Posts Tagged ‘Marriage’

She Purrs Like A…

May 14, 2011

I hear chains rattle against metal and know some heavy piece of equipment is being hoisted.  I cringe and run through the backdoor and out to the driveway.  No matter how many times I preach, it doesn’t seem to sink in.  He never asks for a spotter.  “One day…” I say, my voice trailing off as he dismisses my comment with a wave of his hand. He’s too excited about this new truck to consider safety.

He pulls himself up onto the mechanic’s body of the Ford F-450 truck and hooks the chain. He turns, grinning at me, showing a thumbs up, hops down and pulls himself back into the cab of the backhoe. The motor revs and the bucket lifts.  Several pops and metal wrenching sounds later, the mechanic’s body lifts and the truck is reduced to cab, metal frame and wheels.

 It’s his new love and to tell the truth, I’m a bit intimidated. Even naked she’s sleeker than his old pickup, younger, with dual back wheels, and she purrs with that diesel engine of hers.  Her exterior is shiny without a single blemish, her interior, a supple tan leather, with automatic dimming lights that whisper romance.  

His old love, the Red Pickup, finally died. She was the woman I could never be.  She was tough, hard-bodied, enjoyed four-wheeling adventures through uncharted territories.  She didn’t have brains, but she did have brawn, get up and go, and a heavy-duty drive train. She hated me and I never liked her much either.  Bruce was certain once we got to know one another, we’d be friends, but we ended up ignoring each other, our only commonality being Bruce.  As long as he loved both of us, we tolerated each other from a distance.

Three weeks ago, Red choked and coughed when Bruce started her. She limped out of the driveway, sputtered to a stop on the road just past our house, wheezed one last time, and died. She sits in the lane now, tag-less, without insurance, and awaiting the yearly equipment auction. I’d have felt sorry for her if we didn’t have such a volatile history.

Bruce didn’t grieve long.  He found the new white Ford diesel in an online Government auction in Buford, South Carolina.  He bid, won, and took off the next morning to pick her up.  He didn’t ask me to accompany him. “I know you have a lot of work waiting for you this week,” he said.  “Ben’s home for Spring Break. He can go with me.” 

Twenty hours later, I heard her distinct purr as Bruce  coaxed her into the driveway. He walked straight past me, into the house, exhausted, and fell into bed without even a kiss hello.  “Must have been a long, hard ride,” I mumbled.

He’s been with her ever since.  Tonight Bruce was out in the garage, welding and painting a flatbed body for her, all sleek and smooth with twelve inch treated pine board sides around the edge.  She has a new trailer hitch and he’s ordered one of those vanity plates for her. “FLATBDN” it says.

I went outside just a few minutes ago and wandered over to Old Red. Opening her driver’s side door,  I slipped inside and patted her dash. She wasn’t looking so bad now.  I wondered how much it would cost to get her running again.  The two of us watched as Bruce backed his new love out of the stall and parked her under the huge oak tree. He got out and took a rag from his pocket, wiping a smudge from her fender. He stepped back and smiled.

“They’re calling for high winds tonight Red, and that tree’s leaning,” I said, pulling up the door handle to warn Bruce. Something stopped me.  I let go of the handle, leaned back in the seat and smiled myself. For the first time ever, Red and I agreed.

For the Love of a Trailer

February 20, 2011

We’re sitting at the kitchen table.  My eyes are closed as I savor the smell and  taste of my first cup of morning coffee.  I have a whole day ahead of me with no plans.  Bruce has his nose up close to the screen of his Mac.  He’s reading  the specs of some piece of heavy equipment out loud.  I’m not paying too much attention. He does this a lot.

“Look, I found one in Alleghany County,” he announces, turning the laptop around so I can see.  “It’s what we’ve been looking for.”

I focus my attention to the rusted hulk on the screen. “I haven’t been looking for a trailer, you have.”

“Ok, I found the one I’ve been looking for.  Its tongue is longer. It’s more heavy duty.  It’ll carry the backhoe.”

“We already have two trailers,” I say. “They look big and heavy enough to me.”

He looks at me and sighs.  This is where he usually starts talking like he’s explaining something to our youngest son, in simple words with bulleted specifics.  I’m not interested in the explanations. I give up listening, and leave to start putting together my day pack for the trip.  

We head out a half hour later toward Clifton Forge, that’s the location listed in the online Government auction. We’ve been there before.  We honeymooned at Douthat State Park, just outside of Clifton Forge thirty years ago.  Our cabin was a rustic log structure with a huge fireplace.  I remember spreading a blanket there and eating our first meal together picnic style. The food was left over from our wedding reception. The bubbles in the champagne tickled my nose. At nineteen, I wasn’t old enough to drink legally, but my new husband was. We planned that honeymoon week and our entire life together that night.   

Clifton Forge is a small railroad town set in the midst of the Alleghany Mountains. Houses and businesses line the sides of Main Street.  At one end is the train depot. I remember that. At the other end is a Community College. That’s new.  I can’t imagine what they teach there, Coal Mine Management, Train Engineering, Principles of Logging?  I’m surprised that there are enough young people living around the tiny town to attend the college. 

