What if…in my experience stories begin from these two words. So it is with this one. What if at the breaking point in a relationship, the crash of waves on the ship threatening to break it apart—and trust me, most couples have had at least one—what if, one partner experienced an epiphany so profound that the ship survived the storm and became stronger. What happens then when the ‘death do us part’ becomes reality for that couple.
From this the following short short story emerged:
Mary Ellen paused, pulled on to the shoulder of the road, and surveyed the landscape. Cars whizzed by her. Obviously, she had been holding up some of them, because one arm shot up from the driver’s side window. She squinted. She sighed. Yes, indeed, the one finger salute was aimed right for her.
She squinted out the window. How could thirty years change so much? How? Well, look at her. She chuckled, the same thirty years had done a number on her. Her changes, the wrinkles, the extra pounds, the myriad of old age signs, the recent loss of Marvin had somehow diminished her further. The landscape around her had expanded. Housing developments filled land that had once been ranch land. The road she had pulled off was four lanes now when back then it had been mostly two lanes.. Another sigh.
Why did it seem so important to find the exact spot? Of course, it wasn’t. Silly, really. But the place was symbolic. What happened changed everything. Before that night she had spent two years on a crumbling precipice. Here, that September evening Mary Ellen found footing. Deciding the exact spot where she had veered off the road, awash in tears, angry, hurt, despairing did not matter, she swung the door open, reaching as she did to pop the trunk. Again, a sigh.
Reaching in among her suitcase and make up case, she retrieved the object wrapped in one of her scarfs. Squeezing it to her chest, her daughters’ faces came into her consciousness. Marisa, Paige, and Beth, so different, and yet all equally appalled. The day before she set out on this journey she had presented them with lockets on chains, pretty things really, 14K gold, each containing some of Marvin’s ashes.
–What the devil are we supposed to do with these, Mother? You can be so macabre!–Marisa
–EWWW! Mom, how disgusting! Isn’t it enough of an embarrassment that you had Daddy cremated rather than burying his whole body in a nice coffin. People are still talking about that.–Paige
–BUT, BUT I thought we would all decide where to take Daddy’s ashes…I thought we would all go together and spread them…I cannot wear Daddy around my neck!–Beth
There had been other appeals, tears, demands. Still here she stood. Alone. Just as she and Marvin had planned on the morning before he slipped into a coma, she had come full circle to this place. Spreading a blanket on the far side of her car, she sat with her arms around the man she had been married to for fifty years.
Like a wash that cleared a canvas, thirty years dropped away.
Her eyes swept landscape, wiping clean the current place until so she saw open space before her, slight hills across the prairie land. The wind tossed her short brown, graying hair…her eyes welled with tears. She clutched the urn closer.
Tears had altered her sight that night, too. All hope of mending her damaged marriage had evaporated. She knew she was at the end of a fraying rope, barely clinging to the shreds with broken fingernails. Still even as her grip loosened, she clung to the shreds.
Instinctively, she turned her face upward as she had then and out loud repeated the words, her last appeal.
“If you care, help me.”
The wind calmed, her racing heart slowed and she felt, no, she heard, ‘Be Still.’ Looking around she wondered at her imagination. How impertinent to entertain such thoughts. How likely was it that God, a higher power who she had been ignoring, would jump to her aid? And yet the urn in her hands testified to the transformation of that distant moment.
She walked mystically through several difficult months as she forgave and was forgiven. Mary Ellen walked through the ruins, retrieved the treasures, leaving the trash behind. Marvin and she found their footing again. The thirty years since brought greater love and friendship than she could have imagined.
Lid off, Mary Ellen emptied the urn, watching as the wind picked up his ashes. A whirlwind caught them, spinning out across the ground. The wind calmed. She had released him. She folded the blanket, returned it to the trunk. Behind the wheel, she wondered. Where would she go now? Who would she lean on? She pulled onto the highway.
She whispered, “I know, Be Still.” And a peace fell over her like a warm blanket.