Monthly Archives: September 2015

Cancer Chronicles Twenty-One

Usually my wife and I miss out on these once-in-a-lifetime astronomical events, like the Blood Red Moon on Sunday night.
We live in Florida and, as in Camelot, it seems to mostly rain at night. If there is a spectacular comet dashing across the sky we miss it because of the cloud cover. Sometimes it’s just too late at night and we don’t want to stay up. This was even true when we were younger living in Texas. And if we did see some configuration of stars and planets lining up in some oddball fashion, they would look like some fuzzy dots to us anyway.
This time, my wife seemed more interested in the lunar eclipse than usual. This particular eclipse would not occur again until the 2030s, and we had a mutual unspoken acknowledgement that we probably wouldn’t be around at that time.
Early in the evening, our hopes were dampened a bit by a noisy thunderstorm. As the little dogs cuddled close to my son, I conceded we were out of luck again.
“Well,” she replied, “let’s see what it looks like in an hour.”
The rain had, indeed, stopped in an hour and I walked out on the driveway to see if the clouds had parted. I didn’t even bother to put my shoes on. My socks were pretty thick. My feet didn’t get that wet. No luck. I tried again thirty minutes later. Still no luck. It was getting past time for the spectacular show in the sky, but I decided to go out one more time.
When I looked up the clouds parted and there the Blood Red Moon was. Well, one side was almost white and the rest of it looked a little washed out, but it was still tinged with red. I went to the door and yelled for my wife to hurry up if she wanted to see it.
Now this is the good part. I watched my wife, dressed in her long, baggy T-shirt, walk faster than she had moved in six months to make it out of the house to see the eclipse. By the time she joined me on the driveway the clouds had come together. She leaned into me and put her arms around my shoulders to hold herself up. That burst of energy had just about worn her out.
Then the clouds parted once more, and she saw the moon. I put my arms around her waist to give her more support, and we both watched the eclipse that won’t happen again for twenty years. We felt so close. We shared an event in the dark. Our feet were wet, but we didn’t care.
Take that, cancer. You didn’t keep us from making another wonderful memory. You lose again.

Ghost Goat

Everyone must forgive me for being late posting my Monday story, but I had an experience at the farm cornfield maze where I’m telling stories on the weekend that left me emotionally devastated.
In between telling ghost stories about cute little witch girls and dead children trick-or-treating in Depression-era Texas, I wandered around Sweetfields Farm in Mazaryktown, Florida, saying hi to all my animal friends.
Tom Tom the Turkey had his feathers puffed out as usual, gobbling as loud as he could. He knows as long as he puts on a good show, he won’t be the main course at Thanksgiving dinner. Then I said hi to Rosie Moo Moo and asked her when her calf was to be delivered. Imagine how embarrassed I was to find out Rosie wasn’t pregnant at all, but had just put on a few pounds. The pigs were as frisky as ever and ran a good race to gobble up their Cheerios and Lucky Charms. Pamplona, Spain, has the running of the bulls and Mazaryktown, Florida, has the running of the pigs.
I wrapped up my tour by stopping by the goat pen. I hadn’t been standing long there watching the kids play when I felt a definite bump against the back of my knees. I ignored it. Some child accidentally bumped into me as they ran thither and yon. Then it happened again. This time it was hard enough to almost buckle my knees and knock me down.
Looking around, I wondered who the culprit was. I was getting too old for this kind of abuse. No one was there. The third time I felt the bump I fell into the fence. Still, when I looked around, no one was there. I was beginning to get irritated.
Then I heard a little kid bleating. He was mostly white with brown spots. Another kid, about the same size but all white, joined in, making it a bleating chorus. When the third one arrived, they were making quite a racket.
As I observed at them more closely, I realized they weren’t looking at me. Their little goat eyes focused right behind me, where all the butting was coming from. Right at that time, the hardest bumping occurred, and I was getting hot under the collar. Of course I was hot. It was the last weekend in September in Central Florida and not a cloud in the sky. What else would it be but hot? But I was actually becoming annoyed by the goat occurrence.
“What’s going on here?” I mumbled.
Now this is where it got spooky. I could swear the little kids were saying, “Granny Nanny Goat. Granny Nanny Goat.”
But there was no goat behind me, unless (gasp) it were a ghost.
“Am I being butted by the granny nanny goat of these kids? Bump again for yes.”
Sure enough, I felt another bump.
“Granny nanny, granny nanny,” the kids chanted.
“Are you a ghost goat?”
I got bumped again, but this time not as hard.
“Are these your grandkids?”
Another butt to the back of my knees. I was dealing with a granny nanny goat ghost.
“Am I standing in the way of your visit with your grandkids?”
Yet another butt.
“Well, excuse me for living,” I grumbled and turned back to my storytelling tent. I could swear those kids were laughing at me.

