Her words trailed off as her friend drifted closer to sleep. Laura released her hand and placed it by her side. Lifting from the chair she slipped quietly toward the patio door. A breath of fresh air would provide a welcomed relief from the distinct smell of death. It wasn’t overwhelming yet but the presence was building.
A sudden spell of dizziness and nausea washed over her. She gripped the rail with both hands and stared at the small amount of supper that now lay spoiled on the grass. The side effects of chemo were tightening their grip and Laura knew the worst was yet to come. Like a fog hanging in the back of her mind, she realized this particular battle was potentially more than she could take on. In the end—if it was greater, it only seemed fitting things should end where they began.
The sun hung low in the Wisconsin sky, clinging to the remnants of today as if it had a reverent fear of what lay on the other side. Billowy shadows crowded the adjacent hillside. With respect to shape the darker counterparts were an exact replica, but a colorless rendition could never do justice to the oaks standing guard over the hillside. The incline rose gently beyond the creek until it melted into the shadows near the guardian’s feet. Such perfect imagery sparked memories of a magical place where two young girls, hand and hand, skipped through grass that shifted and waved like ripples on the ocean. A thousand times she walked the dusty lane to Sharon’s place where they sipped tea from tiny cups, giggled at the names of young boys they had no interest in, and waded in the creek when the spring rains came.
That particular day in May the duo wandered further down the creek than Sharon’s mother allowed. Their actions far removed from disobedience or rebellion; more a silent agreement that some missions in life are greater than any boundary. The blackbird’s wing was injured. Each time Sharon cupped her hands the bird fluttered further along. When Laura looked back the two-story home had faded into a speck on the hillside, and even birds grow tired of chase. Laura was certain the adventure had come to a disappointing end when the bird left the confines of the creek banks for refuge in a mulberry tree. Undeterred, Sharon ascended the clay bank with her eyes fixed squarely ahead. Using exposed tree roots for hand-holds she propelled herself quickly up the face. The two sounds were inseparable; the snap of a root bowed past the breaking point, and Sharon’s shriek. Laura’s heart raced as she heard the subsequent thud and watched the muddy water surrounding her friend’s foot take on a crimson hue. Moments melted into millenniums. Steep banks on either side were like brick walls a hundred feet tall and every moment that passed seemed to draw them closer to touching. Propelled by an urgent sense to escape the walls, Laura grabbed Sharon’s arm and dragged her to a shallow spot. Sharon gasped, struggling to reclaim the wind that had been knocked from her. Thoughts of broken bones and ruptured innards sent Laura’s mind reeling, but once gasps gave way to quiet sobs a sense of peace washed over her. She wet a handkerchief, placed it over Sharon’s eyes, and gave specific instructions to envision the wounded bird. Laura examined her friend’s foot and discovered a shard of glass extending from it.
“It’s going to hurt for a second, but I promise you’ll be alright after that. Have you caught the bird yet?”
With a firm tug the worst was over, but the wound was angry and ugly. Laura pressed the separated pieces of flesh together to slow the flow.
“Sharon, you’re going to be fine….good as new I promise.”
Laura had no idea of the power of her words or in her touch. When she removed her fingers from the wound only a scratch remained. Laura stared at the crusted blood on her hand; she knew what she had seen. She never told anyone about the gaping wound turned scrape in a matter of moments, and especially about the mysterious gash that developed in the arch of her own foot within a matter of hours.
Fifty-seven summers had come and gone; the scar barely visible, but what transpired in those few hours would shape a lifetime. At the age of nine Laura discovered her gift. She supposed it was a gift, but not at all like she remembered Reverend Michael’s referencing in his sermons. Mrs. Turner baked the most amazing pies and every Wednesday she took six of them to the homeless shelter and no one disputed that a voice as angelic as Daisy Clark’s belonged in the choir. It seemed so ironic that even in the house of the lord those believing in miracles were few and far between. Miracle, in the biblical sense, was too strong a word. The symptoms, pain and suffering did not simply evaporate. It was more a transference to her own person. Through the years Laura discovered there were few limitations to what could she could absorb. A tiny hoot-owl colliding with a glass window and falling lifeless to the ground produced a migraine lasting a few short days, but there were others that left her bed-bound for weeks, and some remnants simply refused to leave. Laura took comfort in knowing the limp she carried on her right side allowed a young man somewhere in Maine, barely in his thirties, to live a relatively normal life. Had she not been driving that dark road she knew his head-on collision would have been fatal. After so many years and multiple encounters she still didn’t know what to call it, but reluctantly settled on referring to herself as a pain-eater.
