THE LONG WAIT

Mike, the cabbie, was relieved. He just dropped off his last passenger and was going to pick up his wife, then head home. And not a moment too soon, he thought to himself as a nor’easter was headed their way. 

Suddenly the wind whipped Mike’s cap off his head and he chased it down the steps. Turning back to go to his cab, he spotted a figure huddled in the corner. Another drunk, no doubt, but then he heard crying. He inched closer and the streetlight revealed an old woman wrapped in a shawl. 

“Oh, shit! I swear I got the worst luck in the world!” Mike muttered under his breath. Knowing his wife Laura would kill him if he didn’t help the old lady, Mike called out over the wind – “Excuse me. Are you ok?” 

A weak voice replied “I’m lost and scared and forlorn. Please help me!” 

“I can take you to the police station” suggested Mike. “They can help you.” 

No! I need to see my son. Please take me to my son.” 

“Look, lady, I wanna help you, I really do, but my wife’s waiting for me and the weather’s bad.”

The old woman started sobbing and it was too much for Mike. “Okay, I got an idea. What’s your son’s address. If it ain’t too far, I’ll take you – otherwise, it’s the police station.” 

Immediately the lady responded. “Renwick’s. That’s where my son is.” 

“Your son’s at Renwick’s!? Laura works there! C’mon … we don’t want to be late!” 

“Jack is very patient. He knows I’ll be there” replied the old lady. 

“Well”, said Mike, “my wife ain’t so let’s skedaddle.” 

The woman had a little box which she placed on the back seat next to her. The rain and wind were terrible as Mike made his way to Renwick’s. He called Laura to let her know he was coming and filled her in on what was going on.  The old woman hummed softly in the back seat, as in a trance. It sounded like a haunting lullaby, tender and sweet yet mournful and lonely. 

Finally they arrived at Renwick’s. Laura was waiting under the awning but she was alone and the store was dark. Mike flashed the lights and Laura made a mad dash for the cab. Laura turned around to greet the mysterious little old lady but the back seat was empty. 

“Well, where is she?” asked a surprised Laura. 

“Where’d she go?” stammered Mike. “I was here the whole time. No one left this cab!” 

Laura reached for the box. On the outside was scrawled Jack McGuire, Pediatric Unit, Bed #27 and the note inside read – “For my precious baby boy, Jack. Sorry I made you wait so long. My work is done. Mommy’s finally coming.” Inside was a tiny gold lantern with glass panels etched with cherubs.

“OMG! You’re not gonna believe this, Mike. This was once the site of the Renwick Smallpox Hospital. A lot of people died from smallpox, especially babies. So many helpless babies – God bless them. This is a sign, Mike. I believe you were touched by an angel.” 

NAR © 2019

ANDIAMO

I was jogging down the marina boardwalk one day last week, my two loyal yellow labs, Daisy and Molly, right by my side. It had been quite a while since we were out together like this and the warm sun felt great on my face. I had locked myself away in my apartment after the death of my beloved black lab, Duke, only taking the girls out when necessary. 

But that day I looked at them and realized how my melancholy had affected them. They had become as listless and lost as I. Well, this wasn’t fair to anyone – staying cooped up inside mourning – so off we went on that beautiful day in May. At first it felt like forced fun, just not right being at our favorite place without our buddy, Duke. We started out slowly, three sad sacks just moseying down by the sea, but soon the smell of saltwater and the spray of the ocean began to invigorate us and we picked up our pace. 

“Yeah, we needed this, girls. It’s good to be back outside, isn’t it?” and Daisy and Molly looked up at me, their big brown eyes happy again. 

We rounded a curve in the boardwalk and off in the distance I noticed a big Cadillac with tinted windows parked outside one of the warehouses. We drew closer and I saw the chauffeur leaning against the car, working on his tan. As we jogged by, the guy yelled out “Yo, pal! Looks like you lost your dog.” 

Caught off guard by his statement, I stopped abruptly, nearly tumbling over the girls. With a quizzical expression on my face, I looked at the guy. Without saying a word, he pointed to the leash I had tied around my waist … Duke’s leash … for old time’s sake. 

“Oh, this” I said somewhat sheepishly, and before I realized what was happening, I told this total stranger my sad story about Duke. 

To my utter disbelief this hulking goon of a guy broke down like a baby, telling me about his dog that died when he was a kid. Just then the door to the warehouse flew open and a couple of very large, intimidating men came out followed by a short squatty guy chomping on a cigar and sporting the most ridiculous toupee I’ve ever seen. 

This little guy was obviously the boss. He walked around the back of the car and stood there shaking his head. “Mama mia, Bruno, it’s been thirty years since Spot died. I get it. I’m a dog lover myself but enough’s enough. This happens every friggin time. Now say bye bye to the nice doggies and get in the car.” 

