Before opening the car door, Lucia took a deep breath of the Louisiana night air. She was not unaware of its heaviness, its moistness, the smells of Lake Pontchartrain—salt, seaweed, water creatures, all mixed with the sounds produced by the wind slapping water against the seawall, soughing in the tops of tall pines against a black sky.
She pressed hard on the starter in the old Triumph. It ground, coughed, and was silent. “Oh, my God,” she said and hit the steering wheel with her fist. If it wouldn’t start, she would just have to have Everett paged at the New Orleans airport. Tell him to get on a Greyhound bus for Mississippi. He should have done that in the first place or flown into Jackson. “Start!” she growled and pressed again, and it did. She floored the accelerator, in neutral, and the engine roared underfoot, confident and, as always, a little arrogant for so small a tiger. The beam of the headlights crawled across the wall and the screened porch as she slowly backed out of the carport and turned toward the street.
“I’m out of my mind,” she said aloud. “I’m just out of my ever-loving mind.” She had begun talking to herself after Christopher died two years ago. They had had such a good time talking that when he was no longer there she just kept on talking. “I am my own best company,” she sometimes said, picking figs or surveying herself at the full-length mirror, ready to go out. She slowed and looked at her watch under the corner streetlight. Ten o’clock.
“Seventy-five-year-old fool heading to New Orleans at ten o’clock at night.” She braked, shifted the gear, and rounded the corner, leaving Lakeshore Drive. “A damn fool.” The lights beamed across the spray-painted command on the wall of the high school gym: LADY OF MERCY STOMP HOLY GHOST FRIDAY NIGHT!
Scarcely aware of thunder to the south, she drove slowly, peering intently through her glasses and the flat little windshield. She had decided not to drive at night more than a year ago, and she felt that her dear old car might be better able to make it across the 26-mile causeway than she was. “Old cars can be overhauled.” As this one had been recently. A big car rushed up to an intersection and slammed to a stop. Startled, she swore.
“Just tell me one thing good about being old. Just one thing!” She simply hadn’t felt this way as long as she had Chris. Any woman who claimed she didn’t need a strong man didn’t know what she was talking about. She drove on toward the causeway, through a tunnel of night-darkened oaks between the streetlights of Ste. Marie, Louisiana. “I just have to do it,” she said, tears in her voice. Everett hadn’t changed a bit. She hadn’t seen him for nearly ten years and never expected him to fly down for Ann’s services. And what did he do but call her at nine o’clock tonight out of the blue, from the New Orleans airport.
“Can you pick me up?” he said, like he was down at the Ste. Marie bus depot and it was 20 years ago.
“Do you know how old I am?” she wanted to scream at him.
“Brat. Sixty-year-old brat.” He hadn’t come for the other funerals—Dora’s, Tom’s, Margaret’s. Not since their parents’. Well, Ann was his twin. Maybe there still was something special there, dormant, come to life at the incident of death. And some burst of confidence and energy had made her say, “I’ll pick you up. Just sit tight.” The call had given her an illusion of vigor, the big sister again, always there, ready. She had to do it.
When she thought of Ann, she began to cry and had to pull over to the curb and hold her face in a handful of tissues. “I thought I was through crying,” she sobbed. “Ann, Ann! I could kill you for leaving me high and dry like this.” Then she began to laugh at what she’d said. Ann would have laughed. She took another tissue from the box on the dash and cleaned her glasses and blew her nose. As she drove back onto the wide highway, wind gusts swept overland from the lake, bringing the first raindrops.
“Don’t rain! Don’t rain!”
By the time she approached the Causeway she was in a downpour, windshield wipers working fast and noisily. She pulled up to the toll booth and handed the man a dollar. Reflected lights blurred on the choppy water of Lake Pontchartrain. Red lights and white lights nearby, and far ahead a smoldering luminescence in the low, heavy clouds over New Orleans.
“Bad night to be headin’ for Sin City,” the man said.
“Mission of mercy,” said Lucia, and moved forward, chin high.
Chris’s apple-green Triumph was in fine shape for its age. Duffy Peek had just been all over it, spent three days like he and Chris used to do together. She loosened her tight grip on the steering wheel, arthritis grinding out its pain in knobby knuckles, hurting like the devil. For that matter it hurt in her shoulders, neck, back. “Just a dilapidated old bag of bones.”
But she could quickly call up one of those lovely healing memories of Chris’s voice: “Cut that out, you beautiful babe. You’re in great shape, and you look like a million dollars,” and she saw that wide smile, white teeth, tanned face. Fine old face. The car seemed more cozy and safe while rain pounded the canvas top, windshield, and danced on the hood.
