All she could think of was his hand on hers.

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A VG Serial: Hills of Eden

Episode 27

The room was still and empty. Marianne Jennings sat alone and listened to the night sounds. A cow moaned in the moon-silvered pasture. In the kitchen, the cooling stove ticked a faint erratic pulse. The neighbor’s beagle, Paco, barked four times. The bark shifted to a mournful howl and Marianne thought she could not stand such a sound. Not now.

Tears boiled to steam in her eyes, spilled over the lower edges of her lids, coursed through the brown mascara, traced rusty streaks on her face. Lamplight flickered over her pale gray-blue eyes, eyes full of wistful shadows, as if pain were a gauzy protoplasm, eyes that seemed to form trembling images in a watery developing tray.

Moments before, she had answered the phone in the front room, listened to the hard, gravelly voice of the highway patrolman. “Mrs. Frederick Anthony Jennings?”

“Yes.”

“This is Sergeant Jim Conley, ma’am, Missouri Highway Patrol…”

God, she could hear him still, over and over, like a recording on an endless tape. She didn’t know if Conley was his name. It could have been Connolly or Conroy or … Was “traffic fatality” a way of entering Fred’s death into the statistical pool? She could almost hear the TV newsman in the morning saying “Nine people were killed on Missouri Roads yesterday.” The inset icon would come on next to the announcer’s cherubic face and people would brace themselves, wondering if they’d hear a friend’s name, or a relative’s.

Then, shortly after, the call from the mortuary which she thought surely would awaken Martin. She hadn’t realized the telephone was ringing for a long time. The shock, maybe, the shock from the first call dulling her senses.

“Bring a favorite suit, preferably dark, Mrs. Jennings, anytime after eight in the morning. Or, if you’d rather he wore…”

She read the notes she had written down when the calls came, focused the scrawled letters through blurred pupils. Fred Jennings had been transported to the funeral home in Forsyth, the patrolman had told her. Her husband had fallen asleep at the wheel of his pickup truck on the way back from Protem. The man who had called said the vehicle had left the road, rolled. Fred’s neck was broken; he had died instantly. He would never come home from his all-night fishing trip on Bull Shoals. Instead, he lay on a mortician’s table, still and cold, his blue eyes closed forever, his magic smile … God, what was the name of the man who had called from the funeral parlor? How would they make him look? How would they preserve Fred’s smile?

She had left the lamp on, as she always did, so that he could see it when he drove up the lane. Now, there was no longer any need to leave the light burning. Somewhere between their home in Forsyth and Protem, there were skid marks, perhaps, streaks of rubber like blood on the tire-burned grasses that bordered the twisting, dangerous road.

Yet the lamp burned like a comforting beacon and she thought of Fred and all the years they had had together. She thought of his quiet smile, the way shadows seemed to flicker on his lips as if he were too shy to smile. When he did smile, she felt it warm her, felt something melt around her heart. She felt his smile now, and it seemed to her that he was there in the room, looking at her with those soft cobalt eyes of his, eyes that told her of his tenderness, of the way he cared for her. Marian began to choke up with the remembering. Inside her throat, a knot swelled out of nothingness, the cords in her neck tautened. Tears welled

up unbidden in her eyes. The lamp swam out of focus, the light wavered as if melting behind a scrim of gauzy fog.

She thought of his hand on hers, warm and loving, freckled with age, delicately veined like marble sculptures, tanned from the sun. That hand of his. That sweet hand.

 

Hills of Eden will be published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Please click the title, Hills of Eden, to read more about Jory Sherman and his books.

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