Umber (59)

October 16, 2012 § 2 Comments

Finally she grunted and jerked her head toward the kitchen door.  I followed her as she turned and walked toward the refrigerator.  She pulled a magnet from the freezer-compartment door and handed it to me.  “The person you’re looking for is here,” she said.

Before I could thank her she turned and walked away.  As she passed through the doorway to the crowded living room, she smoothed out the front of the zippered sweatshirt jacket that covered her very ample bosom.  Something small fell onto the floor.  As soon as she was gone, I bent to see what it was.  I’m not sure, but I think it was a rose petal.


Umber (58)

October 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

I found a parking space half a block away and followed the sidewalk to a grey single-storied ranch house.  A sign on the front door said “Enter,” so I walked inside.  The place was packed with middle-aged women and camo-clad men searching through boxes of dish towels, old books, winter hats and gloves.  I could hardly turn around.  A gruff voice behind me said, “There’s more in the basement and upstairs, and tools and more furniture in the garage.”

I turned around and found myself standing nose to nose with her—the estate sale coordinator who had sold me the old photos.

I opened my mouth, but realized I didn’t know what to say to her.  I mean, I couldn’t very well tell her that some saint’s holy card told me to find her so she could tell me how to change a dead Catholic woman’s past.  My mouth hung open for several seconds while she looked expectantly at me.

Umber (57)

October 13, 2012 § 2 Comments

I searched the phone book and the internet for a list of local estate sale coordinators, but found nothing.  So early Friday morning I climbed into my rusty, creaking old Jeep and started driving through all the neighborhoods in town.  I saw garage sale signs, neon pink and fluorescent orange, some with balloons, announcing “Huge Multi-Family Sale!” and “Moving Sale!  Tools!  Baby Clothes!”  I systematically looped from street to street, and used nearly an eighth of a tank of gas before I saw, just outside of town, a plain white sign with black letters that said “Estate Sale.”

Umber (56)

October 12, 2012 § 1 Comment

Saint Sebastian’s request surprised me.

“Me?” I stammered, reaching for another kleenex. “I’m just an observer, a bystander.  Who am I to meddle in other peoples’ business?

“For weeks now,” he replied, “you’ve been asking if Vera ever got France.  You’ve spent a great deal of time piecing together the story of her life.  I saw you cry when Ervin told you that Vera’s baby died, and again when she threw Leroy out of the house.   You care about these photographed people, Miss Marla.  Can you honestly say that you wouldn’t help Vera to improve her life if you could?”

I dried my eyes.  He was right.  I cared about what happened to Vera and all the rest of them.  I even cared about the trick rider, though I certainly didn’t like her.   But, as far as I knew, all the characters who had been communicating with me from various bits of ephemera had been dead and gone for a very long time.  Everybody has childhood dreams that don’t pan out; how could it be possible to change that?  Besides, isn’t there some sort of natural law against manipulating events in the past?

Apparently reading my thoughts, the saint said, “It won’t have any negative effects on the present or the future.”

“You’re absolutely certain of that?”


If it really was possible to somehow reach back through time and make some changes that would have only positive consequences, then how could I refuse?

“What would I have to do?”

“Find the estate sale coordinator who sold you the photographs.  She’ll tell you what to do.”

Umber (55)

October 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

I dropped Vera’s death certificate on the floor and reached for a kleenex.  I heard someone from the box calling my name.

“”It wasn’t Leroy she was seeing as she died, it was me.”  Sebastian looked out at me from his holy card.

“But, but,” I stammered, still shocked to hear of Vera’s demise, “she just died!  She never got to see Picardy!”

“Well, wait just a minute, Miss Marla.  It’s not as bad as it seems.  At least, it won’t be if you’re willing to help me.”

Umber (54.2 — The Death Certificate)

October 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

Sounding insulted, the voice said, “Certainly not!  My vocation is to sustain life, not end it!”

I understood then that the voice must be coming from the signature at the bottom of the document.  In the space marked “Attending Physician” someone had written “Francis Smythe. M.D.”

“Oh,” I said, suddenly very weary from the weight of all the troubles of the umber-colored people.  “It says she died of influenza.  I hope she didn’t suffer.”

“Well, of course she suffered, and I suffered watching her.  She was a good woman.  A lovely woman.  I tried to convince her to marry me, but she was a Catholic, and couldn’t marry again once she had been divorced.  If she had married me, I’d have made certain that she never had to work again, unless she wanted to.  She wanted to travel, and talked as if she were planning a trip when she came down with the Asian flu.  Nasty business.  Killed a lot of people.

