Oct 28, 2008

Today has no content...

...at least in the 'Content From Elsewhere' sense. :)

I have a funeral to attend today. :(

I felt compelled to post something with a little emotion so here's one of my stories. Probably the best thing I've written. It's a bit off in the formatting cause' I just cut and pasted it from the galley from the manuscript, mostly.

If you enjoy it, good. If not, my sincere apologies for wasting your time.

Here ya' go..

“Rainbow’s End”

Like oily smoke, clouds moved slowly toward town. Tree covered
mountains and dense brush in the untouched parts of the valley
made the area appear to be one large green carpet, bunched up
and peaking. A single paved road and three dirt ones pointed to
the four directions of the compass, the paved road going north and
south with highway 101. It looked like an X-shaped scar on the
moist, green landscape. Distantly, the ocean called out in whispers
to the town, beckoning the residents to come, to spirit their friends
and families away to play amongst the tourists. Illuminating the
dark clouds and tinting their edges with red and pink, the sun
looked halfway over the mountaintops as if searching for its resting
place later in the evening.

A lone establishment was open. Rainbow’s End, a small
restaurant, had been open for over an hour. It was now six o’ clock.
Patronage was mostly from travelers on the highway but some folks
from town stopped in now and then before heading off into the
four winds to do whatever they did. Various breakfast aromas
emanated from the little place. A comforting, relaxed aura seemed
to hover over it as well.

Just inside the doorway, off to the left, was a jukebox with 45’s
in it that were anywhere from 10 to 50 years old. Always something
to please everyone. The building, painted a dull gray on the outside,
was a bright ivory-cream color inside with Formica countertops
speckled with silver. The place was empty, except for the proprietors
and two patrons.

Behind the counter a smiling man, heavy set, just starting to
see laugh lines etch themselves permanently onto his face, stands
next to a lady who doesn’t seem to be old or young. She is beautiful
but not stunning, plain but exotic, halfway between an all out
smile and a smirk. The two stools are occupied by men dressed in
uniforms with their names on them. Both of them have the same
large patch sewn on to the back of their gray-blue coats. They say,
“Al’s Auto Repair and Towing,” around the picture of a tow truck
with a smiling face where it’s radiator grill should be.

Outside, while the men on the stools talk to the man and
woman behind the counter, a rusty old Ford truck pulls into the
parking lot. A glance from the two men on the stools and the same
from the large man behind the counter is over in just a moment
but the woman behind the counter continues to watch as the
driver’s door opens.

Slowly, turning to get out of the truck, the man rubs his back.
It’s sore from a long drive and from too many years of hard work.
He looks over his shoulder at his passenger. She’s looking at him.
For a moment the air between them is electric, their smiles
passionate and vigorous, and then gone as he turns his head.
‘Old. Never thought I’d think of myself that way,’ the man
tells himself as he closes the door of the truck.

Today is a good day for Mary. She remembers him today and
she seems to be able to walk. No talking though. Words seem to
mean something to her but she doesn’t seem capable of responding.
It doesn’t seem to bother her though so he doesn’t let it bother
him . . . too much.

Walking as quickly as he can around the front of the truck he
opens the door for her. Sweetly, she smiles at him and holds out
her hand elegantly as she extends one of her legs to the ground.
Shaking his head, a tiny sighing laugh coming out through his
nose, he takes her hand and helps her down.

On shaky legs Mary steadies herself, adjusts her shawl, and
wraps her arm around his waist. His rests on her shoulders. They
walk toward the front door of the restaurant, arms around each
other.

The two men on stools both stand at the same time and throw
change down on the counter for the coffee they’ve just finished. A
momentary exchange of niceties with the heavy man behind the
counter and they walk to the door, just in time to hold it for the
couple with the old Ford. A quick nod between the men in uniform
and the man with the Ford as they cross paths.

“Bread and butter,” Mary says, just barely loud enough to
hear.

He looks at her for a moment and although he isn’t shocked it
is a bit unexpected.

