The Kamehameha Highway

The Kamehameha Highway

This is a short story that never really went anywhere, so I figured I’d post it here for fun. It’s also just a draft.


Sarah wanted to sleep often these days. Sleep was where she could find Charlie. The only other place he existed was in the far reaches of her memory. Before she closed her eyes, sunlit bromeliads outside the window soothed her nerves. Their silhouettes patterned the bedroom walls, swirling around whenever the wind combed through the gardens. The bromeliads swung their bright red hibiscus and dainty periwinkle partners around delicately. Then the flowers were her and Charlie dancing at Honolulu’s Grand Ballroom. The year was 1945. The war with Japan had been won. She and Charlie, who had fallen in love before the war, were reunited on that perfect night by the sea. Sarah recalled Sally and Jane, whose loved ones had not returned. There had been millions of empty arms that May. And Sarah never forgot how lucky she was as she let Charlie lead her around the ballroom and later propose to her on the balcony.

She dreamed of Charlie and their long life together. The scenes flashed through. First their children: Claire, Jerry, Mike, and Anna. And then the many grandchildren. And now her first great-grandchild Adelaide, a perfect child, in Sarah’s mind. All the kids had moved to the mainland except for Jerry who announced he was gay in 1971. Back then it seemed so huge, like Milky Way huge, and now–Sarah smiled in her sleep–it was nothing. Just like how the war had loomed over them and that’s all they talked about for years and years, and eventually along came little Adelaide, half-Japanese, beautiful like mother. Nobody cared about fighting the Japanese, anymore, of course. Nobody really cared if you were gay either. All Sarah wanted in life was her family, their moments. And Charlie. But of course, he was gone now. He left her around the time the children moved away. The children visited each year. But Charlie had not ever come back. For over twenty years she dreamed him and scooped up his memories.

A sound called her out of sleep. “Sarah, Sarah…”

Waking up was getting harder to do.

It was only Minnie, her nurse. “Sarah, darling, you have a phone call.”

Sarah opened her eyes, taking a moment to get rid of the blur. Her gray hair was flung thinly down her back. Her blue eyes were smaller than they used to be. She looked like an old wrinkled doll propped in a large bed of fine linens. Of course, Charlie had left her the best: the mansion on the Pacific, the money to hire help when she couldn’t do things on her own (and, oh, before now, she would have never dreamed of having help–and she would let everyone around know it, quite loudly).

Minnie came into focus. She was only fifty but looked younger because she had no gray hair. She almost looked young enough to be one of those hula dancers down at Paradise Cove. Sarah’s right shoulder hurt when she stretched it too far. She envied Minnie for her youth. The woman was Polynesian and was the only one, outside of family, who Sarah truly trusted.

“Minnie, honey,” Sarah said, “who is it? Can you bring the phone closer?”

“It’s Claire.”

“Claire,” said Sarah, a smile growing on her thin lips. She sighed into the phone and repeated, “Claire…”

Sarah stopped and spoke some, inflection rising and falling like the wind that made flower shadows dance around her room. And then she hung up and said, “Claire is visiting this weekend, Minnie. Shit!”

Minnie was used to such outbursts and said, “What now, Sarah?”

“Well, I will have to make a strawberry rhubarb pie, that’s what. Claire will never forgive me if I don’t make the pie. I need the fruit and some real butter.”

“I can make the pie.”

“No, I can and will,” Sarah said defiantly.

“So, what’s the occasion for the visit?”

“She says she will tell me when she gets here.”

***

Claire arrived Friday night, June third. Sarah had been waiting for over an hour on the front porch of her big house. She sipped a mint julep. All it did was make her hot and sleepy, but she was an ambience person and the mood was celebratory. Behind her loomed the large brick house that sat within two hundred yards of a precipice overlooking the raw Pacific below. The blue of the sky and water shook hands, exploding in warmth. The house bungled in a slew of green summer vegetation and blossoms of all colors. If it weren’t for the breezes coming off the water, the same vision of entanglement and wildness that surrounded the house would have suffocated the air as well. Sarah had never been huge on landscaping. Screw topiaries and gnomes. She wanted things to grow where they wanted to. At the same time, a yardsman did mow and trim away weeds, but she had long ago demanded that he let trees and bushes and flowers go where they naturally would. She’d gotten some complaints from the others on the cliff but didn’t give a damn.

