Thanks - David
By David Meigs
Samuel Jacobs lay helpless on his hospital bed
The disease of Lou Gehring the doctor had said
Hurry poor Samuel while yet there is time
Seek forgiveness above for all of your crimes
“Nay, I’ll not make peace with God on this day
It was Him that took my Mary away”
Jacob’s heart raged with the poison of loss
He swore never to repent, no matter the cost
Sarah’s nose wrinkled as she stirred the thickened juice. I thought she’d gag as she placed the straw between my lips. I drew it into my parched mouth and let it dribble down my throat like oatmeal. The texture of it ruined even this simple pleasure. I fought the sudden urge to inhale it into my lungs and end this nightmarish existence.
No, not with Sarah giving me the drink! I released the straw and forced a grin.
“Thank you, Pickle!”
“Ok Papa, now tell me about the day you met Grandma?”
“You’re not going to let up are you? Well all right, give me a minute to remember. After all, it was a million years ago.”
Sarah giggled, and I let go of my rage. I closed my eyes and remembered the day I relived nearly everyday since Mary’s passing. I could feel the sun upon my back, and the smells of summer. Mary’s sweet face remained as I opened my eyes to see Sarah, her double image in heart and likeness.
Oh Mary, you’d be so proud of her!
“We met at the old swimming hole and it was the most embarrassing day of my life. You’re old enough I suppose to hear the ‘R’ rated version. Plug your ears if it gets too graphic. Ok, I never owned a swimsuit until after I met your Grandma. We just used our undies or birthday suits!”
“Papa! You are such a dork! That’s a mental image I don’t need!” Sarah said, sticking her fingers in her ears. “Was it love at first sight?”
“Nope, I couldn’t stand her.”
“Papa, you’re such a liar! Grandma said it was true love!”
“Are you telling this story, or am I?”
Sarah crossed her eyes, just as Mary used to do.
“Cousin Billy and I were swimming in the old beaver pond, just like we’d done every summer day I can remember. Boy, were we surprised to find your Grandma and her cousin skinny-dipping!”
“Nuh-uh, you’re lying! Grandma was wearing her underwear!”
“I thought you didn’t know?”
Sarah wrinkled her nose.
I bit my lip. “Billy and I had us a contest to see who could stay under water all the way back to shore. Now, those beaver ponds were murky so we about run into them before we saw their ghostly white, bra and panty clad bodies. We about drowned from the shock! The girls screamed, covered their breasts and sank in low! Billy and I were busy hiding our Jewels!”
“Grandma didn’t have much to cover, but Mabel sure did. Billy’s eyes about popped out of his head, and Mabel turned all kinds of red. ‘You boys get!’ Mabel screamed. ‘We ain’t dressed!’ Billy protested. ‘You’re naked?’ she screamed. ‘No more than you!’ Billy said.
“Neither Mary or I said a word, but something passed between us. I knew in that instant I’d love her forever. Her eyes melted me like sugar in the rain. She licked her lips and I wanted to kiss them so bad it hurt. We were the only two people in the world.”
I closed my eyes. If only I could hold you once more! Oh Mary, I miss you so!
“Grandma said that God spoke to her the minute she saw you. He said that you were the man she was to marry!”
The mention of God kicked me in the gut. Sarah leaned over the bedrail and kissed me on the cheek. Her hot tears fell upon my face.
“I love you Papa!” her voice thick and broken.
“I love you too, Pickle!”
“I miss Grandma!”
“Me too! More than anything.”
Sarah took several tissues from the box and blew her nose, pushed back her hair, and went to work fixing her makeup. She saw me looking at her in the mirror and grinned.
“I’m sorry Papa, it’s just that I look a mess and Butch..., I mean I have a date tonight.”
Butch? Warning bells sounded.
“Tell me about Butch?” I said, searching her eyes. Was that guilt I saw hiding there?
“OK Papa, but you have to finish telling me about Grandma.”
“Fair enough, but you’re not leaving here until you’ve told me all about this hairy legged Neanderthal named Butch!”
“He’s just a guy I met at the mall.”
“Does your Mama approve of him?” Her silence answered my question.
“Does your Dad know about him?”
“No Papa, I only met Butch a month ago, but I think it was love at first sight. You’d like him. Grandma would have liked him too.”
“Grandma would, would she? Then he must go to Church?” I could see the answer in her hesitation.
“He wants to go, but he works every Sunday. He’s gonna join the Army just like Daddy and you.” She tried to change the subject.
“Tell me about this job that keeps him out of church?”
“YOU never went to church until Grandma got sick!”
What is she hiding?
“And I don’t deny it. Now, what’s this Butch do?”
“For now, he works in the Mall taking surveys.”
She’s not telling me something...
“How old is he?” I asked. Her eyes told me that I wouldn’t like the answer.
“He’s thirty.” She said, avoiding my eyes. A cold fury erupted inside me.
“What is a thirty year old man doing chasing a sixteen year old girl?”