“Mary?” he says, just wanting another response, stopping just
inside the doorway to look at her.

“Yes?” she says, a bit louder this time, looking up at him.

“How do you feel, doll?”

“I feel all right. Good actually,” she says with a smile.

“Me too.”

She points to an empty booth near a corner of the room where
the sun has begun to shine in, even through the clouds. He takes
her hand and leads her in that direction.

Behind the counter, the waitress watches still, her face now
sorrowful and tired. She looks over the partition between the kitchen
and the front counter at the heavyset man who is back in the
kitchen cooking again. A wink and a shake of his head tells her not
to worry. Too bad that won’t fix her feelings. Fortunately there is
something she can do about it.

The two of them sit down in the booth. They hold hands
across the table, rubbing each other’s hands, talking about things
long past. When the waitress comes with the menu they don’t
notice her, it isn’t until she sets the glasses of water on the table
that they look up.

“Can I get you something to drink while you’re looking at the
menu? Coffee or tea?”

“I’d like a cup of coffee with some cream and sugar and she’ll
ha—,” he says, catching himself in mid-sentence. He looks at her,
the lines on his face irrelevant, the aches in his body meaningless,
and stops to let her order her own. She may not be able to again.

Mary looks at him, smiles, and looks back at the waitress who
has followed their every movement, their silent conversation.
“I’d like some juice, some apple juice if you have it, but if not
orange juice would be lovely, thank you,” Mary says, her voice soft
and whispery.

“Yes, ma’am. Coffee with cream and sugar for the gentleman
and apple juice for the lady. I’ll be right back.”

“Thank you,” he and Mary say in unison.

Mary stares out the window at the blossoming sun and looming
clouds, smiling and fogging up the glass. He stares at her and gets
lost in thought, trying not to be too dazed at the fact that she’s
almost back to the way she used to be.

This morning when he awoke she was already up. Up and
dressed. Mary hadn’t dressed herself without assistance for over 6
months. Normally it took just getting on her underclothes before
she’d put on whatever else he put in her hands, but she had done
herself up all by her lonesome. It was especially odd considering
that they were staying in a motel where nothing was where it
should have been. He thanked the good lord above that she hadn’t
wandered off again instead.

Here they were, taking the cross-country trip she’d always
wanted to take and she had all the while seemed to be getting
worse and then, out of nowhere, this morning happens. It wasn’t a
miracle; it wasn’t going to last, too good to be true, and a million
other excuses ran through his mind as he watched his bride of 65
years smile at the sun.

While they were lost in their thoughts, the waitress came back
with their drinks and brought them back to reality once again. He
shook his head again and looked at Mary as she took a drink of the
apple juice, pinkie finger extended, nose in the menu. For the first
time in ages he laughed. It felt good. Mary looked at him and
began to giggle too.

“What?” she said with a smile.

“Nothing. I just love you. I love you,” he said, the waitress
was temporarily lost in a limbo land far away from the two of
them.

“I love you too. Are you ready to order?” Mary said, still smiling.

“Oh, uh,” he said, looking up at the waitress, “why don’t you
take her order and I’ll pick something out in just a second.”

The waitress nodded and looked at Mary.

“I’d like the number three with scrambled eggs, please.”

“Okay, and you, sir?”

“I’ll have the same.”

“So, two number threes with scrambled,” the waitress said,
scribbling it down, “anything else?”

“I’m fine, thank you,” he said, “Mary?”

“No, nothing else.”

“I’ll get that going then.”

The waitress walked away, around the corner, sticking the ticket
on a metal carousel for the cook behind the partition. She waited
for him to come into view.

He did and she looked at him again, this time directly into his
eyes, her chin in her hands. The heavyset cook tilted his head to
one side and looked back at her, concerned. After a moment he
started to come around to the front counter and she met him
halfway. Quickly, they embraced, and then he put his hands on
her shoulders, holding her just a bit away from him.

“What is it?”

“I think it’s time we gave this place up,” she said.

“You do, eh?” A weary smile crossed his face as he looked up
and away from her.