Claire was Sarah’s youngest daughter. She’d grown from a disturbed emotional and angsty teenager to a responsible mother and woman. Only now, upon arrival, she looked ragged. Sarah would not verbalize any concerns. It was, after all, a very long plane trip from Montgomery, Alabama, where Claire lived with her husband Don. Their two boys, who were already grown men, also lived in the vicinity. How did that growing up thing happen so fast? Sarah arose slowly, feeling a little unbalanced, and grasped her daughter as strongly as she could and held on to her. Times like these are precious, was all she could think.

Claire hugged back, equally long and hard, and Minnie came out to take the woman’s bags, but Claire said, “Minnie, I can get these.”

Minnie ignored the woman and carried the bags in anyway. Claire sighed and stood back and said, “Some things never change.”

Sarah nodded. “Look, Claire, go up and get refreshed. We’ll meet for dinner. Or drinks earlier if you come back soon. And I’ve got a pie.”

Sarah followed her daughter inside, felt dizzy again, and stirred herself another drink. She poured two shots of Knobb Creek Kentucky Bourbon into her glass tumbler. The ice from her last drink had already evaporated. She added crushed mint and sugar along with a fresh sprig of spearmint to her new drink. The bar was in the corner of the big study on the first floor of the cool house. Surrounding it were ceiling high oak shelves filled with books and albums. Sarah went back outside, preferring the scenes of chaotic nature to that of neatly lined culture.

It didn’t take Claire long to unpack and revive herself. When she joined her mother on the porch again, her long, black hair was pulled into a ponytail with just one long curl tucked behind an earlobe that showcased a small wooden boat earring. She was thin and graceful, just like Sarah had been before she shriveled up. Claire wore a green t-shirt that matched her eyes. The shirt said “Hell, yeah.” Sarah could look into Claire’s eyes for eternity, for they were Charlie’s eyes too. Exactly. A pair of jade marbles injecting your heart with bittersweet memories, that’s what they were.

The women talked until the sun fell behind the large house. There was plenty of time, thought Sarah, for Claire to break any news about her sudden visit. Don was leaving her. One of the great-grandchildren had leukemia. One of the grandchildren was losing his job or going into the army. These fears always spiraled through Sarah’s mind, but, fortunately, never came to fruition. She wouldn’t have loved Claire less, no. Sarah would have been thrilled to feel needed still, if Claire were facing a crisis–but luckily, all was good. Sarah said she just needed to see her mama. And all seemed right with the world.

“What’s for dinner, Mother?”

“Well, I made a pie. And there’s some leftover roast beef from last night. I thought after your long day we’d not make a huge affair. But there’s plenty of things in the fridge. Including some leftover strawberries. I bought too many for the pie.”

“I love you for remembering the pie.”

“I just love you.”

They were sitting very close to each other and were now quite buzzed.

After dinner, the two were too full for dessert. A thought darted through Sarah’s head, something that she wondered about every day, but had not once talked about with another soul, not even Minnie. She was reminded of it when thinking about what they could do for dinner tomorrow night.

“Say, Claire, there’s a place I’ve been wanting to go for ages. Maybe we could head there tomorrow night for dinner. It’s just an old shrimp truck up on the Kamehameha Highway. Not fancy. I’m craving their garlic shrimp. You know, I used to drive by that truck all the time when I was younger, after your father died. When I was working still. I would stop on the way home to get dinner. There was a fisherman there who looked just like your papa. Just like dear old Charlie. The resemblance was so strong. But I haven’t been there in years, and I’d like to go and see if that guy still works there. I mean, he didn’t work behind the counter. I would just see him near the hatchery or down by the sea.”

“I went there last time I visited,” Claire said. “It’s called Fumi’s now. Used to be Harold’s…or maybe Chuck’s…or something like that? They changed the name about a decade ago. Also, Mom, it’s not really a truck anymore. It’s a kiosk stand now. Has been for a few years. Could still use a paint job.”

“Do you think that guy might still be there?”

