(Any and all feedback you may have on this passage is very welcome, as I plan on entering it into a short story contest.)
(Thomas and Kathryn Fiore)
The picture on the website had lied. By no means did that two dimensional spectrum of colors come close to comparing with real thing. Bright swirls of green danced across the starry skies.
“Nothin’ quite like it, eh, Thomas?”
My gaze remains transfixed on the Northern Lights. “Kathryn will love this…”
“I’m sure she will.” Edgar chuckles and slaps me on the back. “Come on, baldy, let’s get out of here.” He jumps into the front of the old jeep. “Long road ahead of us.”
“Hold on…” I adjust my glasses and snap a photo of the glorious sight. I tug at my cap and sigh, thinking of the woman I’ve lived with for nearly sixty years.
I turn to Edgar. We need to leave. Right. I take one last, long glance, and hop in after him. I lean back and close my eyes, thinking more of my wife…
“Thomas, we’re here.”
I sit up and shake my head, blinking around. “Mmm…” I gaze blearily at front of Fairbanks International Airport. Groaning, I wrench my protesting body from the seat. “I’m getting to old for this…”
“Nah, you’re only eighty-two.” Edgar grins as he watches me.
Laughing, I help with the luggage.
* * * * *
A teenage girl with chocolatey skin throws her baton in the air and catches it as she marches through the high school parade.
An Italian senior captures the moment it leaves the air on camera. A giant grin spreads to his equally sizable spectacles.
As soon as it’s developed, the boy promptly presents it to the girl, and demands she take him on a date.
The girl laughs at him, but agrees.
His mama had always said fried chicken was the best picnic food, and her son wholly agreed. Now he peers down at the cooked fowl in the girl’s basket.
She grins at the expression on his face…he seemed to like this far more than she had envisioned.
Then he sweeps his arms around her and presses his lips against hers.
* * * * *
Thick sheets of white roll beneath the airplane. I turn to the twenty-somethin’ blond girl in the seat next to me. “Don’t those clouds look like a pretty great place to sleep?”
She blinks at me with a bright smile, and peers out the window. “Yeah, they kinda do.”
“I don’t suppose it would really work…you’d just fall right through.”
“It’s a fun thought, though,” she says. “It’s how I imagine heaven…a giant palace atop a layer of cloud.” She shrugs. “I wonder what it’s actually like. Maybe I should try asking…” she trails off, eyes now downcast. “…Mom.” Her voice cracks.
My thoughts drifting back to Kathryn. “I’m sure she’d be happy to tell her…”
“Excuse me…” the woman gets up and stamps to the bathroom.
I glance back at Edgar, who’s sitting on the aisle opposite from me. I turn to the window and take a picture.
* * * * *
They sit in his parents’ authentic Italian restaurant.
He spends their date taking pictures of her, rather than eating any food.
She laughs at him and insists that he should stop.
He continues to take picture after picture anyway.
His father come in and lectures the boy about wasting nice food, but in a good-natured manner. While he does so, he makes wild and emphatic hand gestures, all to amuse his son’s date.
He whoops right along and makes several jokes of his own.
After a while, they’re alone. His camera is set aside for the time being. Then, he gets down on his knee, and proposes to her
* * * * *
I wait in the luggage area, tapping my old camera against my leg as the time, slowly slips by. Something feels wrong…
The haze of people before me grows fuzzy. I clean my glasses, but that doesn’t help. Everything’s too loud, the light’s too bright.
My eyes snap to Edgar. He’s standing right next to me, too cups of coffee in his hands. “Yeah, just need to sit down a bit.”
“Go do that.” He put one of the cups in my hand. “Want you in one piece for Glass Beach. I’ll wait for the suitcases.”
I nod and wander away. Slumping into a seat, I take a sip of the drink, not at all bothered by its scalding heat. People keep coming by, asking if I’m okay, if I need help. I wave ‘em off, giving some excuse, like I’m just tired after the flight. If they’d just leave me alone, I could get the peace and quiet that I need.
Eventually, we check out. I mutter something in Italian as I put my stuff in the back of the jeep.
“He’s using Italian…he’s in a bad mood.”
I glance at Edgar. I shake my head and drop into the driver’s seat.
“Hey…maybe I should take the wheel for this stretch…you ain’t doin’ so hot…” Edgar clasps the top edge of the window.
I shake my head. “Need to distract myself…can’t much do that if I’m not driving.”
Edgar sighs. “Alright. But if you have a heart attack, it’s on your own head.”
“I’d think it would be in my chest…”
Twenty minutes later, my cell phone rings. I pull it out of my pocket and hand it to Edgar. “Answer that?”
Edgar took the phone. “Hello? No…this is Edgar, Thomas is driving…oh my…you sure? How…yes, I’ll tell him…see you soon…goodbye.” He hung up. “Thomas turn around. Now. Go back to the airport. She’s gotten worse.”
I make a U-turn as soon as I can.
* * * * *
They get married. For their honeymoon, she wants to go around the world and visit an assortment of places, such as the Pink Lake in Australia, Neuschwanstein Castle, Glass Beach in California, and, most of all, the Northern Lights.
They talk about it for hours, the restaurants that they would go to, the hotels where they would stay, how long it would all take.
That night, after she goes home, he lays in bed as one thing occurs to him, that he’d never thought to consider before…the cost.
The more he thinks about it, the more he realizes that there’s no way that they could go on such a trip…it would be far too expensive.
