Chapter Five: A Mistake

Unknown

By Monday morning Sara had packed up all the things that were William’s that were not also items that they got together.  His trophy collection, which she never wanted him to display, but that he put out anyway, his hunting clothes and boots, books that were technical about architecture, these things were all packed in various boxes ready to go to Goodwill or the post office.  More than once she’d had to stop and cry, or stop and read a letter or book.  One night she’d just fallen asleep in the middle of the floor after going through a box of college papers and letters.  The memories that each item brought to her mind were both precious now and awful.  The jeans with the hole in the seat because he’d been drinking and got them caught on a nail.  How she’d laughed at him.  Trying to get untangled, but too tipsy to stand up straight.  The faded stain from the ketchup that dripped on his shirt when they took that anniversary trip to Mount Pleasant and ate hamburgers on the porch at Poe’s Tavern. She’d spent an hour crying over that one.  But in the end, she’d put them away.  Closing the boxes because looking at it all was too hard.  Except for one pale yellow button down shirt that she had always loved him in.  He must have worn it briefly then hung it up because she could close her eyes and bury her face in it and imagine he was there.  That she kept.  And she’d worn it to bed every night.

The nights were, without a doubt, the hardest times for her.  She missed him next to her in bed.  When they had married, having him in bed with her every night was marvelous.  Sara would snuggle up next to him when she was ready to go to sleep – even if he had gone to bed first.  Sometimes this snuggling led to other things, which did not bother Sara.  Often during the night, William would escape to the other side of the bed, but Sara would find him in her sleep and drape a leg and an arm over his chest.

He wasn’t there now to find in the night, so her sleep was restless at best.  A couple of times she had simply gotten up and turned on the T.V. to whatever ridiculous reality show would pass the time until she fell asleep on the couch.  Then in the morning she would wake up, rush to the bathroom to throw up and begin her day.

After the packing, she had settled into opening the mail.  Here two problems greeted her.  One was, simply put, money.  There wasn’t much.  William had always handled paying the bills because he enjoyed it.  They had joint checking accounts and her money just went right in with his.  They had no secrets, or so she assumed, and she would just make sure with him before she made a big purchase or pulled out over fifty dollars at the ATM.

As far as she knew, William had no life insurance, so their mortgage was now looming over her head.  That bill was in the mail that she had opened over the weekend and after looking through the filing cabinet for six hours on Saturday, she finally had a handle on how much money they had in the bank.  Without William’s salary coming in, there was only enough money to pay the mortgage through next month.  Her salary alone was just enough to cover the water, electricity, food and maybe the cell phone.  So she either had to sell the house in six weeks or get further and further behind on the bill.

She had made a mental note to call William’s office today to find out if he had any salary that hadn’t been paid.  That may stave off foreclosure for another month if she was really careful.  The best thing for her was to find a roommate.  How she was going to convince someone to come in and live with a pregnant woman was beyond her.  Then there was the widow thing.  She didn’t want to live with anyone else right now.

Oh, God, Sara thought, a little prayer coming unbidden to her mind.  I sure could use some help right now.

After a shower and a quick blow dry Sara walked into the small dining room.  Holding her coffee in her hand, Sara leaned against the doorjamb and studied the boxes stacked all around her, the result of her hard work and tears. The boxes stared right back, taunting her.

“Fine,” she said.  “I’ll deal with you.”

The boxes for donation went to the curb after a quick phone call arranging pick-up.  The few boxes to go to Oden she moved to the car.  The post office was not far away.

Grabbing her keys and her purse, she walked back out to the car, ready to go.  Sara saw Miss Jane across the street on her porch.  She waved.  Miss Jane waved back, but had a puzzled expression on her face.  It struck Sara that she must seem to be moving pretty fast to get William’s things moved out.  But this was what she had chosen to do.  She climbed in the car, started the engine and headed to the post office.

There were only three boxes to take in to mail to Miss Emily.  The thought came to Sara that this would seem awfully fast to Emily Carraway.   Miss Emily might even be embarrassed to get them in the mail so quickly.  But what did that matter to Sara anymore.  It doesn’t, she thought.  It doesn’t concern me at all.

Boxes taken care of, Sara climbed back in her car and thought of the long day ahead with nothing to do.  Panic started to set in at the thought of returning to her house.

“The mall,” Sara said out loud to no one. “The mall is what I need.”

Parking her car in the mall lot outside of Belk, Sara walked into the store and headed straight for her favorite place, the clearance shoe rack.  This was what she needed.  Shoes.  Racks of discounted shoes.  Old lady shoes.  Party shoes.  Bright orange shoes with heels so high they were a danger to society.  Boots of all shades.  Kitten heels and ballet flats.  The soothing nothingness of shoe shopping.  The possibility of an amazing deal.  To get lost in the hunt.  To forget what today was.

After forty-five minutes of trying on every shoe on the clearance rack in her size, she had narrowed her possibilities down to a pair of fabulously comfortable bright pink ballet flats which would go with absolutely nothing in her closet and a ridiculous pair of patent red three-inch heels which she might get to wear once before she became a mom.  And moms don’t wear three-inch heels – do they?  Sara wondered.  In the end, when the shoes were even cheaper than the red-line price, she felt completely obliged to keep both pairs.

Feeling better than she had in days, Sara headed over to the food court for her favorite fried chicken sandwich.  First though, a quick stop at Barnes and Noble for something to read while eating alone.  Perusing the historical romance section (for the history lessons, of course), Sara felt a tap on her shoulder.

“Sara?” She turned to see a man about her age in a green polo shirt and khaki shorts, looking sympathetic.

“Yes?” Sara replied.  “Have we met?”

“I’m Dale?  From William’s work?  We met last year at the company Christmas party.”  He put his hand out.  Sara took it.  Then he added his other hand to the shake.  “We are all so in shock about William.  I hope you got the flowers we sent to the funeral.”