I’m more excited about the drive than I am the trailer. The road is straight, the mountains are beautiful and the leaves are turning. It misted rain all night, but the clouds are lifting and the weatherman forecasts sun by afternoon to our west.  I pack the camera and two books.  I never know exactly how long a three hour trip will take.  Ones in the past have sometimes carried over into the next day.

When we leave home, the trailer lists for $365.  We climb up into Bruce’s new dump truck, my first time in it, two steps up, grab bar, hoist self, sitting on top of the world. This dump truck dares smaller vehicles to pull out in front of it. It’s a diesel road tractor with air horns. When Bruce makes a decision, he goes all-the-way-big.  We can barely hear each other over the roar of the engine.  I wonder why the International even has a radio.

We bump along the interstate.  The further west we drive, the lighter the sky becomes, but clouds still hang low and drift along the tops of the mountains.

“Help me watch for the exit,” Bruce says. 

I’ve been taking pictures from the passenger window, but the side mirror is hindering my artistic abilities.  I’m glad for the diversion.  The Dabney S. Lancaster Community College is at Exit 150-B in Clifton Forge.  I’m amazed that Clifton Forge warrants two exits. 

“There it is,” I say.  “At the end of the ramp, take a right.”

As we pull off the interstate, the entrance to the school is right there. The road dead ends at the school.

Bruce follows the parking lot around to the rear of the college until he finds what looks like a buildings and grounds garage. It turns out to be the welding shop.  Students are busy at work, helmets donned, sparking metals together.  A man hurries out to Bruce and points him in the direction of the saw mill.  That’s where the trailer waits.

We backtrack to a small gravel path, just wide enough for the dump truck. It’s  guarded by a Keep Out sign.  Bruce drops into a lower gear and we descend a steep hill.  A saw mill appears on the left, students at work there too. A bulldozer and log truck with knuckle boom watch us from the parking lot.  A tree planter squats in the bushes. Bruce pulls up to the trailer, where it lies dying in the weeds, tires flat, metal rusted, floor rotting. It’s worse than the two we already have. Even I can see that. We couldn’t even drag it home if we bought it.  We’d have to have a trailer to haul it.

Bruce drops down to the ground, and I struggle, trying to find my footing on the steps, grabbing for the handle to ease my landing.  We walk over to the trailer.

“It’s ugly and broken,” I say.

“Let me measure it,” Bruce says.

How he finds promise in this wreck, I can’t imagine.   I get back in the dump truck and open my book.  My decision is already made.  Leave the monstrosity here.

It takes Bruce an hour to inspect the behemoth.  He puts on his coveralls, takes out his tape measure and begins calculating.  He’s busy with numbers and schematics.  He lifts parts, slides under on his back, shines a flashlight, measures some more and decides it could work.

“Needs fixing, but it’ll work. We can’t haul it away like it is,” he says.  “We’ll have to pull it out into the parking lot, repack the bearings….”  I’ve stopped listening. I shake my head and wonder again just why I married this man.

He pulls himself up into the truck and starts the engine. “I’m taking you to lunch,” he says.  “Where do you want to go?”

We had stopped at the Outdoor People Store in Clifton Forge for fishing supplies on our honeymoon.  It was right across Main Street from the C&O Railroad Depot Restaurant. Lunchtime sent us in that direction.   It was a small, square, block building next to the railroad tracks. The interior was bright and clean with a lunch counter and several small wooden tables dotting the tile floor. We opened the door to the tinkle of a bell and the aroma of fresh baked biscuits drew us in.   The food was almost as good as what came out of my Mama’s kitchen.

“I wonder  if the C&O Depot Restaurant is still there,” I say.

Bruce heads in that direction  The small building is still there, feeding railroad workers and townsfolk.  The door bell tinkles, and I’m nineteen again, just married and hungry.  A sign boasts Today’s special:  Chicken and Dumplings, mashed potatoes, green beans, biscuit, all comfort food.  A glass case displays home baked apple, cherry and peach fruit pies. We decide on two specials with sweet tea.  Bruce orders cherry pie. I choose apple. We sit at the counter and watch trains filled with coal roll slowly by the window. 

As we eat our meal, we reminisce about our time spent here years ago.  Bruce taught me how to bait a fishing hook, and fry the catch over an open fire.  I taught him how to make a bed, only to have it in complete disarray a few minutes later.  We laughed, talked, and made plans for a house, and babies.   He lifted me up under my arms and sat me on the hood of his truck.  He laid his head in my lap and told me he didn’t know he could be so happy.  I was a tiny thing back then.  Thirty years later, we’ve spread about the middle and  we’re contemplating broken-down trailers.

Bruce takes out his wallet, pays the tab, leaving a few bills for a tip.  We head to the truck and turn toward home. The auction ends at seven p.m. and the drive is several hours long.  At exit A, Bruce unexpectedly veers right,  and turns in the direction of Douthat State Park.  At the entrance, he pays the fee and we rattle over the speed bumps toward the dam and cabins.  It hasn’t changed in thirty years. We park in the lot overlooking the lake.  The sun has come out and the wind has picked up. The ripples on the lake sparkle and a few boats float here and there on its surface. 

“Want to get out and walk around some?” Bruce asks me.

“Sure, that would be nice.”

He opens the door to the truck and hops down.  I reach over, lock his door, slide my purse under the seat, and turn to open my door.  Bruce is standing there waiting.  He reaches up, puts his hands under my arms and lowers me to the ground.  He kisses me and we walk hand in hand toward the path to the lake.