“Yes. It really is time. We need to move on to something better.”

“Not too many things better than this, love.”

“You know what I mean, smarty-pants. If you don’t agree, tell
me.”

“No, you’re right,” he said reluctantly, “I know it’s time, it has
been for a while now. Still, it’s hard to leave all this behind.”

“We won’t be the first,” the waitress said.

“Or the last,” he said as he kissed her on the forehead.

The waitress carried the two plates, one in each hand, and set
them down in front of Mary and him. She took the ketchup out
the front pocket of her uniform and set it on the table.

“Anything else?” she asked.

“Actually, yes. Could I get a glass of milk?” he said.

“I’d like one too if you don’t mind?” Mary added.

“Can do. I’ll be right back.”

For an instant Mary sat still, not able to fully comprehend the
realization she had just come to as the waitress turned away from
them. The memories of the past couple of years, which exploded
into her mind in one loud and crushing moment. Every moment
that she had been incapable of speech, of movement, or of thought
in the last two years somehow returned to her in a flash. She watched
in her mind’s eye as her husband cleaned up after her when she
could no longer recall how to use the bathroom, as he dressed her
in the morning and undressed her at night, how he fed her so
delicately, like a child. That and a seemingly endless list of other
things. Mary began to cry, willingly. It hurt her to think that she
had been such a burden. Her husband was a strong, hard man but
he wasn’t nearly so capable as he had once been. He hadn’t put her
in a home or left her sitting. Instead, he had taken her on a trip
across the country, something she had always wanted, and now
just two or three hours from Portland and home she knew that she
would rather die than go on the way she had over the last couple of
years.

He looked up at Mary and saw her crying. With a fork still in
his mouth he sat up straight and frantically spoke to her.

“Mary, what is it?” he said through a mouthful of eggs.

“I’m so sorry. I’m so terribly sorry.”

“What? Why? What are you sorry about?”

“About being such a burden to you.”

Slowly, he put his fork down then swallowed the eggs in his
mouth. Mary stopped crying and looked at him as he methodically
wiped his face with his napkin.

“Mary Alice Wilson, you have not and never shall be a burden
to me. I love you just as much now as I did the day I asked you to
be my bride. We may not be able to chase each other all over a
dance floor or be intimate like we once were but that doesn’t mean
I love you any less. If you were paralyzed, blind, and deaf, I would
still take care of you. You’re my wife and will be until the end of
time, period. Enough about that subject. Understood?”

Mary nodded. She knew him well enough not to say anything
more about it. It was almost overwhelming to know he cared so
much about her. Mary wanted desperately to give him something
back. She had nothing to give except herself.

The waitress returned with the check and the milk for both of
them. Setting them down on the table she asked if there was
anything else they needed. They said they didn’t and she told
them that she’d be their cashier when they were ready to go and
that they could pay at the front counter.

For a few moments longer they went on talking. Mary trying
to find some way to express her gratitude, while he just shrugged
it off as what he was supposed to do. Soon, they began to tease
each other over the meal, taunting about things many years past,
teasing about when they had been young. As they rose to leave, he
offered his arm for Mary to loop hers through. Then, they went to
the front counter to pay their debt.

At first it was a shock. As he looked at the cook and waitress he
was sure that he had also begun to lose track of his mind, of reality.
A quick stolen look at Mary told him otherwise OR confirmed the
fact. It didn’t really matter once the waitress spoke though. A white
haze began to creep in around the edges of his vision as he stared at
them. As though he had been staring too long.