Bessie’s Boys Chapter Two

Meanwhile, walking across the cobblestones of Hampton Court quadrangle, Rodney Broadshoulders, a young man of intense strength and depth of chest, read a letter, his brow knitted and his lips visibly moving as he deciphered each word.
“My dear son.” Rodney paused to ruminate. “Hmm, he must mean me. I fear I am on my deathbed. “ He spun around, looking with distraught eyes to the heavens. “On his deathbed!?” He stopped as he remembered. “Oh. That’s right. Father died.” He returned his concentration to the letter. “I must tell you something dreadful which must be conveyed to the queen. A spy is in the court. A spy!?” His large dull brown eyes widened. “This traitor is working with the Spanish. The Spanish!?” His large, rough, muscular hands tighten around the letter. “To prepare for an invasion. An invasion!?”
Rodney could not contain himself any longer. He tore the letter apart as he threw back his head, bellowing like an enraged bull. “Treachery!!”
The bottom part—the part he had not read yet—slipped from his hand and blew across the courtyard.
“Uh oh.” That took the wind out of his indignation.
He tiptoed over to the torn paper, as though to catch it unawares, but another gust of wind lifted it up.
“I must learn the traitor’s name!” he muttered as he stumbled along, watching the paper’s path.
It finally alit on the base of a statue to King Henry VIII, who, by the way, many years ago retained Rodney’s equally large and dense father as his personal guard. Before Rodney could reach the statue, however, a pigeon landed on the paper.
“Shoo! In the name of the queen!” Rodney spoke in a humble tone, realizing pigeons are mere small creatures and easily scared.
This particular pigeon, it seemed, held no such timid attitudes and therefore looked Rodney straight in the eye and dropped a large wad of poo right on the last sentence of the letter. This was very disconcerting because that was the very sentence which revealed the name of the traitor.
“How disrespectful!”
After the pigeon flew away, Rodney, with a dreadful grimace on his tanned handsome face, reached for the paper. Right when he thought he had it in his clutches, the letter was caught up in another huge breeze which carried it so high it was over the wall and halfway to the Thames.
Rodney watched it disappear. With a great deal of consternation he sighed, “The queen will be so displeased.”

Cancer Chronicles Twenty

We are still waiting for the doctor’s call about when my wife’s radiation treatment begins. It was a couple of weeks ago that she went in to have measurements taken and be blotted with magic markers.
As it was explained to her, the radiology team had to create a specific written plan on how they were going to X-ray her body over and over again. After they wrote their report, they would pass it on to a review board at the clinic which had to approve it before they could begin.
This might take a while, they said, because it was hard to get all those doctors into the same room at the same time to agree on a radiation procedure.
We’re glad they want to take their time and not make any mistakes, but my wife is getting a little antsy about the wait. She wants to get this whole ordeal over with. It is six weeks of five days a week with each day centered around getting dressed, going to the therapy center, getting undressed, enduring a hopefully brief swipe of radiation, getting dressed, driving home, getting undressed. And she may or may not feeling like eating dinner. She has been told that while radiation is not as tedious, time-consuming and painful as chemotherapy, it does drain a patient of energy.
This comes at a time when she’s finally getting some energy back and feels like helping cook a meal, go shopping and engage in other activities which she describes as “boogying.” The idea of being drained of all energy again after a taste of the thrill of living returned is really depressing.
It’s only six more weeks, we keep telling ourselves, but when will those six weeks finally begin?

