Last Day

I can’t believe it’s actually going to happen today. I’ve waited so long I’d almost forgotten it would happen at all. It’s set for 4pm. The clock on the wall ticks on. Mrs Anderson says she’ll walk with me, I’m not sure I really want her to. I’d rather it was Pa but he declined. Sam sits opposite me now, we’ve been having our usual discussion, although we’ve had a few disagreements too. He’s bemused by me, I can tell. He catches my eye and I can see he’s still trying to work me out.
‘You’re an enigma Joyce.’ It’s one of his favourite sayings.
Not so sure enigma fits, troubled paints a better picture. Reverend Dixon used to call me troubled, I think he gave up on me long since. Ma would say ‘The Reverend is worried about you Joyce, he thinks you are on the wrong path.’ She had no idea how far down that path I’d already gone though.

There will be time to eat before we set off. We’re having Jerk Chicken with rice and peas. I remember the first time I had it, years ago when I was about 12. Me and Pa were in Chicago. He wanted burgers, I wanted chicken and we stumbled into a diner with Jerk Chicken on the menu. Chicken never tasted so good, I hope this meal matches that, it’s such a strong memory. Not that I’ve had that many but Sam is talking to me about old memories, I’m not so keen on recalling stuff but he is insisting.
‘Come on Joyce you must have some good memories from your past, they can’t all be bad? All my memories of you are good ones.’ We both know that’s a lie. He has no idea really, bless him he’s led a safe life almost devoid of incident, but he tries to appear worldly-wise. Tries but fails.

The meal is served, Sam is joining me today. The Jerk Chicken looks fresh and spicy, dark sticky coating just like I remember. The corn bread reminds me of my Grandma’s house, she seemed to make corn bread every day. Or is that just another distorted memory? While I eat Sam carries on talking, he’s trying to sound normal, but today is not a normal day. Today everything changes. He knows it. I know it. Mrs Anderson knows it. My parents know it too. They will already be in their seats, I wonder if Pa is feeling uncomfortable in his suit? I wonder if Ma decided on the pink hat in the end. The reverend today is Mr Waller, he’s an Episcopalian, I don’t really care, after all they all represent God when it comes down to it. They’re all able to conduct services, weddings, baptisms, funerals, makes no difference to me. Never had much truck with God, but I’m open to all options at the moment.

I wish Lucas was here, he’d have enjoyed the Jerk Chicken, he’d have loved the corn bread too but he’d have wanted beer with it. I don’t recall us ever having a single meal that didn’t involve beer. I could tolerate the beer, I liked an occasional beer too, but he liked bourbon mostly. I didn’t ask for beer to go with it today, it don’t seem right somehow. I asked for cola and me and Sam raise a cup and he says ‘here’s to you Joyce’ and I laugh. My laughter sounds odd, brittle and shallow. There’s too much food leftover.
‘Help yourself I don’t know if I can manage it all anyway.’ Sam smiles and breaks off a piece of my corn bread and mops up some of the sticky juices on the plate.
We laugh some more and he starts on again about the past.
‘My mother used to make chicken like this,’ he said, ‘we used to have it wrapped up to take with us when we went fishing. Me and Lucas would build a fire and fry any fish we caught, and then heat up the chicken. We spent hours by that river.’
He’s looking at me sideways to see if I’m going to say anything about Lucas but I don’t know what to say. It’s all been said before. I loved Lucas, I love Sam too but not in the way I loved Lucas. Sam is here every week, he makes me laugh, we’ve shed some tears. He’s like a brother to me but I don’t tell him that. Lucas was always ‘the one’. He rarely made me laugh but he often made me scream, if you know what I mean.

Mrs Anderson stands by the door.
‘15 minutes honey, I’ll be back soon.’
She’s already laid my dress out on the chair, it’s not new but it is a favourite. Ma sent her small gold crucifix over last night, I haven’t seen her or Pa today. We’ve said all we need to say before. Sam waits in the corridor while I change, I can see tears in his eyes when he sees me in the simple cream dress. He hands me a single white rose.
‘I wish it was me,’ he says and we both know what he means. We sit back down at the table and wait for Mrs Anderson to come back.

©Nita Lewsey 2023

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By Nita Lewsey

I'm a writer of short stories, flash fiction and am currently working on a novel. I've had stories published in anthologies and self-published a collection on stories on Amazon. I have long dreamt of writing full time & this dream is now a reality.

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