The Sixtieth Year
Alice stood beside Sam's casket, hoping that if she stood there watching him long enough he'd breathe, blink, or talk. Maybe tell her she was having a nightmare.
"Mom, the service is over.” Alice's daughter took her hand. “We have to take Dad to the cemetery for burial." Dana led her out to the car.
As they slowly traveled to the cemetery, Alice thought about that morning, that cold, dreary morning when she lost someone she'd shared the last 59 years of her life.
Sam wobbled into the house, his hand clutching his chest and his eyes wild with fear. And his mouth—she’d never forget the way his mouth reminded her of a fish without water, gaping, gasping.
And the thud he made when he hit the floor, all 210 pounds of him, crashing to the black and white checkered linoleum. She didn’t remember calling the ambulance, but she must have, because the paramedics where there, placing him on a stretcher, covering his face with a sheet.
She still blushed, embarrassed by her selfish thought as they carried him out the door. Thinking about herself. What was she was going to do now?
Standing at the gravesite, Alice laid pansies on Sam’s headstone. “They were his favorite, ya know.” She kept her eyes cast down on the name—Samuel Brewler. “You know just about everything you can know about a person after living with’em for almost six decades…I ‘spect.”
“I suppose that's right, Mom. I’ll go wait in the car with the kids. Stay as long as you want.”
Alice waved her on. “Go on home kiddo, I feel like walking. It’s only a couple of blocks.”
“But, Mom…I think I should wait, and well, you come home with us tonight.”
“No, now I refuse to be burden. I got a house and I intend on stayin’ in it.” She kissed her daughter’s cheek. "Get those kids home and rest a while…go on.”
Alice went home to an empty house. She puttered around the rest of the day in her robe and slippers, trying to tidy up, but there wasn’t much to keep her busy. Alice used to scold Sam for making messes, but now she longed to sweep the bread crumbs from the sheets after he had eaten his midnight snack, and clean the beard shavings and toothpaste out of the sink. He was always forgetting, misplacing, and breaking things, but now she was going to miss helping him find his gloves, or telling him for the hundredth time where he left the key to his workshop.
She threw her hands up in the air. “What to do now?” She asked herself. The books on the shelf looked a bit cluttered. She started pulling them off to rearrange, when a picture drifted down to the floor.
“Humph. What’s this?” She smiled, tears glistened in her eyes. "Were we ever really the two people in the photo?" Sam’s hair dark as a crow’s feathers, and hers… a chestnut brown. It didn’t seem real. Memories…those days felt as distant as the moon.
Her small, little frame melted into the chair as she stared at those people she once knew. They went dancing, had picnics, spend many days and night side-by-side. That selfish thought came creeping back into her mind.
That night, she swore she heard Sam shuffling down the hallway for a midnight snack.
"Sam, is that you?" You silly old woman, you know your husband's dead. She fluffed her pillow, tossed and turned, but her eyes wouldn’t close. "Guess, I’ll just get up and have me some tea."
Sitting there alone, staring at the back door she thought about Sam traipsing across the kitchen linoleum with muddy feet, fresh from the garden. She’d complain of course, but alone now, she whispered to God, “Just send him back, I really didn’t mind cleaning up.”
She wiped the tears that slid down her cheeks. Silly old woman, you were never one for cryin’ and feeling sorry for yourself. She put her half-drank cup of tea in the sink and headed back to bed.
In the moonlight, she noticed Sam’s arthritis cream laying on the night stand. Never again would she have to rub the liniment on his sore back after he'd been working in the yard all day. “I didn’t mind rubbing his back, why I’d rub it till my own fingers needed some arthritis cream, if he was just here beside me.” She opened the bottle to take a whiff and left it open. Closing her eyes, she imagined Sam was there beside her and thought about those two strangers in the photo as she drifted off to sleep.
The pain began later that next morning as Alice sipped her coffee and nibbled on the corner of her toast. It started in the center of her chest and moved its way up her neck and in her jaw. She struggled to take a few deep breaths and looked toward the phone on the wall. "No," she whispered to herself, "I don't dare call for help. If the good Lord takes me now, I'll be with Sam." She leaned back in her chair, staring at the tiny calendar stuck to the refrigerator door.
As she stared at the red heart that encircled October 20th, she thought about how things change. The electric company sent her a small light-bulb-shaped calendar every year for the last 55 years. The older ones had a sticky back, kind of like a bandage, but then at some point they starting sending magnetic ones. Alice decided that’s just how life goes—the old replaced with something new, something supposedly better.
The pain shot down her left arm. She felt out of breath. Holding her chest she stumbled over to the couch and stretched out, closing her eyes.
"Mom. Mom?" Diane gently shook her mother's arm. "You okay?"
Alice moaned, looking around the room. She felt her daughter, making sure she was real. "I'm not dead…Why aren't I dead?"
Diane held her. "I'm thrilled you're not dead."
Alice looked confused. "But I…the pain…it was in here," She stuttered rubbing her chest.
"If you had chest pains, why didn't you call me…or 911?" Diane grabbed the phone. "I'm not leaving you alone again." She dialed the doctor's number.