“Well, I’m not sure. When was it you said you visited?”

“Hmm, well it must have been in the 1980s when I retired. I don’t think it was called Fumi’s back then. I can’t remember now! My brain is going, and I have to tell you, my dear daughter, that it sucks to get old and lose your memory. Why, I went there every day. I went for the shrimp. And the man…”

Claire giggled. She certainly looked more refreshed than she had upon arrival. “Mom, you never told me you had a crush.”

“It wasn’t a crush,” Sarah said. She sat up straight and scowled, as if offended. “The guy could have been a twin of Charlie’s, that’s all. I stopped going because I began to feel creepy about it. I mean, I would stand in line waiting to order, and out of the corner of my eye watch him. He was good-looking, just like your dad. Tall. Always dressed in fisherman’s clothes. Handsomely dark. Those green eyes. Your eyes. I don’t know if he looked exactly like Charlie. I was too flustered to stare long. But the resemblance was uncanny. I think I forced myself to quit getting dinner there–after all, I was retiring. He was my age it seemed. I almost felt badly that someone in his sixties was still doing such heavy work.”

“If your geezer of an old dreamboat is still there, then I’m going to be impressed,” Sarah said laughing.

***

Early the next evening Claire drove her mom’s car up the Kamehameha Highway toward Fumi’s. Mom couldn’t drive anymore on account she had run into a coconut stand last year, smashing many pineapples and coconuts as well as injuring a worker. She said that the gas pedal was stuck, but after reviewing similar near-misses in the past five years, the officials took away her license.

The best thing about her mom was that she could be as sweet as that old woman–the grown-up Idgy–in Fried Green Tomatoes, but she could be as smart and whip-like as Ouiser Boudreaux from Steel Magnolias. Unfortunately, she also seemed to be losing her mind. She liked to stare into space, beyond the sea that cradled her homestead, as if she saw something that wasn’t there. Or maybe she was just dreaming.

Mom’s car was a black restored Lincoln Continental, which had been in the family since the early 1970s. The thing was so big Claire felt foolish driving it. Nobody drove these things anymore unless they were showing off. Nobody drove these things because they were gas-guzzlers. But Mom hadn’t used the car too much since her retirement in the 1980s. Except for an occasional outing to get fresh fruit or head out for dinner, Minnie did the driving in her own car, a much more reasonable Prius.

Mom had been riding along, content and silent, but as they got close to the place, she said, “Now, Claire, if the gentleman is there, I want to talk with him alone. I know you. You like to interject in…” Mom lost her train of thought. “You will say something embarrassing.”

“Now why would I do that, Mom?”

Mom didn’t answer. She seemed to forget what they were talking about. But a moment later, she said, “Claire, do you think I look okay? Would a man dig me at my age?”

Claire grinned. “You are beautiful.”

As soon as they pulled up to Fumi’s, Claire’s cell began buzzing. She parked on the gravel lot in front of the shrimp stand and said, “Wait, Mom. Let me get this.”

Sarah said, “Oh, you go ahead. I am going to look for Charlie’s doppelganger. We’ll join up in a bit for dinner.” And she was off.

Claire watched longingly. Soon her mom was not “Mom” but a mysterious old woman with sparkly blue eyes, short white hair, and the air of an older aristocrat–dressed in a simple pant suit reminiscent of an age gone by. She was slowly making her past the shrimp counter.

After fiddling with her purse, Claire found her phone and answered it. Her husband Don was on the other end.

“Hi, Claire-bear,” he said.

“Hey,” she answered, feeling tense. “How are you?”

“I’m alright. I’m glad you made it okay. I hated not being able to come with you. But work is crazy. How’s Mom?”

“She’s okay. Sprite and spry as usual. A big cloudy in the head.”

“Anything to be concerned about?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Donny. It’s hard to say. She seems weak, forgetful. I need to sit down with Minnie while I’m here to find out if Mom’s been keeping her doctor’s appointments.”

“A shame,” Don said. “Have you told her?”

“I can’t. I just… I was going to, but when she greeted me she almost fell she could barely stand. She was drinking, though Minnie said she’d only had one mint julep. So, it’s something else. She sits a lot. I dunno. She’s getting old. Maybe we shouldn’t worry her right now.”

