typing furiously at their laptops, and a few more had silent couples drinking coffee and looking through magazines. There was also a bigger table that could easily hold six people, but for now only held two women and a man quietly talking. A simple paper sign on the table read “The Sophias.”
Tom walked over to them and said, “I’m guessing you’re the people I’m looking for.”
One of the women asked, “Are you a writer widower?”
“I … I guess you could say that.”
The woman smiled and waved him to sit down. “You must be Barbara’s husband.”
Sitting down, Tom replied, “Yes. I’m Tom.”
The first woman shook his hand and said, “I’m Margaret.”
The other woman introduced herself as Amanda and the man was Bill.
Tapping the sign Margaret explained, “My husband Joseph runs The Uncapped Pens and he told me we might have a new member showing up tonight.”
“Yeah, I guess it was five or six weeks ago Barbara told me she had found out about this writing group. So, I wished her well when she went to the meeting last month and she came back gushing about how great it seemed and how friendly everybody was and also that there was a support group for their spouses. She’s been – politely – nagging me to check you guys out since then.”
Amanda said, “Well I’m glad she likes the group and glad she nagged you to come to ours.”
Pointing at the sign, Tom said, “She said that you were called The Sophias, but she didn’t know why.”
“It wasn’t exactly my first choice,” Bill explained, “but I was outvoted.”
“But it fit so perfectly with the story,” Amanda stated.
“Let’s actually tell the story so Tom here knows what we’re talking about,” Margaret cut in. Turning to Tom she began, “At the beginning of December, the group gets together for a Christmas dinner at a nearby restaurant. It’s a time for the group and their spouses to wine and dine and have fun before the big crush of Christmas. So, I guess it was two dinners ago my husband told the group about something interesting he had just read. Back before computers and typewriters, all authors wrote with pen and paper. As they edited, they’d cross things out and add things in until the page was a mess. To get a clean copy, they had to rewrite the page, or have someone rewrite it for them.”
“Usually their wives,” Amanda pointed out.
“Usually their wives,” Margaret agreed. “The point Joseph thought was so interesting, was that he read that Tolstoy’s wife probably wrote seven clean copies of War and Peace so poor Leo could make his revisions. All the writers then joked around wondering if their spouses would do as much for their writing.”
“But then Anne,” Bill said, “who should be here tonight, pretty much shut them up by asking Joseph the name of Tolstoy’s wife.”
“And he didn’t know,” Margaret explained.
“That led to a bit of an awkward pause in the conversation,” Amanda explained.
Tom chuckled. “I’ll bet.”
“So when we got home,” Margaret continued, “I looked it up and it was Sophia Tolstoy who did some uncredited yeoman’s work for War and Peace. And I thought, If writers can have a group and get all the fame, why shouldn’t us spouses at least have a group? So that’s how we became The Sophias, in honor of Sophia Tolstoy.”
“Our spouses meet and talk about writing,” Bill began.
“And we meet to talk about them,” Amanda finished.
Tom smiled. “Sounds like fun.”
Margaret patted his arm. “Since it’s your first time with us, I’ll buy you a drink. What’s your poison?”
Tom glanced at the counter and said, “Um, just coffee, I guess.”
Patting his arm again she said, “Just wait here.” She turned to Amanda and Bill and asked, “Do you two want anything?”
Both answered with versions of, “No, I’m good.”
Just as Margaret stood, an older woman showed up to the table. “And who is this?” she asked.
Tom held his hand out and said, “Tom.”
The woman took it and replied, “Nice to meet you Tom, I’m Anne.”
“Anne, I was just going up to buy Tom a coffee. Would you care for anything?” Margaret asked.
Sitting down, Anne said, “Oh what a dear you are. Green tea, thank you.”
Margaret nodded and left.
“So Tom,” Anne asked, “is your wife a member of The Uncapped Pens?”
“Yes. This is Barbara’s second meeting tonight. At her first one last month they told her about this group and she gently nagged me to check it out.”
Anne smiled. “Good for her. What does she write?”
“Yes, my husband Stan,” Amanda said, “was happy after the last meeting because there was another poet in the group for him to talk to.”