Wiping his nose on his sleeve, Bruno did as instructed. It was only when the car door opened that I spotted the lustrous black lab in the front seat and my heart stopped for a second. 

“Papa’s here, Leonardo” said the man with the toupee. “Andiamo, Bruno! Let’s go home.” 

NAR © 2019

FAMILIAR STRANGERS

Invisible. That’s the first word I thought of when I saw my mother glance over at me. Her eyes were blank, her expression impassive. I was just a face in a crowd; I might as well have been invisible. 

She sat in the middle of the music room of the nursing home, fellow residents all around her as they sang old standards from the 1940’s, members of the blissfully unaware chorus. Noticing an empty chair, I sat down beside my mother and began to sing along to those beloved ancestral tunes carved in her now addled brain. My mother turned to look at me, totally unaware of who I was. She smiled and I smiled back, feeling a pang of guilt for I was simply there doing my duty, fulfilling an obligation … just as she had done all her life. 

In the 58 years since my birth, we were never close … just one of those sadly unfulfilled relationships between mother and daughter. If she ever loved me, she didn’t show it. And I did not love her. Yet here I was. Why?  Was I driven by misplaced guilt … compelled to visit … seeking approval? 

So we sat side by side singing Sentimental Journey and when the song was over my mother turned to me and said “You have a lovely voice. Would you like to see my room?” and I surprised myself by cheerfully answering “Yes!”

Prior to moving into the facility, mother lived in a small house next to my sister. If nothing else, it was convenient. I lived far enough away to avoid any interaction but my sister was burdened for quite a few years caring for our mother – a regiment of one following orders. She tended to her until it became unbearable. Sis decorated our mother’s room in the nursing home with many of her personal effects and furnishings and I felt like Alice falling down the rabbit hole when I entered her room. I remembered her curtains and matching bedspread, the mirrored perfume tray on her dresser, her tortoise shell hairbrush and comb set and numerous photographs in gilded frames. I looked around as if seeing everything for the first time. Perhaps there was more truth in that than I realized. 

“Come, I want to show you something” my mother beckoned, and she led me to a wall on which hung two identical color portraits –  high school graduation paintings of my sister and me. Mother pointed to my portrait and said “That’s my beautiful daughter, Nancy”. Then she pointed to my sister’s portrait and said “I have no idea who that is”, and she walked away unfazed. 

Why did she recognize my portrait – the prodigal daughter who stood right beside her? How could she not remember my sister? Those questions remain unanswered. My mother passed away shortly after our visit. 

Now that I’m older and infinitely wiser, I believe my mother truly tried her best. And in the end isn’t that all we can ask of anyone? 

NAR © 2019

MY BROTHER’S KEEPER

Invisible in the temporary blackness of the night, the trio of soldiers separated from their regiment crept silently through the rain-soaked jungle. One had an injured leg as the result of a skirmish and was in excruciating pain. He knew his injury would impede their progress and he pleaded with his comrades to leave him to die alone with dignity, as was their ancestral custom. The steadfast friends were adamant and refused to abandon him in the middle of enemy territory. Instead they worked in tandem to  carry their wounded brother – a selfless act that did indeed slow them down but they would have it no other way and refused to discuss the topic any further. 

Exhausted and frightened, they persevered through the seemingly endless night, scrambling for cover as quickly and quietly as physically possible whenever they spied the opposition or heard murmurings in the darkness. Soon the slowly rising first light would inevitably dispel their cover and finding shelter for the day would become a priority. Looking around they took stock of their surroundings – trees, bushes, and marshlands – none of which would provide adequate  concealment or refuge. 

Walking on, the soldiers spotted a huge boulder in the distance and as they drew nearer they noticed a small aperture. The decision was agreed upon that one would investigate the opening while the other two hid beneath the shelter of the low hanging branches of a weeping willow tree. After a while the scout returned with good news – there was a small cave inside the rock with room enough for the three of them to take shelter. Painstakingly, one soldier carried his injured brother on his back and squeezed through the crevice while the third searched for something for them to eat. Finally for the first time in hours the exhausted trio was able to get some rest. Huddled together, they eventually drifted off to a fitful sleep. 

After a few hours, the wounded soldier awoke with a fever, his leg swollen and throbbing. Since it was now midday, it was too risky to leave the cave. Outside was sweltering and humid and the chance of them being caught, especially hindered by a wounded friend, would be great. No … they would stay where they were until it was safe to venture out. To pass the time they talked about life back in their village and the family members awaiting them. All they knew was army life, following in the footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers. It was not an easy life and they were in constant peril but they soldiered on. 

Suddenly their wounded brother heaved a ragged breath and died. Saddened yet aware they must move on, the soldiers covered him with rocks and began the slow crawl out. Without warning the long sticky tongue of a giant anteater slithered through the crack and swallowed the startled army ants. They struggled bravely, as courageous ants are wont to do, but in the end they could not prevail. 

Poor little buggers. 

NAR © 2019