Bunny Ears

Tom felt so tired, sitting alone in his house. The television was on, but he did not even know what he was watching.
He sat with a stack of old photo albums and was spending the evening looking at the pictures, going back to when he was a little boy. As he flipped through the pages, Tom cringed in embarrassment. Every photograph he was in with another person, Tom had held two fingers up behind the person’s head, making bunny ears.
It made no difference who it was—his sister and brothers, parents, grandparents, friends and classmates. Just as the camera snapped, the bunny ears appeared. This was kind of cute when he was small, but his habit became annoying in high school. In the football team group picture, he stood next to the coach and gave him the bunny ears. At graduation, he managed to get his fingers behind the head of the class valedictorian as she gave her speech.
This became a serious issue on his wedding day. His mother-in-law did not appreciate it one bit when he held up the bunny fingers behind his bride, behind the minister, even his wife’s grandmother who had flown in from Alaska for the occasion. After a while, his mother-in-law absolutely refused to have her picture taken with Tom, no matter what the momentous occasion was. When she died, her husband and sons made a point to keep Tom out of every photograph taken at the funeral.
When his children were born, he held up bunny ears with his right hand over the baby’s head and with his left over his wife’s head as she joyfully held them for the first time in the delivery room. When his children stood on the front steps of the school on the first day of kindergarten, proudly smiling and wearing their backpacks, Daddy Tom was there with his fingers behind their heads.
At one point, his wife’s family began to compliment him on how well the pictures he took turned out. In fact, they said, no one could do justice to photographs taken at family reunions as he did. They thought he should take all the pictures because he did such a good job. Humbly Tom declined the honor because he said he never felt comfortable with cameras. The responsibility of being the official family photographer was just too great.
So he continued with his bunny ears at every graduation, wedding, funeral, anniversary and vacation stop. Who could concentrate on the beauty of Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore while Tom grinned and put up his two fingers behind every family member, no matter how old or how young.
The only time he did not bring out the bunny ears was at his wife’s funeral, but only because he was in no mood to be in any pictures at all. In fact, he hadn’t bothered to be in any photos at all since his wife died.
That was why he was sitting alone at home looking at all the pictures, wishing that he had not been so consistently infantile about reducing the commemoration of every one of life’s milestones into a sight gag. Tom pulled one particular picture of his wife from an album and held it up for closer inspection. Even after putting up with his foolishness for almost half a century, she still had the prettiest smile he had ever seen on a woman’s face. And he ruined it every time.
Tom’s face twitched with pain from his chest and dropped the photography, and he never was ashamed of his silliness ever again.
The funeral home was crowded the day of Tom’s funeral. Even his wife’s family was there, all lined up to give his grown children a hug and kiss. Eventually, the brother and sister excused themselves for a moment, and they went to the casket, which they insisted be left open for the service. Dad still looked very handsome, they tried to explain to the funeral home director.
“Quick,” his daughter whispered to her brother, “before anyone notices.”
The son pulled out his camera while his sister leaned over the casket held up her hand behind Tom head and made bunny ears. She looked at her brother and smiled, tears in her eyes.
“Take it.” She looked at her father. “This is for you, Daddy. We love you so much.”

Bessie’s Boys Introduction

Two of my favorite movies from the 1930s are Fire Over England and Seahawk. Both are about dashing young heroes who find out stuff about the impending Armada invasion and rush back to Queen Elizabeth’s court to warn everybody. I often wondered if they bumped into each other along the way. I describe my version of the two stories squashed together as a hysterical historical. By the way, the Bessie in the title refers to Queen Elizabeth. I don’t think anyone ever called her that to her face, at least not more than once.