“Wonder if they have a cabin open tonight?” he asks.

“What about your trailer?  The auction ends at 7:00.”

“We’ve already got two trailers,” he says. “I can do without another one for awhile longer.”

Now I remember why I married this man.

Homemade Rolls, Pound Cake, and a few Cats

December 30, 2010

Georgia called the other night.

“Hey, when is that boy of yours coming home again?”

“He’ll be home tomorrow,” I said. “Goes back Saturday.”

“I’ve been promising him some yeast rolls for months now. What time do you get off work Friday?”

“Four-thirty,” I said. “Ben wants to go by the Verizon Store to get a new phone and we’re meeting my parents for supper at Teresa’s Café at six o’clock though, so we’ll be on a pretty tight timeline, why?”

“I’m making Ben some bread and I have a chocolate chip pound cake for him in the freezer as well. I’d bring it by, but Earl’s been having some heart problems and I don’t want to leave him here by himself.”

“We’ll be going right past your house on the way to Teresa’s,” I said. “We can drop by to pick up the rolls and cake. That’s awfully sweet of you to do Georgia.”

“You know when Mama was in the nursing home, Ben visited her every week and she loved your boy better than she did cookies, and she loved cookies. He’s a good boy. I want to do this, and I want to see him.”

“Sure we can come by. We’ll see you a little before six then.”

I called Ben to relay the news. He loves Georgia and Earl. They are a married couple who argue and fuss with each other most of their waking hours. They never had children, but take care of everyone around them. Georgia wrote the cookbook for the Volunteer Rescue Squad Auxillary fundraiser, and Earl ran with the fire department until his legs gave out. He’s a long time member of the community Band. He plays the tuba.

We’ve never been to Earl and Georgia’s House. We either see them at the nursing home, or bump into them at the grocery or hardware store in town. Sometimes, they stop by our house on their way to or from Charlottesville. We spend forty-five minutes listening to their bickering banter, not being able to get a word in edgewise, just listening and laughing, before they reach in a bag and hand us a homemade goodie. They hug and kiss us before they leave. It may be a cliché, but Georgia’s baked goods melt in your mouth. We have fought over the last brownie or piece of spice cake.

On Friday evening, when Ben and I pulled into Earl and Georgia’s driveway, cats scattered. There must have been five or six, all colors, all sizes. Three small dogs jostled for position in the bay window facing us and one jumped up and down at the storm door on the side porch, his head, reappearing in the glass every few seconds. All the dogs barked, non-stop.

Ben and I got out of the car and headed to the front door.

“Back here,” Georgia called from the side porch.

She opened the door for us and when we stepped into the house, both of us stopped. The stench was overwhelming, a combination of cat pee amonia, dog poop, stale urine, canned cat food, moth balls and wet dog. Ben and I exchanged a glance. We turned to the couple and we smiled. They reached out, arms open and hugged us tight.

“Well, look at you, young man. How much taller have you gotten?” Earl asked, clasping Ben’s hand in his and slapping him on the back.

Ben smiled and coughed, his eyes watering. I knew it was the smell, not his emotions. Georgia opened the window over the sink to let a cat in. It walked over to the plate of moist gray meat on the counter and began to lick the food. Georgia petted the tabby absentmindedly.

“What time do you leave to go back to college tomorrow?” she asked Ben.

“Have to pull out pretty early in the morning,” he said. “I’ve got a staff meeting in the afternoon I have to be back for.”

I knew the staff meeting was at 5:00 in the afternoon. It takes two and a half hours to drive back to Ferrum. Ben was warding off a second invite.

While Georgia wrapped and bagged the bread and cake, Earl took us on a tour of the house. There were dogs and cats, litter boxes, balls of fur and chew toys in every room. Cats perched on shelves, under cabinets, acted as centerpieces on tables, padded across counter tops and lazed in window sills. All the dogs followed after us, barking.

“Shut up dogs,” Georgia yelled from the kitchen.

Earl introduced us, “This is Yellow Cat, Bingo, Jeff, Mutt, Punkin, Spot, Dribbles…” On and on he went, picking them up petting and kissing them. Ben and I petted, patted and cooed to them. Earl showed us his framed goodbye poster from his 30 year anniversary party at GE where he spent his working years. We marveled at Georgia’s salt and pepper shaker collection, her cookbook collection and got to see Earl’s computer where he emails forty lonely old ladies around the world, just to keep them company.

“Shut up that barking,” Earl yelled at the dogs. They didn’t listen.

We walked back into the kitchen. Georgia stood beaming, holding out three packages, each with a dozen homemade yeast rolls. Cats had collected at her feet.

Earl pointed to the rolls and said, “I didn’t get anything but a smell. She didn’t even give me one to eat.”

Ben offered him one of the wrapped ones, but Earl laughed and said, “I was only funnin’ you Ben. Those are yours. She made me some of my own.”

Georgia handed Ben the rolls and he leaned down as she stood on tip toe to kiss his cheek. “We love you boy. You know that don’t you? You were so good to my Mama. She loved you too. You take these rolls and this cake back to college with you and share if you want to, but if you don’t want to, that’s ok, you can eat them all by yourself.”