Panic.  There it was.  Fight or flight?  Better pick flight.

“Thank you.  I’m sure his mom…I didn’t really see all the flowers.  There were so many.”  Sara was trying to get her hand out of his grip.  “She sort of handled…I mean…thank you.  Tell everyone at the office…thanks.”  There, she had her hand back.  Clutching her Belk bag to her chest she headed for the doors to the outside, but just as she reached the air, someone grabbed her arm.

Turning Sara said, “Really.  Thanks, I just…”  Then, Sara realized that it wasn’t Dale who had her, it was a store employee.

“You can’t take that,” he said, pointing at her arms.

“What?  These are my shoes.”

“Not the shoes, the book.  You didn’t pay for that.”  He was still pointing.

And Sara realized that she was still holding the romance novel she’d been looking at when Dale had started talking to her.  “I’m so sorry.  I didn’t mean to…”  But the employee just said, “Whatever,” and took the book back into the store with him, leaving Sara standing on the hot sidewalk wishing to God she could melt into it.  And now she had to walk all the way around the mall to get back to her car.  There was no way she was going back into that store to face the stares of the people who thought she was a shoplifter.  Nor the possibility of running into Dale again.

“William,” she whispered.  “You’d know what to say to make me laugh at this.  To make me laugh at myself.  I need you.”

It was then that she realized everything that connected her to William was  on its way to someone else.  “Oh no!”  And she began to run, uncaring suddenly who saw her or what they thought.  Reaching her car, she fumbled for her keys, her hands sweating, dropping them three times in her rush before finally getting the car unlocked.

Frantic now, Sara rushed through traffic, honking her horn at the cars who were too stupid to get out of her path.  Down Abercorn, then right onto Stephenson, thinking she could avoid some of the gridlock on the main road.  But Waters Avenue was waiting for her.  She sat at the light at the Derenne intersection for what seemed like hours, her hands rubbing compulsively on the steering wheel, hitting it occasionally.  Surely, they won’t have come yet, she thought.  But there was a feeling deep down that it was all gone.  She had screwed up.  All of his things.  Gone.  She’d been trying to be like Eve.  To just “get it done,” but she wasn’t Eve.  She needed to have William back…have his clothes back in the closet.  The thought of coming home to that empty house and those empty closets was making her want to scream.  What was she thinking?

All the way down Waters she prayed, “Please God.  Please.  If those boxes are still there, I’ll do anything.  Anything.  Only please, let them be there.”  Past the hospital, past New Tires, then left on to 48th and there!  Sara thought she caught a glimpse of brown on the sidewalk.  She breathed a sigh.

But it was too much to pray for.  As she pulled closer she realized those boxes were only trash.  The Goodwill boxes, all of William’s things, were gone.  Nothing was left.

Sara parked in front of the house.  She didn’t even get out, before she was sobbing.  “William!  Oh please come back.  Please don’t be dead!  Please, please, please…I don’t want you to go.  I don’t want you to go.”  Sara held on to the steering wheel, as she cried.

Eventually, the tears slowed down.  But she couldn’t go in the house.  She couldn’t bring herself to face the empty quiet, the ghost of a life that was.  She leaned her chair back all the way, rolled down her window and curled on her side, falling asleep almost instantly.

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Katherine Barron

Chapter Three: A Wake

Unknown

The road to the Carraway’s home wound between tall pines and past a small, smooth lake that looked like black glass in the gathering darkness.  As Sara drove out from under the trees she could see the sloping metal roof of the single story home.  The house was boxed in by a porch that wrapped all the way around.  Whatever else she may have to say about William’s family, this simple Southern home was like something out of a dream to her.

William often spoke of how his memories of growing up here were a bright spot in his past.  He would tell her tales of playing with his Legos and toy trucks on the porch, swinging in the wide wooden porch swing, and spending hours swimming and fishing in the lake.  Whatever came after those blissful days could not quite compare.  But he held on to the memories as one of his greatest treasures.

The slight rise up from the lake to the front yard of the home was packed with cars, the house already lit up as the sun’s light was almost gone from the sky.   Sara parked and climbed out of her car.  She could see a group of young men standing between two parked trucks, red plastic cups held discreetly by their sides.  Sara had come to think of their button down Oxford shirts in various pastels and khaki pants as the Southern boy uniform.  William had enjoyed the same comfortable clothes in the hot summers and he had always looked amazing.  Sun-tanned, tall and blond he had only gotten better looking as he had moved through his twenties.

Sara stopped for a moment by the side of the pond and remembered again the first time William had brought her here.  She had been so nervous, but so excited because his bringing her had meant that he really cared about her and that was something that she never thought would happen.  After meeting in the bookstore that long ago evening they had struck up a conversation, one that continued up to the check-out counter and over to a local bar where they shared a beer, and then dinner.  When they left the bar it was only because it was closing.  Sara’s apartment was within walking distance so William walked her home.

Sara remembered stealing glances at him as they walked through campus.  The night air was warm and she had still been tan from her summer job as a waitress at a beach side restaurant.  Sara felt pretty and a little buzzed from the drinks that they had shared.  As they walked William’s arm would brush against hers and the anticipation built all the way to her apartment.  At her door, Sara turned the key in the lock.  Looking back at William, she said “Well, good night.”  Just as she had hoped, he leaned in and kissed her.  At the time, it was the most romantic moment of her whole life.  The night, the conversation, and William – beautiful, Southern, long-legged William.  The kiss was one she would not forget over the days, weeks and years that followed.  Even now, Sara could feel his lips on hers and she reached up to her lips as if she might find his where they ought to be.

Enough of this, she thought and turned away from the now dark lake.

The young men nodded at her as she walked past them up the slight hill towards the house.  The mosquitos were already in full force and Sara could feel the bites beginning to welt up on her uncovered arms.  She climbed the wide front steps of the house and nodded at the people standing near the door.  The front door was closed against the heat, but she was sure the crush of bodies inside would make the air-conditioning almost pointless and as she opened the door and stepped inside, she knew she was right.