“This restaurant has been here in one form or another for over
300 years. It was originally a tribal gathering place for an Indian
tribe which lost its name before the first settlers from England set
foot on the other coast. It started from that and has been everything
from a trading post to a restaurant. The history of this place is too
varied and muddied with time to fully explain to you. Depending
on your decision, you may be the next to understand the past of
this place. You see we have been the proprietors of this place since
1947. When we took it over Hal,” she said pointing at the cook,
“was 70 years old. I was 71. Since the day we took over the place
we haven’t aged a day. In fact, after about three weeks we found
that we were getting younger. We seemed to stop our reverse aging
at somewhere between 25 and 40. Although sometimes we’ve
looked a bit older and sometimes we’ve looked a bit younger. So,
now, its been 50 years. I’m just over 121 years old. It’s about time
for me to finish what I started the day I was born. Fortunately, Hal
says he’s going to go with me,” she said with a coy smile on her
now deeply wrinkled face, “and we’re just going to go. We’re not
even sure what happens next but we’re going to find out.”
The waitress stepped around the counter, took the check from
Mary’s slack jawed husband, and finished.

“Now, you can pay for this breakfast with cash, check, or credit,
OR we can trade. You can walk out that door, no strings attached,
and go back to the way you were. Mary, unfortunately, will return
to her former state of difficulty. You’ll forget about this place and
us. Or, you can give us your truck, your clothes, and whatever else
you have and take our places. Please,” the waitress said, her eyes
pleading for their understanding, “don’t think I’m trying to force
you into something. If you want to do this, do it because you
think it’ll make the two of you happy, if you don’t want to do it,
then don’t because you think it’s not the right thing to do. There’s
no way you can understand what we’re asking you and there’s no
way I can explain it. You’ll know if it’s right or not.”

Mary looked at him and he at her, while the waitress put her
arms around the cook, and it was decided. He and Mary looked at
them, he took Mary’s hand in his.

The decision came with consequences. Mary had the choice of
becoming a sort of zombie, living out the rest of her life losing
more and more of herself with each passing day, or being young
again. There wasn’t much for her to lose, unless there was some
catch to the gift that they were being offered. Her husband wasn’t
in such a difficult situation though. He was generally happy with
his station in life. Life had taken its toll on him but had left him
stronger from the weathering. Occasional looks back on his youth
were enough, most of the looks being back on the beginning of his
life with Mary. The decision he would make would be his alone
regardless of what Mary decided. Each of them would have their
own reasons for deciding, each of them would choose their fork in
the road and be forced to follow it.

Mary looked up at the waitress, timidly, and with eyes that
were as big as the sky nodded in acceptance of her offer. Her
husband was not able to join her. In the instant that the question
was asked, the proposition made, he knew it wasn’t for him. It
wasn’t really that he couldn’t join Mary, it was that he couldn’t
allow himself to join her. There was no valiant attempt to justify
his existence or to insist that there was no going back to his youth,
instead it was just a decision. One he would make freely and which
would break his heart from that moment on until the end of his
life whether he was conscious of it or not, a decision which he
knew was right in a place within himself that he barely knew existed.
He held Mary’s hand in his as he kneeled down beside her.
Gently, a smile on his face, he pulled her hand to his lips and
kissed it. An eternal moment passed as he rubbed his cheek along
her spotted and wrinkled flesh and he closed his eyes. There was
no possible way she could know how much he loved her. He loved
her enough to let her stay and live until she had her fill of life.
Enough love to go his own way and let his end the way it was
meant to.

Opening his eyes to step away from her and leave, he looked at
Mary’s hand for a moment. The wrinkles were gone, the spots had
vanished. He jerked his head up to look at her face. She was
stunning. Just as beautiful as she had been 65 years earlier when
he had married her. It hadn’t taken days for her to become young
again like they had said it would. Only an instant had passed.

The waitress spoke and he turned toward her.

“I don’t know why she changed so quickly. Perhaps she’s special.
Still, she’s going to stay and you’re not. Would you be willing to
give Hal and I a lift into town?”

“How do you know I’m not going to stay?” he said, angry that
they already knew what he did.

“I know too,” Mary said, smiling with the face of a 22 year
old.

He forgot about the waitress and turned to Mary.

“I don’t want to leave you but I can’t do this. I don’t know why
but I just can’t.”

“It’s okay,” Mary said, stroking his thin hair, “It’s okay.”

He didn’t even notice the tears running down the sides of his
cheeks as he embraced her.

