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Saturday, February 09, 2008

For Ken

(More to come. Maybe.  Story is in my head, but so is fever. Bad fever.  Can’t stop shivering and hurt like mad.  If it sucks, that’s why - right?)

It was a dreadfully bright and sunny day without the hint of a cloud anywhere, which was wretchedly unfair given that death and despair naturally call for cold and gloom.  Outside, there wasn’t even a suggestion of gloom in the deepest shadows of the pine trees.  No, the only despair, the only tragedy lay in the tiny old fashioned bedroom of Kenneth Laughlin.  Even his name bore disrespect to the situation.

His wife, Betty, wrung her hands while constantly weeping in loud, tearless sobs.  Most of the people were getting irritated and even a little scared by her crying, but all felt so wholly sorry for her, none spoke up or tried to calm her down.  There was a minister, of course, Betty wouldn’t have had it any other way, though Ken would have, well, laughed, if he could have.  His best friend Charlie sat in a tattered green chair that looked as comfortable as he did, which is to say not at all.  In all, if the people in the room told the full story of Ken’s life, it wasn’t really such a bad life, after all, but this wasn’t the whole story, not by far.

When Anna swept into the room, everyone including Kenneth looked up.  Had there been any hope left, Betty would have stopped crying and Charlie would have stopped wiping his forehead with his dank, dirty handkerchief.  The minister went back to quietly reading phrases from the Bible to Kenneth, Charlie released a sigh that might as well have been Kenneth’s death release breath, and Betty, well, Betty stiffened and looked hatefully at Anna, without bothering to stop her squawking.  Anna looked surprised at nothing.  In fact, she practically didn’t even notice anyone, except perhaps the minister.  She tried to catch his eye as if to ask permission to be there, but he was unwilling to get himself in this generational battle.  It wasn’t his style.  Let God sort ‘em out, he always believed.

Dressed in a buttery yellow shirt and soft, relaxed jeans, Anna looked like she had just come from grocery shopping or house cleaning or even puttering around in the garden (which was probably the case, given the brown and green stains at her knees).  It was too casual, too normal, too informal for the occasion.  Betty, especially, felt this deserved ceremony and importance.  Still, Anna was indisputably pretty.  But then, so had her grandmother been, with her dark, curling dresses which hung in exactly the same long ringlets Anna’s did.  This was undoubtedly the reason for the sudden tension in the room. 

“Mr. Laughlin,” Anna said softly, trying to keep fear and urgency from her voice and actually almost succeeding.

Before another sound could be uttered, Betty hissed, “Get out,” between what was probably a hiccup and what was most certainly a wail.  The wail almost covered up the venom that hung dangerously in the air, but Anna was on a mission and not to be stopped.

“Don’t, Betty,” Charlie warned, his voice surprising after such a long period of silence from him.  “The girl’s got something to say.  Let her.  We all gotta make our peace and if she don’t do it the proper way, she’ll do it the improper way.”  He nodded briefly, punctuating his sentence with the common sense of over eighty years of wisdom.

Betty’s wails became dry cat-like calls, which finally raked on the nerves of everyone.  The minister muttered, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do ...” which caused Betty to stop wailing, and instead sputter in utter fury.  “Impetulent young man! Why I should…”

“Impetuous,” Anna said firmly, making to lock eyes with Betty. 

Betty’s eyes grew wide and the hate in her seethed to the surface, “GET OUT!” she shouted, and Charlie rose and took a step toward her, afraid she’d hurt someone, primarily herself.

“You,” Anna said, crossing her arms over her chest, which looked ridiculously childish for someone firmly in her thirties.  As if a mirror had suddenly been placed in front of her, she quickly dropped her stance and held her hands out pleadingly.  “Please Betty.  Get yourself some tea.  You"re dry as a bone and you’ll want fresh tears when the time comes.  Let me have five minutes.  Please.”

The please hung lonely in the sickroom air for too long before Charlie took Betty’s arm and steered her out of the room.  “We’ll be back! I will be back!” Betty threatened.

“I know,” Anna said glumly before sitting on the floor on the opposite side of the bed where the minister sat.  She took Kenneth’s hand and rested her cheek against it.  Through the entire exchange, Kenneth’s eyes had moved from person to person, but their grief was too raw and too terrified to notice.

“Anna,” Kenneth croaked.  Anna started and rose up on her knees to peek over the over fluffed antique bed at Kenneth, eyes wide.  ‘Ken!’ she squeaked, giving his hand a careful squeeze.

When no more words came, Anna went to the bedside table and poured water from one of those ugly pink hospital pitchers.  Just the type of tacky thing Betty would do.  They had plenty of money to buy real pitchers, in fact, they probably owned real pitchers, but instead she chose to remind him of the hospital he left.  Quickly turning her eyes from the pitcher and focusing on the cartoon decorated plastic cup - probably belonging to one of the grandkids, Anna held the cup to Kenneth’s lips.

He drank but a sip, more out of courtesy than because he really wanted any of the water.  It was stale and tasted too much like chlorine, but he was too tired, too old to fuss with such trivial things.  Instead he managed to ask, “How are you?”

Posted by Liberty on 02/09 at 09:07 PM
Posted under: Writing Prompt

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