Honorable Mentions

Sparkles in Time

“It’s time, Mr. Jensen.”  The nurse’s hand gently rests on my shoulder.  I look up into the most caring eyes I have ever seen.  How can she do this every day and still be so compassionate?

I pull myself up from my chair, as she graciously directs me. “Go down to the end of the hall, make a left and it’s the first door on the right.”

I make my way down the pristine hallway, brightly lit with a faint scent of disinfectant.  Behind my eyes flash all kinds of memories; sparkles in time like fireworks that split the night sky.  Memories of walks along the beach, the sun warming our faces, and the cool water splashing her feet.

She loved the outdoors. I ‘m not sure which season she liked best, crunching leaves in the fall, walking in the first snow fall, or finding the first flower bud of spring.  Being with her family had to be her favorite.   It didn’t matter if it was a big holiday celebration or a lazy afternoon watching movies, she was content.  And oh, how she loved our kids, how she would do anything to comfort them and keep them safe.

My heart is heavy as I try to fathom how we will manage without her. I’m going to miss how she greeted me at the end of each day when I came home.  I could just see the love and joy radiating from every fiber of her being.  But how can I be sad when I know she had a perfect life, filled with happiness and love, she, the perfect companion.  Another memory brings a smile to my face; the first day I laid eyes on her.  Here it was Christmas Eve, she was introduced to me as Holly, looking adorable with a red bow.

It doesn’t get any better than that.  I quietly laugh to myself.

I’ve managed to find the room. I reach out to open the door.  As my hand grips the door handle the cold steel jolts me from my reverie and plunges me into reality.  I know once I cross this threshold, my life will be changed forever.

I enter the room, and there I see my wife.  Our eyes lock and it’s almost as if time stands still. Even though her face is blotchy from crying, she is still the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.  Her green eyes are even more vibrant, probably intensified by the red puffiness that has overtaken her lids.  The absence of tears leads me to believe that she is now trying desperately to be strong. This makes me love her even more, if that is at all possible.  My arms ache to hold her, so I close the gap between us with two long strides.  When I reach her, she collapses in my arms. At this point, words spoken would be meaningless, all I can do is hold on tight.  I strengthen her with my embrace and then I look down at where Holly is lying, her breathing a bit labored.  I stroke her soft, auburn fur, “Hey girl, it will soon be over.  We’ll miss you so much.”

Together my wife and I continue to rub her ears and caress her back. Whispering comforting words as the vet injects the serum that will bring her everlasting peace.  Her eyes flutter closed as she takes her last breath.

That same nurse is there by our side, she escorts us into another room where we can spend a few more moments to grieve.  Before she leaves she places Holly’s collar in my hand.  The familiar jingle of her tags, which once symbolized vibrant life, now clanged with a hollow sound of a life gone too soon.

Holly was my wife’s Irish Setter; my gift to her one Christmas.  Ten years ago, my wife was diagnosed with cancer and began chemo treatments.  I knew my wife would need all the love and support she could get during this time.  What better than the unconditional love of a pup?  She always wanted an Irish Setter, it was the perfect gift.  They became instant buddies and were inseparable.  Holly knew exactly what my wife needed when she needed it.  When all my wife could do was lay in bed, Holly was right there beside her.

As my wife grew stronger they would go for walks.  Holly was there barking to encourage her to go a little further, or tug her sleeve when she needed to stop and rest.  Holly grew to be the life force in our family, always there for each one of us, with a warm nuzzle or her comforting presence.

My wife is now cancer free, though the irony is not lost on me that the reason Holly was brought into our life, is the same reason she was taken out of it.  I am grateful that Holly’s cancer came later, after she lived a full life and she didn’t suffer long.  Still, knowing that will not erase the pain or fill the hole in our hearts.

Only time will mend this void in our life with memories that sparkle so bright from a love so pure.

© Carrie Ann Alexis

 

A Trip of a Lifetime

“1.2 million dollars?  Did you actually say one. Point. Two. Million. Dollars?” Michael questions as he scoots to the edge of his chair as if getting closer will allow him to hear better, one hand clutching his chest and the other resting on the desk in front of him.  With an eyebrow raised he looks at the lawyer waiting for his reply.

“Yes, Mr. Alexander that is correct.  Your Aunt Hazel instructed me to tell you the amount of your inheritance, and to give you this.”  The lawyer hands him a sealed envelope.

“What is this?” Michael inquires.

“Read it.”

Michael struggles to open the envelope, as he alternates from fanning himself, to dabbing his brow with one hand, as the other shaky hand holds onto the envelope.  He finally manages to get it open, he takes a deep breath as he unfolds the paper, recognizing his Aunt’s handwriting, he is overcome with emotion his hand involuntarily covers his mouth as he reads to himself.

My Dearest Michael –

Surprised? I can just picture you now, you frantically fanning yourself like you are about to pass out. Breathe dear, calm down, no need getting all verklempt.