When he next sees her, he explains this all to her, hoping she would understand. He promises that one day, when they could afford it, he would take her to all those places she wants to visit.
Disappointment is evident in her gaze, but she understands. As he makes this vow though, she throws her arms around him and gives him a kiss.
* * * * *
I stare at the list of flights. Ours is still half an hour away. I don’t know how, but Edgar somehow stopped me from yelling at the employee that informed us. I know I’m all old, and am supposed to have all the patience in the world, but I don’t. I never have, and it always drove Kathryn crazy.
I rub my eyes. Kathryn. I can just imagine how she’d react. She’d be tellin’ me, “Tommy, just relax…you’ll get there at the right time!” Well, she’s not, so here I sit, tapping my foot, muttering under my breath in Italian.
“Just fifteen minutes,” Edgar murmurs, glancing at his watch.
“Sixteen minutes, not fifteen.”
Edgar sighs, but doesn’t say anything.
“How long? How long did Ebb say?”
Edgar gives no answer.
“Ed. How long does she have?”
“Three days.” Edgar looks me hard in the eye. “Kathryn has three days.”
I don’t have a response. I focus on my shoes.
I’m on my feet the second they call our flight, and I’m the first on the airplane.
* * * * *
Many times, their plans to travel the world come up in, but she always said the same thing…the time isn’t right.
He argues with her when she says this…if they don’t go soon, they’ll never go.
Then, she wins the battle by announcing her pregnancy.
He holds back for several years, but shortly after their little boy’s fifth birthday, he can’t stand it anymore, and insists that they start setting aside money for his trip.
She reminds him that there’s no way they could afford to do so…they were barely scraping by from one paycheck to the next.
He grumbles through nearly six decades.
Then one morning, she brings up the possibility of traveling the world.
For a moment, he’s taken aback, but jumps right in.
They save their money, and once again talk about where they’re going to.
One evening, after plane tickets have been bought, and hotel rooms reserved, he finds her lying unconscious on the bathroom floor.
Their plans disintegrate at the same speed of the ambulance rushing her to the hospital.
But, with just a month to live, she tells him to go on without her.
He fights her, insisting he needed to be with her, but she’s adamant. She informs him this is the only way left to fulfill the promise he made all those years ago.
This convinces him. In less than a week, he leaves their small town of Oregon with his closest friend and his trusty camera.
* * * * *
At my insistence, we came straight to the hospital from the airport. I’m exhausted and worn out, but I don’t care. Edgar dropped me off, and left with my camera, promising to get the film developed after he slept a bit.
Carefully, I push open the door to my wife’s small room.
Ebb, my son, sits in a chair near Kathryn’s bed, chatting with her.
Kathryn sees me and stops talking. She smiles. “Hey, Tommy. How was the trip?”
I sit down in the other available chair, and pull it close. “It was wonderful…would have been much better with you.
“Can’t really get that much better than wonderful,” Kathryn points out.
I shrug. “Well you are.”
“I’m going to get myself some coffee,” Ebb announces, standing up. Then, he leaves the room, so that Kathryn and I could be alone.
“When did you last sleep, Thomas?” Kathryn asks.
I blink. She used my full name, meaning she was in lecture mode. I shake my head. “Just a few hours…”
“Was it sleep in the car? Cuz that ain’t real sleep.”
“Kath…” I can’t believe we’re having this discussion.
“You get yourself home and get some rest, now.”
“I’m not doing that. I’m staying with you…I’ll get some rest later.”
She raises both. “Thomas, you’ll put yourself in the hospital…then we can’t be together.”
“I’m not doing it. I’m staying right here, and you aren’t convincing me not to.”
Kathryn sighs. “Alright. Stay all you want.” She closes her eyes. “So you took pictures of them on that old camera? All those places I wanted to go?”
“Sure did.” I smile, and gently place my hand her cheek. “Promise me you’ll stick around long enough to see them.”
“Course I will,” Kathryn murmurs. She reaches up a shaky hand and grabs mine. Then, she drifts off to sleep.
I tightly clasp her hand in mine, not letting it slip, or drop.
* * * * *
He sits near her for the next several days of the week, waiting as the photographs developed.
She has so little time, but fights, if merely to keep her promise to him.
To distract her, he tells her of his trip, about all the hotels he stayed in, about some of the crazy people he met, and about him and his friend running out of gas, and ending up stranded on the side of the road, near the border between Germany and France.
Despite all her efforts, she got weaker as the days passed. She spent more of her time unconscious, rather than awake.
Rather than getting agitated and impatient about the old man simply grew sad. By this point, he was certain that the pictures weren’t going to be done in time.
Then one day, his friend knocks on the door.
He tells his friend to come in, rubbing his wife’s hand as she slept.
The friend enters and waves a manila envelope.
He doesn’t notice at first, but eventually looks up, and smiles. He reaches over and gently shakes her shoulder.
When she wakes, he spends the next twenty minutes showing her his photos from around the world.
Her tired eyes gleam with happiness. She feels as though she were visiting the places herself, as he describes every detail. Soon though, she falls asleep.
Later that evening, she passes away.
Hours turn to days, days into weeks. A picture of her, along with the many he’d taken for sit up on the mantel.
He wonders how things would’ve been different, had they gone before she got sick. He surely would have snapped the very same photos.
But alas, there’s nothing he can do to change what happened, and he knows this. Who knows? Maybe it truly was better this way. Who can tell? Dear old Thomas Fiore certainly can’t, as he gazes up, day after day, at those pictures of love.