By David Ludlow, Army
Writing Type: Prose
By David Ludlow
All the trailers in the mobile home park had snow drifting up to the bottoms of their living room windows. Gray-haired Ella Jasper, a petite, frail 93-year-old, was depressed by the weather. Widowed 10 years now, Ella was still mentally sharp and conducted her own affairs.
As usual, Ella was awake at 7 a.m. Her son Ron, who shared the mobile home with her, slept in the smaller bedroom at the trailer's opposite end. Trying to let him sleep, she got up and pulled on her flannel powder blue house coat. Using her walker, she slowly shuffled out to the kitchen to peer out the window over the sink. With her brittle, wrinkled left hand she reached up to open the worn linen curtains decorated with faded yellow and blue tulips. Ron had closed them as part of his bedtime ritual. The cloth slid easily along the brass curtain rod, revealing the sea of snow that all the neighboring trailers and hers were stuck in. Ella could see the wooden deck her husband Ned had built 12 years ago and the red bench swing he hung there. She remembered how on many summer nights they had cooked outside and enjoyed being together. It is still her special place.
As she considered the sight before her eyes, Ella thought to herself, "My trailer may as well be a submarine. It’s nearly submerged in snow." She laughed to herself at that thought. Ella took a dish rag to clean the window, placing it under the tap and releasing a bit of water on it. Ella mused to herself. "I should clean my periscope."
As Ella gazed outside, she took a silent tally of her life. It was as if the window glass became a television screen. Ella could remember the party sending Ron off to college. And that time back in 1965 before Ron was born. Ella remembered their great Dane Sarge had nipped Mrs. Holly, the trailer park busybody. She thought, "No one was sad about that." Laughing to herself, Ella recalled that Ned said it best when he told her," Hon, the $200 medical bill was well worth it." Then he reached down, patted Sarge on the head and gave him a doggie treat. Ella playfully admonished him, saying, "Ned Jasper, you’re going straight to hell." As if a sudden heart pain grabbed her, Ella, for the thousandth time, heaved a sad sigh and thought, "Oh Jesus, I miss my Ned. He was a good husband."
The sound of her son wrestling with his covers brought Ella back to the kitchen from her bittersweet visit to those early years. She looked at the coffee cups on the cup tree in the center of the kitchen table. Ella hadn’t planned to need one this morning, but then Ron came out from his room and derailed her secret intention. At 50, Ron was tall with an average but fit build, brown hair and brown eyes. He kept a light coat of facial hair that Ella had never cared for. Ron cared about his mom and waited on her hand and foot.
He teasingly greeted her, saying, "Good morning, Mrs. Jasper, what would like you for breakfast?"
Ella replied, "Ron I'm not hungry; Feed yourself. Maybe just grab me some coffee, ok?"
Ron thought her next request unusual. "Hon, I would like to use the cup your dad got me a couple years before he passed. Do you mind?"
Gently helping her to a kitchen chair, Ron held up a little bowl and replied. "Sure, mom, anything you want, but make me happy and at least eat a small bowl of oatmeal for me, would you?"
He went to the china cabinet; the cup she wanted was considered too special to be kept on the coffee cup tree. Ron grabbed the cobalt blue coffee cup with a white etched depiction of a front porch with a wooden swing on it. He filled it with hot coffee for his mom, then carefully placed it on the table by her hands.
Ella, realizing she was sending up warning flares, relented. "Sure Ron, you can make a small bowl for me."
Still, Ron noticed his mom was distant, more than ever before. She seemed strangely at peace. It was good, but not good. Ella lifted the coffee cup to her lips and then looked at the image on it.
"I miss sitting outside with your dad," she sighed. "I would like to do that again. I’m grateful I have you, but I still feel alone. Is that so much to want?"
Ron gently replied, "Mom, you know eventually you'll be back together when God decides it’s time."
Tears welling up in her eyes, Ella said, "Hon, I can barely walk. I need help doing everything, I’m just not me anymore. I think I'm done."
Ron despaired at her revelation, saying, "You have led a wonderful life and have much more to offer the world.”
He knew he was grasping at straws, trying to interest her in possibilities that didn’t really exist. But the day had to continue, and he had to get ready for work. Ron cheerfully told his mom, "Hey Princes Ella, I got to hit the shower for work, and I'll bring you some Chinese home for dinner. How’s that?"
Ella replied with forced cheerfulness, “Yes dear, thank you, that would be nice.”
It only took 40 minutes for Ron to finish his shower and dress for work. As he left the mobile home he told her, "Mom I’ll be home before five with the Chinese. OK?"
Ella replied smiling, "I’m blessed to have you son." Over her coffee cup, Ella cheerfully called after him, "Don't work too hard!"
It was 20 degrees and snowing outside the mobile home. Still at the kitchen table, Ella halfheartedly thought to herself, "My submarine must be half submerged in snow by now."
Ella grabbed the little note pad and pencil she kept on the table near the telephone. Though writing had been hard for her for quite some time, Ella carefully scribbled Ron a note: "I love you dearly my son. You have been good to me. Please allow me this bit of dignity. My life is diminished at best. I want to be with your father again, so I’m going."
Ella then changed into her nicest pants suit (it was too cold for a dress), along with her warmest boots and got her gloves ready. She did her make up as best as her shaky hands could and shuffled to the coat rack. She lifted her green faux fur coat from the hook. It was heavier for her now than in past years. It was a gift from her husband, and she had taken good care of it. Ella slid her right arm into the jacket, then her left. Her shaky fingers fastened one big white button. Ella called them clown buttons. One, then the next until all five were done. Next, she pulled the green furry hood over her head; it framed her face in fur. She tied its strings as best she could. Now it was time for their reunion.
Ella was sad to leave Ron but knew he could move on with his life. Though it was still 20 degrees outside, she refilled her husband's gift cup one last time, put on her gloves and, coffee in hand, headed for the door. Ella had a hard time controlling the walker, but she made it. She opened the door and the blast of cold air and snow blowing in her face almost knocked her over.
Ella for the first time in years freed herself from the walker, cautiously taking her first unsteady step down the stairs while holding on to the railing. The last two steps were easier. It was a bit of a struggle, but Ella managed to close the door behind her. In the deepening snow, Ella carefully negotiated the 10 steps to the swing where she and her husband had spent so many evenings. As she reached the swing, Ella was exhausted. It was not easy, but she managed to dust off the powdery snow from the seat. She had spilled surprisingly little coffee from her cup. She was proud of herself for having accomplished her plan.
Ella sat quietly, lost in memories while the cold, as expected, slowly stole her energy. She took an occasional sip of coffee to revive her as she and it got colder. Now getting sleepy from exposure, fully bundled up, Ella waited for nature to reunite her with her husband.
By the time Ron returned from work seven hours later, Ella was gone. Her snow-dusted body had frozen on the swing. Her head was nestled precariously against the bench chain, He was struck by the weathered but contented look on her face. She had her Ned’s coffee cup in her right hand resting on the seat at her side. About half the cup’s coffee, frozen now, had spilled on the seat and dripped to the ground as her hand lost its strength. Heartsick at his loss, Ron was upset that no one had noticed her in the swing, Still, he was not alarmed or surprised. He realized why she had been so distant in the morning. Her mind had been made up.
Notes: this is a bit of a controversial story; it's very loosely based on my mother. Meaning. that they both were self-determining individuals.