“You have a point. Where is she now? I’d like to say hi.”

Claire smiled and said, “We just drove up to a shrimp stand for dinner. Mom is convinced that there’s a guy working here who looks like Dad. She’s off to find if he’s still around. Granted, Mom hasn’t been here since the place was just a truck stop in the 80s.”

Don whistled lowly. “We’re talking a few decades ago. Wow.”

“Mom needs to have her fun, I guess.” Claire looked out her window. Her mom wasn’t at the counter anymore; a middle-aged woman was the only one ordering food.  “Mom said he used to work at the pond and on the beach fishing.”

“I hope that she finds her long-lost love,” Don said. “But we are going to have to figure out how to break the news. She will want to know. It will come up at Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

Claire knew it. The thought of things made her teary-eyed. “Donny, how can we tell Mom this?”

Don said, “You just have to say it. Mom, I have breast cancer.

***

Sarah saw him finally. Or it was a fisherman who looked quite old, and she hoped it was him. He was in the distance on the beach. The small hatchery pond out back of the shrimp stand was surrounded by reedy grass and weeds. A few hundred feet beyond it was the full, shimmering sea. A narrow inlet connected the pond and the sea.

Sarah was glad she wore pants. It was hard to walk too far, and the ground was muddy from a late rain last night. The weeds came up to her knees in places. She kept her eye on the prize. He stood on the beach looking out. His fishing gear sat on the beach next to him. Sarah was sure this was the guy. He had aged, just like her. By god, that was Charlie, she thought the closer she got.

“Yoo-hoo!” she cried, a rattly call escaping her. She had thought her voice would be much louder.

The man turned. The sun over him blinded Sarah momentarily, but she held her hand over her eyes. His face was familiar, too familiar. But how could that be?

He looked at her coolly, almost knowingly. His face was the same in many ways: deep green eyes, long lashes, high cheekbones, a caring sensitivity about his mouth–but at the same time a steely determination. His face had aged, of course. Still dark from the Hawaiian sun, it had lines that made him even more chiseled and distinguished. His hair had not completely grayed like her own; it was salt-and-pepper, which she envied.

“Hello,” he called. He walked to her, held out his hand so she could get from the muddy weeds to the smooth beach.

My god, his voice. That was Charlie’s voice. It could not be any other.

It had been decades since she had seen Charlie. He had died too young, a few years before his retirement. Killed by a speeding driver on the Kamehameha one night he’d had to work late. Sarah had replayed that night over and over for years until it became a sad mantra. She remembered sitting up in bed reading Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron. The book had just come out, and Sarah loved to sit up in the master bedroom at night, with the patio windows dishing in cool ocean breezes. As time ticked by, Sarah’s focus on the book dwindled. Where was Charlie. At midnight, she got the call that he had been in an accident.

Sarah got lost in the thought of that night and didn’t know how to respond right now. If Charlie had survived, all the years since that night would have been a lie. Sarah knew that Charlie wouldn’t play her the fool or lie to her. Maybe this was a ghost. Maybe a twin. Maybe Charlie had been kidnapped and given a drug that induced amnesia.

“Have you worked here for a long time?” she asked. She was glued to his eyes, felt herself falling through a haze of mystery.

He smiled at her. “Yes, I have. I remember seeing you back in the 1980s. You used to come here for dinner. Did you get tired of the shrimp?”

He was still holding her hand, and she realized she was grasping it so hard he could not let go if he wanted to. If felt damn good, too.

“No. I love the shrimp. I retired early back then, so no longer drive this way.” Or drive at all, she thought.

“I remember you.”

“You bear a striking resemblance to my husband,” Sarah said. Might as well just get that out of the way.

“Do I, now.” His voice seemed coy.

“I feel like maybe my mind is just playing tricks on me. I am getting old, you know.” She faltered, trying to collect her thoughts exactly–a feat that was harder with each passing year.

He gave her a look like he already knew what she was saying.

“My husband was killed in 1979. He was in a car accident.”

The stranger looked at her sadly and placed his free hand on her shoulder. “I am so sorry.”

“It was on the highway that goes by Fumi’s.”

