Pirelli Annual Report 2022
Mrs. Wendall had lived in the same house for 64 years. It was in one of the older suburbs of Baltimore, and the house had been new when she and her husband had moved into it in 1955 with their first child. Over the next decade they had three more children, and though small, the house fit them, and they did not change it very much at all over the years, making only a few modest adjustments – a screened porch had become a family room, and the attic over the garage had been transformed into a fourth bedroom. Alex, her husband, had been a surgeon at John Hopkins, and as he become more successful, he had wanted to buy a new, bigger house, in a more affluent town, but Mrs. Wendall did not want to leave her house, so they had stayed there. Now Alex had been dead for ten years and two of her children were dead, too – her oldest son, Robert, had died of AIDS in 1987 and her daughter, Alice, had been shot by a crazy person in the lobby of a hotel in Hawaii in 2006.
Mrs. Wendall was 94 years old and knew that she would not live much longer – a few years, maybe, at most. All she wanted was live in her house until she died.
Every Wednesday evening Callum, the husband of her granddaughter Lilly, came to the house and had dinner with Mrs. Wendall. He brought her groceries and took care of all the things her children worried she was no longer able to take care of herself. When it first began, Lilly had come too, and Mrs. Wendall had cooked a nice dinner, but Lilly rarely came anymore, because she had colicky twin babies and a new job and a painful and disabling disease called fibromyalgia. Things were so difficult for young people these day, Mrs. Wendall thought. They never seemed to have any time, or money. It had been easier to have and enjoy a family when she was young. Another change that had occurred since these weekly dinners had begun: Mrs. Wendall’s arthritis and rheumatism had gotten much worse, and made it difficult for her stand for very long at the stove, so Callum now brought a take-out dinner with him. This saddened Mrs. Wendall, who had always prided herself on being a good cook and hostess.
When they had finished their dinner (pizza) Callum reviewed Mrs. Wendall’s finances. She paid all her bills with checks, which she wrote herself, and kept a very neat tally of her account in a leather portfolio that her son Robert had given her for Christmas in 1978. It had a slot for her checkbook, a pocket perfectly sized to contain a booklet of stamps, and, in its folded spine, a leather looped strap that cradled the Parker Debutante Shadowave fountain pen that Mrs. Wendall used to write all her checks. She had won this beautiful object in a Spelling Bee when she was twelve years old in 1937. She had also used this pen to write letters, back in the days when she wrote letters, but all her correspondents were now dead.
Callum looked through all her recent bills and statements and used the calculator in his phone (Mrs. Wendall didn’t understand how or why calculators – and cameras – had gotten themselves into telephones) to verify that the totals in her checkbook were correct. They always were, for her calculations, which she did with pencil and paper, were never wrong. She knew that her mathematical proficiency disappointed Callum, and sometimes she considered making an error only to please him, but she was too proud to be that magnanimous.
After Callum had grudgingly admitted that her personal finances appeared to be in perfect order, he said. “You, know, no one does it this way anymore. Everyone banks electronically. It would be much easier if you let me move all this financial stuff online.”
“What do you mean, move it online?” Mrs. Wendall asked.
Caleb explained that he could arrange to have all her bills paid by direct debit, and all her checks deposited directly into her account. “I’d be happy to set it all up for you,” he said, “and then you could forget all about this. I’d just need to fill out some forms and give them your account number.”
“Who? To whom would you give my account number to?”
“Everyone you send checks to. And we can have your social security and your pension checks directly deposited into your account. You’ll never have to write another check. Or go to the bank to make a deposit.”
“Oh, but I enjoy that,” said Mrs. Wendall. “I enjoy walking to the bank and talking to the tellers. They’re practically the only people I see anymore. I’ve known some of them for years.”
“Well, they’re closing all local branches of your bank, so you wouldn’t be able to do that much longer even if you wanted to. Although I suppose you could still walk to an ATM to deposit checks if you really want.”
“I would never give a check to a machine,” said Mrs. Wendall. “I don’t trust them.”
“Well, they’ve discovered that ATMs have much lower error rates than human tellers. That’s why they’re closing all the local branches. So let me set up online checking and deposits for you. It will be safer and will save you a lot of time and worry. You and me both.”
Mrs. Wendall looked at her leather check-writing portfolio, which lay upon the dining room table beside the box of pizza. It had once been blue, because of all her children knew that blue was her favorite color, but time had darkened it and now it was almost black. She wanted to tell Callum that she had plenty of time and that writing checks had caused her worry, but she didn’t want to be difficult, so all she said was, “I will miss writing my checks.”
When Callum was gone Mrs. Wendall sat for a while, alone, on the sofa. She remembered how this room had originally been no more than a screened porch, how she and Alex had renovated and winterized it, and turned it into a family room. She remembered how for so many years it had been happily cluttered with the children’s games and toys, an aquarium with tropical fish, a guinea pig in a cage, and every December a Christmas tree, decorated with lights and tinsel and antique glass ornaments, towering over the gaily wrapped presents piled around its base. But all those things were gone now – taken by her children, or donated to church bazaars, or thrown away.
In addition to Callum’s visit, there was another ritual that marked, and concluded, Mrs. Wendall’s Wednesday evenings. Before she got into bed, she wound her 8-day antique banjo clock. The clock had originally belonged to her great-grandmother, and then had lived for many years in her parents’ house. They had given it to her when she and Alex had moved into this house, and it had now hung in the front hallway for 64 years. The clock still told perfect time and chimed every hour.
Mrs. Wendall loved to open the glass clockface and insert the iron key into the hole beside the numeral II, a tiny, misplaced mouth, and turn it, as her mother had once taught her, slowly and gently, causing the weights that hung inside its cabinet to ascend upon their filigreed chains. She gently turned the key until the weights could be raised no higher, and then the turning stopped. Mrs. Wendall extracted the key and closed the glass dome, leaving the golden-bronze weights suspended high inside the clock’s dark interior, like a pair of lungs, poised for another ticking descent, one more slow unraveling of time.