Laura returned to find Sharon sleeping peacefully so she began straightening the living room. Since Sharon’s lymphoma diagnosis and subsequent treatment, it really had become a place for all things, portable hospital bed and toilet in adjacent corners. Laura sensed it was more a ‘dying room’. She inhaled deeply and the smell was stronger now, but yet she smiled. The day Laura arrived; the two lifelong friends had nearly come to blows. Laura wanted to sleep on the couch because of the proximity to her friend, but in no uncertain terms Sharon disagreed.
“You will stay in my old bedroom, or I’ll call the Sheriff and ask him to remove you from my home! We’re good friends you know…the Sheriff and I. Not another peep…it’s bad enough you came here to look after me. You’ll not have a sore back doing it!”
Laura lifted the photo from the coffee table, wiping the dust from the edges of the frame. The Sheriff and Roy were best of friends. Laura knew what it felt like to have a forever-friend, but wondered how awful it must be to lose a husband of thirty years. Standing at Sharon’s side at the alter she recalled the moment they were presented as man and wife. A smiling of their eyes announced to the entire world that Roy and Sharon were made for each other. Now Roy rested no more than two-hundred yards away; lying still beneath ground at the foot of the tallest oak. A simple stone for simple man he said. Laura supposed if she had married she would have wanted someone like Roy. There was one proposal of marriage, but Laura knew that a commitment like that would produce second thoughts when it came to the use of her gift, and she could not live with herself if even one time she passed an opportunity to use the power God had given her.
Laura needed to finish what she had come to do. She scooped Sharon’s hand. Closing her eyes she pushed her mind to reflections of days gone by, but skipping on the hillside while the sun caressed the faces of innocent girls was not nearly enough to dull what flowed from one hand to the other. The wrinkles around her eyes tightened as she focused on drawing the poison away.
Sharon was awake now, and visibly agitated.
“Don’t touch my hand again!”
Laura laughed nervously, “Why would you say such a thing?”
“Because I’m fairly certain of what you’re doing, and I won’t allow it to happen. While I was sleeping I had a dream. God’s coming for me and he isn’t far away. Close enough that I hear his voice clearly. It’s time for me to be with Roy, and he told me he still has plans for you.”
Laura matched the intensity of her accuser managing to lie with a straight face.
“Don’t be silly, dear…it was just a dream.”
Sharon wiggled until the pillows beneath fit the small of her back.
“All of the pieces are falling in place now. You’ve had this gift since we girls, haven’t you—this power to heal people?”
Laura fought against them, but the swirling of emotions brought on bitter tears as Sharon unraveled secrets of the past.
“In the creek that day—I fell twenty feet, and barely a scratch. When you were staying with us after Roy Jr. was born. Senior was at work and I was in shock because my two-week old son stopped breathing. You took him from my arms and rushed to the other room. You told me you gave him CPR, but he was dead wasn’t he….until you brought him back?”
The room grew still as death itself, while flashes of scenes and people played in Laura’s head. Like a nightmare, as it always did, a tiny face moved out of the collage and hung in place until the image broke her completely.
“I would have given anything to have been here for Roy Jr. the second time!”
Sharon motioned her close.
“Here’s what I know. In a world where it is difficult to illicit a wave from a neighbor let alone a stranger, you are willing to give all you have to others. You gave me eight precious years with my boy before he passed…he was born with a bad heart. I know there are scores of others that you cared for. It is an unbelievable gift you’ve been granted—loving people like Jesus. Get it out of your head that you have been sent here to save me from what God has planned. He’s not finished with you, he told me exactly that. Move out of the way and let him take me now.”
Laura missed her friend intensely, but better Roy's stone had finally received its mate. She supposed in certain cases letting go is the kindest thing we can do.
Laura pushed her walker over the gap where the elevator met the tile floor. She was broken and tired, but never failed to smile. Just two days shy of her ninety-fifth birthday Laura fell lifeless on the sidewalk. She was far enough down the street that none of the workers at the children’s hospital saw her go, but they all remarked how wonderful it was to see her hugging and squeezing all of the young patients, steadying each of their trembling hands with hers, while she whispered the importance of faith and hope into ears that were starving for such things.
For many of you this story will seem foolish, sorry you wasted time reading it. It is purely fictional, but the amount of faith you possess will determine the believability of it. I whole-heartedly believe God places people in our lives for specific reasons and often only for a season. Who am I to question the ability and means of our Creator? You decide how the story ends, but in my version the sky opens and an exceedingly bright light accompanies a band of angels coming to retrieve one of their own. Perhaps one of them removes their wings and fixes them on Laura’s back, taking on human form to stay behind in her place.