Once Were

by Doug Mitchell

The little girl sat at the foot of her bed
sobbing in her fathers' lap,
looking around the room with lost eyes.
"There, there." her father said,
"It'll be alright tiger, she's bound to show up somewhere."
The girl, her sobs quieting, looked up into his face
with reddened eyes, her dimples hidden
beneath her frown.
"You think daddy?" she asked haltingly.
"You think we'll find Mrs. McAfee?"
Her father smiling down at her,
said in a choked voice,
"You know it tiger, you know it."
Outside the municipal trash collector rumbled
to a stop, and took away the trash.
Tied tightly in the third can
Mrs. McAfee left without a word.

Bobby rushed home from school
to find his mother sitting silent at the kitchen table 
drinking her iced tea, while beads of perspiration 
ran down to the table forming a ring.
"So mom," Booby said before his bookbag hit the counter,
"Where is Sam?  He wasn't in the back."
"Sit down Bobby," his mother said.
The few times mom had said that to him
meant bad news, he thought.
As a matter of fact the last time
he heard that, they had to drive to Topeka 
for Uncle Toms' funeral.
?Well, what is it?" he asked, trying to shield his thoughts from his voice.
"Honey, Sam is in heaven with grams.
I'm sure she's petting and watching over him right now."
With tears forming in his eyes, 
Bobby could only looked down at the linoleum.
Last year when Butch died, I didn't cry 
he thought, but this time it's different.
Butch was dads' dog, but me and Sam 
have been together forever.
He closed his eyes then and imagined Sam, 
up in heaven, his tongue hanging out
and grams scratching him right behind the ear 
making his leg shake.

The fluorescent lights of the delivery room
cast a serene brightness, numbing 
the pale green of the walls.
The man sat alone, clutching the limp
still warm hand of his wife, pressing
it to his lips, whispering in a voice meant
for him and her.
"You said you wanted to wait,
wait for me to get firmly on my feet, 
to have the means before we brought another life."
He stopped and gazed over
her still body, the light casting her
in a divine glow.
Standing, pressing his lips to her forehead
still beaded with perspiration
and walked slowly down the hall.
There he stopped, looked through the glass
at the infant wrapped in a pink blanket.
He saw his little girl, Emily, he thought.
"You mother will always be here with you" 
he spoke as he touched his chest.

Sitting in the front of the parlor,
a middle aged balding man sat.
His shirt now a bit snug from what his wife
called his middle management disease.
Gathered here were his family and some friends
to pay their last respects to his mother.
The room carried a somber murmur
as the man at the pulpit raised one hand,
gesturing for those who would to look upon her one last time.
The slow procession ambled by the his mother,
emitting soft whispers and muffled sobs
and made their way out.
The line continued until he rose
from his seat and slowly shuffled
to say goodbye.
He lowered his hand close to hers 
and whispered softly.
"Go home now mother, amongst the other angels.
Go home and tell father I said goodbye
after all these years.
Go home and be at peace."
And with that he drew his hand to his lips, 
kissed his middle and index fingers
and gently touched her forehead.

The weatherman rambled through the week forecast
as the old couple lay in bed.
Father, as Irene always called him,
lay peaceful under an old afghan
with his battered USMC hat tilted to one side on his head.
The doctor said it would only be a matter of time
she thought.  Then time shifter
to the day in 1945 when he came home from England
in his neatly pressed uniform,
fresh from his long sojourn across the Atlantic.
"You were a strapping young thing."
she said to him.
Crazy Mike was up next with all the scores 
and highlights from the wild day on the diamond
as Irene turned the TV off.
She looked at him, wasted away from the cancer,
him breathing in fragmented breaths.
Irene picked up her favorite book, Wuthering Heights,
or as father called it, :Withering Shite"
and let out a girlish giggle at the thought.
Then she looked at him with sympathetic eyes
and kissed him gently on both cheeks
and finally lightly upon his lips.
"Sleep well now father," she breathed.
And as if seeking confirmation he slipped away.
Irene laid down her book on the end table,
and left the troubles of Heathcliff and Catherine 
to themselves.