#RWISA Author Jan Sikes
Gertrude McNabb placed a gnarled hand on her arthritic back as she bent over to take a chocolate cake from the oven. She inhaled the sweet aroma and put it on a rack to cool.
A black-and-white photograph of a dark-haired man with twinkling eyes sat nearby on the cabinet. “This is for you, Hiram. I didn’t forget it was your birthday. It’s your favorite. I’ll always remember how your face would light up when I baked this special recipe for you.”
Gertrude picked up the framed snapshot, held it against her heart, and shuffled into the living room.
“We might as well make use of the time while I wait for your cake to cool. Then I’ll frost it with your favorite French vanilla icing. The kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids are all going to be here in a couple of hours, and it will be nothing but pure chaos,” she said.
The mahogany stereo cabinet from the 1960s occupied the same spot in the living room that it had since the day Hiram McNabb brought it home as a Christmas surprise. They’d spent many happy days and nights listening to record albums. Hiram never tried to hide the fact that he adored Rosemary Clooney. But, not Gertrude. For her, it was ol’ Blue Eyes himself that got her blood going.
Oh, the wonderful and countless hours they’d waltzed away across the living room floor to the beautiful music that wafted out of those state-of-the-art stereo speakers.
She adjusted her glasses and thumbed through a stack of record albums. It seemed to take forever nowadays to do even the simplest task. She pulled out a favorite and held it up in front of the photo she’d perched on the coffee table. “Since it’s your birthday, my dear, and such a special occasion, how about Nat King Cole?”
Her fingers, once nimble and efficient, struggled to remove the round disc from its package.
“Remember how this one caught my eye in the record store, but we didn’t buy it?” She chuckled. “And then you brought it home the very next day.” She blew out a sigh.
Once she had the disk secured on the turntable, she took the pins from her silver hair, and it tumbled down her back.
She clicked on the stereo and waited until the tiny red light turned green, then gently placed the needle onto the black groove.
Then with a great flourish, she picked up the photo and held her arms out for her imaginary dance partner.
Even though she hardly moved from the spot where she stood, with her eyes closed, she was transported back in time, back to days of youth when it had been impossible to imagine ever growing old.
“It was fascination, I know, seeing you alone with the moonlight above,” Nat King Cole sang.
A smile graced her lips.
She whispered, “Hiram Edward McNabb, you swept me off my feet the first time I saw you. You were so handsome in your Army uniform. I’ll never forget that night at the county fair. My older brother and sister took me, and since they wanted to stick around for the dance, I got to stay with them.”
She paused and steadied herself.
“You asked me to dance and didn’t let me sit down one time the whole night.” She giggled. “From then on, I knew we were meant to be together. I’d always hated my name, and you agreed that Gertrude sounded like an old lady, so you called me by my middle name. I was your Rose.”
Memories swirled around in her mind. Sweet remembrances of laughter, of falling in love and of daring to live the fullest life imaginable flew by the way scenes from a movie might do.
No, they hadn’t been wealthy, but Hiram made a decent living for them, and they always had what they needed. However, it was his steadfast love for her, for life, and the music they embraced that kept her excited and happy for over sixty years.
As impossible as it seemed, he’d now been gone over two years. Never a day passed that she didn’t carry on a conversation with him. It started with a good morning greeting and ended with a good night declaration of love.
Sometimes, she could swear that he answered her.
The needle reached the end of the record. She set the photo back down and focused her attention on choosing another album.
She turned around. “Hiram?”
No one was there. Then she heard it again. Was she going daft?
“Well, I’ve certainly let my imagination get the best of me. I guess that’s what happens to old ladies when they’re alone too long.”
As she reached for her favorite Frank Sinatra album, a hand brushed against hers.
Now she was sure she was losing what little bit of sensibility she had left.
When she was a child, her relatives shared stories about spirit visits from beyond the veil. To her, it was nothing more than hogwash and products of overactive imaginations. After all, what did old folks know?
As hard as it was to admit, she might have been wrong about that, and a little hasty to judge. Perhaps Hiram had shown up to celebrate his birthday.
Whatever it was, she would enjoy it and soak up every moment, even if it wasn’t real. She could make it true in her mind.
With Frank Sinatra crooning a love song, she reached again for the photo but instead, chose to leave it sitting and simply held out her wrinkled and trembling arms.
Her feet moved, and she twirled just like she’d done thousands of times before. She threw back her head and laughed. She was twenty again, as Hiram swept her across the big wooden dance floor inside the SPJST Hall.
Song after song played, and still, they danced, they laughed, and they kissed.
Then the record reached an end and she was met with deafening silence. She opened her eyes, surprised to find that she stood in the same spot where she’d been. She truly had been waltzing and twirling with Hiram.
“I’m tired now, my love.” She moved toward her easy chair. “I just need to rest awhile.”
Perhaps one day before long, she’d be waltzing again with her sweetheart for the remainder of eternity. But for now, she had the memories, and she’d continue to dance with them until that day came.
She reached for the photo and pressed it to her heart.
Her eyes drifted shut, and she smiled.
New Release Short Stories by Jan Sikes
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