The smooth, wide pine planks that she stepped in on were original to the home, and each piece of furniture, each original artwork and each expensive fake plant were perfectly placed by a local decorator.  The effect was a stunning first impression of shiny hardwood floors, tall white walls and simple lighting.  The house was really beautiful and Sara had hoped when she and William had first visited here together that she would find in it a place to call home.  But Miss Emily had never thought her good enough for William and, Sara had come to accept, she never would.

A silence fell over the crowd as she walked through the foyer into the hallway.  She should be more embarrassed than she was, but the day had been too long and she was too tired to think anymore.  Sara knew that it was time to say good-bye to William’s mother.  She had not planned to leave tonight, but now saw no reason to stay.  She spotted her sister at the door leading into the kitchen.  The expression on Eve’s face was hard to read.  Sara couldn’t tell if she was relieved or angry.  Probably both, Sara thought with a sigh and walked over to where she was standing.

“Where have you been?” Eve asked in an angry whisper.  Her voice was quivering though, and Sara wondered at this.  They moved on into the kitchen where the crowd was at a minimum.

“I’ve been burying my husband, if you must know.  Thanks for asking.”  Sara was exasperated with this whole routine.  The back and forth that the two of them had been doing for years was getting old.  Still, Sara should have been easier on Eve.  She was sure that from her perspective Sara’s disappearance this afternoon was a major pain.

“Everyone’s been asking where you were.  I called your cell.  I called the hotel.  Nothing.  I’m your sister, for Christ’s sake, and you didn’t tell me where you were going.  I was – ” here Sara heard it again, a momentary quiver “I was really worried about you.”  Sara looked up at Eve and could only see her profile, but she was sure she saw the glimmer of tears in her eyes.  “I mean, what if something had happened to you.  What would I do?  You’re all I have.”

“All you have?  What about Chase and your kids?”  Sara had never before had Eve speak to her so.  She never showed emotion.  Never.

But the door was closing, Sara could see, as Eve dabbed at her eyes with a napkin she had picked up from the kitchen table and squared her shoulders, a gesture Sara knew meant she was moving on.

“I just…I mean Miss Emily has been asking after you.  I think that it’s very embarrassing for her that you haven’t been here.  You should go and find her and apologize.”

“I’ll go find her, but it won’t be to apologize.  I shouldn’t have to apologize for taking the time to watch my husband buried.  Just because it’s not what’s proper in Oden, doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do.  I’ll go find her, because I’m leaving tonight.  And it’s the right thing to do to say good-bye.”  Sara had thought for just a second that she might be able to share her news with her sister after all.  Eve would never understand though.  And Sara would keep the fact of her pregnancy to herself.

“Will you leave tonight if I do or will you stay and go home tomorrow?”  Sara suddenly remembered that Eve didn’t belong here either.  “Of course you’re welcome to come to Savannah.  I have an extra room.  I just thought Chase would be ready for you to come home.”

Eve looked miserable and Sara wondered for the first time if there was something that she was missing, something Eve wasn’t telling her.

“Is there something wrong, Eve?  Something I can help with?” Sara reached out to Eve, but she shrugged her hand off.

“What kind of sister would I be asking for your help at a time like this?  I’m fine.”  Eve’s smile was forced.  “Of course, I’m ready to go home.  Chase, Jr. and Laura have school and I have work and…as long as you don’t need me anymore, I’ll leave now.”  Eve reached over and gave her a quick squeeze and kiss on the cheek.  “I’ll call you next week, okay?”

And she was gone, out the kitchen door to the porch.  Sara watched her leave, wishing for moment that she had asked her to stay.  William had been her best friend and now the only family she had was leaving.  She and Eve had never been friends though, so this shouldn’t feel like a loss, but it did.  It really did.

Sara grabbed a cup from the stack on the kitchen table and filled it with water from the dispenser on the fridge.  She stood for just a moment thinking of the cups of coffee she had shared with William here at this table, the late night bottles of cold beer on the screened porch just out the kitchen door.  She would miss the memories she had of him here – but she wouldn’t miss here.

She put her cup next to the sink and turned, walking out the door and into the hallway.  She saw one of William’s favorite aunts talking to the pastor.

“Have you seen Miss Emily, Aunt Louise?” Sara asked the kind woman.

“I believe she went upstairs, dear.  She was looking for you.  I think she was worried.”

“Thank you.  I needed to rest after the service.  I’m fine now though.  I’ll just go find her and let her know I’m alright.”  Sara headed up the stairs as Aunt Louise turned back to her conversation.

She peeked in the door to the master bedroom but there was no one there and the door to the bathroom was open.  She walked on soft feet to the door of the room she and William had shared when they came here.  She found Miss Emily there, sitting on William’s bed, her hand moving back and forth across the coverlet.

“Miss Emily?” Sara said in a low voice.  Miss Emily looked up.  She was crying.  Sara felt immediately sorry that this woman had to live through this heartbreak.  She so wished that the two of them had been friends, then perhaps they could go through this together.

“Oh, Miss Emily, I didn’t mean to intrude, I was just…”

Miss Emily put up her hand and turned her face away, then stood up from the bed, wiping at her eyes as she walked towards Sara.

“We were terribly worried about you, dear.  People have been asking after you.  It just doesn’t look good for you to disappear like that.  Your duty is here.  People wish to pay their respects.” Miss Emily was steering Sara towards the door. “I know you didn’t grow up in an environment where you would have learned this kind of thing, but as the widow you have a certain responsibility to the people who knew and loved William.  There will be time to grieve later.  For now, we must go and speak to our guests.”

Sara stopped at the top of the stairs.  She turned towards the woman who had loved William more than anything and, Sara believed, despised her for taking him.