“Thank you Georgia. I appreciate these. That was awfully nice of you to do. Not sure whether I’ll share or not. Your cooking is the best,” Ben said.

Earl walked us out to the car. He showed us where he’d moved six azalea plants that week and where he’d decorated the hay bale with black and orange ceramic cats for the children in the neighborhood. He picked up another cat, Dumpy, and introduced us. “There’s about six others you didn’t get to see,” he said. “They’ll show up tonight when it starts to get cool. They like to come in and sleep with us where it’s warm.” I imagined all those cats and dogs in Earl and Georgia’s bed.

Earl hugged us. We got in the car, waved to him and Georgia as they stood on the porch, smiling, their arms around each other’s waists. Ben and I were silent until we reached the end of Apple Lane.

“Mom,” Ben said. “have you ever smelled anything so bad in your life?”

“No, Ben, can’t say as I have.”

“If I count right,” Ben said. “they have twenty-two cats and six dogs.”

“Sure felt like that many to me,” I said.

“Do you think Earl and Georgia know how bad it smells?

“I doubt it. They’re probably used to it by now.”

“My head hurts,” Ben said. “Do you have any Advil?”

“Sure, right here in my purse.”

He dug around in my purse, pulled out the bottle and threw two of the pills back with some bottled water. He was quiet during the rest of the ride. We rounded the corner onto Three Notched Road and drove toward Teresa’s Café. We were almost there when Ben said, “Mom?”

“Yeah,”

“You know I love Earl and Georgia don’t you?”

“Of course Ben, I love them too.”

“As much as I love them,” he said. “I don’t think I can eat those rolls or the cake.”

“I don’t think I could either Ben. It’s alright.”

“What should we do with them? I hate to throw them out. She spent a lot of time making them.”

“I know,” I said. “Georgia did say you could share. I think that might be a good idea.”

Ben smiled, “Staff meeting tomorrow,” he said.

Happily Ever After

July 24, 2010

When I was growing up, I never expected to find my Prince Charming, like Cinderella.  I never saw a “happily ever after” in real life.  Every adult relationship I witnessed, with the exception of my maternal grandparents, was disjointed, abusive, secretive, multi-partnered and chaotic.  Men may have looked like Prince Charming, but they hit, twisted arms, yelled loudly or were ominously silent, and drank. One showed up every now and then, but vanished sometime during the nights.  Castles were on hilltops in books. The princes I knew lived in trailer parks or houses I wasn’t allowed to visit.  My mother, on the other hand, fully expected to be fitted for her glass slipper and to ride off in the horse drawn carriage.  She worked to that end.
    

  Mama divorced at thirty.  Nine years of never knowing what to expect, cured her of marriage.  For thirty-five years, she swore, hand up, to anyone who asked, “I will never, ever, ever get married again.” 

     She changed her mind at age sixty-five. They met at the antique mall and frequented the same auctions and yard sales.  Following a long, familiar path, the man she found was married, but she left him alone in his relationship.  The two of them developed a long friendship, attended the same church, and finally, she watched the man care for and grieve over his dying wife.  Three years later, my mother fell in love with this widow and married him. 
   

    In the eleven years she has been married to G, my mother has thrived.  Their relationship is like one of those bridges that expands and contracts depending on the heat and cold.  They adjust.  He can’t work enough and when he’s home, he’s in the garden.    She is a women who cannot live without her independence.  No joint bank accounts for her.  Her car is in her name, she pays exactly half of the mortgage and the bills, she runs her own canning business and if he doesn’t want to go on vacation with the family, she goes and he stays at home.  

  
   “It’s the perfect fit,” she says.  “Who else on earth would put up with my stubborn ass?”

     He enjoys her self-determination, sits back and smiles, shaking his head.   He’s tried to help her out over the years with bills, groceries, spending money for vacation, lifting heavy boxes.  She hasn’t allowed him to.  She’s right, a fit was hard for her to come by. No other men in her life adjusted.

       The relationship I see between my mother and step-father, although not what anyone would call traditional, is the closest thing I’ve ever witnessed where she is concerned. 

     “I wake up in the morning, and suddenly it’s time to go to bed,” she says to me on the phone.  “I love my life so much, I wonder where time goes.”

     Eleven years, that’s longer than her first marriage, and she is so happy.  It’s been good to witness.

     Yesterday, she received the news that G has lung cancer.  It’s in the upper lobes of  both lungs and in a lymph node.  He watched his first wife suffer and die with cancer; now he has it.  Mama and G are both stunned, she, I think, more than he.

     My Mama is too old to have an evil step-mother throw a list of chores at her “happily ever after.”   She’s done the dirty work in her life, scrubbed out the fire places and worn the tattered dresses.  She’s practiced dancing with the mice in hopes of finding her prince.  She’s been left on the side of the road when her carriage has changed to a pumpkin.  The glass slipper finally fit, and now– well, we’ll just have to wait and see.

The Couple

June 1, 2010

 

I

Gillian saw darkness, felt it pressing on her chest. She heard voices calling for IV’s and stretchers, backboards and help. Above the blare of sirens someone said, “Ma’am, Ma’am, can you hear me?”