Bessie’s Boys Chapter One

Here it was one o’clock in the afternoon, and Queen Elizabeth was still in the sack at Hampton Court. What in heaven’s name was wrong with her? Yes, we know she was getting on in years, but surely she was not that debilitated. Echoing through the great halls were trills from long trumpets blown by snappily dressed pages. Next was the crack of a bejeweled walking stick, still nothing stirred beneath the royal bedcovers.
“Hear ye! Hear ye! Make ready for Elizabeth of England, the virgin queen!” Sir Hillary Steppingstone bellowed forth in his most courtly voice.
Finally, Elizabeth popped her head out from under the sheets and satin coverlets, her graying hair all askew and her makeup shot to hell.
“Oh damn!” the old broad growled as she slid from the bed, grabbed her royal regalia and began wrestling into it.
Another gray head appeared from beneath the queenly sheets.
“Time for court? How time flies when you’re having fun,” quipped the Earl of Leicester, affectionately known as Robin by his platonic sweetheart, Elizabeth, the virgin Queen.
(Author’s Note: Oh hell, they were doing it. Everyone knew they were doing it. The only thing that kept them from making it legal was that Elizabeth didn’t want Robin to think he would be king if they married.)
“Shut up and help me dress!”
This was not an attractive sight—two slightly overweight naked bodies fumbling around with several layers of brocaded garments. Of course, they had to concentrate on Elizabeth getting her act together first. She was queen and terribly temperamental, though no one dared mention to her face that she was indeed a drama queen.
“My wig! I’m not leaving the room without my wig! Everyone still thinks I’m a redhead!”
“Hah!” Robin guffawed.
Elizabeth would have slapped him for his insolence, but they were running behind schedule. She examined herself in the long mirror and tried to smooth out the wrinkles in her gown. Robin tried to place her crown on her head. She snatched it away.
“Leave the crown to me! For God’s sake put your pants on!” She cocked her head when she heard another trumpet blast. “Forget the shirt! Put on the doublet, and let’s go!”
Elizabeth led the way, bursting through the bed chamber doors and down the long hall to the reception hall. Two ladies-in-waiting were knocked on their bums by the doors but quickly recovered to scamper after the Queen and her Robin, who was still trying to button his pants. She was having problems with her headgear.
“Hell, I can’t get this crown straight!”
“Slow down, Bessie!” Robin pleaded.
The royal assemblage scooted down the hall so quickly none of them noticed that in an alcove two middle-aged gentleman, Sir Wilfred Boniface and Alfonso de Vacacabaza, were in a confidential conference.
“Shh!” Boniface held up a finger to Vacacabeza who was in the middle of a whispered discourse. As the royal entourage came closer he pushed the Spaniard behind a tapestry. After the queen and company were well down the way, Boniface returned his attention to his Spanish friend. “So. We are in agreement?”
“Si. We are in agreement,” he whispered from behind the drapery.
(Author’s Note: The tapestry’s needlework depicted Henry V’s victory at Agincourt, but who cares about that? We’re talking about sex and intrigue here.)
In the next alcove down, in fact right outside the reception hall doors, was Mistress Maria Fleurette Hortense Hildegarde de Horenhausen, an extremely tall maiden whose beauty was a mixture of the dark mystery of Spain, the sultry sauciness of France, the forthright bold chin of the Germans and a prim turn of lip of England. As the queen and others passed a muffled belch came from beneath her flowing gown.
“Bless you,” she said in a proper English accent.
“Thank you,” a male voice replied from the location of the belch.
“Por nada.” Maria’s Spanish was as impeccable as her English.
“How gracious of you,” the male voice from beneath her dress said.
“Merci.” Her French was equally impressive.
“By the way, could you skip the refried beans at dinner?”
“Nein.” And her German was most aggressive.
Once outside the reception hall, Elizabeth waved at two guards at the door to open the doors. Just as they crossed the threshold, Robin stepped on Elizabeth’s gown, sending her sprawling on the marble floor. He then fell on top of her, still trying to button his satin trousers. Courtiers, who lined the aisle from the door to the throne, unsuccessfully tried to stifle giggles. This sort of thing happened all the time in the last few years and had become a major entertainment among the upper crust of London, even more popular than the plays of William Shakespeare. This was due, in part, because the Queen’s shenanigans were sans the dense dialogue of Willie boy.
(Author’s Note: Serious historians fail to note that Elizabeth had several pet names for the playwright including, but not limited to, the following: Willie boy, her little Willie, her big fat Willie, her silly Willie and just her Bill, an ordinary guy. The last one never caught on and therefore rarely used.)
“Not now, Robin!” she ordered.
“Ah, the last button!” he exclaimed.
“Get off me!”
Robin jumped to his feet, his fingers quickly running back over the button holes to make sure they were all secured. “Oh. So sorry.”
“Wait ‘til I get my scepter. Then you’ll behave.” The queen struggled to her feet. At the last moment, Robin tried to help but she slapped his hands away. Another blast from the trumpets made her jump. “Damn, what do those horns have to be so loud? I’m not deaf, you know.”
Taking a deep breath, Elizabeth composed herself and began her slow walk to the throne, smiling, waving and nodding at the court visitors of the day. She glanced at Robin. “That does it,” she whispered. “No more brunch.”
“But I love your buttered buns,” he whined.
Between gritted teeth she hissed, “Robin, if you weren’t so good between the sheets I’d have you beheaded.”
“Sorry, Bessie.”
“Dignity, we must have dignity.”
“Yes, your Majesty.”
Elizabeth looked his way, her eyes drifted down to Robin’s crotch and she moaned. “There’s a big wet spot right between your legs.”
“Oh. Sorry.” Robin pulled his fur coat across his front. It was a rather ordinary coat made of a dull brown rabbit skin. Elizabeth did not approve of anyone having snappier duds than her.