“How terrible. You must have gone through a lot.” He hugged her.

They hugged for a long time. It was as if Charlie had come home to her. She began to cry, and he embraced her even more tenderly.

“I’m sorry,” she said, through sobs. “It’s just that after he died, I mourned and had to go back to work…and then I stopped here one day on the way home because I was so tired and so sad that I had a hard time finding the energy to make dinner just for myself…and I stopped here to get garlic shrimp to go. Then I saw you by the shrimp pond. And I thought to myself, fucking hell that looks like Charlie. I came again the next day and the next day. And every day I would see you, and it would make me feel better that there might be someone like Charlie still alive in the world.”

“Hush, hush,” he soothed, caressing her back.

“I mean, how odd is that?” Sarah said, breaking their hug so that she could see his face. She saw that his eyes were teary, a little red around the edges.

“It is uncanny,” he agreed. “The saddest story I have ever heard.”

“If you wouldn’t mind appealing to a crazy old lady, I just have to ask. You aren’t Charlie, are you? You look just like him. Your voice is his. Even your touch…”

The stranger didn’t answer for a long time. He brought her back into his arms, and Sarah allowed that because his arms were still rock solid and felt so good. But he finally said, “What if I told you that I was Charlie?”

“I’d be pissed as hell,” she said, breaking the hug again. “Charlie died. And if he didn’t, then the police staged an accident that never happened and they stole and mangled Charlie’s car, and the coroner would have had to make up a twisted up dead man who looked like my Charlie. I had to go ID this stuff, you know. The reporters would have had to make up a lie about the accident. What do you even mean by what if you told me that you were Charlie?”

“Sarah,” he said.

She panicked. “How do you know my name?”

Suddenly she wanted, no needed, Claire. But Claire was parked up beyond the grassy hill. Claire was a good ten minutes away if Claire walked feebly through mud.

“Because I am Charlie,” he said, wrapping her close to him again.

Sarah didn’t believe it. She began to hit his chest as new tears formed in her eyes, flooding her vision, escaping down her face like tiny creeks. “You can’t be!” she cried, over and over.

All the while, he let her act out. He was crying too, but more softly. He wasn’t falling apart. He was the rock, and she was the sand.

Sarah caused such a ruckus she was sure Claire, or someone from Fumi’s, would hear her and come to rescue her, but after a few moments, she fell into silence. Her tears dried, and her fists fell to her sides and then released to open palms that found their way to Charlie’s back.

She clung to him, saying, “I don’t understand it, but I know you are my Charlie. I just don’t know why you are here. I guess it finally happened. I have gone nuts. Maybe it’s Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s or just old age. That’s what it is, right? I have gone fucking nuts.”

Charlie said, “Now, now,” and then bent down to her face to search her eyes with his.

Beyond them the sea broke and rose as it had and would for all of time immemorial, far before she and Charlie had been born into this place and long after they would leave. Waves met with hazy sunshine that framed the couple in a surreal light. Seagulls folded wings overhead, squawking. Sarah closed her eyes and melted with Charlie. He was back–if he had ever been gone. The logic was fuzzy and didn’t matter, not when he was kissing her. The kiss seemed to make up for all the lost time since he had died.

***

After talking with Don, Claire realized she needed her mom. Even if she had decided not to tell her mother about her upcoming chemo, she just wanted to be around her mother. When she and her siblings were young, Mom had stayed home and not worked. She quilted, she sewed, she darned socks, she nurtured every cold and flu and sadness. The quintessential mom. Before giving birth to her first child, Mom had earned a masters in English literature. But it wasn’t until after Claire and her brothers and sister were done with school that Mom went to teach English to high school students. Then Dad died. Mom took some time off and went back to teaching. She didn’t have to. Dad had inherited a local shipbuilding company from his father, worked hard at it when he was alive, and left his wife very secure financially. Mom just went back to work because that’s all she had.

Claire scouted the beach with her eyes. There her mom sat, right on the sand, arms hugging her knees, looking happy. Claire bounced down the weedy hill best she could. Funny that you could have cancer and feel okay. Some days weren’t so easy, but today the sunshine reflected her soul.

“Hey, Mom,” Claire said. She felt a little breathless.