Then Ann pushed back into Lucia’s thoughts. Ann and Everett had been her real-live dolls. She was 15 when they were born, she was the eldest of six, the tallest, the child-lovingest, the chauffeur, Mother pro tem, Daddy called her. She adored the twins and simply took them over, rocked two cribs at once, changed diapers, warmed bottles, old-fashioned bottles with rubber nipples that Everett learned to pull off in his crib. Lucia carried them around, baby legs straddling both her hips. She dressed them in their little matching clothes for Myrt to roll them down to the Methodist Church corner in their double stroller, where all the nurses gathered in the afternoons with their charges, little white children fresh from their bathtubs. Ann became her love, and they had remained close for the rest of Ann’s life.
“I never could believe she grew up. How did she get to be 60 years old? She barely made that. Why did she have to die before me? Emphysema, like the others. And Daddy. Ann didn’t even smoke.” Lucia had spent the last months going back and forth between Ste. Marie and Sweet Bay, sitting with Ann at home or in the hospital, at whichever place Ann lay propped up, crowding words between breaths, oxygen tank nearby, plastic tubes in her nostrils. They reviewed their whole lives. “And I made you my executor!” Lucia said, accusingly, and they laughed like fools, as they always had, no matter how bad off Ann was. No matter how hard it was for Lucia. Almost to the end. They weren’t together when she died in her sleep.
“I can’t believe things are ending this way. I’ve buried all of them. All but Everett. God knows he’d better outlive me. I’m sick of sitting on the edges of graves in that plot.” She would talk to Everett about that, about his place now. Thank God for him. A good dependable younger family member. “Perhaps he will come back home with me for a few days, and we can relax, visit, talk about the future. . . .” The wind and rain came on hard from the lake, almost blindingly. She couldn’t possibly drive the minimum speed. Traffic was blessedly light.
An enormous white semi was overtaking the green Triumph, fast. “Slow down, idiot.” How could he see to drive that fast? The white hulk rumbled past, rocking the small car fearsomely.
She remembered the day Chris drove it into her driveway, a tiny motor-roaring thing, the top down, unfolded his long legs, and rose from the brown leather seat. “Are you Mrs. Collins?” he said, and his smile was as arresting as his apple-green car.
“I am,” said Lucia, removing her gardening gloves and dropping the bamboo rake on the leaf pile. She took hasty note of his appearance, thatch of white hair, rumpled by the wind, well-tailored plaid shirt, good suitably faded jeans, and white deck shoes. He had a newspaper under his arm. He was the boater who had called in answer to her ad.
“My name is Neilson, Chris Neilson. I called about your ad. Let’s see, you have a lantern, Coleman stove, rope, fishing tackle. Got an anchor?”
“That and more.” She smiled politely.
“May I see them?”
“Certainly. They’re right back here in the storeroom. I’ll get the key.” She fetched the key off the kitchen hook, and Chris Neilson followed her to the dark green door off the carport. She switched on the light. “I have a 50-horsepower motor, some seats, lifepreservers, quite a few things. Go in and look them over.”
He stayed in the storeroom awhile. She could tell what he was examining by the familiar sounds of wood, metal, canvas. When he stepped out, he smiled again and said, “You all lost interest in boating?”
“My husband died several years ago, and I’m just now getting rid of some of his things.”
“I know how that is. Been through it. I’m going to try living on my boat.”
“I see. Well, do you see anything you need in there?”
“I surely do. Are those two new deck chairs for sale? I could use them. And the lantern I could use. How about the radio?”
“Any of it or all of it.” She reached in her shirt pocket and handed him a typewritten list with prices.
“Good,” he said. “Tell you what. I live in New Orleans, but I’ll be back in a pickup this afternoon late if that’s okay.”
“That’s fine. I’ll be here.”
He smiled again and slid into the car.
“You have a—an interesting car. I don’t believe I ever saw a sports car that color.”
“Probably not. I had this one painted. Gaudy, isn’t it?”
“It’s bright. . . spring-like,” she laughed like he wasn’t a stranger. She was the stranger.
After he left, she picked up her rake and poked it around in the leaves. What an interesting man. She hadn’t noticed an “interesting man” since Henry died. She embarrassed herself.