“Miss Emily, I know that you don’t like me.  I know that you didn’t think that I was good enough for him.  And now we’ve lost him, you and I.  We’ve both lost the man we loved more than anyone else in the world.  Because I know that you love him, too, I hope you’ll understand when I say that I can’t wait to grieve for him.  And I have to do it my way.  I have to go home.  I have to leave now.  I just wanted to say good-bye.”

Sara started down the stairs.  Then thought of one more thing that she wanted to say to her.

“Perhaps the best thing to come out of William’s death is that you are finally rid of me.  Good-bye, Miss Emily.”

Emily Carraway’s mouth hung open for the first time since she was nine years old.  Her mother would have told her she looked like a cow.  But her son’s widow had just rendered her speechless.  Sara was down the stairs and out the front door before she could think of what to say, and so Emily Carraway put on her best not-too-bright smile and went back to her guests, as her mother taught her to do.

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Katherine Barron

Chapter Two: A Burial

Unknown

    Sara had been at work when she found out about William’s death.  As a secretary at Putnam, Putnam and Hobbs, one of the more low-key Savannah law firms, Sara’s days were filled with phone calls.
    “Mr. Hart’s office, this is Sara.  How may I help you?”  This was her mantra.  The words that meant the beginning, middle and end of her day.  Sometimes she felt that all those years at college had meant nothing.  But she was interested in the law.  And when this job opened up it seemed like a great way to get some experience.  A great way to get some knowledge about whether or not she wanted to put in the time, effort, and money to go to law school. Lately though, it seemed like all she was doing was answering phones.  But Mr. Hart was a great boss and the other secretaries were really kind to her.  Besides, William had a good job working for a local architect.  She wasn’t ready to go back to school anyway.  
    “Mr. Hart’s office, this is Sara.  How may I help you?”
    The voice on the other end seemed to hesitate.
    “Hello?” Sara prompted.
    “Is this Sara Carraway?”
    “Yes.  Who is this?”
    “This is Daphine.  I’m a nurse in the emergency department at Memorial Medical Center.”
    “Yes?  What is this about?”
    “It’s about your husband, William.  Can you come here right now?”
    “Of course, is something wrong?  Can I talk to him?”
    “We just need you to come down right away.  He’s been in an accident.”

    The days since the accident had passed by in a haze of decisions and phone calls.  Now here she was, sitting on a carpet covered folding chair, William’s body all sealed up and his coffin covered with a beautiful arrangement of white lilies and blue hydrangeas.  His mother sat at the beginning of the row of seats, her black dress immaculate unlike Sara’s, which was damp around the neck and armpits.  The September afternoon was blistering. Waves of heat snaked from the black pavement and the top of the shiny black hearse.  A rain shower just before the burial service had left not cool air, but a standing humidity that made it hard for Sara to catch her breath.  Eve was next to her, silently disapproving.  Of what, Sara had no idea.
    She had not cried since the breakdown at the funeral home last night.  It seemed that her tears had dried completely.  That whatever grief she was feeling had been locked away down deep inside of her leaving her feeling empty and tired.  She barely remembered the rest of the viewing. Eve had stayed by her side for the remainder of the evening, a watchdog, looking for signs of embarrassing behaviors.  But she had been good.  The incident with the mortuary worker was a difficult memory.  She looked up and over the casket to the cemetery road beyond, and saw him, James, standing at attention, his sunglasses on against the glare of the sun.  He hadn’t glanced in her direction or made any gesture to acknowledge that he knew her.  She was grateful.
    Brother Thomas, the pastor at her mother-in-laws’ church, was finishing his brief graveside sermon.  
    “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.”  The pastor’s Southern twang made the scripture almost comical.  Sara felt that insane desire to laugh well up again.  She quickly suppressed the urge.
    ” ‘A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up.’  And for this family here, for this family who has lost such a wonderful son, a wonderful husband and nephew, the words of our Lord speak to you.  There is a ‘time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.’  Now is the time for weeping, but we will laugh again.  Now is the time for mourning but we will dance again.”  He paused for effect, took a handkerchief out of the pocket of his gray suit and mopped his brow.  “Let us pray.”
    The crowd stood sweating in the heat, as the pastor called out to all of them.  “Please join me in the words our Savior taught us to pray, Our Father…”
    Sara heard the words intoned around her.  She knew the words from her childhood.  Knew them as a child knows his multiplication tables, as a set of words and facts to be repeated back when called on.  Her foster parents had made sure of that.  Had made sure that she and Eve were at Mass every Sunday.  But she felt nothing as she prayed. Not she was a little girl had she called out to God.  She had learned very early in life that what you wanted, what you needed, you got by working hard or not at all.  She had been too young to remember her parents.  It had always been her and Eve against the world, then after Eve left and went to college, just her.  Until William.  

     Looking back, Sara was still in awe of the fact that she and William even met.  That day in the college book store.  There was one book she had forgotten to pick up for her philosophy class and the class was due to start that day.  Scanning the near empty shelves for the tiny paperback, she failed to notice the rather large column just out of her line of sight.  Leaning down to look on the bottom shelf she knocked into it, and fell backwards right on her backside.  Looking up she had seen him, tall and muscular, with a shock of blond hair falling in front of his brown eyes.  He had smiled.  She had smiled.  And that was it.  
    Never mind the differences in their families, their backgrounds, and their politics – they were in love.  Happy, goopy, sappy, stay up all night talking and making-out kind of love from that first look.   And things were great.  The differences they just chose not to discuss unless one or the other just needed a good fight.  The fights usually ended with him asleep and her steaming and wide-awake on the couch. Then mornings of awkward silences followed by apologies over coffee and Krispy Cream doughnuts.  
    But the good times were so good and every marriage had its rough spots.  They may have made it.  They may have come through it all in the end and been better for all the hard times, but with William’s death all dreams of a bright future were lost.  And the baby…well, Sara wasn’t sure she knew what to do about that.  And she certainly wasn’t going to figure it out now.