Tom smiled. “I think part of the reason Barbara liked the group so much was because there was another poet in it. We just moved from Greenville and the group she was in there was all fiction writers who didn’t think much about poetry.”
“Why’d you move from Greenville, if you don’t mind us asking,” Bill asked.
“I don’t mind. It’s … we work at different companies but in the same business park out in Rosewood. She’s a … well she’s a secretary, but the company insists upon calling her an administrative assistant, and I work in IT. But now, instead of driving forty minutes to the east to work, we drive twenty minutes to the west.”
“Twenty minutes a day can make a huge difference,” Bill said.
Everyone agreed with that.
“So, what all do you do?” Tom asked.
Amanda and Bill looked to Anne to start.
“Oh, well, I was a school teacher for thirty-two years until I took an early retirement last year, although dealing with a room full of ten year olds was a piece of cake compared to dealing with my George on a daily basis.”
Everyone smiled at that.
Pointing at the ring and pinky finger on her left hand, Anne continued saying, “My George left two of his fingers in Vietnam and came back home to work in his father’s garage. But after our son, George Junior, joined the Marines and served in the First Gulf War, he became an eight fingered memoirist detailing what it’s like being a combat veteran as well as a parent of a combat veteran.”
“Wow,” Tom said.
“Aren’t you sweet,” Anne said patting Tom’s arm. “But after living with him for forty years, it’s …” and she just trailed off shaking her head, causing them all to chuckle.
Bill continued saying, “Well, I teach American History to sullen teenagers, so I’m pining away for the day when I can take early retirement.”
“You say that now,” Anne retorted.
“And I’ll be saying that for the next decade at least.”
“Retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
“Neither’s working.” Once everyone had stopped laughing, Bill added, “My wife Mary writes young adult fantasy. And even though our youngest is only seven, she’s determined to follow in her mother’s footsteps, so I have two writers to deal with.”
“Well, I have two writers to deal with as well,” Amanda countered. She then explained to Tom, “My father served in the Merchant Marines during Vietnam and in the last few years he’s decided he should write a memoir, and even though he and my stepmom live in California, I still have to hear about his writing problems.”
“Yeah, but you could always say the battery is dying in your cell phone,” Bill said. “I live in the same house as my two.”
“And do you really want to retire and spend more time with both?” Anne asked.
“Well, hopefully by the time I retire Megan will be in college, living on her own. In fact, I may make that a requirement that when I retire, all the kids have to move out.”
Before the conversation could continue, another man showed up to the table. “Hello hello hello,” he said.
“Jeffrey,” Amanda said. “This is Tom, his wife joined the group last month.”
Jeffrey stuck his hand out and said, “It’s nice to meet you.”
Jeffrey told the table, “I definitely need caffeine, so I’ll be back.”
Once he left, Anne told Tom, “We had to bend the rules to let Jeffrey join since he and his writer are only engaged.”
“Their wedding’s in three months,” Amanda added. “So the rule won’t stay bent for long.”
Over the next five minutes they talked about the wedding and other details as, first Margaret and then Jeffrey returned to the table. Once the six of them were settled, Margaret announced, “As I told Amanda and Bill, I got an email from June that she couldn’t make it tonight. Her daughter,” she turned to Tom and added, “the cutest little five month old you’ve ever seen, has a bad rash and she’s hoping to get her to the doctor tomorrow.”
Everyone expressed their concerns and then the parents of the group recalled health scares of their children. It was about ten minutes later when Jeffrey stated, nodding at Tom, “Well, if this group keeps growing, we’re going to have to find a bigger table.”
“Yes,” Margaret agreed. “I was telling Joseph we may have to move to a seating area upstairs.”
“What did he say to that?” Jeffrey asked.
“He joked he may have to make a rule that only single writers can join the group.”
Once they finished laughing, Margaret told Tom, “Basically, this is what we do; sit around and have a good laugh at the expense of our writers.”
Tom shrugged. “I’m sure Sophia Tolstoy had some things to say about her husband.” He then added, “I think I’ll fit in this group.”
Anne raised her tea cup and proclaimed, “For the Sophias.”
The rest lifted their drinks and repeated, “For the Sophias.”