FINE FORM PRESS
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Copyright © 2017 JT Therrien
Cover Art © 2017 by Fine Form Press
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. The characters are products of the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously.
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“Over Yonder” original image copyright © 2017 by chumlee10
Original image modified under Creative Commons license terms by Fine Form Press 2017.
“Summertime” was originally published in the Guppy Soup short story collection by JT Therrien (Fine Form Press, 2013).
In the stifling sun-filled bedroom Eugenia lay silently dying, her small body racked by age and disease. She groaned with the effort of pressing her ear against the faded wallpaper. If she listened closely enough she could hear bits and snippets of Fred and Ethel Murtz’s conversation. Something about plumbing but Eugenia was unable to make out exactly what.
“Fred and Ethel,” she whispered, pushing stale air through parched lips.
“What’s that, Mother Adams?” Fanny’s high-pitched voice startled Eugenia and she groaned again as she pressed withered fingers against her greying temples in the hope of suppressing the steady pounding. Fred and Ethel’s voices gradually faded away, overpowered by the unceasing throbbing in her Eugenia’s head. Through a veil of white pain, she reluctantly let them go.
Even though Fanny had been married to Martin (Eugenia’s fifty-seven year old accountant son) for twenty-one years and although she had made every effort, admittedly mostly in the beginning, Eugenia had never gotten used to Fanny’s nasally, grating voice. Whenever she opened her mouth to speak Eugenia’s skin would crawl, making her feel uncomfortably like a nervous, angry cat coiling itself, readying to pounce. Upon further consideration, she’d never taken much of a liking to her daughter-in-law’s given name, either.
She sighed deeply, her chest straining to lift the layer of dry hot air that was smothering her. There was a time, a long, long time ago, she recalled painfully, when the hot summer weather had been much more enjoyable. “Round up my son for me, will you?” Eugenia softly asked Fanny without looking at her.
Long, thin motes of dust, like crumbling marble columns, swirled upward in search of sunlight as Fanny ‘harrumphed’ and then left on her errand.
Eugenia closed her heavy eyelids and waited for Martin. Slowly, tentatively at first, as if loitering near the frayed edges of her consciousness for their entrance cue, Fred and Ethel returned. The new subject under discussion had to do with a wedding. A fur coat. Yelling, threats and loud tin-can laughter that periodically drowned out the couple’s voices.
A strong wind blew dust in Eugenia’s eyes, making her eyes blink spasmodically. When she could open them again she squinted against a clear blue sky and a brilliant noonday sun. She’d been told more than once that her green eyes turned a shade greener, sparkling emeralds, when they reflected the sunshine, and that thought always made her happy to be outdoors.
The car, a shiny blue convertible with wide whitewalls, travelled swiftly down the bumpy country road, trailing pink billows of dried clay behind it. She inhaled deeply, offering her senses up to the heady potpourri fragrances which conspired with the colourful patchwork of wild summer flowers to overwhelm her.
Eugenia quickly glanced to her left, suddenly realizing, remembering. Her heart beat wildly and she lost her breath when she gazed at the man sitting next to her, confidently driving the car. Black, immobile hair, cut as if he had just come out of the army; a strong, square jaw and clean-shaven face that seemed both rugged and tender. Zach’s big callused hands rested easily on the black steering wheel, guiding the car down the serpentine dirt road with ease. Yes, Zachary was there.
Of course, he would be.
“Zachary,” Eugenia sighed, love filling her.
“What are you smiling at, sweetheart?” Zachary asked as he returned her glance. He grinned from ear to ear, looking like a kid who has finally got his hands around the biggest and best prize at the county fair.
“Nothing,” Eugenia replied, smiling, feeling like a prize. “It’s just that . . .” her voice dropped, became sombre, as she admitted, “I’ve missed you, Zachary.” The rushing wind whipped strands of hair into her eyes and she was surprised at its length and colour; the dark henna of her youth. She marvelled at how Zachary’s black crew-cut obstinately resisted the constant onrush of air. Eugenia took hold of her husband’s free hand and squeezed it tenderly.
He glanced down, seeing her small fingers lost in his wide palm, and he smiled self-consciously.
She happily threw her head back against the seat and closed her eyes to the pressing wind.
As the car went over a small crest in the road she exclaimed, “Ooh . . . . That tickled my tummy!” and laughed easily.
Zachary smiled at her, white teeth, perfect smile.
“You still haven’t told me where we’re going.” Eugenia’s small voice was all but lost in the roar of the wind and the rumble of the Ford’s powerful engine.
“Port,” he replied, keeping his eyes fixed on the road.
“Port Colborne. To look at the boats,” Zachary added after having covered a few more miles down the scorched dirt road.
“The boats!” Eugenia exclaimed. “Oh, I just love to watch those big ships going through the canal. It’s been such a long time since we’ve seen them!” She smiled. “Remember the last time? We spent a whole afternoon just watching those huge, grey ships float by on their way to the east coast? Or was it the west coast?”