    “Amen.”
    “Amen,” Sara said. 
    The sweating preacher walked over to Sara, leaned down to her and took her hand in both of his, squeezing it lightly and patting at the same time.  “God bless you.”
    “Thank you.”  Sara replied, letting him pat her, only relieved that the day was almost over.  Just a few more hours and she could escape back to Savannah to try and get back her life.  She only had to deal with William’s mother one more time and maybe never again. 
    Unless there is a baby, Sara suddenly thought.  She’ll want to be around the baby.  Maybe more than that.  It will be the only child of her dead son.  Emily Carraway will never let me out of her sight! Oh God, Oh God!
    For some reason, this thought gave Sara more panic than anything else.  She had never been comfortable around William’s family.  They were next to royalty in this tiny town.  And she was a foster child with little to no roots.  His mother, or Miss Emily as she was known in Oden, had never approved of her, and she had only been around her when William was there as her protector.  There were times, in low moments, when Sara thought that perhaps he had married her just to do something that his mother wouldn’t like.  Something to rebel.  Would his mother want to try and take the baby? 
    Sara looked down the row of funeral home chairs at Miss Emily.  The pastor was leaning over her, whispering words of consolation.  Her face was a perfect mix of pain and strength.  “I know,” Sara heard her say, “that William would have loved this funeral.  It was just what he would have wanted.  Thank you for your kind words.”  She sniffed lightly and dabbed at her eyes with a gleaming white handkerchief. 
    A hand touched her shoulder and she looked over to see Eve, motioning to the waiting cars.  There was a limousine waiting for them with the air conditioning at full blast.  The friends and relatives that had stood in silence during the brief graveside service were beginning to trickle away.  Many were in a sort of line near Miss Emily, waiting to offer more consolation.  A few people did stop and say a brief word or two to Sara, but most of them did not know her. 
    It’s just as well, she thought.
    It was so hard to believe that it was over.  The preparations, the viewing, the funeral and now all that was left was the burial.  Sara wondered when that would happen as no one was making a move towards the casket nor the mound of dirt covered by a large sheet of green outdoor carpet.
    She walked in the direction of the one person that might be able to answer her question. 
    “Hello, James,” she said to the tall, still man.
    “Ma’am.”
    “May I ask you a question?”
    “Of course.”  He was eyeing her with a bit of suspicion.
    “I was wondering…” Sara hesitated.
    “Yes, ma’am?”  Still Sara hesitated as if unsure of his reaction. 
    “Please, ask anything.  I want to help.”  He seemed sincere.  And there was something about him, something that said “Trust me.”  Man, did she need that in her life right now.
    “I want…I want to…I want to put the first shovelful of dirt back in the hole.  I need to see the casket in the ground.  I need to see it all covered back up.  Can I do that?  Would that be too much?”  Sara was frustrated at feeling so unable to ask for what she wanted, but also unsure of the proper thing to do.  But this need went beyond propriety. 
    “Well, it’s not usual, but it’s also not a problem.  If you’d like to maybe go back to your hotel and change, get something to drink, we’ll get started on those things in about 45 minutes.”  James looked at her intently.  “It’s not really good for you to be out the heat too much without plenty of fluids.  Get the limo to take you to the hotel.  We’ll wait for you.”
    Sara looked up at him.  She didn’t know how, but she just knew that he was telling the truth.  Knew that if this man said he was going to do something, then that was what he was going to do.
    “Thank you.  You have come to my aid twice now.  I won’t forget it.”  Sara turned and saw Eve gesturing to her by the door of the limo.  She’s probably concerned about me embarrassing her by talking to the help Sara thought.  Eve was in awe of the Caraways and their life in Oden.  That’s why Eve couldn’t know about the baby.  Eve would have “ideas” about what the best course of action was.  More than likely those ideas would involve telling Miss Emily and Sara did not want to hear that.  She would make up her own mind about what to do with this situation.  There were just two options and neither one was looking all that great.

    After stopping by her room at the small bed and breakfast, Sara got in her car and headed back to the graveside.  The worst of the day’s heat was over and the sun was in the last quarter of the sky, just getting ready for bed.  There were still spots of clouds here and there, interrupting the blue.  Sara rolled down her windows and put back the sun roof, letting the warm late summer air bathe her face.  As she pulled up next to the newly dug grave, she saw James leaning against a truck.  His jacket and tie were off and his sleeves rolled up.  Sara noticed for the first time that he was in fact a handsome man, even if he was thin.  His hair was cut very short, but looked as if it might be curly if he let it grow out.  She could tell that he must spend some time in the sun, for his arms and neck were quite tan. 
    Sara opened her car door, stepped out and then got back in again.  She reached back in and turned on her iPod.  She turned to her favorite playlist and found what she was looking for.  She pressed play and moved towards the hole in the ground that was the last place her husband would ever go.