Let me explain.  I’ve spent my whole life trying to make everyone happy by doing what was expected of me, and what was right. I have decided that in my passing, I will finally do what I want. You and your mother are the only family I have left. Well…the only family by blood.  There is actually someone else.  There always has been someone else, but I think you already knew that.  She is the other beneficiary.

Being neighbors for so many years, and then young widowers for many more, Rose and I formed a bond that went beyond friendship. Our husband’s life insurance policies paid off our houses, and left us enough money to raise our kids and live a comfortable life. Together we invested wisely, and multiplied what we had. We had a good life together, and we were very happy.

Michael, she adores you, she remembers the conversations we all had talking about traveling and seeing the world. That is what I want for you Michael. I have watched you live your life to the fullest, not caring what anyone thinks of you or the choices you make. I want you to use this inheritance to travel and see the world. I want you to be happy. Please resist the urge to put this money into the hair salon. You’re smart as a whip and a damn good hair stylist, the salon will be just fine.  Go.  See the world!!

One final request. Please look after Rose for me, and be sure to send her a postcard from all the faraway lands you visit.

Love-
Aunt Hazel

With a smile on his face, Michael carefully folds the letter, and places it back in the envelope, and whispers more to himself, “Wow.”

With pen in hand, the lawyer says, “I just need you to sign these papers.  I’ve known your aunt for many years, she was an exceptional woman, she will be missed by a lot of people.”

Michael handles the paperwork, albeit in a bit of shock.  Thanks the lawyer by shaking his hand and leaves the office.

The top was still down on his bright red BMW Z4 Roadster, the sun was still shining, as he started the car.  As he pulled out of the parking lot, he didn’t turn the music on, instead he let the wind wash over him as the memories flooded his mind, as he made the short trip to Rose’s house.

He has so many fond memories of long summer evenings spent with his Aunt Hazel and Rose.  No topic was off limits with the three of them.  They would sit on the back porch talking and laughing until the lightning bugs came out.  Even on the hottest of days, they sat and drank coffee, and snacked on Sara Lee Coffee Cake. Aunt Hazel would bring out the flavored coffee creamers whenever she had company, calling herself fancy.

He smiles at the memories, and continues his drive.  It’s amazing how drastically life can change in the blink of an eye.

As he pulls into the cul-de-sac, he sees the two familiar houses standing side by side.  Even the house itself displays a loss all of its own.  A house once so warm and inviting, seems to have lost its fervor without a life residing within it.  Even the neighborhood has seemed to have lost its sparkle.  He sees Rose, sitting on her porch swing, the slow motion not unlike a pendulum of a clock that is just abiding its time.  As he walks up to the front porch, she sees him and smiles, it barely reaches her eyes.  They greet each other with a hug, as Michael says, “Hello there Doll Face.” This time with a little less enthusiasm, and a lot more melancholy.

Rose can only muster a single word response, “Michael.” As she holds back tears and leans into his much-needed embrace, knowing this once joyous reunion has quickly turned bittersweet.

She reluctantly steps back, and quickly wipes her eyes.  “Let’s go inside.  Hazel would have a fit if she knew we were standing out here blubbering all over the sidewalk.”

Michael follows her into a well-kept house.  “Make yourself comfortable hon, the coffee is already on, I’ll be back in a minute.”

“I can help you.” Michael insists.

“It’s no trouble, you sit, relax, you’ve been driving all day.”

Michael stops and looks at all the beautiful pictures of Rose’s family displayed proudly on the mantel.  Children, grandchildren, and a few great-grandchildren.  Many include his Aunt Hazel, with that fabulous smile of hers.  She did live a happy life.

Rose enters the dining room and sets a tray on the table.  Michael takes a seat as she pours coffee.  The Sara Lee coffee cake is already sliced, he smiles as he takes a piece.  “You know I had to do it, kind of feels like she’s here with us.” She says with a half-smile.

“Ok Missy, spill it.  Did you know about my inheritance?” He eyeballs her as he prepares his coffee with cream and sugar.

“Yes.  Yes I did.” She says nodding her head knowingly.  “Hazel was so practical that way.  You know, my Frank passed away first.  She saw how difficult it was for me to make all the arrangements and decisions at such a vulnerable time, but she helped me through it then.  Shortly afterwards, she sat your uncle down, and they got all their affairs in order, not knowing she would be burying him just a year later.” She pauses and solemnly shakes her head in disbelief.  “Then once her and I started investing together and sharing more of our lives together, she sat me down too.  I hated having to think about all that stuff, but that was Hazel, she was the planner, and she wanted the final say for her life.”

Michael quietly takes it all in as he sips his coffee.  “So Lovie, we have all this money to see the world, where to first?”

“Oh, Michael dear, those were just silly pipe dreams from a couple of old bittys.  We were trying to live vicariously through you.  Besides, I don’t think I’d want to travel alone at this point in my life.”

