This Was The End
It was a strange feeling—to look upon a loved one and watch as he slowly and painfully slipped away. A hopeless, empty, tight feeling. A feeling she would hate to remember but could never forget.
It was a feeling she felt as she gazed upon his graying form, while she listened to the rattle of his dying lungs. She felt it and wished she could die with him.
She was there with her mother. Mama had promised Mrs. Mcvey an apple pie, and they were there to deliver it. She gripped tightly her mother’s skirt and followed the woman inside. The kitchen was warm, the oven glowing. It smelled like bread, and she felt her stomach grumble. The gray sky just beyond the window pane seemed so far from the cozy kitchen.
“I just can’t believe the cost of coffee these days,” Mrs. Mcvey said as she placed another log in the stove. “Sometimes I’ve a mind to go right up to—,” she stopped and looked at Sarah.
“Why don’t you go play with the boys, Sarah,” Mama said and gestured to the door. “Let us have our grown-up time.”
Sarah’s eyes grew wide and frightened, but Mama insisted.
“Go on, now.”
Sarah could hear the women talking as the door swung shut. She stood on the porch, awkward and uncomfortable. She wasn’t suited to the social callings of her mother. She had taken after her father—thoughtful, quiet, and clumsy in crowds.
“They’re probably in the barn,” Mrs. Mcvey called through the screen.
Sarah nodded, knowing she had to move. She couldn’t very well sit on the porch all afternoon. She walked to the barn with her head down, staring at the damp grass. It had rained that morning, and the sky promised more later. She hauled open the barn door and waited at the threshold while her vision adjusted to the darkness.
“Who’re you?” She heard the voice before she could see the boy—older than she, she noticed, and by far taller than herself.
“Sarah Ann Edmonds,” she said softly, formally.
“Why’re you here?” Another boy appeared from the shadows; this one shorter, scrawny.
“You ain’t allowed in here.”
Sarah just stared at him.
“Yah, you’re a girl!” the little one chimed in.
“My ma told me to come here.”
“Well, you can tell her we’re tossing you out.”
Sarah’s brow crinkled, worry evident on her young face. “But where shall I go?”
The older one came forward, nearly pushed her out the door. He was about to shut it when he stopped suddenly and spun her around.
“Actually,” he said thoughtfully, “perhaps we could work something out.”
She didn’t like the way he said it.
“Here is my proposition,” he began. She didn’t even know what a propowhatsit was. “You can stay in here long as you like providin’ you give us that ribbon there in your hair.”
He lifted his fingers to the yellow ribbon, but she pulled away.
“I like my ribbon,” she said and was surprised to hear the force of her words. “My daddy it to me.”
The boy’s eyes narrowed. “Well, we need that ribbon. You’ve already been in here practically an hour so’s I think we at least deserve the ribbon as a payment.”
Sarah found it difficult to follow what he was saying, and she, having no sense of time yet, couldn’t remember how long an hour was.
“Yah, give us the ribbon,” the younger one added.
“Too late!” the boy pulled the tail and the ribbon slipped out of her hair. He pushed her out of the way and ran into the yard.
“Give me back my ribbon!” Sarah yelled and took off after him; but her short legs could not keep up and as she chased him around the barn, she realized the futility of it all. She couldn’t help the tears that spilled down her cheeks.
“Come on, baby! Come get your ribbon,” the boy taunted.
Angry now, she screamed, “Give me back my ribbon!” and sprinted toward him.
Unfortunately, her foot slipped on the wet grass, and she landed hard on her bottom, mud covering her pretty blue dress. The tears really began to flow. She stood up and ran back to the porch, yanked open the door and yelled as loud as she could, “HE STOLE MY RIBBON!”
And that was how Sarah Ann Edmonds met Bobby Mcvey.
She stared out the window. Rain fell against the glass, water dripped off the porch roof. The landscape was overwhelmingly gray, hidden behind the steady downpour. Leaves covered the ground, blown from their trees. Every so often a carriage would roll slowly by, plowing through the thick Virginia mud.
She turned away from the window and found he was watching her.
“Good morning,” he rasped. She came to his side, sat on the edge of his bed. She took his hand in hers and brushed the hair off his sweaty forehead.
“It’s nearly dinner time,” she smiled. He nodded and closed his eyes. He laboriously opened them again, trying to focus on her troubled face. He knew she hated to see him suffer.
“What has Ruby made tonight?”
Sarah could tell each breath he took was a struggle. Barely thirty eight years old, a shame, they said. Every day he grew weaker as the liquid filled his lungs, killing him slowly, mercilessly. She fought away the tears that filled her eyes and smoothed out his bed covers.
“She’s made a soup for you, chicken and rice without the celery—the way you like,” she said. “If you feel up to it?”
He nodded, and she helped him to sit. He could barely hold his own head up, needed the pillows to lean against. He was so weak.
“I’ll return in just a minute,” she squeezed his hand. He stopped her just as she reached the door.
“I love you.”
Sarah didn’t turn around but rather, hurried down the stairs and out to the kitchen. She couldn’t bear to be but a minute from his side.
“See that bird right there,” he had said, looking into her pretty brown eyes. “That’s what they call a homo-birdious bollup, native just to this area.”