James had seen Sara’s car pull up.  Had seen her get out and then get back in.  He thought for a moment that she had changed her mind.  That she had decided it was too painful a thing to do.  In all his years helping Uncle Martin, he had never had a request like hers.  People just left the dirty work to the hired hands.  Lord knows the guys were all pissed at me when I told them that they had to wait until she got here to finish, he thought.  But he promised them all a cold case of beer for the extra time and once he went and got the beer and showed it to them, they shut up.
    Now he could hear music coming from Sara’s open windows. The simple sounds of a guitar and a man with a gravelly voice floated across the open space to him.  Dylan? he thought. She likes Dylan?  “Lay down your weeeeary tune, lay down,” Bob Dylan sung as Sara got out of the little car and headed his way.  She looked much more comfortable in some sort of simple dress with flowers on it than she had last night in the dark blue or today in the black.  She looked, well, beautiful really.  And sad.  And determined.
    “James.”
    “Mrs. Carraway,” he said as he nodded.
    “Please call me Sara.”
    “Alright.  Sara.  Are you ready?”
    “Yes, I am.”  Sara pushed back a stray hair and took a deep breath. Then followed James over to the hole in the ground that was to be William’s final resting place.  It struck her suddenly that she was a widow.  She was twenty-five years old and a widow.  It didn’t seem real.  Widows were old and wrinkled and walked with canes.  She was pregnant.  A pregnant widow. 
    Sara leaned over and looked into the hole. 
    “We put a vault in first.” James spoke to Sara, explaining what she was seeing. “Then we lower the casket into the vault and put the cover in place. Now we fill in the dirt.”
    Sara held out her hand. ”Okay, I’m ready.”  James placed a shovel into her open palm.
    “You can do as little or as much as you want.  I’ll let you start, but in a minute we’ll join in to help.  Is that alright?”  Sara was looking paler by the minute and James was concerned that she would faint.  He was going to have to keep a close eye on her.
    “Yes,” she said, still looking in the grave.
    Sara took the shovel and stepped around to the now uncovered pile of dirt.  The mortuary tent, the green carpet and all the chairs had been loaded onto a truck.  The late afternoon sun glinted off the rows and rows of tombstones in Oden’s city cemetary.  The graves of William’s grandparents and other ancestors were all around Sara.  Again she was struck that were it not for the baby, this grave would mean the end of her association with this family.  She didn’t belong here in Oden among William’s family and friends any more than she did among these dead Carraways.
    Her shovel sliced into the dirt.  She tilted the handle down and pushed. She picked up the shovel and was surprised by the weight of the dirt  She moved the full shovel over to the grave and dropped the earth. It fell with a thud on top of the vault.  Bob Dylan’s voice was still wafting over the space between her car and the grave.  “The water smooth ran like a hymn and like a harp did hum,” Dylan sang.  The tears were flowing freely now, but without pain and without noise.  Just silent tears dropping from her face into the dirt that now covered William. 
    James watched Sara from a distance.  Noticing the tears begin to fall and then her movements get slower and slower as she walked, moving the dirt to the grave.  Finally, as the last strum from Dylan’s guitar faded away, James saw the end of the shovel drop and rest in the dirt.  He walked over to her and took the shovel from her hands. 
    “Let us help now.  Come over here and sit on the end of my truck and rest.  Let these boys do their job.”  James looked up at Beau, the leader of the grave crew, and nodded.  He took Sara by the arm and led her to his truck. She put her hands on the tailgate and lifted herself up.
    Beau had gotten into the back hoe and maneuvered the end over to the mound of dirt.  The large tool was much faster than the shovels and the job would be done in just a few minutes. 
    James reached into his toolbox and dug around in his cooler for a bottle of water.  He pulled it out and handed it to Sara.
    “Thank you.”  She looked up at him.  “And thank you for letting me do this.  It… helps.  I don’t know why but it does.  It completes the task, you know?  The task of taking care of him.”  Sara looked over at the setting sun.  The sky was truly glorious, red, gold and yellow blending with blue and purple clouds.  “When the hospital called to tell me he had been in an accident, I rushed over there because they wouldn’t tell me anything else over the phone.  I had to come and present ID before they would even talk to me.  And then this doctor came and sat me down in this little room.  There was a nurse there, too.  She just stood at the door, watching, waiting.  After he said the words “couldn’t revive him” I just looked at him with what must have been a blank stare because he said “Do you understand what I’m saying to you?'” James had joined Sara on the tailgate. She watched the back hoe as she talked.  “I must have just looked at him, so he put his hand on my arm and said, ‘Ma’am, your husband is dead.’  And then I began to take care of things.” 
    The diggers were almost done now.  There was very little dirt left on the ground. 
    Sara continued, “My sister Eve has always taken care of things, but she wasn’t there and so I did it.  And until you ushered me into that room last night, I hadn’t even cried.  Not when I saw his body in the hospital.  Not when I told his mother.  Not even when they put him in that God-awful wool suit.  I did what had to be done.” 
    The man working the back hoe turned it off and got out of the cab.  Sara paused in her story and watched the work, sipping on the ice-cold water.  
    “The rest is shovel work, if you want to do it.  I can help you.”  James hopped off of the tailgate and was standing with his hand outstretched.  Sara put the water bottle down and took the hand that he offered.  Stepping carefully around the graves, she moved to the mound of dirt. James walked over and dismissed the crew, who began packing up to leave. 
    Sara picked up the discarded shovel and started moving the last of the dirt onto the now full grave.  James walked over with another shovel and began to help.  He was efficient in his movements.  Everything about him seemed to be to the point.  In just a few minutes, they were done.  James picked up a small plaque that had William’s name, birthday and death day with a spike attached.  He handed it to Sara. 
    “This is the last thing until the tombstone is ready which probably won’t be for a few months,” James said. 
    “I can assure you that William’s mother will be putting that together.  I doubt she’ll even ask my opinion.  So really, this is the last task.  For me anyway.” 
    Sara walked to the head of the grave.  She looked up at the fading sky, now more purple than red.  “Good-bye, William,” she said and slid the marker into the dirt.

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Katherine Barron

Chapter One: A Funeral

Unknown
 

“We are so sorry for your loss.”

Sara nodded.  She shook the hand that was held out to her.

“Thank you.”  Sara smiled briefly, then turned to the next person.

“William was such a dear boy.  What a waste.  What a waste.”  The gray hair was tight with hairspray.  The hug lasted too long.

“Bless your heart.  I don’t know how you are going to live without that boy.  He was one of a kind.”

“Yes, ma’am.  Thank you.”

Sara stood in the receiving line.  The mass of people stretched out the door and, she was sure, around the building.  She had already been standing here for two hours and they just kept coming.  What was she thinking to agree to this?  She had known that this was a mistake, but it was tradition and expected and so here she was doing her best.  But now the smell of flowers, the crush of bodies and her husband, lying in that wooden box, was beginning to get the better of her.  His suit was all wrong.  The gray wool was far too warm for summer in Georgia.  Not that it mattered to him.  Not anymore.