Cancer Chronicles Nineteen

For many years I could not decide who my favorite and/or best teacher was. A couple of years ago I said it was my high school French teacher. She was annoyingly self-congratulatory, but I did remember French and in particular the subjunctive tense.
I was wrong.
Recently I realized that my best teacher is my wife.
Over forty-four years of marriage I have learned more about Kabballah, Gnosticism, Biblical archaeology, Knights Templar—I could go on but I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging.
She has been a life-long reader, and she shares it all with me.
Sometimes the books are about something I don’t want to know but that doesn’t stop her. She just finished one about a murder in 1800s New York. A bodyless head floated along the East River, and the cops and reporters had to find out who it was. My wife insists on teaching me that this is a scary world we live in and we have to be careful.
Now she’s reading about the origin of King Arthur. According to this book Arthur lived around 600 A.D. This is better than the floating head story.
Most of all, she has taught me the grace, humor and courage needed to face the ongoing trauma of battling cancer. I’m learning the patience of waiting for the time when we can resume the joyful adventures of experiencing life and not just reading about them.

Addicted to “A”s

In elementary school we got “S” for satisfactory, “U” for unsatisfactory or “N” for needs improvement. In the fourth grade “E” was added for excellent. In many ways, keeping it kind of vague was a good idea. Students could concentrate on learning the subject and not trying to outdo each other.
However, children are going to rank each other, no matter what, sometime during the school day. Once the recess bell rang, the students flooded onto the playground ready and willing to label all the guys as good or lousy at baseball. Guess which one I was. Lousy. I couldn’t play baseball, tag football, you name it, and I was lousy at it. So All day long the only label I was stuck with was “L” for lousy.
Then I advanced to junior high school, and they had grades—“A”, “B”, “C”, “D” and “F”. “A” was best. And I started making “A”s. That was not lousy. The school had this group called the junior honor society for students who made all “A”s. I was selected to be a member. They didn’t care if I was lousy at baseball.
In high school the grading system became more complicated. They had pluses and minus by each of the letter grades. What a thrill to make an “A” plus. I didn’t make all “A” pluses. I didn’t mind regular old “A”s. I was a little uneasy with “A” minuses.
I have to admit that I became addicted to “A”s, especially “A” pluses. My self-esteem was high for the first week after report cards. The local newspaper published the honor roll. It was a small town without much going on, so the editor had to fill up the space with something. And was I glad. There it was in black and white. My name. After the third or fourth week I was wobbly again. I was still not any good at sports. I was not exactly a babe magnet—very skinny kid. By the sixth week I really needed that report card to validate my reason to exist.
Another disturbing development by my senior year was that I started thinking I wasn’t good in algebra or chemistry because I only made “A” minus in them. Now I’m sure there were students in my school who thought they were great in math because it was their best grade—a “B” plus. It was many years later before this fact dawned on me, and I felt very foolish.
No. I felt lousy.

