Friday, April 18, 2008

Three Short Stories of Comfort: They Are Here

[All of these stories are true and happened within the last 12 months.]

Alex warmed up his arm. He rotated his shoulder and surveyed the field. The stands. The Green Monster. The scoreboard. He’d vowed as a child that one day he would play for the Red Sox. Today, he wore a Hudson Valley Renegades jersey, but he was pitching from the mound at Fenway Park.

“I wish you were here, Mom,” he thought.

“She’s out there,” his Aunt Debby had said, and he hoped it was true.

His mother, Lindsay, was a force. She was a tall woman, blond, and always Florida-tan; the one at a party who, given half a chance, would be doing gymnastic flips in the air. Her favorite song was “Build Me Up, Buttercup” and when that tune played, she’d grab a mike and belt it out along with the vocalist.

Lindsay was a nurse practitioner in the old-fashioned mold – going to her patients when they needed her. Had toxins from the near-fatal staph infection she’d picked up from a little girl a few years back killed her? Or did she catch something while working with the injured and homeless in Homestead, Florida following Hurricane Andrew in 1992? The cause of her death wasn’t entirely clear. She died a few days before Christmas two years ago, and it was still hard to hear carols without feeling the despair of that time.

Alex looked around Fenway and smiled. “You’d want me to enjoy this, Mom, and I will!”

The Renegades lost, but Alex’s pitching was strong. His fastball clocked 92 mph, shutting the Lowell Spinners out while he was on the mound.

The loudspeakers crackled, the organ bellowed a song. “It can’t be,” thought Alex. But it was. “Build me Up, Buttercup.”

Well. That was quite a coincidence.

The next day, the team played Lowell at their home field, a half-hour north of Boston. After the game, a little girl came onto the field with a CD player. She was pleased to entertain the crowd with some karaoke.
This’ll be good.

She pushed the start button and Alex couldn’t believe it. “Build Me Up Buttercup.” Is this for real?

After she finished her number, the announcer thanked her. “That was wonderful! Now, what is your name?”

“Lindsay,” she said proudly. “My name is Lindsay.”

* * *

Dave fiddled with the radio, trying to tune in the AM station. It was baseball season and his tedious commute passed unnoticed when he was able to follow a game.

This season was hard though. Lonely. From the time he was little, spring meant playing catch with his Dad, being coached by his Dad, hooting and hollering at plays on the TV with his Dad. When the days of catch and coaching were memories, and miles lay between him and his father, the phone lines between Worcester and Easton were the link. Colombo hooted from his mustard yellow recliner in his apartment on Harley Drive while Dave hollered from his den in Connecticut .

For the past two years. Colombo had been confined to a nursing home following a paralyzing stroke. Still, when the Red Sox were playing, Dave would stop by with some beers, plant a Sox cap on his dad’s head, and the two would root on the team, just like always. Dave chose to believe that Colombo could follow the action, but it wasn’t clear if he was just parroting as he echoed Dave’s cheers. But they’d been together. And now, Colombo was gone.

Last night, Dave dreamed about his father. He couldn’t remember the particulars, but his dad was whole again, and grinning that smart-ass grin. Dave blinked. And blinked again. It had felt like a visit. It was good to see him.

Colombo died in February. He would have been eighty-two on June 14th.

The announcer’s voice was scratchy as Dave listened from his car on the way to work, but its rise and fall was familiar, soothing. A game on the radio – a constant in his life.

Just as constant, the goddamn traffic. Dave loved his job, but the commute was a killer. Twice a day, he’d take his place on the Parkway, to creep along with his fellow Volvos, Hondas and Toyotas. “It’s like being on a train, really,” he’d tell his wife. “You get to know the drivers, other cars, even license plates.”

That’s what made this particular plate stand out.

He was listening to the game, thinking about the dream of his Dad. His eyes strayed to the license before him.
“Colom 6 14”

Colombo’s birthday.

* * *

The girl whirled through the room, arms wide, smile rapturous. With eyes fixed on the empty air before her, she spun, hair flying in wisps across her face. Laughter was her song as she circled the room.

“What a lovely dance!” said her mother, Ann.

“We just made it up. Me and my friend.”

“Your friend?”

“Yes, silly. This little girl right here.”

As if a graceful finger traced a path down her arm, Ann’s skin dimpled. She shivered, and smiled.

“I don’t see her, Sweetie. Can you describe her for me?”

Ellissa grinned at the air, and shrugged, her message clear, "Don’t mind my Mom. You know grown-ups." And then patiently, as if Ann were dim-witted, for heaven’s sake, Ellissa said, “She has long blond hair and she’s eight – just my age. Her dress is pretty – white with pink flowers. And she’s happy. Tell her parents. She’s happy.”

The phone jangled and Ann started, then reached for the receiver. Ellissa skipped from the room, one arm outstretched, hand clasped.

The voice on the line was raspy and moist. Ann’s friend Theresa said, “Just a minute. Let me get another Kleenex.” There was energetic blowing before Theresa returned to the line. She shared a cubicle with Ann at the office. “It’s just so sad…”

“What? What’s wrong?”

“Mr. Hawkins won’t be in for a week or two. His daughter was killed in an accident. She was a lovely girl. Did you know her?”

Ann shook her head, no, forgetting that Theresa could not see her.

At the silence, Theresa went on through her sniffling, “Just eight years old. With such pretty long blond hair.”

“She’s happy,” whispered Ann, “Tell her parents. She’s happy.”


Anonymous said...

Just got goose bumps reading each of those...

Anonymous said...

These stories made me both sad and hopeful - I love the idea that those who have passed before we do are never really gone completely - they are somewhere near us, watching us, cheering us on, happy in another place.