“So, how was it–at the end, I mean?”

“”At least it was fairly fast.  She took ill quite suddenly, and went downhill rapidly.  She was in and out of a coma.  Her daughter arrived just in time to speak with her before the end.  I was in the room with her.  She said a few words to each of us. then raised her hand and pointed at the window.  She smiled, and said, “There he is, can you see him?”  Of course, we saw nothing there.  I suppose she might have been seeing her ex-husband; I think she always carried a torch for him.  Anyway, those were the last words she said to anyone.”

“So that’s it?” I said.  “That’s it?  She worked hard all her life, never went to France, never remarried, just got old and died?!”

“Well, she wasn’t so old,” the death certificate said.  “She was only fifty-six.”

Umber (54.1 — The Death Certificate)

October 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

My conversation with Ervin was interrupted by a polished professorial voice which said, “No, Vera never remarried, though I proposed to her at least a dozen times over the years.”

“Who said that?” I asked, scanning the pile of papers under my desk.

The voice kept talking, and I finally located the source.  It was a document with a raised imprint on it.  I opened it up, and read the words “Death Certificate.”  It was Vera’s.

I was more than a little upset to see Vera’s name on the paper, though I knew that, of course, she had been dead for years.  I was also disturbed at the thought of a talking death certificate.

“Who are you?” I demanded in a shaking voice.  “Are you the The Angel of Death?”  Visions of Vera wedding the Grim Reaper flashed across my mind.

Umber (53.6 — Ervin’s Story)

October 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

I think everyone was holding their breath–I know I was.  Vera stood up abruptly and stared at her father.

He said “Welcome home, daughter.”

Well, you can imagine how relieved we all felt.  By the end of the evening, Uncle Orville had convinced Vera that she, Oleander, and, yes, Miss Brigid, could move into the old farmhouse at Elm Creek.

“And you don’t have to cook unless you feel like it,” he said.

“So they settled into the farmhouse, and Oleander recovered from her illness.  Vera asked me to teach her to drive.  She bought an old car and found a nursing job at the hospital in Kearney.

Miss Brigid eventually went to join her sister on the other side of the mirror.  Uncle Orville passed away, too.  Oleander grew up, got married, moved way up north.  Vera gave the farmhouse to me when I got married, and she moved into town, to be closer to her work.”

“Did she ever remarry?” I asked him.

Umber (53.5 — Ervin’s Story)

October 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

“So what happened?” I asked Ervin.

“Well, to make a long story short, we loaded up the pick-up with the old lady’s bureau and as much of Vera’s stuff as we could, put Miss Brigid on a train for Kearney, and Vera, Oleander and I drove all the way back to Nebraska.  Oleander held the kitten on her lap, and the farther we got from Laramie, the happier she seemed.  Vera and I talked about old times, and it seemed as if a big weight had been lifted from her shoulders.

“Kate, Stanley, Alfred and his little sister Annie met us at Myrna’s house in Kearney, and Oleander hit it off with her little cousins right away.  The old Irish babysitter had already arrived, and was waiting with Kate when we got there.  We were just sitting down to dinner when my dad–Delbert–and Uncle Orville came to the door.”

Umber (53.4 — Ervin’s Story)

October 6, 2012 § 1 Comment

I could see that Vera could use some help.  I tried to convince her to let me pack up their stuff in the truck, and move them back to Kearney.  There was a big hospital there, and I was sure she could find a job.

“And,” I said, “I know for a fact that Uncle Orville would welcome you back home.  We’ve all missed you, Verey.  And Elm Creek would be a good place for your little daughter to grow up.”

Vera was hesitant, but I could tell she was tempted to agree with my plan.  To convince her, I reminded her how miraculous it was that I’d been led right to her front door without even knowing where I was going; surely Divine Providence had a hand in such a marvelous occurrence.  “You don’t always have to suffer to be a good person, Verey.  Sometimes it’s best to take the more pleasant path forward.

She studied at the statues on the sideboard in her dining room, then said at last, “Ervin, if you are willing to help us, I will be eternally grateful.  She laughed, and the sound seemed to startle the child and the old lady.  “Oleander, Brigid,” she told them, “we’re going to do some traveling.”

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