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The Last Wish
Her dream, right there in the newspaper. Her dream, just out of reach. Her dream, the one thing that has kept her heart beating these past few months. Her dream. The wooden deck on a lake, the outdoor table set painted white, resting in storage; the old table cloth with matching napkins patterned with orange poppies; the picnic set that matched the table cloth perfectly. The red zinnias, her favorite flower, in a vase as the centerpiece. Her dream. Her reason to live.
The woman sighed. Her sigh became a wheeze. The wheeze became a cough. The cough shook her frail body, made her eyes water, forced her breath to pause, caused her heart to skip.
The nurse, the woman’s ever-present companion, rushed over with a glass of water and an oxygen mask.
“How long will it take you to realize you can’t save me?” the woman whispered to her nurse when the bout had ceased. “When will you give up on me, Meri?”
“When your heart stops beating,” Meri said with finality. “You’re stuck with me ‘til the end, Evalynn, so you might as well accept it.” With those words, Meri stalked back into the kitchen carrying away the empty glass.
Evalynn knew Meri was worried. Merideth never snapped at her like that unless she was worried about Evalynn’s health. There wasn’t much to worry over now. Her end was close.
The tumors had shown up about 3 years ago. It started out as a few, nothing serious. The doctors put her on chemotherapy and the tumors went away… for a while. They were back within the month, bigger and more numerous. Again, the doctors ordered chemo, but it didn’t work. The dark spots on her lungs stayed, grew, spread. The few tumors that migrated to other organs never lasted, but those that stayed only grew. Evalynn; however, wasn’t ready to leave yet.
The ringing phone pulled Evalynn from her thoughts, startling her.
“I’ve got it!” Meri called from the kitchen. The phone ended its noise and one could just hear Meri’s voice, but no distinct words.
“Amelia will be here in about an hour to see you,” Meri said as she re-entered the living room with a bowl of soup. “She wants to talk to you about some things in storage.” She placed the bowl next to her charge. “Eat.”
“You know I’m not hungry.”
“And you know I don’t care. Eat.” Evalynn, about to sigh, caught herself. She did not want another episode like the one earlier. She instead took the bowl from the coffee table, took the spoon from Meri, and began to eat.
“Hey, I’m on my way to go see Mom. Are you coming?”
“No. I’m busy, and you know I can’t stand seeing her like this. Besides, you’ll be talking to her about… Well, you know what. I just can’t handle it.”
“Alright. I’ll let her know you say ‘hi’ and wish her well, Derek.”
“Thanks, Sis. Let me know how she’s doing, okay? I have to go. Bye.”
“Bye,” Amelia closed her phone, got into her car, placed the key in the ignition, started the car, and began the drive to her mother’s apartment.
Evalynn knew Amelia was on the other side of the door; she was never late. It was okay though. Evalynn needed the time to prepare herself. She needed the time to brace herself against seeing the child she barely knew. She needed to brace herself against the shock of looking at her own reflection from 15 years ago. She needed to brace herself against the questioning look that demanded answers she didn’t have.
Amelia paused at the door, taking deep breaths to prepare herself, to brace herself. She was bracing herself against the sight of seeing her mother without the usual, long, dark tresses cascading down her back. Bracing herself against the bone-thin apparition her mother had become. Bracing herself against the familiar green eyes that begged answers.
The knock on the door drew Meri out of the kitchen and away from dinner. Evalynn could practically hear her muttering about how interruptions and cooking do not go together and make very bad food.
The sounds of polite greetings came from the doorway of the apartment. Evalynn steadied her hands and readied her face for a smile.
“Hi, Mom,” Amelia said in wavering, measured tones. “It’s time to pay the storage bill, but I was wondering if we could give away some things. I made a list of the items I doubted anyone would want,” she said as she pulled a notepad from her purse and handed it to her mother.
“Thank you. That’s a good idea. It will save everyone a little money,” Evalynn murmured as she scanned the list. “I agree with a majority of the items,” she said when she finished, “but there are a few I would like to keep: the outdoor table set, the matching table cloth and napkins, and the picnic basket. They were my mother’s and I’d like to keep them in the family. I was actually thinking of leaving them to you.” Evalynn looked up from the list at this point, hoping to see a look of thankfulness. Amelia looked as if she were about to cry.
“Is it really that close? Your… your… “Amelia stammered.
“Yes. The doctors have given me a month at best.”
“But you’ve beaten the odds before,” Amelia interrupted, “You could do it again, right?” Her voice was coated with unshed tears. “I finally get to know you, and you’re leaving again!” The tears began to fall rapidly. “I didn’t even know you existed until 5 years ago, and then all I got was a birthday card!” Amelia seemed to realize what she had just said, noticing the look of hurt and something like regret flash across her mother’s face, and began to apologize. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean… It’s just been too much...” Her words failed her.
Evalynn understood. It was too much knowledge for a 17 year old girl to bear. High school was hard enough without a dying parent, especially a parent you had just been reunited with. Evalynn stood, walked to her daughter, and embraced her as if there had never been a gulf between them.
“I can’t cling to life much longer, Sweetie. My will has more strength than my body. Please don’t cry. I’ve pushed long enough. I’ve met my children, and that’s enough. Any other dreams I might have had won’t happen. I’ve accepted my fate. I can go in peace if you will let me,” The words, sad as they were, brought comfort to Amelia, along with a question.
“What other dreams did you have? Before all this happened?” she asked in voice slightly hoarse from sobbing and child-like tone that pulled the answer from her mother.