“Wait until your dad gets back. He’s gonna go ballistic! Sarah, what the hell are you thinking?”
A tear rolled down Sarah’s cheek, and I bit my tongue. She looked like a fragile branch, about to break. She made herself small, as if she were a mouse.
“I wasn’t supposed to tell you. Daddy is coming back early. He got wounded in Baghdad. Papa..., he lost an eye! He’s been in Germany for a week, and he’ll be home tomorrow. He said not to tell...” Sarah leaned in sobbing; she wanted me to hold her. I tried with all my might, but my lifeless arms refused to work.
“Don’t tell him about Butch! Let me tell him. Please Papa, please!”
“I’ll make you a deal, but no more dancing around the truth. You swear on your Grandma’s grave that you‘ll tell me straight up. Promise?”
Defiance lit her face. “You want ME to PROMISE?”
What was that all about?
“Ok Papa, but you don’t have to make ME swear on Grandma’s grave, because I KEEP MY promises. Ok Papa, what is it? Do you want to know if I’m sleeping with him? The answer is NO, but it’s not because I didn’t want to.”
I sighed with relief!
“I PROMISED Grandma that I wouldn’t have sex until I was married. Unlike YOU, I keep MY promises! Oh, I won’t deny that we came close. Yes, we did some things, but I told him no! He wouldn’t stop and part of me didn’t want him to. Then, it was like Grandma and Jesus was watching, and they told me what to say to make him stop.”
“What did you say?” Murder burned within me.
“I-I told him... you were a Colonel in the Army, just like Daddy and that you were a cop until you got sick. That made him stop! He was mad, but he stopped!”
I sighed with relief. “Sarah, look at me. I can’t make these damn arms of mine work or I’d hold you. I want you to come here and put your nose on mine, just like we used to do. There’s something I need to tell you.”
Sarah grinned and nodded. She gently put her nose to mine, and we gazed into each other’s eyes. A salty tear rolled down her nose to my lips. I drank it in, nothing ever tasted so sweet.
“Sarah, you are the most important thing in the whole world. Honey, don’t waste yourself on this man. Wait for the right boy to come along. When he shows up, you’ll know it. Wait for true love Pickle. Grandma and I had it, and you’ll have it too.”
Sarah kissed the end of my nose. “Thank you Papa.”
“OK Papa, now remember, you let me tell Daddy about Butch.”
“You’ve got until he comes to visit me. I mean it Pickle, you tell him before he comes here. After that, all bets are off. Do we understand each other?” I said.
She stiffened. “I’ll tell him as soon as he comes through the door. Now, finish telling me about Grandma?”
She’s still hiding something.
“Alright, fair enough. But first tell me about this broken promise.”
“Ok Papa, but first things first.”
“Fair enough. Where was I?”
Sarah grinned. “You and grandma were looking into each other’s eyes. Did you kiss her?”
“We were in our undies! She’d have broken my nose if I’d taken one step closer. Nope, grandma told us to turn around and wait for them to get dressed. That’s exactly what we did. That’s when all hell broke loose!
“They started screaming before they got halfway out of the water. Grandma had a leech right under her buttocks, and Mabel had three. They screamed like banshees and danced like chickens with their heads cut off. Billy, he took off down the trail in his skivvies as if his tail was on fire. I had to bring him his clothes the next day.
“Grandma and Mabel never saw a leech before. Heck, Billy and I got them half the times we went swimming.”
“Did you take the leeches off them?”
“Grandma would have tore off my arm and beat me with it. She wouldn’t even let me watch, but old Mabel gave Grandma quite a time. I just hunkered down in the water laughing my...”
The nurse interrupted us. “Excuse me Colonel; it’s time for your bath.”
“It’s alright; we were about finished anyway. Give us five minutes to say goodbye.” I said firmly. Our eyes locked, but she blinked first.
“Five minutes and no more, my shift’s almost over!” She said, and stomped off.
“Now Sarah, tell me about this broken promise I made to you. Whatever it is, I’ll make it right. I swear it on your Grandma’s grave!”
“ANOTHER promise? I wonder if YOU will keep THIS ONE? Ok Papa, I’ll tell you, but YOU PROMISED GRANDMA, not me! You SWORE to her YOU’D see HER in HEAVEN! YOU haven’t kept THAT promise have you? You still HATE God, don’t you?”
I could feel Mary’s eyes peering at me from Heaven.
“Yes, I promised, but you got to understand. I never argued against her going to church, and when she got leukemia, I even started going with her. I took her to every healing preacher we could find. I told God I would give Him my all if He’d just heal her. He didn’t give a damn. She loved God with her whole heart, but look where that got her. Right up to the bitter end, she thought God would heal her. Well He didn’t!
“I watched her shrivel up and God didn’t lift a finger. I hate Him for it. I hate Him, and I figure it’s mutual because he’s given me ALS! No, I couldn’t keep that promise even if I wanted to. God hates me! He wouldn’t forgive me even if I asked Him. It’s out of my hands. God hates me, and I hate Him back!”
