Excerpt: “Keepers”

As the holiday approaches, an elderly couple prepares for the family gathering with mixed emotions.


books-in-wagon

After they pulled me from the ocean, the first thing I did was run to the wagon. Never mind their twisted faces, the sirens, and that tearing within my chest.

I grabbed the handle, pulled it towards me, and headed back in.

Earl took my hand tight. I screamed and vomited. I swung at whoever came near, fell, and pounded the sand.

Earl wrapped his arms and legs around me while the others dove in and under and to no avail. I felt his heart in a matching rhythm of insane hopelessness.

Our precious captain of joy, forever gone.

And I live on.

It is the day before Thanksgiving and time for our project.

We shall clear out the books.

With Christmas near, we are expecting the usual gifts from the family. There is nothing we need, but we will not deny the ways of our clan. The siblings try to cover our loss and we have accepted their handling of it.

Inevitably, it is books. Mysteries, thrillers, biographies, self-help, crafts, word games. Easy, click-and-ship ways to show they care.

Often we get those tech toys. I got a Kindle last year and I’m sure an iPhone will appear this time around. “Have fun with it,” says my brother Aaron.

We will smile and give a gracious word.

The gifts stay in their hideaway until we are privileged to have our family’s company again. Or, depending on how Earl feels, maybe not even then.

It is Earl’s idea to sort the books by color. I give in because remembering the hue will get me further.

“What shall we start with?” Earl is an artist. For 35 years he has drawn, painted, or photographed ways to provide for our needs. When we married, I didn’t care if he could earn a dime or a million dollars. I just wanted to feel his breath on my face every morning for the rest of my life.

And I would give him children.

“Let’s get on with the fiction,” I say. “Those’ll go quick.” I like to read about real life. That way I don’t get any foolish ideas about happy endings.

The fame and wealth came to Earl, but it didn’t make him any better or worse. Earl, private and wise, is a giver at heart and from his wallet. The coffers of most children’s charities in Santa Cristina are fattened this time of year by a Mr. Ren W. Lear. He loves the secret, and the name, and if we do discuss it, there is no pride. Just pleasure.

He doesn’t mention our child while looking at the photos and thank you notes. And that’s okay. He knows that I know, God knows, and she knows.

It’s tough for me because I blame myself. Oh, it’s better than it’s ever been. Decades with a mate like Earl loving me, even though I could never give him another life full of his blood. That will give you a joy inside that cannot be refused.

But happiness, well, that’s another word. Joy means being content in your circumstances, no matter what. Happiness means being able to smile about something.

I can’t smile about death.

And I know God doesn’t smile about it, either.

Did you ever stop and think about how Jesus wept when Lazarus died?

Why did Jesus go and do that when he knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead, just a little while later? God saw fit to include those two little words in His holy book. Jesus wept.

Why?

Because the sting of death pains even God.

I can cry.

End of excerpt from “Keepers,” a short story inspired by the photo.