“What will happen now?” he asked the now elderly waitress
over Mary’s shoulder.

“It’s already happening.”

“What’s happening?!”

“This place. It’s changing, just like she has, just like we did.”

He looked around for a moment. The metal stools which had
been there when they walked in were now wood. The counter tops
were no longer a white and silver speckled Formica, now they were
a muted burgundy color, well worn. Before his eyes the place
continued to change and he knew it was exactly as Mary would
have it.

“Would you give us a ride?,” the waitress asked.

He looked at her bitterly, wanting to blame her for the loss of
his wife who he’d lost with painful slowness over the last four years
only to find her again this morning. There was as much blame for
the waitress and her husband as there was for the tires on his truck
though. It was not a case of blame and fault. Some things are just
meant to be.

“Yes. I’ll give you a ride,” he said as he let go of Mary, “I just
need a minute more.”

“We’ll wait outside,” the waitress said as she and Hal walked
out the door.

“Mary, I—”

“Shhhh. There’s nothing you need to say. I know how you’re
hurting. I wish there was something I could say to make you
understand that I love you just the same as you love me. I just
know this is what I have to do though. Like you know that you
can’t.”

“How do you know that, Mary!?!”

“It’s a part of all this,” she said, waving her hand around the
room, “something about this place. I just imagined how I’d want
this place to look and then that’s how it looked. At the same time
you think things, I hear them. I could hear what the waitress was
thinking. Her name is Frances, by the way, and I can—”

“Mary?”

“What?”

“If you can hear my thoughts, can you tell how much I’m
going to miss you?”

She looked at him. It wasn’t a question that required an answer.

A gentle kiss between them and he turned to the door.

Just inside the threshold, he held the door open and looked
back over his shoulder at her as she stood inside a building now
painted a muted pink on the outside, a neon sign in the window
flashing ‘Mary’s Place’, and he wanted to break down and cry
until he couldn’t move. Instead he winked at her, it was all he
could do that wouldn’t make him break down. With that he turned
and walked away.

In a few days, after returning home, he would come to
remember that his wife had passed away four years earlier. Those
around him, his friends and relatives, would talk about how good
and kind she had been, how nice their wedding had been, how sad
it was at the funeral four years earlier. Rainbow’s End would
disappear from his mind just as Mary did and reality would swallow
up all the loose ends of the place as it always had.

***

Eggs sizzled on the griddle in the only restaurant in town that was
open, one that might have been known as Rainbow’s End in a
different world, and it was now six o’ clock. ‘Mary’s Place’ glowed
in pink neon in the window and the place was empty, except for
the proprietor and two patrons. Customers came mostly from
travelers on the highway but some folks from town stopped in
now and then before heading off into the four winds to do whatever
they did. Various breakfast aromas emanated from the little place.
A comforting, relaxed aura seemed to hover over it as well.

Just inside the doorway, off to the left was a huge, wood framed,
ornately carved mirror. Pictures were taped all around it, on the
sides and all the way to the middle where just enough of the mirror
was open to see a face that was at the right height. The pictures
were all of the same couple but mostly of the man. A man who was
always smiling, always standing tall. The woman in the pictures
bore a striking resemblance to the proprietor of ‘Mary’s Place’ but
no one ever seemed to notice. It was the big picture of the elderly
couple almost at the middle of the mirror which drew attention
most of the time. The man with a tiny little smile on his face, a
laugh almost audible on the wind, the elderly woman holding out
her hand elegantly to him, the man reaching for her hand as she
gets out of the old Ford truck. Framed by layers and layers of
pictures that seemed to have been collected over a lifetime, it was
the centerpiece. The picture didn’t look all that old. People always
asked about it, who the couple were and where the picture came
from, but Mary never said much about it. She would just smile a
knowing smile, shrug, and move on about her business. The caption
on the bottom of the picture had been written in black ink, softly,
in a woman’s hand.

It said, ‘My one true love . . . ’.

The End

...have a good Tuesday. Don't forget to tell your loved ones that you love em'.

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