“It was both. They go both ways, Genie.” Zach laughed at her confusion.
They rode in silence, happy to be in each other’s company. Eugenia asked, “When are we stopping for lunch?” She glanced at her watch. “It’s going on quarter of twelve and I’m getting a bit hungry. You?”
Zachary was about to reply when the black and white Holstein lumbered across the road, emerging from a break in the dust-covered brush. He quickly stepped on the brake pedal, but . . .
“Oh, Zachary,” whispered Eugenia, feeling hot tears well up and roll down the craggy wrinkles etched in her face.
Fanny’s voice intruded upon the memory, shattering it as if it existed on flimsy celluloid. Eugenia unconsciously clenched her teeth.
“Marty? Yeah, it’s me. She’s awake and she’s calling for you. I don’t know . . . . No, no, she’s fine. Healthy as a horse. I said, she’s fine! Look, Marty, I’m just giving you the damn message, okay?”
Fanny’s whine faded from Eugenia’s hearing and she unclenched her teeth.
“I’m telling you, Ethel, you take that fur coat right back to the store!”
“I’ll do no such thing! Why, Lucy told me that it looked—”
“Lucy! Lucy’s crazy! You listen to me, Ethel. You take back that coat or you’ll be going to that wedding with your screwball friend instead of with me!”
“Fred! How dare you talk that way about my best friend!” Laughter, much laughter. Eugenia smiled, knowing that Lucy would soon get involved. Then all heck would break loose.
“Look, I don’t care what you do or when you get back. How long till the end of the game? Alright, I’ll tell her something. I don’t know what. Look, don’t worry about it. You sit and finish your precious beer, I’ll be fine!” The telephone receiver slammed hard into its plastic cradle.
Soon Eugenia heard the sound of Fanny’s heels clicking neatly on the linoleum tiles as she approached the bedroom. She closed her eyes, feigning sleep.
Fanny entered the room and strode directly to Eugenia’s bedside. “Mother Adams? Mother Adams?” Fanny leaned in close, towering over Eugenia. Eugenia tried not to gag on the cloying scent of Chanel making breathing nearly impossible.
She coughed and opened her eyes, forced to stare into Fanny’s emaciated, sun-wrinkled face. Her bulbous nose was in direct competition with her coal black eyes for attention. Lifeless, loveless. They absorbed all and revealed nothing. If it was true that the eyes were a mirror of the soul . . . . Eugenia shivered.
Fanny smiled at her, flashing bright white dentures that were too long in the front, creating a buck-toothed grin that contrasted sharply with her fashionable hairstyle, her dyed-blond hair tucked behind oversized ears making the woman’s long face even longer and less attractive than it actually was.
“Are you cold Mother Adams?” Fanny asked, pulling another layer of sheets over Eugenia’s body.
“Where’s Martin?” Eugenia asked feebly.
Fanny replied, still smiling her big toothy smile, “Oh, you know Marty. He’s out right now. He went to get you a few groceries. You know,” she began casually, looking down at her glossy ruby-red fingernails, “that’s probably the reason why you had that spell. You don’t eat well enough, living on your own and all.”
Eugenia inhaled deeply and then rolled away from Fanny. Her daughter-in-law sighed and then walked over to the other side of the bed, blocking Eugenia’s view of the big willow tree outside the window.
Fanny lit a cigarette and Eugenia watched the thin wisps of smoke float over the bed and across the room. Eugenia coughed, but she was too weak to turn away.
“You don’t mind if I smoke, do you, Mother Adams? You know,” she continued, “you should really think about moving into that new retirement home in town. Whispering Willows. Nice name, huh? Did Marty tell you that we went to look at a room over there yesterday?” Fanny stared down at Eugenia, her pencil-thin eyebrows raised as she waited for a response.
“Well, we went there, yesterday,” she continued. “It was Marty’s idea, you know. And it was just wonderful! If you moved there, at Whispering Willows, you wouldn’t have to worry about cleaning this big old house any more or walking up and down those nasty stairs.”
In the silence, Eugenia struggled for breath, sounding as raspy going in as it did coming out. She closed her eyes and they looked like two lifeless black slits cut harshly into an unbaked pie crust.
“God, death is ugly,” Fanny whispered, and turned to face the sunshine. She seemed content to welcome the rays, until she turned away and complained about wrinkles. “I hate the sun,” she grumbled.
A minute later Fanny left the room, trailing sinewy strands of smoke down the hallway and wondering aloud what colour carpeting she might put throughout the house.
“Ave Maria . . . “ The talented cantor’s lilting voice filled the half-filled church.
