The joy of early retirement and the glory of the bright June day fill my mind as I slow my van to turn into the driveway. Glancing at my front entrance deck I pause. A figure in white waits on my stoop, her gauzy dress and coat echoing her veil. She stands erect, chin up, hands clasped in front of her. Despite her dramatic appearance, she looks somehow insubstantial, a wraith-like figure. I blink and peer again. My glasses have been bothering me. She still waits. As I draw abreast of the house she turns toward me, and a chill of foreboding descends. My joy has instantly soured, and the word death is assaulting me. Death?
Without further ado I step on the gas and pass by my house, leaving the patient figure waiting. I know that my fear response is totally irrational, but my stomach has tightened with dread. I am beginning to doubt my senses. I slow my van and turn around. Maybe an optical illusion? I head back toward my house again. Although my grandmother was prone to see things that weren’t there, I am not. I peer through the windshield and see the woman still waiting, showing no sign of impatience. I am not ready to meet my Maker, or the other Guy either, for that matter.
Poetic lines come to me. Surely I’m not wrong to want to avoid death? Death is but a sleep….” but how about “Rage against the dying of the light?” My van seems to be thinking clearer than I am, for it deposits me around the corner at my friend Harvey’s house. I turn off the engine and remain inside the van for several minutes, picturing the conversation to follow. I can’t share this with anyone, not even Harvey. Before I can restart the van a figure emerges from the side of the house. Harvey. He waves and approaches the van, grinning and wiping is hands on an old rag. Harvey is the local librarian during the week. Weekends he putters in his garage.
“Jane! Good to see you! I’ve been thinking about you, and you appear! Spooky!”
I can hear my voice falter. “What thoughts about me?”
“Oh, just wondering what you were up to, how you were doing.” He leans against the van’s door and wipes his brow with the rag.
I clear my throat. “Harvey, I’m having a little crisis here. Would you help me out?”
“Sure.” He cocks his head, concerned. “What can I do?”
“Climb in.” I open the door on the passenger side and he gets in. “Harvey, we’re going to drive by my place and I want you to look at the front of the house and tell me what you see.”
He looks questioningly at me and nods. “No prob.”
My heart thumps away in my chest as we turn the corner and approach my house. She is still there. I glance at Harvey. He stares at the figure in white, who is still in the same position and in the same spot. He speaks softly. “Who is she?”
He sees her! At least I’m not hallucinating!
We drive on by. I stammer, hesitate. I am unable to blurt out the cold bare facts. Instead I say, “I think she is someone who means me harm.”
“Have you talked to her? Who is she? What does she say?”
“I’ve been too afraid to approach her.”
He makes an impatient motion. “Turn around. I’ll talk to her.”
I hesitate again. I don’t want to be anywhere around when he does meet her. I pull into his driveway. “Let me wait here while you talk to her.”
Harvey gives me a quizzical look, but when I get out at his place he slides over into the driver’s seat and with a wave backs out of the driveway.
Seating myself on Harvey’s front stoop, I hold my stomach, feeling equally fearful and foolish. I shoo away a gnat that is buzzing me. My mouth is dry. The shades of deceased friends and family rise up before me. How I ran from them, too. Too fearful to say goodbye when I left them. Goodbye for good? Goodbye? The crunch of tires on gravel rescues me from my mournful memories. It is Harvey’s partner Duane driving his gleaming 1952 Plymouth. Duane, who teaches sociology at the university, is another old friend. It is obvious he has been playing tennis, and already sports a golden tan even though summer has just begun.
“Janie! How goes it?” He reaches down and gives me a hug, to which I respond with intensity.
He draws back. “You okay?”
I nod yes, then shake my head. “I’m feeling a little confused right now,” I manage.
“Well come right in and let Uncle Duane whip you up something tall and cool to drink.”
I manage a grin and shake my head. “Something short and hot.”
Tea cups clatter as he speaks over his shoulder. “We can manage that.”
I look around the familiar kitchen, with its built-in breakfast nook and blue and white checkered curtains. It’s utterly comfortable and reassuring. Duane passes me a cup of of hot herbal spiced tea and sets down a plateful of macaroons. “Enjoy.” He sits across the table from me, waiting for me to begin.
“I went for a routine mammogram today, and when I drove up to my house I saw a woman all in white waiting for me, and the thought hit me that she represented my death. I drove on by, scared out of my wits. Harvey has gone to see who she is and what she wants.”
He reaches for my hand and gives it a squeeze. “It was scary having the mammogram, huh.”
I shake my head. “Not so you’d notice. I have it done every year, no problems.”
He stares into his tea, stirring it. “What was different about this year, other than you retiring?”
I ball my fist and gently tap the formica table top, ignoring his question. I look up at him. “Is it a sign?”
“What would it be a sign of?”
The kitchen door swings open and Harvey strides in…. (See separate post for the balance of this short story which is by Nan Mykel) May 2016