Madge and Walter. They lived in an apartment close to the office. I’d see them walking sometimes, Madge sprinting out in front at a furious pace. Walter following behind tangled up with Junior, their slobbering Basset Hound.
Walter was a heart attack in waiting. His skin was pallid and saggy. His gut hung over his pants. His appearance was slovenly. But, there was one thing that put a sparkle in his eye. He spent most of his time in front of the computer watching porn. Whenever he came into the office, he’d always say something like: “Women are good for only one thing and you know what that is,” with a knowing smile on his droopy face. It was an embarrassment but Madge took it all in stride. Frankly, I don’t think she gave a damn about anything Walter did or said but she tolerated him for some reason I couldn’t fathom.
Madge opened two accounts for their two granddaughters. She wanted them to have money to go to college, something she never accomplished. The strange thing was, Madge and Walter lived entirely on their Social Security checks. Money was tight. I had no idea how she managed to save as much as she did. Every couple of weeks she’d come in with a check to put into the granddaughters accounts. The check was always for several hundred dollars. When Walter accompanied her he’d sit quietly with a smug look on his face, his eyes narrowed, his eyebrows lowered, and his mouth firmly set.
“There isn’t any use in writing a check for peanuts,” she’d say as she sat in the chair across from me. And then she’d smile at Walter but he wouldn’t waver.
Over time the accounts grew in value. Walter was crankier and fatter and his eyes began to fail from spending so much time on the computer. He walked less and less and stopped walking altogether when Junior died of some gastrointestinal ailment. He stopped accompanying Madge to the office after that. She never spoke about him again, not even when he died. I read about it in the local paper. A heart attack just like I thought.
Without Walter’s check, Madge’s income was barely enough to get by on. She moved to a smaller apartment. I heard she raided garbage cans on her early morning walks. This made me sad. It worried me greatly but I wasn’t sure how to bring it up when she came by every two weeks with her check. So, I didn’t.
“You know, Madge, you’re certainly putting a lot of money away for those granddaughters of yours. You must love them a lot. Do you see them often?”
“Oh, they’re not my granddaughters, they’re Walter’s. They don’t even know I exist. I’m doing this for Walter. I promised him I would and a promise is a promise even if he’s dead.”
I was taken back by this. I didn’t know what to say. So, I didn’t say anything.
Time went by. Every two weeks I deposited her check without thinking much about it. I lost track of time until one day I realized I hadn’t seen Madge for a while, longer than usual.
I asked the owner of the apartment complex about her. He explained that Madge had moved to Seattle. When I checked on the accounts, sure enough the address of record had been changed. I was surprised to see that deposits were still being made.
I found Madge’s new phone number in the account records.
“Hello Madge. I see you’ve moved. Those accounts you set up for your granddaughters are growing and growing. I see you’re still making deposits. Do you have any questions? Is there anything I can do?”
“Walter’s granddaughters. No, I’m fine. Thanks for calling though.”
I didn’t follow up much after that. She seemed cold and distant and I was busy with other clients. A few years later I received a call from one of Walter’s granddaughters. She wanted to know how she could get the money out of her account.
“I think you should know that Madge scrimped and saved to get the money she put into your account. I hope you appreciate that. The money is for college.”
“You don’t know her? Your grandfather Walter was married to Madge before he died.”
“We don’t talk about Walter. He did something that really pissed off my parents. They won’t tell me what it was but it was something dark, very dark. I have no idea who this Madge is, and I don’t care to know. Just send the check please.”
And with that Walter’s granddaughter hung up the phone.
I knew Madge couldn’t have saved all that money from her Social Security check. In fact, her Social Security was probably less than the deposits she made. It always seemed strange to me but back then I decided to let sleeping dogs lie. Not now. I found out Madge had died in Seattle. She had been living with a friend there whom I contacted.
“Oh, that Madge! She was so determined to make sure Walter’s granddaughters went to college. She was an angel, let me tell you, a true angel. She worked night and day, day and night to get that money she put into those accounts.”
“Worked? At her age? I didn’t know she had a job.”
“Not a regular job. She would raid the garbage bins all over town for bottles and cans that she would sell to the recycling center. I have no idea how much money she made doing that but it was a tidy sum, that’s for sure. Yes siree, a tidy sum. Why, at her death she left over $10,000 to the battered women’s shelter here in Seattle.”
“Wow. Ten thousand dollars plus the two accounts for Walter’s granddaughters. That’s really amazing.”
“Oh, she had more than that. She left me the rest and made me promise to see those girls got their education before I spent a dime. Now what’s this about a granddaughter taking money out of her account?”
“I’m afraid the girl is of age and her name is on the account. There’s not much to be done about it.”
“Hmm. Well, if she won’t go to college, I can’t force her. I’ll hold onto Madge’s money for a while but not forever. You can lead a horse to water but …”
“I understand. I wonder why Madge saved all this money. Was it really just because of a promise.”
“You know, I wondered about that too until I was blue in the face. I don’t know the reason and probably never will. I never met Walter. Madge was very quiet. She never spoke about the marriage. I can’t say for sure but there were problems. I know that much because the police showed up once to speak with Madge. They sat at the kitchen table and spoke for a long time. I was in the other room and couldn’t hear well but I did hear Walter’s name come up more than once.”
“Did you hear anything that might throw some light on this?”
“Nope, just that his name came up, as I said.”
“Well, I guess that’s it then. If you don’t know any more about Walter I guess we will never know what motivated Madge.”
I was about to hang up when I heard a thump at the other end of the line.
“What was that? Are you okay?”
“Me? Oh sure. That was just Madge’s Basset Hound, Junior. I wish I could find someone to take him. He slobbers and leaves hair all over the house and he isn’t good for anything, not even my peace of mind. Whenever a damn stranger comes to the door Junior doesn’t even bark. He slobbers all over their shoes like a blubbering idiot. You want a Basset Hound? He’s yours.”
“I thought Junior died when they lived here in Mendocino.”
“Oh, she got a puppy after she moved up here. Said it reminded her of Walter.”
I heard a laugh.
“She’d take Junior on walks all around the Pike Place Market. It was very funny. She got the dog fixed at the first opportunity and kept it on a diet. Didn’t do any good though. Once a Basset Hound always a Basset Hound. They’re fat little slobbering pigs if you ask me.”
“Thanks, but I’ll pass on the dog. I appreciate your time. Best of luck.”
I sat a long time thinking after speaking with Walter’s granddaughter and Madge’s friend. And then I had a beer. And then I went to sleep.