The resounding organ notes ran chills up Eugenia’s sweating spine. She wept, in part because this was her special song, but mostly because she could not express her emotions in any other way. The cantor sang,
“Gratia plena, Dominus tecum,
“benedicta tu in mulieribus,
“et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus,
“Sancta Maria, Mater Dei . . . .
Eugenia wore the delicate, elegant white-laced wedding dress that her mother had worked on for so many months. It felt snug and heavy and perfect on her thin shoulders. It both constrained and comforted her.
Zachary stood next to her, straight-backed, debonair in a black suit and new black shoes. She had seen the black felt hat he had bought for the reception later on. Her eyes searched Zachary’s face; two deep oases of bright blue amidst a tanned landscape of desert sand. A thin nose divided the two halves perfectly, the whole scene supported by a strong, confident jaw.
Through the pale fabric of memory, she saw herself dabbing at a falling tear with the pink silk handkerchief she nervously clutched in her white-gloved hand.
Father Grady’s soft voice asked Eugenia if she would like to become Mrs. Zachary Adams. “I do,” she answered. Yes! A thousand times yes.
Eugenia almost fainted when Zachary confirmed his ‘I do,’ so overcome with joy had she been.
So long ago. So young and so full of love, she thought wistfully. She painfully turned over in her bed and stared in wonderment at the man suddenly beside her. Zachary lay on top of the covers, his blue eyes serenely taking her in. Eugenia’s heart raced and, once again like that wonderful, exciting day so many years ago, the world got a little bit dimmer, a little bit darker. She looked to Zachary for reassurance. He smiled. “It’s almost time for you to come home, Genie.”
“Oh, Zach,” she mouthed, another small tear tickling the side of her face. Like so long ago. She blinked away the other tears. “I want to, but I’m so frightened, Zachary. Take my hand and stay with me, just for a little while?”
Eugenia convulsed violently, in the process throwing off her covers. “Mother Adams? Can you hear me?” Cold, bony hands grabbed her by the shoulders and painfully shook her. She groaned in agony, her eyes tightly closed in a futile attempt to ignore the present.
“Mother Adams? Are you okay?” Fanny’s voice overlaid with thick syrupy concern.
Eugenia reflected on how the increasing darkness helped her to cope better with Fanny. She realized she would need more time if she was ever to love her daughter-in-law but, regrettably, time now proved to be as elusive to hold on to as flowing water.
With the last of her strength Eugenia willed her eyes open, even though it meant having to look into Fanny’s stone cold eyes once more. A look of disgust crossed Fanny’s face but Eugenia chose to ignore it. Time had become something too precious to be wasted on lost causes. Eugenia asked, “Martin? Where is Martin?”
Fanny’s voice took on a sharp edge and her speech slowed, as if she was addressing a small child, hard of hearing and somewhat retarded. “I told you earlier, Mother Adams. Marty went out to get groceries. Alright? Now, why don’t you take another one of these little pills and we’ll see if you can’t get back to sleep.”
Fanny had already tapped a shiny lime green pill out of a plastic bottle when Eugenia’s world went dark again. Her squealing mutated into Fred’s voice. He was telling Eugenia that it was time now for them to be going to the wedding.
“Fred?” whispered Eugenia.
“No, Mother Adams. There ain’t no Fred here. Alright? Now listen to me. This is Fanny here. Do you hear me, Mother Adams? It’s me, Fanny!” Fanny’s voice pierced through the haze of Eugenia’s mind as she muttered, “The old witch can’t die while Marty’s out.”
Fanny violently shook Eugenia again. She panicked and yelled in Eugenia’s ears, “Mother Adams? Do you need a doctor? Do you want me to phone Dr. Frennette?”
“Ethel?” Eugenia replied. “Tell Martin that I love him very much, will you?” Eugenia mouthed the words silently, her breath feathering Fanny’s cheek.
“What are you saying, Mother Adams? Mother Adams? What is it that you want?” Fanny’s words drifted away again, drowned out by the canned laughter pouring from the black and white Philco. Fred warned Ethel that if she knew what was best for her she’d return that fur coat. Lucy, with her hair-brained scheme, would mix everything up and Eugenia and Zachary, who were now rocking side by side in their pine rockers, would get a big laugh out of the show.
“Zach,” Eugenia said, stretching out to touch his broad shoulder.
Zachary looked at his wife and smiled. “Yes, sweetheart?”
“It’s good to see you again, Zachary. I’ve been missing you for so long.” She couldn’t help dabbing at her eyes with the pink handkerchief.
“And I’ve missed you so much, too, Eugenia,” he replied.
“Can we stay together, now?”
“Yes. Forever, sweetheart.”
Eugenia closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, easily, combining the past and the future in a single breath.
About the Author:
JT Therrien writes fiction in genres from literary to romance, ranging in length from short story to novel. He also writes a series of middle grade fiction about the adventures of Shadow, the black Lab.
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Eugenia is dying. Her late husband Zach waits for her as an old Lucy episode plays in the background.