Remember Chapter Fifteen

Bertha slammed the bedroom door as she left Lucinda in her rocking chair, her head tilted up with her eyes closed.

“Give me strength.” She sighed. Her head drooped, and Vernon came back into view. Oh. I had almost forgotten about you, Vernon.”

Standing, she went over to Vernon’s body and sank to the floor. Lucinda could not decide if this were actually happening or was some figment torturing her soul. At this point, she did not care. All pretense was swept away and Lucinda felt as though nothing else mattered but reconciling her spirit with Vernon’s. “I’m sorry, Vernon. So, so sorry. I should have said something kind. Something comforting but I didn’t. And do you know why I didn’t? I didn’t because I loved you so much. I loved you in more ways than is decent for a woman my age to love a young man like you.” Her shaking hand ran down the side of his body. “You see, I didn’t like Nancy Meyers just because she lied and cheated in class and because I knew she slept with other boys. I hated her because she could love you the way I never could. And because you loved her. I was wrong. And I drove you away from me. And I don’t think you ever knew. You were so sweet and innocent. You didn’t know how Nancy loved you so little. You were too good for this world, Vernon. Oh, how I wish I could tell you how sorry I am. Oh, how I wish I could make it up to you.”

Lucinda rose and went to her stacks of books. “Maybe there’s something here that I can read to make me feel better.” She picked up a slender, frayed leather-bound volume. “Voltaire. Candide. This is the best of all possible worlds.” She threw it down. “No, this isn’t! This is the worst of all possible worlds!
“Dickens,” she said in a flat tone. “It was the best of times and the worst of times.” Lucinda hurled it at the window, wishing it would disappear into thin air. “No! No! Only the worst!”
Leaning over at the books in the boxes Cassie had brought to her, she lifted another one, this time a paperback. “Cervantes. Don Quixote. Oh, Vernon, you weren’t a knight on a mission for a pure chaste girl. Nancy Meyers wasn’t pure or chaste. Don Quixote was mad.” Instead of throwing it, she just let it slip through her fingers and drop to the floor. “And I’m going mad!”

“I’m sorry, Vernon. I can’t help you.” Lucinda walked toward her bed which seemed to be calling her to one last long slumber. “I don’t know how to help you. I can’t find anything in my books to help you. Or me.” Lying down, she hugged her pillow. “I have to rest now. I have to sleep. To sleep. Perchance to dream.”

Straightaway she went to sleep, her jaw hanging loose. How peaceful, how sublime, her subconscious reveled in the absolute vacuum. The scent of smoke crept into her nostrils, causing her to jerk her eyes open and sit up. Lucinda decided she must have slept for hours because the sun had set, and moonless night engulfed her. She looked down at the floor and squinted. Vernon was no longer there. The stench of rubber, plastic and moldy wood grew stronger.

“What’s that!?” She stood and sniffed several times. “Smoke!! Oh my God!! The house is on fire!!”

Lucinda ran to the door, opened it and walked into the hall which was beginning to fill with smoke. Her first thought was to save Vernon’s little girl Shirley and her mother Nancy. She felt her way down the hall to their room and banged on the door.

“Nancy! Shirley! Fire”

“Fire?” Nancy called out.

“Yes! You’ve got to get Shirley out of there!”

“I’ll get Shirley! You tell the others!” Nancy shouted.

The next door down was Bertha’s room. Lucinda’s fist slammed into the wood. When she did not answer the teacher opened the door and ran to the bed, shaking the old woman. “Bertha! Bertha! Wake up! Wake up! Fire! Fire! You must wake up! The house is on fire!”

Bertha roused slowly, her eyes fluttering open. As she smelled the smoke she jumped from her bed, her eyes wild with panic.

“My God! We’re all goin’ to die! I’m goin’ to burn to death!”

“No, we’re not!” Lucinda took her by the arm to lead her to the door. “The fire isn’t upstairs yet! We have time!”