Evalynn’s eyes grew hazy as she drifted in thought, saying, “You know the items in storage, the ones I want you to have? Well, I’ve always wanted to have you, your brother, and your father over for lunch using them. I always pictured it on a lake,” she said with a smile in a soft voice.
Then, remembering where she was, she pulled her mind away from her pleasant musings. That dream existed in a different time, one she had no access to, one she would never know. She turned to her daughter.
“Tell me how Derek and Robert are doing,” Evalynn said in a sudden change of subject that caught Amelia off guard.
Their conversation lasted for hours, topics changing swiftly and fluidly. At some point, Meri brought stew for dinner, but neither Evalynn nor Amelia remembered eating.
It was nearly 8 when Meri noticed a yawn pass Evalynn’s lips. At that point, Meri sent Amelia home, and her charge to bed.
Amelia woke the next morning with one thought filling her mind. She called Meri, told her the idea, and asked the nurse’s opinion. Gaining the positive answer she wanted, she called Derek. He thought it was silly, at first, but Amelia convinced him otherwise, and the plan was set in motion… mostly. She still had one more person to tell. Dad.
Slowly, she walked to her father’s study. When she reached the door, she took a deep breath, and knocked.
“Come in,” called her father’s voice from within. Amelia opened the door and stepped through the threshold.
“Daddy,” she began, “I’ve been thinking and I think I’ve come up with a good plan for…” Her father’s voice cut her off.
“What do you want? Stop dawdling and say it. I don’t have all day.”
“I want to grant Mom’s last wish,” Amelia blurted in one breath. She held the rest, waiting for his response.
“I haven’t spoken to her since she left,” he finally said after a long pause, his voice thick with emotion, “What is her last wish?”
As Amelia explained, she watched her father for any sign of disapproval as she told him the plan. His face betrayed none of his thoughts until she showed him the sketch she had drawn last night.
“What about the lake part?” he said after Amelia was done, “How are you going to manage that?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted ruefully.
“Good. I have the perfect idea. There’s a house for sale that’s next to a lake a few miles from here. I’ve a friend in the real estate company in charge of the house. I’ll see if I can’t pull a few strings.”
Before he had finished his statement, Amelia had begun to squeal with delight.
“Thank you, Daddy!” she cried, a huge grin on her face. As she was leaving the study, she heard her father say,
“Hi, Bill! It’s Robert. I have a favor to ask of you…”
“I’ll get it!” Meri cried, racing towards the ringing phone.
“As if I would be getting it,” Evalynn grumbled to herself. The phone had not stopped its incessant noise since the day had begun. It rarely rang more than once a day, and Meri always told her who had called and why.
Meri walked back into the room, a poorly hidden smile on her face.
“Who keeps calling? Why? Why won’t you tell me?” These questions burst from her.
“You’ll find out later,” was all Meri said, a sly smile on her face. “I have to go to the store. I’ll be back in a bit.”
The moment Meri left, Evalynn scrambled to search the house. Meri was a list maker, so there was a list or notes about what was going on somewhere. She found nothing in her nurse’s room. Nothing in either closet. Nothing in either bathroom. Nothing anywhere. Unless…
Evalynn hurried to the kitchen. She didn’t have much time left to look. Her hands shook as she pulled open drawer after drawer, none held what she sought. Until she was the last one, the coupon drawer.
Inside lay a newspaper clipping on a house for sale, the list of items that Amelia had wanted to get rid of, and a rough sketch of a table by a lake. Evalynn picked the drawing up, her breath shaking as it left and entered her body. It looked almost exactly like her dream. Everything she had told her daughter about was conveyed on the sheet of notebook paper torn from Amelia’s spiral.
Understanding crashed upon her like a tidal wave. Her children, her daughter, her family, were making her dream come true. Tears welled in her eyes. The phone calls, the errands, the secrets. All of it made sense.
Evalynn felt tired. The shock of discovery had worn her out. Still holding the rough sketch, she lay down to take a nap and dream of her last wish.
Amelia was just putting the finishing touches on the table. It looked perfect. It was perfect. Life was perfect. Mom and Dad were talking again, and Amelia was fairly certain an old flame had been relit.
She was about to turn over the last cup and pour the wine in when the phone rang. Amelia sighed as she began to search for her elusive phone. Finding it, she answered.
“Hello?” she asked in a bright voice. “Wait. Slow down. What do you mean? What are you saying?” Amelia demanded in a fearful tone.”But that’s impossible… You were only gone 10 minutes… How… But…” There were no words she could use to explain how lost she felt. Her eyes turned to the table she had been setting.
The white table and chairs gleamed in the sun. The table cloth, printed with orange poppies, fluttered in the gentle breeze. The two candles, lit, wavered slightly. The four plates rested on top of one another. The platter full of grapes looked inviting. The dish filled with green olives sat serenely. The bottle of white wine stood temptingly untouched. The vase of red zinnias, her mother’s favorite, rose above the rest commandingly in a white vase. The lake lapped happily under the grey wood of the deck. Four cups had been placed on the plates, one to the side. One of the cups, the one Amelia had been about to fill, was upside down.
They all sat, Robert, Derek, Meri, and Amelia, at the table that had been set on the dock. The funeral had been hard for all of them. It was silent except for the water.
“I have something to say,” Amelia broke the silence with her soft voice. “I found this is in Mom’s hand when Meri asked me to come over,” she pulled the sketch she had drawn from her purse. “Mom knew.”
The eyes that had remained dry throughout the day grew wet. Those wet eyes turned toward the centerpiece. Red zinnias in a white vase. When the tears were done, they ate, raising their glasses of white wine before they began, leaving one upside down.