“Hi, darling.” Sarah looked up, and took Claire’s hand.

“Did you find the guy?”

“Yes, honey, I did. We had a nice talk. Very fine fellow.”

“My mom, almost ninety, finding a beau.”

“It could be the start of something,” Sarah agreed. She had a glimmer in her eye.

Tonight was Claire’s last night with her mother. They took the shrimp home and ate it on the patio. Claire tried to drill her mom about this fisherman guy, but the older woman was strangely withholding.

“What’s his name?” Claire said as they dined on a redwood table surrounded by bougainvillea and jasmine.

“I’m not sure,” Sarah answered, precipitously. “I’m sure that will come in time. He’s very sweet. He said he’d stop by tomorrow night.”

“You don’t know his name, but you invited him over?”

“Don’t worry, dear. Minnie will be here.”

“I should hope so. You know, in your position–an elderly rich lady–men may want to use you.”

Sarah laughed as loudly as her rattled voice would allow. Then she said, “This shrimp is fucking good. Garlic shrimp is never bad. I think I prefer it over the coconut shrimp.”

Claire never got over her mother’s occasional swear words. She presumed it was Grandaddy’s sailor mouth or from the years Mom hung out with Dad down at the boat yard.

“I like the coconut.”

“Claire, honey. Why did you really come here? I always love when my children visit, but there must have been a reason. Did I forget a birthday, an anniversary?”

Claire, done with her shrimp, stood up. “Yes, Mom. There is a special occasion. I came for the pie. Now where did Minnie hide the rest of it?”

The distraction worked. Sarah brought out the strawberry rhubarb pie, and the two women ate two pieces each and then sipped red wine while watching the sun slip to the west. Chilly breezes crossed the patio, but neither wanted to leave the outdoors. Claire went to retrieve blankets that they could drape around their shoulders and over their laps. They talked as time eclipsed faster than it should have. The sun gave way to a sky of stars, which hovered above a giant black sea.

“When you kids were growing up,” Sarah began, “your father would work very long hours. But he would always come home for dinner just so he could play with you, when you kids were young, or talk to you when you got older.”

“I remember that,” Claire said, suddenly comforted in these memories she hadn’t thought about for years. The knowledge that death might take her too soon, just like it had her father, had scared her so much that she’d been giving little thought to anything but survival and about those she’d leave behind. But now she felt peculiarly comforted in memories.

“Dad would use dinner time for philosophical debate,” Claire recalled out loud. “He used to make Jerry, Mike, Anna, and me pick a subject to debate and then he would assign us a side. Didn’t matter whether or not we believed in that point of view. He wanted us to use logical arguments.”

“Remember that time that Jerry quoted Edward R. Murrow?” Sarah said, with a glow on her face. She looked at the stars while she quoted:

I’ve searched my conscience, and I can’t for the life of me find any justification for this, and I simply cannot accept that there are on every story two equal and logical sides to an argument.

Claire thought, my God, Mom can’t remember if she brushed her teeth this morning, but she remembers that Murrow thing that happened decades ago. Claire laughed loudly. “Dad didn’t think any of his kids were quite that far along. Fucking Jerry,” she said with another laugh.

“Oh,” Sarah cut in. “Charlie had that twenty dollar question he’d ask every so often. He’d say, ‘What do you think you’ll be doing in ten years?'”

“I think he just wanted to note the differences as we grew older. When I was really young, I wanted to be an actress. Then a writer. Then an anthropologist. And here I ended up a mother and a waitress, and then finally an office manager. Funny how life works.”

“Your father, like me, just wanted you kids to be happy,” Sarah said warmly. “He wanted you to be thinkers, too. That’s why he taught you how to play chess so young.”

“I remember that concentration game too. There was a deck of cards that had pairs of numbers, and you had to turn them face down and then turn up one card at a time and try to remember where its match was.”

Sarah said, “One time I came downstairs from a nap and all four of you kids had those cards all over the place.”

“Daddy was the best,” Claire said. She felt a little teary-eyed. She had not grown up to believe in a god or an afterlife, but right now the thought was ideal. If she could see her dad again, she could see him soon. “And so are you,” she added, meaning it.