Lucia realized she was handling the car well despite everything. She felt a ripple of pride in her spine. The Triumph was so small, not even comfortable, really, but she couldn’t part with the crazy little thing. First she sold Chris’s pickup, then finally she sold her sedan. Sentiment. What made men love their cars so? She had loved the man, and the car was the most tangible thing she had left of him. “Oh, Chris.” She was married to Chris for eight years—a fling and a lark for an old couple. Old in birthdays. She couldn’t remember either of them being sick for a day together. “It was more than a fling and a lark.”
“You look like a smart woman. What do you do?” he said later when he dropped by with no excuse.
Confronted with such a question, she blurted, “I work like a dog in this house and yard. I make fig and mayhaw preserves and green tomato pickles. I read a couple of books a week. I “do” book reviews.” She stopped, aghast at her ready biography to a stranger. That was the beginning. He was interested.
Lucia loosened her hurting hands. “What we did was laugh and talk.” And live a little. A lot. Like she had not thought possible. For eight years. Sometimes she still found it hard to believe that they had had the good fortune to find each other. “Right there in your own backyard,” he would say and put his arms around her.
One night eating their own catch on the deck of his boat, rocking ever so gently on the Tchefuncte River, he said, “Marry me and come live on my boat.”
“Marry you! You want to get legally hitched to a 65-year-old crone?” It was as good as “Yes.”
“I want your money.”
“My dowry consists of my Medicare.”
“I’ll accept that.” More seriously, “So we’re 65 years old. Let’s see how much fun we can have.”
So they were married. By a New Orleans judge they both knew. They lived in her house on the lake, but she became a boat person, too. It was an unruffled transition, becoming a married woman again. Chris was an affectionate man. To her naive surprise, he was a tender and passionate lover, and, to her greater surprise, her pleasure with him was more intense than she had ever known. “You’re some woman,” Chris would say. And “Back from the dead!” That was lagniappe.
They drove to New Orleans for Saints games at the Superdome and for shows at the Saenger. They dined with friends at home, in the city, and in restaurants around the lake. They cooked on the grill, and they played gin and sipped wine in the evening.
Occasionally Chris would have an extra evening drink or two, on the boat anchored a mile or so from the north shore. He would tell her ribald stories and sing noisily from an endless repertoire of war songs, using his glass for a baton.
Creeping along in the night through wind and rain over Lake Pontchartrain, Lucia shook her head remembering Chris singing one night, “Bless em all! Bless em all! The long and the short and the tall! There’ll be no promotions this side of the ocean. So cheer up, my lads, Fuckem all!”
“Hush up, Chris! Your voice carries across this water like you have a microphone.” She was interrupted by a baritone from a winking light a quarter mile farther out. “Fuckem all! Fuckem all! The long and the short. . . .” And then they could all hear the laughter bounce over the light chop and under the sparkling stars in a blue-black sky.
Lucia pulled into a turnaround area and stopped the car. She rested her head on the steering wheel. “It won’t be long, now. I’m doing fine. But thank the Lord Everett can take the wheel for the two hours to Mississippi.” Their aged cousins, sisters, both in their late eighties, were putting them up. “What a treat! What a treat!” Cousin May had chirped over the phone, “Having you children with us again.” Then she caught herself. “Oh my dear, I’m forgetting myself. We are all in grief for dear little Ann. She was like a sister to me.” And Lucia knew Cousin May was getting Ann mixed up with their mother Ann.
Lucia lifted her head. The last day of his life Chris had said to her, “You’re a youthful handsome woman, Lucia. I love that thick white hair and those gorgeous legs.”
“You’re crazy,”Lucia had said, pinching his bottom as he walked past her toward the stern. A few moments later he had a heart attack and without a word fell overboard. She went down after him with lifepreservers, but he was dead, his white hair washing back and forth like anemones between his fishing line and the stern.
She put the Triumph in drive and moved out behind a state trooper. “Hallelujah, I’ve got me an escort!” But the white car wove away at high speed and was lost to her. “Well. I’m on my own again.” The rain had slowed to a drizzle when she turned toward the airport. The speeding cars and trucks on the six-lane interstate unnerved her, and she addressed her maker reverently each time she moved farther left, lane by lane. “Christ,” she murmured when she spied the metal sign New Orleans International Airport that directed traffic to a new overpass she didn’t know about. Her heart in her mouth, she managed to move back to the far-right lane. And the Triumph roared up the ramp and back over the traffic she had just left. Not daring to feel giddy, she found herself traveling parallel to jet runways. Strobelights marked the airport drive.
