“Don’t go in there Mr. March,” my agitated Aunt Anna whispered in a husky baritone, her smudge proof mascara running down her cheeks.
A stubborn boy of thirteen, I ignored her warning. I eased the door open and tip toed across the well-worn floral carpet of Grandma Florence’s dimly lit bedroom; past the army of medicine bottles lining the top of her bureau and the empty oxygen tanks stacked in the corner.
It was an ideal May afternoon, bursting with emerald green foliage and flowers stalks plump with purple, yellow, and pink buds. The intoxicating smell of freshly plowed earth hung in the air with promise. This day was her.
“Is that you Mr. March,” she muttered.
“Yes,” I whispered. I swallowed hard, but the knot in my throat would not budge.
She mustered a half-crooked smile and pointed to the window. The ancient, spotted rings scrapped against the dented brass rod as I parted the heavy velvet drapes.
A streak of sun sliced the shadows and burst into a brilliant pool of light, bathing Grandma Florence in a radiant glow. As pristine as a Michael Angelo marble sculpture, she was a vision in white. Her thick white waves, usually twisted into a series of buns at the base of her skull, hung loose and free. They cascaded down the front of her eyelet nightgown, where her breast use to be, to became one with the rolling hills and valleys of the cream bed linen.
I leaned my head against hers. The melodic heartbeats, once a lilting lullaby when I was a restless babe, were barely audible under the rattle of labored breath.
Our quiet moment was shattered by reality as two burly ambulance attendants maneuvered a gurney through the doorway.
As graceful as ballet dancers, the two massive creatures swung Grandma Florence onto the gurney in one swift swoop. I grabbed her hand. Together, like a Calder mobile, we made our way to the waiting van.
Separating us, they lifted her up into the blindingly bright, florescent cabin. I felt faint. Breath. Breath. The van doors slammed shut. Sweat beaded along my hairline. My temples pulsed to a primitive beat.
Spitting gravel onto my new white high-tops, the squad pealed out of the circular drive. With its spinning siren screeching, it flashed through the black silhouetted forest as it sped down the winding lane.
“Now!” my father yelled from the front seat of his burgundy Thunderbird.
In hot pursuit, we raced down the highway. “Faster! Faster! Faster!” the army of relay-running trees, lining the river bank, seemed to shout as they waved us on.
Minutes later, the squad came into view as it bounced across the stone bridge leading to the hospital. My nosed pressed against the glass, I saw a star spin into a fiery free-fall from the heavens. Down. Down. Down it spun. With a deafening silence, it splashed into the river. The rapids swallowed it whole.
“No! No! No!” I screamed. I beat the polished leather seat with both fists. “She’s dead! She’s dead!”
“Mr. March!” my father bellowed. I eased back onto the seat.
I wiped my wet cheeks with the sleeve of my sweater. “She’s gone,” I said calmly; flatly; suddenly a man. My cheekbones throbbed with ache. I looked up into the purple striated sky. A grey puff of cloud drifted by, unveiling a sparkling, twinkling, new born star.
“There you are,” I muttered to myself. “There you are.”