“I’m goin’ to die!” Bertha screeched, refusing to move an inch. “I’m goin’ to die!”

“Shut up!” Lucinda slapped her. “Move!”

Bertha whimpered as the teacher guided her out the door and to the top of the stairs. “Now. You go downstairs and out the front door while I get Cassie!”

“No! Don’t leave me!” Bertha clutched her. “I’ll die if you leave me!”

“You won’t die walking down the stairs and out the front door!”

“If I git confused and go wrong, I’ll walk right into the fire! I’ll die! You must guide me!”

“Very well. But hurry!” Lucinda ordered. The two women carefully walked down the stairs and out the front door. “Here, now you’re safe on the front lawn.”

“Thank you. I guess I was silly. I could have gotten out by myself.”

“No time for that. I’ve got to go back to get Cassie and Mrs. Lawrence!”

“Oh no! My foolishness cost time!” Bertha rebuked herself, bawling. “They’re already dead! I killed them!

“Oh shut up!” Lucinda went back inside the house and started up the stairs, but Cassie was already limping down.

“So it finally happened. Mommy caught the house on fire. Let’s git out of here!” She clasped Lucinda’s hand. “Come on, Miz Cambridge!”

She stopped as she thought of Emma. “I’ve got to get your mother!”

“Don’t worry about her!” Cassie replied with brutal honesty as she tugged on Lucinda’s hand, dragging her to the bottom of the stairs.

“No! I must save her! Where’s her bedroom?”

“Back by the kitchen.” She quickly pointed down the hall before going through the front door. “I’m gittin’ out of here!”

Lucinda only made it partway down the hall before being repulsed by smoke and overwhelming heat. Flames peaked through the door to the kitchen. She ran back to the front, out the door and down the steps.

“Where’s Emma?” Bertha asked frantically. “Where’s my sister? Oh God, she’s dead! My sister’s dead!”

“Oh shut up, Aunt Bertha!” Cassie ordered her impatiently.

Lucinda reached out to hold her hand. “I’m sorry, Cassie. I was too late.”

“I understand.” She looked at the house. “She was probably smoking in bed again. This time she fell asleep and the cigarette set the sheets on fire.”

Bertha put her arm around Cassie’s shoulders. “At least we’re all safe.”

“Oh! There is one more person!” Lucinda jumped and ran back up the steps into the house.

“No! Don’t!” Bertha screamed. “You’ll be killed!”

Lucinda barged through the front door and saw that the blazes headed down the hall toward her. She kept her eyes on the steps as she went up the stairs. She yelled, “Vernon! Vernon! Wake up! Fire!”

Rushing into her room, Lucinda went to the bed and jostled the sleeping body. Rolling over, Vernon sat up, looking sleepy and disoriented. But he was young and fresh again, no battle scars, no emotional pain etched his face. To Lucinda, he looked like a lovely angel, unravaged by the harsh realities of life. She heard a crackling, as though the flames were scorching the stairs.

“Hurry! Fire!” The sound of a loud pop followed by fracturing, collapsing of the wood staircase. “Oh my God! The flames are already up the stairs! We’re trapped! What can we do?” She looked at the window and remembered what Cassie told her about the drain pipe. “The window! Quick! Out the window!

Lucinda pulled Vernon from the bed and almost had him out the window when he hesitated.

“Go ahead, Vernon! There’s a drainpipe outside my window! Crawl down it!”

“You go first.” He tried to push her in front of him and out the sill.

“No! Vernon! We don’t have time! The flames are at my door!”

“I’m not leaving without my little girl.”

“Shirley!” Lucinda thought she had escaped with her mother. She turned around to see the little girl in her pajamas, smiling as though unaware of the flames.

“Here I am!” Shirley ran straight to Vernon and hugs him. “Daddy!

Another loud crackle draws Lucinda’s attention by to the bedroom which had just popped open from the unbearable heat. The blaze, now glaring white with tinges of orange, yellow around the edges advanced on its prey.

“You don’t have time! The fire!” Lucinda urged them through the window.