“First of all, you are not an old bitty Sugar.  But I do understand your apprehension.” He reassures as he reaches over to lay his hand over hers.  “But I tell you what, if ever you get a bug in your bonnet and you just need to get away, you call me, and I’ll be your travel companion.  Belize…France…Switzerland…Wisconsin, skies the limit Chica, you let me know.”

“Oh, I couldn’t possibly ask you to do that Michael.”

“Rose.  Look at me.” Michael says with a dramatic point towards himself, and an eyebrow raised.  “I’m serious.”

“If you’re serious…there is some place…”

With an excited gasp, Michael says, “Really? Where?”

“My granddaughter is having one of those destination weddings in Hawaii in December, I wasn’t sure how I was going to get there alone, everyone is so busy preparing for the wedding I didn’t want to bother anyone to travel with me.”

“It’s done Darlin’, I’ll be your plus one.  After the nuptials, we’ll get ourselves a place on the beach, hire us a cabana boy, and we’ll be sipping margaritas as we watch the sunset.  Give me all the info, and leave the details to me.  You just worry about looking like the fabulous grandma that you are.” He takes her hand and kisses it with a loud “muah” sealing the deal.

“Oh Michael, thank you so much, I’m excited now.” She reaches over and gives him a hug.

Mumbling more to himself in silent outrage, “Hm…missing your grandbaby’s wedding…no siree…not on my watch!!”

Michael stays overnight and heads home in the morning.  He genuinely enjoyed his visit, he makes a mental note to do this more often.

Before he gets on the road, he calls Nita.  She’s not only his business partner, but his best friend.  He knows she’ll want to hear all about his trip, and he’d rather talk with her without the interruptions of a busy day.

“Hey, I’m on my way back, let’s meet somewhere for lunch. I have so much to tell you!!”

“Ok great, I just found this wonderful new sub shop, called Firehouse Subs, it’s decorated like a firehouse, and was actually founded by fireman.”

“Ohhhh sounds delicious.”

“Michael, they’re just subs. It’s in the strip mall on 119th Street. What time should I meet you there?”

“I can be there in about an hour and a half. Oh, and Nita, I wasn’t talking about the subs. Bye!!” he disconnects the call with a mischievous grin.

As they walk up to the sub shop, Michael reads the sign on the door aloud, “Founded by Fireman, Ohhh now that’s fun, I hope we run into some. I mean literally…run into them.” He turns his head and nods as he looks at Nita and opens the door.

Giving him a playful push through the entrance, “Oh my god Michael, behave.” Nita says shaking her head.

After taking far too long to decide what he wanted to order, they finally get their food and find a table and sit down.

“So, tell me all about your trip.”

“Well. The ride down is always nice, the weather was gorgeous, I was cruising in my Beemer with the top down, and the tunes cranked up, the wind in my hair and not a care in the world.” He dramatically says as he looks off into the distance.

“Michael!!” Nita startles him out of his reverie. “How about you get to the part about meeting the lawyer.” She nods her head with a smile as she takes a bite of her sandwich.

He clutches his chest and laments, “You wound me with your harshness.”

With a dramatic eye roll, Nita takes another bite of her sandwich.

“Fine. I was getting to that part anyway. It seems that dear Aunt Hazel had a secret. Pfsh, like I didn’t already know.” He gave a dismissive wave of his hand.

“Really?” With eyes wide and eyebrows raised.

Michael knowingly nods his head and hands her an envelope, “The lawyer said he was instructed by my aunt to inform me of my inheritance, and then give me this letter to read. Here, read it for yourself.”

Nita wipes her hands on a napkin and reaches over to take the envelope. She pulls a folded letter from it and reads it to herself.

“Wow Michael, that is wonderful!! When is your first trip? Where is your first trip?” truly excited for him.

“I’ll get to all that.  Don’t you want to know how much?”

“Sure, if you want to tell me.” She replies as she reaches for her Coke.

Michael looks to his left then to his right.  He leans forward and whispers, “One point two million.”

She almost spits out her drink, but instead starts coughing, but manages to say,  “Are you kidding me?”

“Nope.”

“Oh. My. God…Michael!!”

“I know right?” He says with his hand splayed across his chest. “But anyhow…before I left, I went to visit Rose. We had a nice visit. Turns out, her granddaughter is having one of those destination weddings in Hawaii. Rose didn’t want to travel alone, so she thought she would miss it.” He lifted his shoulder in a half shrug, “I suggested that I be her plus one. The wedding is in December.” Thinking nothing of it, he takes a bite of his sandwich, then looks up at Nita.

She is just staring at him with a huge smile on her face.

“What?” He questions.

“Michael!! You are simply the best.” She says with admiration.

“Yeah, I know…it is a gift.” He replies with a smirk.

Nita wads up a napkin and throws it at him. Shaking her head, smiling, she rolls her eyes.

© 2017 Carrie Ann