Gillian felt arms reach under her, lifting her onto something hard and flat. A man’s voice, very close to her ear, said, “It’s gonna be alright Ma’am. You’re gonna be fine. This is an oxygen mask – to help you breathe.”

A radio crackled with medical terms and Gillian drifted back. She was lying in a moving vehicle and couldn’t understand why. Gillian continued to fade in and out of consciousness until the ride ended. Then she heard the doors open and felt the stretcher being lifted and unfolded. Her chest hurt. The automatic doors of the ER slid open and bright lights blurred overhead. Gillian was in a hallway. Her glasses were gone.

“Patient name?” someone asked.

“ID says Gillian Hill,” answered another.

“Anything else?” asked the first voice.

“Several pill bottles found in her purse – Digoxin, Elavil, Lipitor, Toprol.”

“Bag that. Right now she’s critical. Surgery two, stat,” ordered the first voice.

Gillian could tell people were hovering over her, pulling equipment, lifting her onto a table.

She felt her shoes slide off, then her socks. The cold metal of scissors slid along her leg as someone cut through her pants. Then she felt John’s sweater lift. Someone was cutting John’s sweater from her body. She wanted to scream “No!” but couldn’t. She wanted to tell them they couldn’t take it. She needed his sweater. Then it was gone. John’s warmth was gone and Gillian felt colder than she ever had.

***

Gillian fumbled on the bedside table for her glasses. Their thick lenses magnified her faded blue eyes. She pushed the covers off and lowered her stiff legs over the edge of the mattress. Her knees creaked. John was standing there, with a steaming mug of coffee in his hands. Gillian reached out and her fingers covered his before she took it. 

“Mmm,” she said, “smells just like heaven.” The warmth of the ceramic eased the arthritic ache in her hands.

“Yep, good and strong, too.” John leaned down and kissed her softly.

She tasted the coffee on his mouth and smiled. He was tousled. His sparse, silver hair stuck up in all directions and his eyebrows needed a trim. He hadn’t put his teeth in yet and his thin face looked all the more gaunt. The treatments had taken their toll, though his blue eyes still twinkled – the same eyes that drew her to him fifty years ago. Their wedding picture on the nightstand was black and white, but Gillian remembered the colors.

“I’m going for a shower.  What time is your appointment again?” he asked.

“At 11:00 , but they want us there a little early to fill out more forms. You go ahead and turn on the water. Let it get warm and I’ll get us a refill. Be there in a few minutes.”

“All right,” he said.  “I could go for some –”

“Oatmeal? That would be good,” she answered.

“Good, I think we have –” he started again.

“Raisins, yes we do. I saw them yesterday when I was looking for your ginger ale.”

John shook his head and smiled. “Always amazes me how do you do that,” he said.

“Do what?” she asked.

“Never mind, here’s your robe,” he said, holding it up for her to put her arms in. She tied the sash and reached for her cane before shuffling out of the bedroom, heading for the kitchen. She heard his slippers scuffing on the floor behind her as he made his way to the bathroom.

Gillian followed John’s path of discarded clothes. For someone so organized, he never picked up an article of his clothing. It was harder and harder for Gillian to bend down and scoop up his underwear and socks. She had a good mind to leave them until he ran out of clean ones. “Raisins,” she reminded herself.

John was already in the shower, washing, when she returned. Steam fogged her glasses and she set the mug down on the vanity and slid open the shower door. John handed her a washcloth. He had already soaped it. She felt the hills and valleys of vertebrae along his spine as she rubbed him with it. She remembered when the muscles of his back were strong and supple under her hand. She remembered when her fingers were long and straight. Time had changed their bodies, but not their touch. She scrubbed the right side of his back, just under his shoulder blade.

“Ah, that’s it. You’ve got the spot.”

He turned, rinsed, and stepped out of the shower and into the towel Gillian wrapped around his middle. She hugged him tight, then slipped off her robe.  When she turned to face him, he waggled his bushy eyebrows and smiled a lecherous grin, growling low in his throat.

“I’m glad you put in your teeth,” she said. “A toothless tiger is not very sexy.”

“It’s not my teeth you like, Jilly.”

Gillian made a sneer, but John took her hands and held her close. For a full minute they embraced, standing in the bathroom, the shower running and the fan spinning. “We’ll always be together, Jilly, I promise.”

“Here,” she said, handing him the mug of coffee. “This will have to quench your thirst. We don’t have time for anything else this morning – and you have to eat your fancy breakfast.” 

She flashed a smile then stepped into the shower, soaped the washcloth and handed it to him before turning. He chuckled as he washed her back. It seemed he knew just the right spots on her, too.

Gillian dressed in a comfortable pair of pants and button-up shirt. Her gray hair was straight, cut short, in a bob that would have been a cute style, except this morning she pulled her bangs severely to the side and anchored them with a pin. Her thick ankle length socks were visible through the buckled sandals she wore.  The socks were loose from years of wear. Before she and John left the house, Gillian asked for the third time, “Did you turn off all the lights?”

“If it isn’t the coffee maker, it’s the stove, or the fan in the bathroom. Yes Jilly, I turned off the lights.” John sighed deeply, holding the front door open for her.

“Don’t forget to lock the door,” she said.