Sarah’s face twisted. “If you’re going to Hell, then so will I! What’s the point of keeping myself for marriage? If you won’t keep your word to Grandma, then why should I? Excuse me, but I have a date with BUTCH!”
“Sarah!” I said, and watched her go.
All through the long night, visions of Butch’s hands on Sarah tormented me. The murder I felt towards him lessened as I realized the fault was mine. It was my stubbornness that drove her into his arms! If only Mary were here, she could pray. Things always got better when she prayed.
If I had surrendered to God all those years ago, Sarah would not be in danger. What good would it do to pray now? God hates me! I ruined Mary’s life and now Sarah’s too! If only I had given in to God instead of being a jealous fool!
Images of Sarah’s curled lips again flooded my mind as she spoke her last words. “If you’re going to Hell, then so will I!”
“Oh, God I am sorry! I know it’s too late for me, but please heal Sarah’s heart! Please protect Sarah! Don’t let her burn in Hell!”
Jacobs, you jackass! You could have given Mary the thing she wanted most, but instead you let her die in worry. Now look at what you’ve done to Sarah!
“Oh Mary, tell me what to do?”
The room filled with Mary’s presence. My heart pounded. I knew she stood at the side of my bed.
“Mary... is that you? I miss you... I have been such a fool!”
Somehow, Mary spoke to the center of my being. “You’ve poisoned Sarah with your rage... Heal her heart... Pray Sam, ask God for forgiveness!”
“I can’t sweet Mary, God won’t forgive me.”
“God loves you. It is not too late. Join me in Heaven as you promised. Jesus says you can leave this suffering behind and come home.”
“What about Sarah? She’s tied up with this Butch and I can’t...”
“Sarah needs to know you are going to Heaven.”
“Yes, Mary yes! I will pray. Oh God, forgive me! I have been a fool...”
A lifetime of rage, sin and guilt exploded from my chest like a cannon.
The nurse readied herself for the usual abuse I hurled with each meal. “Colonel Jacobs, I’ve got your breakfast.”
“Phyllis, please forgive this grumpy old man for the ill-treatment I’ve given you in return for your kind service. Please know that your hard work is much appreciated.”
I thought she’d drop the platter. “Apologies are unnecessary. To be served blended food on top of everything else you suffer! I know it is difficult, and for the record, I am sorry.”
“It all gets mixed up when I chew it anyway. Now, tell me what is on the menu?”
Her nose wrinkled as she stirred the bowl of warm mush.
“It says ham and cheese omelet with hash browns, but I’m not too sure. There’s also your usual coffee and cranberry juice.”
Sarah walked in. “I’ll give him breakfast!”
The nurse grinned and hurried out of the room. One look at Sarah’s puffy eyes told me she’d been crying.
“Sarah, I’m so glad you’re here. There is something I need to tell you I...”
“Me first Papa. You don’t have to worry about Butch. He went back to his wife, and...” her voice trailed off.
“What is it Pickle?”
“He was such a creep! His wife had a baby last week and he never even told me. I am such a fool.”
“We all make mistakes, and this won’t be your last.”
“So you don’t have to tell daddy, ok?”
“Our little secret!”
Sarah sighed. “Thank you Papa! Oh yeah, Mom’s picking up Daddy right now. As soon as they release him, he’s coming straight here. Now, what did you want to tell me?”
“I kept my promise to Grandma!”
“Papa, what happened?”
“You showed me the way Pickle! You helped me to see what an old fool I have been. When you left here last night, it all became so clear. I could feel your Grandma’s presence, telling me what to do. I asked God to forgive me, and I’ve never felt such peace.”
“That is so cool!”
Sarah pushed the cart aside and laid her sweet face next to mine. She melted into me and it didn’t matter that my arms could not hold her. Tiny rivulets of joy fell from her eyes and I felt God’s peace promising her safety.
Thank you Jesus!
“Pickle, when you get through watering poor old Papa, perhaps you could get Grandma’s old bible out of my nightstand. As soon as I’ve ate my mush, I want you to read me something.”
Sarah went to the drawer and pulled out the old tattered bible. “What verse do you want me to read?”
“I don’t care, just find something she outlined. She was always doing that.”
Sarah flipped through the pages and laughed. “Papa, every page has something underlined!”
“We’ll figure it out after breakfast. Come on now, this is the first time I’ve been hungry in months.”
“Ok. Let’s see, what you got here? Ewe yuck! It’s so nasty!”
I laughed at her sickened expression.
“How about some coffee first?”
Sarah stuck the straw into the cup and it stood straight up, all on its own. She crossed her eyes, just like Mary used to do.
Samuel Jacobs went home while asleep in his bed
It happened just as his Mary had said
“Save me oh God and take me above”
Into his heart flowed an ocean of love
All Heaven rejoiced, praising God with a cheer
He was greeted by Mary, his precious sweet dear