“That keeps those huge things from thinking this is another runway.” Then a sign appeared announcing a radio station on which she could be brought into a short-term parking area. She was able to park on the first level. “I made it on instruments,” she gasped, as she took the keys from the car. She was extremely stiff and in pain when she stood beside her car. “I’m too old for this.” Two teen-aged boys looked backward at the old car, its classic body glittering in a coat of raindrops under the endless rows of fluorescent tubes. They grinned but looked concerned as they saw her effort to straighten her back and walk toward the elevator.
“I’ve never been in here unescorted.”
“I beg your pardon?” said a young woman.
“Nothing. Nothing. Just talking to myself. Do it all the time.” She wanted to get to a rest room.
Inside she began walking and scanning the crowd, looking for her tall younger brother. She was surrounded by a shifting sea of people speaking Spanish, French, Indian, and no telling what else, all under the nasal drone of the P.A. speaker. Her eyes, tired, swept over young, old, babies, nuns, sailors, people in wheelchairs, obese men and women waddling to and from the concourses. One very fat gray-haired man was bearing down on her, looking into her eyes, smiling. The smile caught her eye. Only that—that crooked half-smile.
“What’s the matter, Lucia? Don’t you know me?” He was carrying a dark blue suit bag.
“Everett! I didn’t!” She closed her mouth with effort. “Everett,” she said again.
He leaned forward and laid his cheek against hers briefly. “I reckon I have put on a little weight since you saw me last.”
“Yes. Yes. I’m glad to see you, Everett. It’s good you could come.”
“I hate to put you out. Hope you didn’t have any trouble. Was the weather good? I’ve been in here so long, I don’t know what it’s doing outside.”
“The weather? Oh, yes, well it rained a little. Nothing uh . . .let’s go in here and order a cup of coffee or a Coke, maybe. I need to find a rest room. Are you hungry?”
“No. I just had a couple of hamburgers and a malt. I’m ready to roll. Ready to hit that Interstate. Get on up to Cousin May and them’s for some shuteye. I’ve been here over three hours.”
“Well, I need something.” And Lucia steered them into a coffee shop. She went ahead and ordered coffee and a ham sandwich before going to a rest room.
“Oh, I guess I’ll have one, too,” said Everett. “And an order of fries. Traveling makes me hungry.” Bulk made sitting difficult for him. “Have to fly first class. More room to spread out, you know.”
“Excuse me, Everett,” she murmured. “I’ll be right back.” She got up painfully.
“Why you’re all crippled up!” He seemed surprised.
Lucia pressed her lips together and walked to the rest room. Inside a booth she sat down and began to laugh and cry. “This is hysterics. What am I going to do? I’m too tired to drive on. My God, he won’t fit into the car.”
“Is anything wrong?” came a voice from the next booth. “Do you need help?”
“No. Oh, no. Thank you. I just talk to myself. Sometimes what I say is funny, so I laugh. . . .”
The floodgates of Lucia’s bladder opened, and for a moment she reveled in the greatest relief she had felt in days. She didn’t say anything more aloud, but as she went out she patted her white bangs at the mirror and took a quick and satisfying look at her figure.
Everett was waiting for her. “I hate to see you so crippled Up.”
“Everett, what do you weigh, honey?”
“Three-twenty-five, right now.” Then he gave one of his famous ha-ha-has. “Haven’t you ever seen a fat man, Lucia?”
“It’s just that I’ve never seen a 325-pound man in this family. You know, we all have tended to be slim. Slender.” She wished she hadn’t asked his weight.
“Well, you’ve seen one now,” he said, steadying himself with the chair beside him. “These sure are little bitty old chairs.”
Lucia laughed. They ate their sandwiches. “We may have a problem, Everett,” she said, blotting the corners of her mouth with the stiff paper napkin.
“Well, I drive a very small car. I’m just not perfectly sure you can get comfortable, completely comfortable. . . . I was counting on you to drive us home. . . .” She wanted to cry.
“You haven’t gone and bought one of those little bitty old Jap cars have you?”
“No. No. Actually it’s English. Belonged to my husband . . . it’s small. . . .” Her voice trailed off.
“Oh-oh.” Everett’s voice boomed, “I drive a Cadillac. Have to have a heavy car. Just kills my legs and back to ride in one of. . . .”
“I really was counting on your driving. I’m not crazy about driving at night.”
“Looks like you made it over here all right.”
“Yes. Well, it wasn’t easy.”
“If I’d felt like driving, I’d have driven myself down in my Cadillac. We’ll do okay. You got a pillow in it so I can stretch out?”