Alice grabbed the phone. "I'm fine. It was just indigestion."
"Mom, you need to see the doctor, and I'm not hanging up this phone."
Alice grabbed her coat and slipped out the back door while Diane was busy with her phone conversation. She looked around the neighborhood as she walked along, pulling her coat tighter around her small frame. The cool air quickly numbed her cheeks, so she pulled the collar up around her neck.
"Not all change is good," She mumbled to herself. Sam became old and obsolete, like so many things in their past, and he had to leave this world to make room for the new men with new ideas. "Not necessarily better, mind ya," She mumbled, "but different."
She heard Diane calling for her, so she turned down an alley and ducked behind the McAllister's garbage cans. Diane walked on by, calling out for her. She went the opposite way and took the long way around to the cemetery. Talking to Sam would make her feel better. After all, it was almost their 60th year together. "How's an old lady like me supposed stay here alone. What's there to live for…Change?" She felt around in her coat pocket for a tissue and blotted her eyes. "I don't want things to change."
She hurried as fast as her thin, feeble legs could carry her to the cemetery and stood at the gate a minute to make sure Diane wasn't there. No one. Alice went over to Sam's headstone and struggled to get her old body in position to sit on the ground.
"Sam, I don't want to be here without you. I keep crying like an old blubbering fool, and you know I ain't one to get all worked up." Staring at the double headstone, her old withered finger, red and cold, rubbed the etching Alice Standish Brewler in the stone. "I should be here, right beside you." She brushed the leaves from Sam's headstone." I almost had a heart attack, I think. I was hopin' I wouldn’t make it, but here I am." She blew her nose. "Stuck in this crazy world, just an old broken down woman in a world that full of shiny new things. I don't belong here anymore, Sam." Alice pulled her coat tighter to shield her body from the wind. "I guess I should go home, even though it ain't home anymore without you there."
As she grabbed the top of the tombstone to lift herself up, the pain returned in her chest. This time is was a squeezing, intense pain, like a dagger to her heart. "My old heart is breaking." She fell to the ground and scooted herself so she could lean her back against the headstone. Clutching her chest, she struggled to breathe. Maybe this is it. Maybe God is taking me out of this world. "I don't belong here, anymore."
Diane drove up and down the streets with her car windows down looking for her mother with no luck. She decided to drive past the cemetery again before heading back to the house. Pulling up to the gate, she left the car running, as she ran over to take a look around. In the distance she saw her mother's red coat and ran over the gravesite.
Alice didn't move. Diane reached over and patted her shoulder. "Mom!"
Alice jumped. "Good Lord, child. Can't you let an old lady leave this world?"
"Chest pains again?" She helped Alice to her feet. "We're going straight to the hospital."
Alice went along, after all she knew in her heart is was only a matter of time before she left this world.
Diane sat in the waiting room of the hospital while the doctor ran tests on Alice. She watched other people sitting, waiting, and going through the same type of uncertain situation. What would she do if she lost her mother too?
A nurse stepped through the double doors, and held one door open with her foot. "Who's here with Alice Brewler?"
"I am." Diane said.
"Come on back. She's in a room now. “The nurse led her to room 204 and knocked twice before entering.”Found your daughter, Alice." She smiled and winked at Diane before leaving the room.
The doctor stood at Alice's bedside looking over some paper. He looked up. "Hi, I'm Doctor Crane." He shook Diane's hand. "Doctor Becker is on vacation." He smiled. "Got all good news for you. Alice you are fine, and actually for an 80 year old woman, you are in excellent health. I didn't find any problems with the old ticker either."
Diane sighed with relief. "That's great news."
Alice scowled. "No. I know I almost had a heart attack…twice!" She held up two fingers.
"Well, Alice. I think you may have had a couple of panic episodes. With your husband's recent death and the changes that brings, well, that is enough to trigger some anxiety."
"What should we do, Doctor?" Diane asked.
"I'm going to send her home, but I've written out a couple of prescriptions, just make sure she takes them before bed and then as directed."
"Mom, you should come home with me tonight."
"No, now you heard the doctor, I'm fine."
"Actually," Doctor Crane butted in, "if she wants to stay in her home, that's probably best…to be in familiar surroundings. You can stay with her, though." Doctor Crane clutched the clipboard under his arm. "A nurse will be in shortly to discharge you."
Alice took her pills, like the doctor said, and rolled onto her side, staring at Sam's side of the bed.
Diane made a bed on the couch, and checked in on Alice before lying down. The house was so quiet, and she was so exhausted sleep came quickly.
About 4 am Alice woke from dream. She heard Sam calling her name from outside, and just when she was about to open the door, she woke up. The chest pains returned and the ache hovered over her heart.
"I won't take another pill, Sam." She whispered. "I don't want to be here without you."
Alice drifted off to sleep, and the dream continued. Alice heard Sam calling her name once again, and opened the door. She walking toward an open door and followed Sam's voice, until he appeared in the front doorway.
"Sam!" She stretched out her arms.
He picked her up, held his bride in his arms and carried her over the threshold to an eternity together.