The room began to swim.  She turned to her sister with imploring eyes, but Eve was hugging some relative of William’s that Sara barely remembered.  Just as she began to think that she would faint right there in front of everyone at the Overman and Sons Mortuary, before a crowd that must have been the whole town of Oden, she felt a hand on her elbow guiding her out of the room, down a neutral tone hallway, towards a rear door.  Stepping into a small dimly-lit sitting room, Sara felt the air conditioning wash over her.

“Here, lay down on this couch,” a male voice said. “I think you’ll feel better if you put your feet up.”

Sara did as she was instructed and looked up to see who had rescued her.

He was tall, much taller than she was.  And thin.  And grave.  “Grave,” Sara thought. “How appropriate.” And suddenly, she felt an urge to laugh that would not be denied.  The laughter bubbled up from deep within her, a live thing that had to be let out or she would die.  “Die,” she thought.  And up it came and out.  She had to sit up.  She was bent over from it.  Loud, belly deep guffaws, that made her squint her eyes until they ran.  Her rescuer rushed over to close the door to the hallway.  “Thank you,” Sara managed to squeak out between giggles.  She lay back on the couch and let the laughter roll.

Eventually the laughter subsided and she lay, breathless and exhausted, against the back of the chintz couch in the sitting room of the mortuary.  And her husband was dead.  Dead.

She looked up at her rescuer who was standing guard by the door.

“I’m Sara.  And you are?”

“James Overman, ma’am.”

“Overman.  Any kin to the mortuary Overmans?”

“Yes, ma’am.  I help out when there is a particularly large funeral to deal with.  And this being a particularly large funeral, here I am.”

 

 

James was becoming more uncomfortable the longer he stood here.  “Alone in a room with the widow,” he thought.  “Uncle Martin will love that.”

He had just been getting ready to head over to the church to deal with setting up for the funeral the next day.  Before leaving, he scanned the viewing room.  The strangest things happened at viewings.  Someone’s drunk uncle would show up or two relatives who hadn’t been in the same room together in a while would decide to have a fight.  Uncle Martin liked to keep the mood somber, more church than bar, so James often would just stand out of the way, watchful.

He had never quite understood the need for everyone in town to see their friends and relatives dressed up and dead.  The poor attempts to give them some life with make-up, the whispered “He looks like he’s smiling” heard from little old ladies, all rung so false to him.  The person was dead.  This body dressed up and made up bore no resemblance to the alive being he had been.  James didn’t particularly like working in the mortuary, but his uncle paid him well to help out.  And money was something he had a hard time turning down these days.

But then he noticed the pallor of the young widow, Mrs. Carraway. She was standing near the casket greeting the mourners.  During a break in the line she looked down at the casket, her hands rubbing on her skirt, beads of sweat on her forehead.  She was too pale, the navy blue dress only making her skin seem all the more white and then her lips lost what little color they had.  Having seen women faint before in the small, warm rooms during these viewings, he moved through the crowd towards her and gently steered her out of the room, down the hallway, and into a sitting room reserved for family.

He didn’t know Sara Carraway.  Her husband, William, had grown up here in the small town of Oden, Georgia and James had often seen him around when he was in high school.  William was a few years older, had played football and been very popular.  That accounted for the large crowd gathered here tonight.  A home town hero dying young always brought in huge numbers.  James wasn’t sure, but the small, slight widow didn’t seem to fit in here.  He wondered how she and William had ended up together.

“You can stay in here as long as you need to Mrs. Carraway.  I’ll just go out and find your sister.  She should come in and see to you now.”

“No, please.  Just another minute or so and I can go back out.  I just needed…”  Sara let the sentence go.  She didn’t really know what she needed right now.  It certainly wasn’t to go back out into that room and stand next to William’s cold body and shake the hand of every teacher he ever had, and every man-boy he ever played football with.  Her rescuer still stood at the door, looking uncomfortable.

“Did you know my husband?”

James looked over at her.  “I knew him, yes.  Not well, though.”

She didn’t reply, as if she’d forgotten she even asked the question, just sat with her head bowed, her hands on her face.

James stood, waiting.

Sara spoke again, not really to James, but he heard nonetheless.  “I’m pregnant.”

James took a deep breath.  She was staring at her hands, her long hair hanging on either side of her face, obscuring his view.

“No one knows, no one.  I hadn’t even told him.  I was going to make a big deal out of it.  Candle light dinner.  A card saying “Congratulations, Dad!”.  Something cheesy and ridiculous.  We were not really ready for kids but I thought he’d be happy.  Now what do I do?  What do I do?”  Sara’s shoulders shook with the force of her sudden weeping.  James was paralyzed.  This was another reason he hated the mortuary business, crying women.  But standing by the door seemed a little more than cruel at this moment.  There was a box of tissues on the coffee table in front of Sara.  He crossed the room, pulled one out and sat next to her on the couch, pressing the tissue into her hand.  She took it and blew her nose, then reached for another and pressed it under her eyes, catching her mascara and tears.

At that moment there was a knock at the door.  Glad for the distraction, James got up and opened the door a crack to see a fierce-looking woman who must be the sister.  Mrs. Carraway and she looked just enough alike for the kinship to be obvious.  The same straight nose, the same strange amber colored eyes, only on the widow they were softer.

“Is my sister in here?” the woman asked in an annoyed voice.

Suddenly protective, James replied, “She just needed a moment in a cool place.  This sitting room is designed for that very purpose.  I work for the mortuary.  James Overman.”  James put out his right hand.  The woman had no polite choice but to accept.

“Well, thank you.”  Though James doubted she meant it.  “Sara, dear, people are beginning to wonder where you are.”

