Monday, July 20, 2009

Loveliest / Short Fiction

Today Lettie could not manage walking on the beach alone. Ninety summers spent at the seashore, and for some reason she could not find her balance, couldn’t make her way to the water's edge without assistance. Brook held one arm, Charlie took the other. Lettie permitted Brook to lower her into the folding chair. And didn’t shed a tear. No displays of insolent ingratitude from that old girl. No, she was lucky to be there and she knew it. Happy to feel the spray of the sea as her gnarled toes burrowed in the sand, and the sun warmed her wrinkled unrecognizable face. A gale buffeted Brook’s umbrella as she struggled to provide shade. “No Dear,” Lettie said. “Let me bask for a bit.” Prompting Brook to close the umbrella, and rush towards Lettie with a dollop of sunscreen. She didn’t protest as Brook slathered her nose and cheeks.

Little Binky followed her sister Tess out to the water. Charlie hovered, his children were fearless, but no matter, Lettie watched him fret on their behalf. He lifted Binky in and out of the surf as she giggled merrily and kicked her chubby legs. Tess was busy digging and filling up her pail. Brook pointed to her toddler, and said, “That used to be me.”

“And your mother, and my daughter,” Lettie added. “And me, and my mother too.” Tess dumped the pail and began to fill it up once more.

Brook was Lettie's great-granddaughter; she cheerfully displayed endless patience for an old woman, and loved the house on the bluff as much as Lettie did. Lettie changed her will last year, made up her mind to leave the old barn to a deserving soul. Nobody knew. It was nobody’s business but hers anyway. 

They were three weeks into a three-month stay. Charlie drove out Friday night and stayed most weekends. Weekends tended to be hectic. They always cooked a Sunday meal. Today was Lettie's birthday, so they were having crab fritters, a chopped Farmer’s Market salad, shrimp Louise, and blackberry crumble topped with homemade vanilla ice cream. Brook invited the neighbors. The girl was far more sociable than Lettie had ever been. Brook would feed the children early and put them to bed while Charlie and Lettie prepared the meal. Sunday evenings were a civilized,  grown-up affair. They wore dresses, and fixed up their sun-lightened hair. Charlie usually donned one of his favored colorful silk shirts. Lettie had been put in charge of the crab fritters, her specialty. Charlie would cook the shrimp concoction, and Brook had already prepared the salad and the crumble—Lettie's daughter Sarah’s recipe. Sarah was gone, taken by cancer, thirty some years ago now. Lettie's sibling’s were all dead. Four brothers, and one sister, gone. Her best friend was gone too, she died on the operating table, poor little Gertrude. 

Dying on the operating table was not for Lettie, she wouldn’t let doctors feed her pills, and she wouldn’t let them cut her open. She had made it this far, not too shabby. Ninety. Never thought she'd see the day, or grow to be so damn old. But, on this birthday, for some reason Lettie felt off. Not right. From the comfort of that folding chair it dawned on her, the old heart wasn’t beating, it was thumping. Lettie asked Brook if she wouldn’t mind setting up the umbrella after all. From under the shelter of the umbrella she watched Tess fill the bucket, dump the bucket, fill the bucket, dump the bucket, fill the bucket, dump the bucket. Sitting Indian style, her great, great granddaughter seemed content to be surrounded by mounds of lopsided soggy sand dunes of her own making.

Up in her room on the third floor, there will be no crab fritters or blueberry crumble tonight, as she's not feeling well enough to partake. Charlie positioned Lettie's bed in such a manner that she could prop herself up with pillows and watch the sun set over the Pacific through the bay window. Tonight’s sunset is spectacular, an orange and purple extravaganza, a fabulous display, the loveliest birthday gift ever. She closes her eyes after the sun descends, and sees them, one and all. Her people. Seems they have been waiting with willow arms to catch Lettie when she falls out of this life. A curious sensation ensues, she is all at once lighter than a grain of sand.

All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.


lakeviewer said...

Ah! Yes, a beautiful day ending and a life too, at the same time. I'll drink to that.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Lovely reading. Thank you.

Marguerite said...

Such a beautiful story, Elizabeth. Your writing is so descriptive and poignant. And those crab fritters sound so good!

Elizabeth Bradley said...

Thank you. It does seem like a good way to go, doesn't it?

Cloudia said...

You described the perfect ending....and made me cry too!


Comfort Spiral

aims said...

*trying not to cry*

Just beautiful!

Jenn said...

This is so beautiful Elizabeth! The beach and its ability to transform must have been in the air the other day :-) This would be like my dream of a way to go - a full day at the beach surrounded by everyone I love at a ripe old age and die peacefully in my sleep as they all celebrate a perfect salty day.

You have inspired me to get back into my fiction again, thanks!

K. said...

I love all the little details in your writing...they make it all the more REAL...

So sorry not to have visited in a bit...I am always struggling with time!

Cheryl said...

What a wonderful last day! And that was a really wonderful story, compact, moving and satisfying,