Vernon and Shirley crawled through the window, looked back, smiled and each one kissed Lucinda on the cheek. They disappeared down the drain pipe and into the darkness of the night. Lucinda stood stunned by the kisses, held her cheek and smiled. The withering heat entered her lungs; she felt scorching pain inside her old wrinkled body for only a split second before she collapsed; and the flames overwhelmed her.

Bertha knocked at Lucinda’s door. “Lucy? Can I come in? I have to apologize. Lucy?” Coming through the door, she saw the teacher on her bed. The late afternoon sun spotlighted her limp body, her eyes stared blankly at the ceiling. Bertha’s hand flew up to her mouth. “Emma! Cassie! Come here quick!”

Emma and Cassie rush in. The mother goes over to the bed while the daughter comforted her aunt.

“What on earth is goin’ on here?” Emma peered at Lucinda’s face. “What a stupid look.”
“She’s dead, Emma,” Bertha said softly. “I kinda got into a fit with her, just a few minutes ago. The last thing I ever said to her wasn’t very kind.”

“Don’t worry.” Cassie hugged her. “You didn’t know she was goin’ to die.”

“But you should always treat people like you was never goin’ to see them again, so that if the last thing they ever hear in life is from you, it’s somethin’ sweet,” Bertha replied, as though in a revelation.

“Don’t worry about it,” Emma told her sister. “At least she was paid up a month ahead.”

“We better call the hospital,” Cassie said.

“You call the police when you find somebody dead.” Emma spoke with a weary tone. Cassie should already know things like that.

“I never could figure that out,” Cassie said as she followed her mother and aunt down the staircase.

Nancy came in the front door but stopped short when she saw the three women coming down the steps. Bertha was wiping tears from her eyes, Cassie shook her head and Emma puffed deeply on her cigarette.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“We jest found Miz Cambridge dead in her room,” Cassie replied.

“Oh no.” Nancy turned to look through the screen door at Shirley who was playing with a couple of neighborhood friends on the front lawn.

“I know you didn’t care for her much,” Emma said bluntly as she went toward the kitchen.

“I’m so sorry.” Nancy put a hand to the screen.

Bertha patted her on the back. “Don’t worry about it none. You didn’t know she was goin’ to drop dead.” She followed her sister down the hall.

“You goin’ to be all right, Nancy?” Cassie wrinkled her brow.

“I guess.”

“Well, if you need us we’ll be in the kitchen callin’ the cops.”

Nancy hurried up the stairs to Lucinda’s room. Hesitantly she went to the bed and was surprised to see a smile on the old woman’s face. She looked around the room until she found the college yearbook from the year she and Vernon were in school. She picked it up and turned to the page with Vernon’s picture. As she left the room, Vernon’s memory appeared again, as though evoked from dreams long abandoned. Going over to the bed, he lightly touched Lucinda’s shoulder.

“Mrs. Cambridge?” he asked softly.

Lucinda’s eyes fluttered open. “Vernon?”

“Thanks for coming back to save me, Mrs. Cambridge. And thank you for Shirley.” He helped her to her feet.

She looked back on the bed to see her body, the serene smile still on her graying, cold face. “Then I’m dead?”

“Just like me.”

“Then if we’re still here, that means we must be someone else’s memory now.”

“As long as somebody thinks about you, you’re never really gone.”

Lucinda hugged Vernon. “Oh, whoever you are, remember us. Please remember!”

Nancy went out on the porch and called out, “Shirley! Come here!”

Shirley stopped talking with her friends to look at her mother. “What’s wrong?”

Nancy smiled at Shirley’s friends. “You girls need to go home now. Shirley can play later.”

The children walked away slowly, looking back a couple of times. Shirley hesitantly climbed the stairs. Nancy pulled her close, and they sat on the top step.

“Mrs. Cambridge, she’s dead,” she whispered.


“She was old, Shirley.” Gentleness entered her voice. “It was her time.” Nancy held up the yearbook and opened it to the right page. “You know that yearbook you wanted to look at? Well, here it is. Let me show you a picture.”

“Vernon Singleberry?” Shirley asked.

“Yes. A very sweet, wonderful man. He looked a whole lot like you.”