The appointment with Dr. Stevens was a referral from Dr. Davis. One day, not too long after John’s treatments started for the lung cancer, Gillian experienced a shortness of breath that was unusual for her. Small exertions winded her to the point that she’d have to sit down and rest before finishing a simple task like washing dishes or making the bed. John was concerned about her heart. 

“You are going to the doctor, Gillian. I’m worried.”

“I’m just a little winded, John.  It’ll pass.” 

But the condition continued, and John made the appointment.

Tests revealed no conclusive reason for Gillian’s difficulty breathing. Her heart was strong and her lungs were clear. She had no wheezing that would suggest asthma, and no signs of bronchitis.

During the check up, however, Dr. Davis noticed a spot on Gillian’s forehead.

“How long has this been here?”

“What?” she was puzzled.

“This spot on your forehead.”

“I haven’t noticed a spot. Where?” 

Dr. Davis pointed to the area in question.

“Oh, that. I’ve had it awhile. Just an age spot. I have them all over me. I tell John they’re my beauty marks. I should be gorgeous by now.”

“This spot concerns me, Gillian. I think it might be an issue. I want to send you to a dermatologist who can tell us some more. I’d like her to look at it.  I believe it needs to be removed.”

The biopsy was done three days later. Gillian received the call from Dr. Stevens’ office a week after that.

“The lesion is malignant. We need to schedule you for surgery to remove it.”

Gillian couldn’t speak. She handed the phone to John, and sank down into her rocker. She had cancer. She had been strong for John. Now, she felt her own strength start to slip away. She heard John say, “Okay Dr. Stevens, we’ll be there. Thank you.”

Today’s appointment was for the surgery. Here they were, facing another threat, and another worry.

At the parking lot, John circled, looking for a vacant space close to the front of the office building. All the handicapped spots were taken. 

“I know all those people can walk,” John complained.

“Just  park, John.  I don’t want to be late and you going around and around is wasting time.” 

This happened every time they went somewhere.  He had to search for the closest space. Male pride and territory, she thought.

“Look, there’s someone pulling out of a space, right there, in front,” he announced, whipping the car to the right.  Gillian braced herself, holding onto the door handle as the car careened, sliding her over toward John.  Words came up, but she bit her tongue to keep them from spilling out. 

They walked up to a metal and glass door marked “Dermatology/Surgery.” The entrance was tall, reaching almost to the second floor and wide enough for two couples to pass. They stood side by side, looking at the sign.

“Not the place for us, they must treat giants here,” John said. He grasped the handle and pulled, using his cane for leverage. His breathing was labored due to the tumor and his weakened condition. The exertion taxed him, but he held the door for Gillian.

The waiting room was almost full, and the only young people in the office were staff. They worked behind a glass partition, like the barrier protected them from age, or the skin cancer that dotted the assembly of ex-sun worshippers on the other side.  Staff busied themselves, not looking at each other. They seemed like drones in a beehive, scurrying. The waiting area was a contrast, people sat silently, staring straight ahead, or thumbing through old magazines, not really reading. They flipped time away until they were called for a prognosis. John and Gillian stood just inside the entrance and surveyed the room. It felt like they were on a precipice, waiting to fall into a world of worry.

John spotted the only two chairs available side by side and pointed them out to his wife. Eyes turned to the couple as they walked into the waiting room. Gillian was taller than most women of her generation. She was thin and had taken on the square look that comes to a woman as she moves into later decades. She had pilfered John’s dark cable knit sweater from his closet earlier in the fall. She wore it all the time now – since his diagnosis – and it hung on her frame. The sweater was too big, but cozy, and it made her feel like she was wrapped in John’s warmth.

John was also slim and not much taller than his wife. He wore a denim button down shirt, tucked into faded Chinos. His black belt was thin. His hair was silver, combed back from his forehead and neatly trimmed, but sparse from the chemo treatments. John wore socks like his wife’s and the same kind of leather buckle sandals, only his were heavier, dark and wide. Along with his cane, he carried an attaché case with handles and the round imprint of an insurance company’s logo.

The couple was a matching pair, like a set in Gillian’s salt and pepper shaker collection. People had commented for years that John and Gillian looked more like brother and sister than husband and wife. When Gillian looked back at their early photos as a couple, they didn’t resemble each other. Funny, how almost fifty years together could mold two people into one shape. Yet that seemed to be the extent of their likeness. John was the logical one. He balanced the checkbook to the penny, kept his tools organized on peg boards, and put up with her intuition but didn’t understand anything about it.

Gillian was the emotional one, an artist, disorganized and flighty. John often said, “I got caught up in the whirlwind of Jilly and ran behind her picking up pieces to save in my pockets until she needed them again.” He carried his cane in his right hand, she carried hers in her left.

The pair walked to the seats and John helped his wife settle into one. A minute later, he came back with a clip board. She took his cane and leaned it against hers.

“There are four pages here,” he said.

“Did you bring your glasses?”

He patted his front shirt pocket. 

“I must have left them on the kitchen table.”

“Here,” she said, taking hers off and handing them to him. He put them on and began to fill out the papers.

Midway through the first page, he reached for his case, opened it, and pulled out a flat wallet. He slid out several small cards, and copied information onto the forms. Every once in a while he would turn and study her, as if looking would help him remember the answers, then he went back to writing.

“Did you bring the medicine bottles?” he asked.

