3rd Place – September 2018

We Can Fly Away

 

by Robert Taylor

When the shadows of this life are gone, I’ll fly away

Like a bird from prison bars has flown, I’ll fly away

                                                                                    -Traditional

Thursday Morning
Outside Room 108

            “Carol,” Jane calls out, “come along. It’s not polite to stare into someone’s room that way.”
            “But Mom,” Carol replies, hurrying along the hallway to catch up with her mother, “there’s a lady in there who looks even older than Grandma. She waved and smiled at me.”
            Taking her seven-year-old daughter by the hand, Jane pulls her along at a brisk pace. “That’s no big mystery Dear. All the patients in here are old. It’s an old folk’s home.”
            Carol cranes her neck to get one last look at the open door to room 108. “I know that, but this lady is lots older than Grandma. She looks like a hundred. Her hand is all bony and gnarly, but she has the sweetest smile. Maybe we should visit her on the way out, after visiting Grandma. If her door’s still open, I mean.”
            “I don’t think so, Carol. You just don’t go barging into the room of someone you don’t know.”
Thursday Afternoon
Inside Room 108
            “Sarah, wake up, Dear.”
            Sarah recognizes the voice, knows who is there even though her eyes are still closed. “Ward?” Her voice is hollow, as if wafting up from a chasm somewhere deep within her deteriorating body. “Why, it’s really you, Ward. Fancy that. I can’t believe you finally came to visit your only sister. I had no idea you even knew where I was.” Opening her eyes, Sarah stares in awe at her only brother, as handsome as she remembers him from what seems an eternity ago.
            “I’ve been aware of your whereabouts for a very long time, Sarah. I wanted so bad to come to you. How have you been? Do they treat you right in this place?”
            “I have good days and bad, I suppose, and I can’t complain about how they treat me, really. I do believe I give them more trouble than they give me.”
            Falling into silence, Sarah stares admiringly up into her brother’s face. The silence lasts so long it appears she might have fallen asleep with her eyes open, then she finally continues. “They think I’m losing my mind, Ward. Can you believe that? They don’t actually say it, but I can hear it in their voices. Why, my mind’s as sharp as a tack, always has been. I can remember things from my childhood, or I should say our childhood, and I mean way back when we were practically toddlers.”
            “I’m sure you can, Dear,” Ward replies. “But I have something to tell you. The reason I’m here is to inform you…”
            “Ward,” Sarah interrupts,“ do you remember the big Nelson mansion, up on the hill, just south of Briar Crossing?”
            “Oh yes, Dear, I remember it. You and I used to hide in the grove of trees in the field beside that gigantic house and watch the rich folks going in and out. And the parties, they hosted some of the most elegant parties; long tables out on the lawn with what looked like hundreds of yards of food spread out on them. Why, the men were in tuxedos, and the ladies wore the most elegant pastel-colored gowns.”
            “And the music,” Sarah says, her eyes suddenly brightening, the memories easing the sorrow like a soothing balm. “They had live bands, strings and horns, such beautiful and romantic music. And they danced there on the gigantic patio, the men spinning the ladies around like tops, and holding them close during the slow songs. It was so beautiful. We were forbidden to go near that place, Ward, remember? We weren’t even allowed close enough to touch the fence.”
            “I remember, Sarah, but that‘s not why…”
            “I went up to that mansion once, all by myself, Ward. I never told anyone, not even you. Mom was in a mood to bake a pie, but she didn’t have enough sugar. She handed me a bowl and told me to go the neighbor’s and borrow some. The neighbor wasn’t home so I went up the hill to the Nelson mansion. I was afraid the gate might be locked but it wasn’t. I walked up the long sidewalk, rang the doorbell, and a lady answered. It wasn’t Old Lady Nelson, but a younger woman, her daughter, maybe. I told her my mom wanted to borrow some sugar, and handed her the bowl. She looked down at my bare feet, you remember I always went barefoot in the summertime. Disappearing into the house, she returned with the bowl full of sugar and a bar of soap, told me to take it to my mother and tell her to wash my filthy feet. I cried all the way back to the house.”
            “I never knew you had gone up to the Nelson place, Sarah. I’m surprised you didn‘t tell me back then.”
            “I know you remember the water tower, Ward.” Turning partly on her side, Sarah uses her elbow in an attempt to push herself into a sitting position. The effort being more than she can manage, she lowers herself once again onto her back. “We would climb the iron ladder to the walkway up on that tower, seemed like we were a mile high, and look down on the Nelson mansion. That was the only vantage point from where you could see the entire mansion and all the property. Once, when we were up there this beautiful white dove landed on the railing, not even a foot from my hand. He was looking at me and cooing, like he was asking me to pick him up. I reached for him, and just before my fingers touched him he flew away. I wanted him so bad I almost jumped over that rail. Do you remember that, Ward? You were there, I know you were.”
            “I do remember, and that’s partly why I’m here. I came to tell you that we…”
            “I remember the other event concerning that tower, Ward. It was years later, of course. I had already married and had two babies. The cops came to my door and told me the news, how you had fallen, or jumped, no one ever knew which, and landed on the hard earth below. Your funeral was something to recall. You looked so handsome in that navy blue suit and red tie.” Suddenly, Sarah’s eyes widen. She stares at Ward with total confusion evident on her face. “Wait, this is crazy. If I remember your funeral, then you must be…”
            “That’s right, Sarah, I’ve come to tell you the good news.” Placing his hand on her face, he gives it a gentle caress. Then, walking over to the opposite side of the room, he stands by the window. Sarah, glancing at her reflection in the wall mirror beside her bed, is surprised to see that the side of her face where Ward‘s hand caressed her is devoid of wrinkles.
            “It’s different now Sarah, for both of us. Come, we can do it now. We can fly away.” Pushing back the sheet, Sarah pulls herself, surprisingly with little effort, to her feet, and walks toward her brother.
            “Come, Sarah. Let’s go catch that dove.”
Monday Morning
Outside Room 108
            “Mom,” Carol says, rushing to catch up with her mother in the hallway.     “Remember that old lady who smiled and waved at me the last time we were here? Well, she has a wreath on her door, and it isn’t even Christmas.”
            “It’s not a Christmas wreath Dear. They put the wreath there in her memory. She must have passed away.”
            “Where did she go, Mom, when she died?”
             “We’ll discuss that another time, Dear. Let’s go visit your grandma.”
             Carol is not so easily put off, however, as she tugs on the sleeve of her mother’s dress. “I know where her body went, to the graveyard, but where did she go?”
             “How should I know?” Jane snaps. “Maybe she just flew away.”

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