Chris’s voice loomed in her ear. “Lucia, honey, you’re being a fool. Tell that sonofabitch to get a taxi to a hotel.”
Everett’s face blanched when he saw the apple-green Triumph. “Lucia! Why in hell is an old lady like you driving this thing?”
Lucia was indignant. “Look, Everett, try to squeeze in. If you can’t get in, we’ll have to get you a room across the Airline at the Hilton. This happens to be the only car I have.”
He put his bag in the small trunk, muttering, “Ruining my good clothes,” and stuffed himself into the little bucket seat. “Goddamn, Lucia. You’ll have to bury me too when we get home. I still say “home” even though the house is gone. And everybody is gone. Everybody but us. I can’t believe Ann is gone. I kept thinking I’d come down to see her. We were close. A long time ago. Did she suffer much?”
“She suffered plenty. But she died peacefully.”
“I’m glad to hear she went out easy.” Then Everett began to wheeze. “I’ve got it too. We got it from Daddy. I quit smoking two years ago. Don’t drink a drop,” he added.
Lucia turned toward Baton Rouge.
“Here now. We’re not going to Baton Rouge, are we?”
“Of course not. We turn north on 1—55.” Lucia hurt all over. She was getting a headache, and her eyes were too tired to cry. “Lord give me strength. What a fool I am.”
“How’s that?” Everett shouted over the engine.
She shook her head.
Everett tried to shift his bulk, but it was like trying to move a grapefruit in a demitasse spoon. “My circulation is going. In my legs,” he hollered. He didn’t have to shout.
“Mercy, Everett. Let me get out of this heavy traffic, and I’ll stop every little while and let you get out and walk a bit.”
But he grunted negatively, and she knew it was because it wasn’t worth it to him trying to get out and back in. She turned north off the spillway interstate and drove in silence all the way to Lake Marapas. “Let’s stop at Heidenreidt’s and get another cup of coffee. You can walk around.”
She parked the car near the door of the seafood restaurant which had been there as long as she could remember. “Make you nostalgic?”
“Yeah,” said Everett, managing to extricate himself from the passenger seat. Lucia felt a terrible sadness over this baby brother she had once carried about like a ragdoll, who came home tall and thin and hurt from the long battle for the hills of South Korea and began his own battles in civilian life. A succession of jobs, two failed marriages, the loss of a young child. Poor boy.
In the old restaurant on the shore of Marapas, Everett sat on a stool and ordered a dozen raw oysters. “Don’t you want some, Lucia? My treat.”
“No thank you, Everett.”
“Remember how Daddy used to stop here on his way home from New Orleans and pick up a gallon of oysters? He and Mama would get in the kitchen and meal ‘em up and season ‘em and fry ‘em in that big black iron skillet? Drain ‘em on brown paper? Remember that big old white platter of Mama’s? Heaped up, hot and crisp. Whooee!” He began dipping crackers in catsup and horseradish while an old black man shucked the oysters. “Ya’ll got any boiled crawfish?” he asked the sleepy waitress.
“Yeah. Want some?”
“Everett,” said Lucia, “I’m afraid you’ll be sick. And we need to be on our way pretty soon.”
“Okay. Lord Jesus, I hate to think of stuffing myself back into that little bitty old car. How come you’re driving that thing, hon? Now tell me the truth. You having a hard time, Lucia?”
“I’ve got some problems, Everett, but they don’t have anything to do with my car or money. It was my husband’s car, and I chose to keep it. Ordinarily, I just use a car to go to the post office and the A&P.”
“Well, you made a mistake. You ought to get yourself a good heavy sedan.”
“I’m sorry you’re uncomfortable.”
“I’m not complaining. I just hate to see you in such reduced circumstances.”
“My circumstances are not reduced.”
Everett dispatched a baker’s dozen large raw oysters, lifting each, dipped red in the catsup mixture, to his mouth, and uttering a sound of appreciation of the taste.
They drove a long time on 1—55 without talking. As they passed the Tangipahoa exit he said, “Was Ann right with her maker?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Was she saved? Was she born again?”
“What in the hell are you talking about, Everett?”
“Don’t blaspheme. She never was religious, Lucia. I wasn’t either. Way back there. I’m just asking if you think my sister got right with the Lord.”
Lucia was livid. “Yes,” she said calmly, “I’m sure she and the Lord were on good terms.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear it. After my last divorce I turned myself over completely to Jesus Christ, and I faithfully support Him.”