“Here they are,” she said, taking them from her purse. He looked at the four brown bottles one at a time and copied their names onto the form, calling them out so she could tell him what they were for, “Heart, blood pressure, cholesterol, depression.” 

He limped the clipboard back to the receptionist and returned.

“Jan called this morning while you were finishing in the shower,” he said. “She wanted to know if we needed a ride. She rattled off about twenty things she had to get done before the kids got home from school. I told her we’d be fine.”

“Those kids and that husband of hers are going to kill her,” Gillian said.  “It’s no wonder she’s so thin and doesn’t sleep at night. She worries too much. Why did you tell her we were even coming for this today?”

“Well, I think she needs to know. Wouldn’t you want to know?”

“Of course I would, but you know how she worries and frets. I just hate to add one more thing to her plate. She’s worried about Jim’s job. They’re downsizing, and Sam is failing something he has to pass to graduate. Ellie’s running around with that boy who’s too old for her with tattoos on his body and earrings all over his face, and that damned dog of theirs just had puppies. You just shouldn’t have told her, that’s all.”

The nurse approached and motioned for them to come to the examination room. John stood, took his cane and slipped his hand under Gillian’s arm.  She pushed up from the chair and rocked forward a couple of times before gaining enough momentum to get up. He steadied her and then slid his case under his arm and placed his free hand on the small of her back.

“Hello, Mrs. Hill. Good to see you again.” said Dr. Stevens, a young woman.

 “Hi, Dr. Stevens,” John said. “Thank you for scheduling the surgery so quickly. Gillian’s worried herself silly since you called.”

“It’s melanoma,” the doctor said. “It’s the most dangerous of the skin cancers. The cells that produce skin pigment start growing aggressively. We see melanoma more in fair skinned people with blue eyes, like you Gillian. This lesion is fairly large. I would say it’s been here awhile. Is that right?”

“Yes, but I just thought it was an age spot,” Gillian said quietly.

“The most important thing is that you are here. We can remove the lesion and treat the area,” said Dr. Stevens. The surgery shouldn’t take too long. Sit here Gillian, and let’s take a look.”

Dr. Stevens adjusted her glasses and snapped on rubber gloves.  She pressed on Gillian’s forehead and bent close to examine.  Gillian could smell mint on Dr. Steven’s breath. It was fresh, but reminded her of a medical office.

“What’s going to happen?” John asked.

“We’ll remove the lesion, freeze it and slice it into small sections, looking at the cells under a microscope for any malignancy. Hopefully, when we reach the bottom slice we see no more of the bad cells. If we do, though, we’ll remove more tissue and repeat the process. We only need to use local anesthetic, Gillian, you’ll be awake the whole time.”

“What happens after the lesion is gone?” asked Gillian.

“Well, depending on the depth of the tumor, we may need to follow up with treatment, radiation or chemotherapy, sometimes both.”

“Oh,” said Gillian, her eyes downcast.  She had seen the effects of the chemo on John and couldn’t fathom how they would manage treatments at the same time. She felt like the chemicals were killing John slowly, right before her eyes. He was brave and put up a good front, but his thin, bent body told the truth. Gillian wasn’t afraid of dying. She worried about not being able to care for John. She looked at him, tears welling in her eyes. He reached out, squeezed her hand and gave a smile. Gillian took a deep breath.

Dr. Stevens patted her shoulder and said, “Let’s get started, alright? 

“Can I stay with her?” John asked, not letting go of Gillian’s hand.

“Of course,” said Dr. Stevens.

When they left the examination room two hours later, a large bandage graced the middle of Gillian’s forehead.

“Do you have some aspirin with you?” John asked her as they approached the elevator. “My head is killing me.”

She opened her purse and rummaged around until she found the small white bottle. She opened it and spilled two tablets into his open hand. He threw them back and drank from the fountain by the elevator.

John pushed the button and they waited.

“You call Jan when we get home and tell her,” Gillian said.

“Okay,” he replied.

They walked out of the medical office and turned left onto the sidewalk. Gillian reached out with her free hand and grasped John’s. Their fingers tightened. Together, they walked slowly to their car, an older Chevy, its blue paint, faded like her eyes and his pants.

John opened the passenger door. Gillian put her cane and his case inside. Then shestraightened up and turned around to face him, backing herself up until she felt the edge of the seat behind her. She stopped and looked up at John. He rested his cane against the open door and lifted his thin hands to frame his wife’s face. He leaned close and kissed the bandage on her forehead.

“We’ll get through this together, Jilly, I promise. We always do,” he reassured her, gazing into her eyes. He helped her into the seat and closed the door, then walked around the vehicle and got in. “How about a cup of coffee?”

“Sounds like just what we need. We’ll share one.”

John pulled up to the intersection. He put on the left blinker and accelerated, proceeding through the turn that would take them to their favorite coffee shop. He glanced to Gillian, she was still smiling, even with the silly bandage.  He didn’t see the tractor-trailer coming. John’s light was green.

***

One second Gillian was smiling at John and the next she saw the square glass headlights and silver grill of the truck.  Her mouth opened as she lifted her hand to point. John turned to look just before it hit them. Gillian screamed.

