Staring At The Laundry
I WAS CHALLENGED BY MY LOCAL WRITER'S GROUP TO WRITE A FLASH FICTION STORY FOR THIS PHOTO. BELOW IS MY OFFERING. (DELMARVA CHRISTIAN WRITER'S ASSOCIATION)
Staring at the laundry. Shorts, shirts, and briefs, hanging from the clothesline with a faded blue sky in the background. The laundry basket, half-empty, lay beside me as I sprawled on my back, unable to move. Or… had the basket been half-full? Not a philosophical question. I simply couldn’t remember if I’d been hanging the clothes or taking them down. So much else about today was suddenly fuzzy. Jumbled. The only fact I was sure about, was that I was dying.
Don’t ask me how I knew. My imminent departure was as certain as my name. We’ve all heard of people whose time had seemed to come, yet after they’d died, were sent back. I, however, would not be returning. With seventy-eight years and four close calls behind me, the force pushing down on my chest would not be letting me up. Which was fine. I’d made peace with my Lord. Yet as the blades of green prickled my helpless arms, a warm, salty moisture overflowed my eyes. Something precious was missing.
“Don’t be afraid, Alice.”
I turned my gaze leftward. The man kneeling next to me was young and, well… quite handsome, if I might say so. His cheeks and brow were relaxed, his eyes gentle. The barest hint of a smile touched the corners of his mouth. His face had an unusual sheen. I would almost say it glowed, although the tingles passing over my head and limbs made nearly everything a bit hazy and shiny.
“I’m not afraid,” I said. Or, perhaps I just thought it. Who knew?
“That’s good.” The man broadened his smile. “My name is Jezrael. Do you understand what’s happening?”
“Yes.” A simple nod. “I’m dying.”
“Well, in a sense.” Jezrael bounced his head lightly side to side. “But I wouldn’t use that word exactly. Death is not your portion, my friend. You are simply passing over into life.”
I raised up on my left elbow to see him better. The move was effortless. Nimble. “So this is really it? The big moment?”
Jezrael made a single, slow blink. “Yes. In fact, you’ve just crossed over.”
I scanned left to right. Bit my lip, then felt my eyes narrow. “I…I kind of expected something different. Something… well, a bit more majestic. Heaven looks a lot like Goldsboro. And… and there’s my ’95 Chevy with the dent in the fender. I uh, thought I couldn’t take that with me.”
Jezrael chuckled. “We’ll be going to the heavenly city shortly. I’ll take you there myself. And you’re right. You can’t bring the Chevy. It stays here.”
A laugh slipped out. ‘Thank God for that!” As the lightness of my new state became suddenly more evident, I tried to stand. The move was so easy I nearly lost my balance as I shot upward. “Oh my!” I touched my fingers to my lips. They were… so full.
“Whoa, careful there, Alice.” His words were jovial.
I turned and looked at the woman on the ground. The old woman. Her features were frozen in place. Her wrinkles deep. Her jaw hanging open. Her rings and charms of earthly metal were as dead as the gnarled fingers they adorned. She looked familiar in a sense, yet somehow different than the woman in the mirror who’d greeted me every morning. So odd to contemplate that she… had been me.
“It’s a lot to take in, I know.” Jezrael put his hand on my shoulder.
“Yes, it is.” I stared at the solitary body lying lifeless in the grass, a teardrop still poised on her cheek, and I remembered what had brought it forth.
“I noticed you were crying a moment ago.” Jezrael came around to face me. “Are you okay now?”
An interesting question. “Well, I’m… content? If that’s the right word. It’s just that, I’d expected, or at least hoped, this moment would be different. I’d envisioned something else.”
Jezrael rubbed his chin. “What was it you’d envisioned, Alice?” His words softly probed my thoughts.
I drew a long, deep breath. “Well, that woman,” I pointed to the body, “is all alone. No one even knows she’s dead. I mean, well, passed.”
“And I thought this day would be full of people. Children and grandchildren, my family and friends, sitting by my bedside, saying their goodbyes. Praying for me. Holding my hand.”
“Aha. Like a send-off.” Jezrael raised an eyebrow.
“Yes! Exactly!” I turned my face more directly toward him. “I never wanted, never really expected… to die alone.”
“Alone?” The deep voice turned me around. “Alice, you’ve never been alone.”
Another handsome young man was walking up toward me. His hair was jet black with thick wavy curls. His hazel eyes twinkled and his broad smile gleamed. He had the same sheen in his face as Jezrael, like a subtle glow. “I’m sorry, sir. Do… do I know you?”
“I would certainly hope so… Freckle Face.”
My knees collapsed beneath me at his words. Jezrael scooped me up to stop the fall. My newly found strength evaporated as the second man brought his arms under mine and lifted me to my feet. I tried to speak, but my jaw trembled so hard I could barely get out the words. “Daddy…!!”
“Welcome home, sweetheart!” Daddy pulled me closer and held me in his strong arms. His rugged cheek against mine opened a tidal wave of emotions. My entire frame shook as I held onto him for life.
“I’ve missed you so bad.” I finally managed to stammer. “Oh, Daddy, how I’ve missed you!”
As I gradually gained control my attention was turned by a young feminine voice to my right. “I’m here as well, Alice.”
I lifted my face from Daddy’s shoulder and looked in her direction. My heart melted within me the moment I glimpsed her face. “Mom? Mom??”
Her arms reached over and drew me into a deep embrace. “We’ve waited for this day so expectedly, dear. It’s so, so good to see you again.”
A fresh wave of wonderful tears streamed from my eyes. Her hair covered my face but I didn’t care. In fact, I cherished it. After a long moment, I drew back and looked at my parents. “You guys are so young! You look and sound amazing!”
“Us?” Daddy laughed. “You should see yourself!”
I glanced down at my wrinkle-free, strong body and shook my head in awe. “This is incredible.”
“I’ve, um, been waiting to see you too.” A young blonde man about six-foot two walked up from behind Dad. He had bright blue eyes and folded his hands against his lips. “My name is David.”
Feeling slightly awkward, I stepped forward to get a closer look at him. “Please forgive me, David. My memory is struggling right now.”
“It’s okay, Mom. You never had a chance to name me. I came over in the middle of your pregnancy back in 1970. But I’ve always looked forward to this moment, and to tell you that I’m all right. It’s an honor and a joy to finally meet you face to face.”
I covered my mouth with my hands as the awe washed over my skin. I walked over to David and wrapped my arms around his shoulders. I could find no words to fit the beauty of the moment, but just rocked him back and forth in our embrace.
I finally let him go and looked at Jezrael, my face soaking wet, my heart overflowing. “I’m not sure I understand all this, Jezrael. I always thought there’d be no tears in heaven.”
He flashed a broad grin. “Well, Alice. God can’t wipe away what isn’t there. But you’re right. There’ll be no more tears of sorrow. And you’ve never known the depth of joy that awaits you there, in His presence.”
I gave a parting look to the old woman and the basket, then put my hand on my father’s shoulder. “I guess you were right, Daddy. I never really was alone.”
“Never ever, sweetheart.” His incredibly young face beamed with affection. “So stop staring at the laundry and let’s go. There’s a crowd of other people waiting to see you at the reception.”
“There’s a reception?” More reunions?
“Oh, is there ever a reception,” Jezrael said. “And the rags in that basket can’t compare to what’s waiting for you there.”