The widow, no longer tearful, stood up, smoothed her skirt and hair, and walked over to the doorway where James and the sister were standing.

“Thank you again for your kindness, Mr. Overman.”  Her eyes searched his, begging him to keep her secret.  He nodded and, with her back straight, she walked out.

 

 

 

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Katherine Barron

On my screen porch…

Photo on 2-23-14 at 11.40 AM

Those of you who have known me for a while know how much I love my screen porch. When my husband and I were shown our house for the first time (it wasn’t our house then), we looked all through the place, loving the curved archways and picture molding. We decided to buy it that day. (the price was pretty amazing, too) A few weeks later we were back in town to meet a contractor to inspect the house, when we finally went out on the porch. It was huge! Built with brick as part of the house, with more arches and a tiled floor, we could not believe our luck. The wood and screens needed replacing, but Mac loves summer projects and he did the work himself.

Each spring, I come out and throw away the old plants, dust off the furniture, wipe down the tables and mop the floor. I fill my bird feeders hanging in the dogwood tree and in the mornings…sit. Sometimes we play board games out here. Sometimes we do homeschool out here. We’ve been known to eat lunch, nap and read (or even watch movies).

Last weekend after our second crazy ice storm of the winter, we had a week of 70 degree days. Sunny, warm…I needed my porch. So I spent a whole afternoon cleaning and dusting and pouring and wiping and now…sitting.

Just a moment ago I saw my first cardinal of the (almost) spring. His brilliant red feathers and beak were even more beautiful set against the bare branches and gray sky. Yea…I love my porch.

On walking away…

I read this article a few days ago, written by a man (a very intelligent man apparently – a PROFESSOR!) whose son had, by his account, an AWFUL time in kindergarten and first grade because of an undiagnosed disability. The story goes through so many weird twists that it’s hard not to imagine the whole scenario as the plot of a Lifetime Movie of the Week.

This father speaks of himself and his extremely intelligent (NEUROSCIENTIST) wife, their trusty psychologists and therapists and lawyers, up against the machinery of the school system. They bravely battle through until the Ever Benevolent Court gives them PERMISSION (Oh praise be to the Ever Benevolent Court) to move THEIR CHILD to a better school. And everyone’s happy.

And all I can think about through the entire article is WHY? WHY would any seemingly (I mean they have DEGREES!) intelligent couple send their PRECIOUS little boy into a place in which the only way that he can get through the day is by ROCKING in his chair?

“When we brought him to school, he would cringe away from the staff and refuse to say hello.”

Forget a disability, how about yanking your boy away from a place like that IMMEDIATELY? As in, never to return.

In the comments after the article, the father is very gracious to answer many of the questions that people pose to him about the situation. Only one person out of the bunch asks my question. Why not homeschool? The father’s reply? “To me, the solution is not pulling out, disengaging, and leaving everyone else to their fate, but instead speaking out and raising awareness of these issues.”

My duty, as a parent, is not to sacrifice my child’s needs on the altar of the public education system or the “greater good.” My job is to raise MY child. And to protect MY child.

I am not saying that every parent has the personality to homeschool, but there are a wide variety of options available to parents, especially affluent ones. I have no doubt that this man and his wife love their son very much, but the fact that REMOVING HIM FROM THE SITUATION was not seen as the most obvious answer to the question of what to do makes me sad for this little boy and the year of his life that was wasted on a battle that could have been won by walking away.

CST #254: Everything is Awesome

Listen here.

We LOVED The Lego Movie, endured some more winter storms, visited my folks, and stayed married!

Movies:

The Lego Movie

Blogs:

threestrawberries.wordpress.com

On spending money…

So it’s tax time. Time to sit down with those W-2s, scour through your piles of saved receipts, and look for ways to keep Uncle Sam’s hands off more of your hard earned money. Ugh.

I’m going to make a statement here that is going to sound like bragging. I apologize for that. I have worked only part time since my son Ben was born 11 years ago, so my salary has always been a supplement to my husband’s which provides a retirement package and very reasonably priced health insurance. So imagine my surprise when I got my W-2 this year and realized that I made more this past year than I have since that first year after I graduated from nursing school 14 years ago.

Here’s the worst part. I. Don’t. Know. Where. It. Went. I mean, I KNOW where it went. I’m a faithful Quicken user and have been since I was 18 and got my first Compaq computer for college. I can print out a report that tells me exactly where my money has gone.

BUT, seriously! Where did it all go? Intellectually speaking I know how to budget. I know how to plan for meals (and I do), but even after a year of listening to Dave Ramsey give the same advice to 3 hours’ worth of call-in guests, I still have not managed to get a hold on my (and my family’s) spending.

I suppose, when it comes down to it, daily prayer, consistent exercising, letting go of that second helping, and getting off of the couch are all part of the budgeting problem. They are all symptoms of a lack of discipline in our (okay my) lives.

And lumping all those other problems in with the daily prayer is kind of ridiculous, cause we all (okay I) know that prayer is the place to start. Beginning the day by asking the Lord to help us in ALL areas of our (okay my) lives is the best way to get MY spending habits under control.

I’ll let you know how that works out, especially heading into Lent.

CST #218: Prometheus and Nudging

Confirmation Sunday lasts almost 3 hours, mac drones on and on about all the stuff he’s been watching, we do full review of Prometheus, and we talk about God’s nudges in our lives.

Movies mentioned:

No Escape

The Messenger

Prometheus

TV Shows:

Revenge

The Killing

Transformers Prime

Books:

A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken

Listen to Episode #218 here or subscribe via iTunes.

CST #216: In memory of Mrs. Elaine

We talk about the passing of Katherine’s mom, Mass Confusion gets an award, the Avengers is the greatest movie ever, Tree of Life is amazing until the end, and we give our perspective on Hospice Care.

Listen to Episode #216 here, or subscribe via iTunes.

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