This story first appeared in The Berkeley Times and The Jackson Times as a 12-part serial way back in 2000-2001 — so yes, the writing here is pretty old. When I read it, I see tremendous room for improvement. It is older than I would normally show people largely because I’ve improved by leaps and bounds since writing this, but the full story (of which this is only the first part) has a special place in my heart. The story may be collected in a future collection of my fiction — I’m considering self-publishing a short story collection — but for now enjoy this glimpse into the story of two retired people coping with loss.
Part 1, Ambulance is Young
The ambulance slashed the morning air like a thunderstorm. That was Vera’s lasting memory.
It was two years ago this month since that horrible wail, but Vera could still recall the moment as if it happened hours ago. The noise and lights no longer woke her at night, but the oppressive weight of that day lingered like a silent film repeating itself over and over again, over and over again.
Thomas was ashen that day, Vera remembered, pale and thin and not at all himself. It did not surprise her, of course, because the ambulance had just whisked away Gertie, his wife of 53 years.
Gertie was Vera’s sister.
They had lived next door to one another for about four years and had remained nearby for much longer. Gertie and Thomas had moved into one of those retirement villages after Thomas retired from the plant. Gertie urged Vera to do the same. It was one of those quaint places where every lawn was perfectly groomed and every neighbor was quiet. As soon as the home next to theirs went up for sale, Gertie and Thomas pushed Vera into buying it. Gertie liked her sister being close, as did Vera. So Vera bought it.
“We seniors have to stick together,” Gertie would say. That was her way, no matter if she was among family or friends or strangers. She could never not be involved in something. Boundless energy, that is what Vera saw in her older sister. An amazing force for good. Everyone who knew her agreed the Lord had taken her from them much too soon.
Everyone except Thomas.
Vera could not understand that. Not even a bit. She knew how much Thomas had loved her sister. She could see it in his eyes every time he spoke of her, but he never expressed regret that she was gone. Sometimes Vera and Thomas would sit together, hands wrapped around cups of coffee and heads wrapped in memories. They would sit and talk about Gertie and all she was, all she did, all she meant. Vera would sob during these talks, small rushes of emotion she could not hold back.
Somehow, Thomas remained smiling.
Vera sometimes asked Thomas how he managed to hold together so well.
“Vera, she did so much,” he would say. You could hear love in his voice. “Every day was a new one for her. All of them. She lived more life than any ten people I know. The angels are blessed to have Vera. Simply blessed.”
He’d smile and sip his coffee and run his hand through the spot where his hair used to be. Thomas and Gertie had lived together as husband and wife for over 50 years, yet he found it within himself to smile with her gone.
“But she’s gone, Thomas. Gone.” Vera would look off into the distance, eyes fixed on memories only she could see. For Vera, there were no smiles in her sister’s death. “Maybe it’s selfish of me to say, but she had so much more to give.”
“No, Vera, in the end she left us with the most wonderful thing we could ever ask for. She gave us a very precious gift, and she would not want us to taint that gift in sadness.” Thomas sipped at his coffee and smiled.
“I … I don’t understand.”
“Vera, we have our memories of her. There is nothing more precious than that.”