By the time she went to bed, she felt like shit. When she woke up the next day with a hangover, she figured she deserved it. Why couldn’t alcohol in the blood stream disintegrate cancer cells, she thought.

***

Claire stood in the sunlit doorway with her duffel bag. Minnie had drawn the car around the oval at the front doorway and waited there patiently. Sarah thought Claire sometimes still looked like a little girl, even though she had passed the half-century mark. Claire’s long, dark hair was messy and her jade eyes watery.

“Honey, we will see each other in a few months. Thanksgiving and Christmas in Hawaii this year, am I right?” Sarah asked with a twinkle in her eyes.

“You bet.”

Claire dropped her duffel and let her mom hug her. And their embrace was long and needed. It was too soon, Claire thought, too soon to say good bye. Too soon to go. Would she make it through chemo and see her mom again? Would she be bald at Thanksgiving?

“I love you, Mom,” Claire said.

“Love you too, sweetheart,” Sarah responded.

Claire left, with Minnie driving. Sarah stood there for a long time. She couldn’t believe that her daughter had come and gone–so very quickly. It was as if she had not appeared at all. The proof was in the empty pie tin.

She couldn’t, or didn’t want to, move. For a few moments, Sarah forgot why she was standing there and then finally closed the door, feeling very tired and weak. All she wanted to do was go to bed and dream, and relive things that made sense. Once again in bed, Sarah picked up a book she had been reading since it had come out in March:  Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. It was a different kind of read, ergodic literature they called it, but it made sense to Sarah as much as anything could. She kept track of her place with a bookmark. As she read, her eyes closed and would lift again. Dappled sunlight spread across her quilt, swaying with trees and flower petals blowing outside.

A knock on the door startled her. She put down the book on a cherry wood nightstand and was relieved to see Charlie had arrived after all. He was dressed in that fisherman garb again, silly Charlie. Minnie was not yet back, surprisingly.

“I am so glad it’s you,” Sarah told him. “Claire is going back home. Minnie took her to the airport. I am afraid in my old age that I forgot to lock the door.”

“I still have the key, anyway,” he said with a wink.

“I feel like we just met,” Sarah said. “I need to get up, freshen my face. Why don’t you wait downstairs? Maybe we can get a drink, go for a walk. Or have some dinner?”

“Sure,” he answered. “But it’s only me. I’ve seen you in every way imaginable.”

She threw a pillow at him. “But it’s been a long time. I want to give my best impression going forward.”

Laughing, he disappeared out the door.

Sarah had not even totally gotten dressed earlier to hang out with Claire. She’d pulled on a lazy lady’s flowered mu-mu and slippers. At her vanity, she now dressed in a proper summer dress and rearranged her hair. She applied lipstick and smiled. Perfect. She didn’t even think to add shoes to the ensemble and didn’t notice until she was halfway to the door. By that time, she didn’t care.

Charlie was waiting at the open front door. Though it was later in the day than when Claire had stood in that very same spot, the look was the same–the silhouette of sunshine bordering his backside. It wasn’t until Sarah drew closer that she noticed he did not look the same as he just had a few moments ago. He looked much younger. It was like looking at one of their sons, and Claire’s feelings of romance suddenly became awkward.

“Charlie, what happened?”

“What do you mean?”

“You are the same as you when I met you.”

Charlie reached for her hand and held it up to her. Sarah had never felt so crazy in all her life. Her hand was young too. No crinkly chicken skin, she thought. Her hand was as tanned as it had been the summer she met this man. It occurred to Sarah just then that she was not, in fact, crazy. She might be losing her mind, but she was only dreaming. It didn’t matter that this dream felt more real than usual–she always used sleep to escape. Sleep was a place she could find Charlie.

He bent down to kiss her, and she melted there in the doorway. His lips were full of promise and sweetness. Those lips would pave the way for a life of children and games of concentration and debates, playing chess, and dreaming of what life would be in ten years. Little had they known then that there would come a day when they would look back, dreaming of what they had been before. Charlie escorted Sarah outside, to a day in which the sun would fade soon over the Pacific. They strolled, hand in hand, forever.

The featured image is one my husband took in Oahu.