Darkness. Darkness and then chaos. Sirens wailed and men yelled. The smell of gas so strong it burned her nose and throat. Heavy footsteps ran on the pavement. No focus. Blurry figures bending close. The sound of metal wrenching. She thought she heard John say, “Gillian.” But his voice sounded weak and then it was gone. Big yellow boots. Flashing lights. Gillian closed her eyes, trying to make sense of it. Where was she? What happened? Where was John? He always steadied her when things were confusing or chaotic.  His voice soothed her and his touch calmed her. Where did he go?

“He’s not breathing, his heart’s stopped. Give me those paddles,” Gillian heard a man say. “We’re losing him. Clear –”

Then a jolt. Pain in her chest stole her breath and Gillian knew. John was dead. She felt it. She didn’t need to open her eyes and see. 

Gillian could feel John’s spirit rising from his body and pulling hers with it.  “Don’t you dare leave me, John Hill,” she whispered. “We’re supposed to be together – you promised.”

II

He heard Gillian and she was mad. “Don’t you dare leave me, John Hill,” she whispered. “We’re supposed to be together – you promised.” He could hear her, but he couldn’t see her. If he got to her quickly enough, told her a joke, kissed her, he wouldn’t get the cold shoulder tonight. She’d forgive him.

This dream was like one of those new 3D movies where things and people floated out of the screen and over the audience. John was up, not in the sky, but above everything going on.  The colors below him were bright, but the sound was brighter. John couldn’t remember the last time he could hear this well. Sirens wailed and rescue people called out.

“Hurry, there’s a woman in the passenger side, on the floor,” came a voice from under a scuffed yellow fireman’s hat.

 “He’s gone,” another said, in a defeated tone. John looked over to the rescue worker and saw the man pushing himself up from the side of a body covered in blood.

The smell of the gas spilling on the asphalt assailed John’s nostrils, but didn’t burn his nose and eyes. A firefighter in heavy bright yellow pants was spraying foam under and around the car and truck. Others were working feverishly to get the passenger side door open.

“Get that door off, there’s gas all over the place,” said a deeper voice.

“Use the Jaws,” yelled another.

A firefighter came running with a large metal tool. He and another squad member wrestled with it at the passenger side of a car. John could see clearly, every color, every shape, even the tiny pieces of gray gravel scattered on the pavement. The painted white and yellow lines on the road were bright and clear. The truck was pitched to the side yawning over a mashed car. The car was a faded blue, 70’s model Chevy, just like his. The car even had a dent on the right front fender. Then it dawned on him.

“It’s my car. Oh No!  Not my baby.”

Forty years ago, John had saved every extra dollar he could find in a Dutch Masters cigar box to buy that car. He’d walked onto the lot and handed the salesman a wad of cash, leaving the man open-mouthed. John smiled thinking back to that moment. Those keys in his hand, that motor under his command was almost as good as –

“There, got it,” the man’s voice interrupted John’s thoughts. The sound of metal wrenching made him want to cover his ears. He looked at his car, his baby, ruined. He washed and polished the Nova every week, vacuumed the interior religiously and changed the oil more often than the owner’s manual instructed. His car was under the wheels of that huge truck. No one ever drove that car but John. Who had stolen his car?

He noticed that the rescue worker covered the bloody body he had been working on with a blanket.  John’s first  thought was, “Served him right, for stealing my car,” Then he admonished himself. No car is worth a man’s life. “Grab that backboard. Be easy, watch her neck,” another cautioned,

“Get me an IV.”

“Ma’am, Ma’am, can you hear me?” asked another.

John wanted to move to see who the worker was referring to. He was interested in seeing this “she” who was with the man who stole his car. He kept trying to move, but this dream had him suspended in one spot.

The rescue squad workers pulled the stretcher and a backboard from the van and hurried over. Gently, they lifted the woman from the wreckage and onto the backboard. As they moved the body, John’s body moved in tandem.  The woman’s feet came into view. Her sandals looked like Gillian’s.

A squad member bent over the woman with an oxygen mask. “It’s gonna be alright Ma’am. You’re gonna be fine. This is an oxygen mask, to help you breathe,” John heard the young man say.

John yelled, “Get out of the way so I can see,” but no one seemed to pay attention. The man with the oxygen stood up and John recognized his own cardigan sweater, the one Gillian had been wearing lately.

“Oh my God, it’s Gillian on that backboard, under that oxygen mask. She was in the car.” John wanted to wake up. “Wake up, Dammit!” he yelled to himself. He pinched himself, slapped his own face. Nothing worked. “Gillian!” he called loudly.  She didn’t open her eyes, no one looked up. He continued to hover over his wife, helpless.

It was as if he were an invisible helium balloon attached to Gillian by an invisible thread. They loaded her into the ambulance and John floated in the ceiling of the van right over her. They rode to the hospital together as the squad members inserted an IV and applied a neck collar to his wife. The workers talked back and forth, never noticing John suspended there right above them.

“Hey, you with the red hair, that’s my wife. Be careful. Hey, you with the needle, she hates needles. I need to hold her hand when you do that. Wait a second, I can’t reach.”

No one paid any attention to his directions. John heard everything clearly. No one heard him.

He hovered over her as she was taken from the ambulance, wheeled through the hallway, as they sliced off her clothes. They cut away his sweater from her body. She was cold; he could feel it and he couldn’t warm her. His heat had risen.