They were older now. He was taller and stronger; his cheeks just a bit rougher for the blonde stubble that he was so proud of. She was older, too, and it showed in her figure, her chest and her waist. She pulled her hair back now, in a tight bun or sometimes in braids. She wore grown-up dresses with hoops and cages. A broach adorned her snow white collar and silver crosses dangled from her ears.
Her age showed not only in her looks but in her confidence and character. Gone was the timid girl who clung tightly to her mother’s skirts. Sarah was a young woman.
She laughed, ‘That’s a blue jay, Bobby Mcvey, and you know it.’
He blushed and grinned, “Thought I’d at least give it a try.”
“I like you,” she declared with a smile and grabbed his arm just below the elbow to pull him ahead. As she pulled it away her fingertips brushed his hand. He pretended not to notice but inside his heart was racing.
“So tell me, just where are we going…?”
“Tell Ruby,” he said, “this soup is a treat.”
She lifted another spoonful to his mouth, feeling awkward and inept. Her hands shook and the chicken broth dripped from the spoon onto her hands. She dribbled a little down his chin.
“Perhaps we shouldn’t have let that nurse go?” she exclaimed, tired and exasperated. Soup spilled over the edge of the bowl as she roughly set it down.. He smiled as she wiped away the spilt broth.
“Come here,” he whispered, and for a moment, Sarah saw the mischievous blonde haired boy who had charmed his way into her life. She leaned close, and his breath was warm against her ear.
“I can feed myself,” he laughed. Sarah pulled away, shocked and angry, but mostly embarrassed.
“Why did you—” her voice took on a high note. She was working herself up. Sarah took a deep breath and paced to the window. He laughed again, and despite his shallow breathing, in her mind she could see him like he’d always been, healthy and strong.
Sarah didn’t want to stay angry, yet she couldn’t quite forget her embarrassment either. Nonetheless, one look at him quelled all anger. She didn’t have time to be angry. So quickly had her anger turned to despair that she hardly noticed the tears escape her eyes. She wiped them away, smiled, pretended she wasn’t crying.
“You’re horrible, Bobby, just horrible.”
His bloodshot eyes smiled up at her as he spooned chicken and rice into his mouth.
“Just horrible,” she repeated quietly and turned away again. She absently fiddled with the comb on the dressing table.
He knocked on the door, pushed it gently open. Sarah sat before her mirror while her chambermaid, Lucy, fixed her hair for the evening.
“Bobby!” Sarah exclaimed, turning her head. Her brown hair slipped from the girl’s grasp. A couple pins fell to the floor. “What are you doing here? Has mother seen you? Don’t you kn—”
“She knows,” he smiled. His heart was beating madly but more from excitement than nerves. “I come bearing gifts.”
“How fitting,” Sarah teased. “’Tis the season, after all.”
She watched his reflection in the mirror. He was a handsome man, dapperly dressed, proper yet at ease. She was a lucky one.
“I know you enjoy taking your good old time, but I ain’t going to wait all day. Come give your fiancé a hug.”
“Robert, you know I hate that wo—” she stopped. “What did you just say?”
“Close your eyes, and I’ll say it again.”
“Robert.” Sarah couldn’t look at him.
“Just close your eyes.”
Sarah obeyed while her heart hammered against her ribs.
“Now these were awfully hard to come by,” he whispered. A chill raised on her pale skin under his touch. A shiver raced through her body as he slid his arms over her shoulders.
“I stole them,” he said.
She opened her eyes. A worn yellow ribbon graced her neck and dangling from the ribbon was a ring.
“Stole?” she whispered, unable to speak louder. He had her speechless.
“Well, this thing right here,” he fingered the ribbon, “I took from some little munchkin.”
She smiled even as tears filled her eyes, realizing it was her ribbon. He had kept it so long…
“And the ring?”
He hadn’t said it yet.
And she was afraid to assume it, to believe it true while it was yet unsaid.
“Grandma,” he shrugged. “She won’t notice.”
“Bobby!” Sarah swatted at him, but he pulled her into a hug.
“She’s been waiting for this since we were twelve,” he whispered in her ear. “Will you marry me?”
It was dark. A candle burned on the bedside table, casting more shadows than light. Bobby’s breath rattled. Every minute drew him on toward death. Sarah sat beside his bed, held his hand, watched her life slip away. This was the end.
He dragged open his eyes.
“Who would have thought we’d end up here,” he whispered. Sarah tried not to cry. She tried to breathe through her mouth, to avoid the telltale sniffle.
“God certainly,” she struggled to speak, “certainly works things out strangely.”
Bobby nodded, “Beautifully.”
Her eyebrows creased. He wasn’t thinking straight. She just shook her head, held his hand tighter, wished she could hold on forever.
“Wasn’t it worth it?” Each word was a struggle, a laboriously drawn breath. He coughed, shallow and rasping.
“It has always been worth it.”
He nodded, content, and closed his eyes. Delirium seemed to be setting in. His brow burned with fever against her shaking hands. This was the end.
There were a hundred things Sarah wanted to say, a hundred things she wanted to hear. But it was too late. Their story was over. Her face contorted, tears now flowing. This was the end.
“Sarah,” he said softly, without opening his eyes. “I love you.”
And he said it all.