“What church are you a member of? I know your last wife was Catholic.”
“Don’t belong to any. That is church house. I support the Lord’s work through several television ministries. They’re saving souls like all get-out all over the world. Did you ever think about how many souls are in hell, went there before the television came along and took the gospel to the farthest corner of the planet? Some people are going to rot in hell for persecuting these dedicated servants of the Lord who pack food to all those starving little boogers in Africa and all.”
Lucia took her eyes off the highway for a split second to look at her brother. “You wouldn’t possibly be including Louisiana’s own, would you?”
“Most particularly. The Lord has simply put that poor fellow through a baptism of fire with Satan. The man’s coming back. Just listen to him on the TV.”
“I ran across him one time looking for a Saints game.” They crossed the state line. “You’re back in Mississippi, Everett.” Lucia tried to help her backache by pressing harder against the back of her seat. Since they had turned onto 1—55 they had both been aware consciously or unconsciously that they were back in the world they knew best, the marshland above New Orleans, that edge of Louisiana that slid toward the state line, into the slow gentle sweep of low hills that meant Mississippi. Oh, it was different. A few miles made all the difference in the world.
“Yeah,” he said. “I do appreciate your holding Ann’s body till I could get here for the funeral.”
“Body? I don’t think you understand, Everett.”
“Don’t understand what?”
“This is to be a memorial service at the church. Ann’s remains were cremated.”
“Cremated! Cremated! Who is responsible for that?”
Rain was falling again. Lucia turned on the wipers. “It was Ann’s wish.”
“So! She wasn’t saved! Of all the unholy, pagan things to do to my sister. You mean she’s already . . .already burnt up?”
“Her remains are ashes.”
“Well, I’ll be goddamned.”
“Now, who’s blaspheming?”
“Why have I gone to all this trouble and expense and discomfort coming all the way down here from West Virginia? Huh? Tell me that?”
There just wasn’t room in the little car for him to blow up. “I assumed you wanted to attend your twin sister’s memorial services. We’ll have an interment of the ashes in the plot. What’s the difference?”
“Difference! I thought I was going to get to see her. See how she looked.”
“I’m sorry you feel. . . cheated.” Lucia’s head was splitting. Her eyes were cloudy, and she cursed herself for where she was and wept inside for her baby sister and for Everett, who in no way resembled the boy or the man she remembered. She still had miles to travel. It must be nearly two o’clock. “What’s a 75-year-old fool doing on a highway this time of night. Morning.”
“Nothing, Everett. Just talking to myself.”
“How long you been doing that?”
“Talking to yourself.”
“A good while now. It was a deliberate decision. To talk to myself, I mean.”
“For crying out loud. Are you bonkers?”
When Lucia saw Aunt May’s porch light she moaned softly with relief.
“Listen, Lucia. I appreciate what you did—driving to New Orleans to get me. But I’ll get a ride to Jackson and get a plane out of there to Charleston. Tomorrow afternoon, I guess. Late. Whenever this is all over—whatever it is we’re having. Whatever you’re having. Hell, I don’t care. I mean. . . .”
Lucia opened her door. The dash light cast a weak glow in the small space of the car. Her fingers held the cool metal of the handle as she searched Everett’s profile, softened by age and shadow. Her only family, now. And she his. She smiled and laid her hand on his arm. “I understand. I know you’ll be more comfortable in a big car. Wish I’d had a Cadillac just for tonight. Because I love you, Everett. I mean that.”
They walked through the fragrant, dewy grass toward Aunt May’s porch.
In Aunt May’s guest room, Lucia lay in the big four-poster she had first slept in and fallen out of before she could walk. Now, three quarters of a century later she did her deep-breathing exercise to relax. Deep, deep till her lower ribs bowed upward. The old house was quiet in the predawn darkness. Listening, remembering, as old houses do. Lucia let out a long breath. Such profound silence seemed to hold out a mystical beckoning. It wasn’t the first time she had quite calmly thought she might die in her sleep. She inhaled.
The night after Chris died she had gone to bed in a friend’s guest room, believing the enormous weight of sorrow would stop her heart as she slept. She had carefully arranged her arms on the covers so she would not be in disarray when they found her in the morning. But she had waked up in daylight, grateful to be alive and able to meet the day.
She exhaled and whispered to the dark room, “No. Twenty-four hours from now I’ll be sound asleep in my own bed.” The mattress pressed up against her as her body grew heavier, ever heavier, then moved weightlessly into the warm engulfing arms of sleep.