Sarah: A Short Story
“From her hiding place, beneath and almost behind the wide, old eucalyptus…”
At one point during the long dark night, the light in Eddie’s bedroom window bloomed on. From her hiding place, beneath and almost behind the wide, old eucalyptus at the edge of Eddie and Sandy’s backyard, Sarah chuckled to herself. She noted that their mellow bedroom light, although two stories and fifty yards of lawn away, seemed to make her feel warmer. Choking on her laugh, she took a deep breath to calm herself, then herked and spat, taking care to muffle the sounds. Bingo rubbed against the woman’s withered hand, looking to be petted, and Sarah obliged, running her cold fingers over and through the cat’s dust-matted fur and making Bingo rumble with delight.
Sarah trained her eyes on the second floor window, as she had most nights during the last few weeks. She’d figured things out well, she told herself: sleeping days in the abandoned car down the street—no one seemed to notice where it sat behind old man Miller’s place along with the rest of his discarded junk. Maybe someday he would clean it up—No, she smiled, he’d just leave it to rust for his son to take care of after the old man passed on. That was one thing for which she could be grateful; at least she’d not had any kids. Sarah hated it when people neglected their kids, yelled at them or hit them. It made her feel like she was on fire inside to see folks mean to their children. Sarah remembered reading about a horse, Black Beauty, who was tormented and tortured by her owner—how much worse was it when that happened to a child.
Eddie and Sandy had kids, though, and they did right by them, she thought to herself, feeling the familiar, bitter jealousy mixed with pride at Eddie’s having turned out to be a good father. God, she’d been down this road too many times to still feel jealous when she thought of his and Sandy’s boys, Bill and Frank. They were in their late teens now and fully as handsome as Eddie had been back when he and Sarah had met at Blue Mound High.
Oh, he had been something grand. Eddie was not your usual popular guy, but to Sarah, the combination of his quiet smile, clear eyes, and resolute manner made him irresistible. Of course, that he had brains didn’t hurt any, either. She could still remember how he always knew the answers, back when they had been lab partners in chemistry, a required course at Blue Mound High. Sarah had tried to disassociate her mind from her body in that class from day one, as soon as she choked on the formaldehyde that blanketed the room and realized that the thick jars on the work counter held pickled baby frogs. Then she had been paired with Eddie, whom she had never thought she’d be able to approach. She had held her breath against the formaldehyde and her nervousness through the semester’s required experiments, just grateful to be taken seriously by him, even if only in relation to school. Of course, he was already going out with Sandy and considered Sarah just an acquaintance, a lab partner. He seemed pleased when she held up her end of the experiments, no matter that the stench in the lab seemed never to go away and made her sick and that she couldn’t care less about the work. Sarah was good at math, but she loved art, music, and dance instead, although she didn’t have a chance to study those subjects, especially after high school. She was stuck staying home in Blue Mound instead, taking care of her father who was dying of cancer while her mom worked to support them.
Then Mom had died in the accident, and Sarah had had to take charge of Dad all by herself, making do for the two of them on his meager VA benefits until he also died last month. Losing her mom, who had been distant and often mean, had actually been a relief, although Mom’s death resulted in more work for Sarah and the family lost Mom’s bi-weekly paycheck. Sarah had been shocked to discover that Mom had been so underinsured. Part of working for SuperMax foods was supposed to be their great benefits package. Still, when Mom had died in the head-on, driving home tired in the rain after working a late shift, everyone had assumed she’d have left a decent policy for Sarah’s future even though Dad was already covered.
Sarah carefully moved her mind away from that problem for which she had no solution. She needed to budget her energy in order to maintain her body heat through the night and to drag herself from old man Miller’s car to the eucalyptus tree and back without being caught. She marveled that no one had noticed what she was doing. This was a small town. Surely people must be aware that her family was gone. There were no other relatives to inquire about a funeral; Dad had, in fact, willed his body to science. Sarah remembered the men coming to pick it up after the coroner signed the death warrant. She’d called the Home Health nurse who’d been coming to give Dad his pain injections, and the creepy-friendly male nurse had in turn called the hospital in Decatur, fifteen miles away, which sent the men to pick up Dad’s body. Dad’s donation of his remains seemed to Sarah no warmer than Mom’s handwritten directions that her own body be cremated. Sarah remembered scattering Mom’s ashes in the back yard, then throwing away the utilitarian metal jar. She nursed a bitter ache, feeling again the paradoxical, insurmountable distance that had existed between herself and the parents who had nonetheless held such power over her life.
Shaking her head, Sarah focused on a more immediate need: she had no food; that was the real problem. She’d dealt with no longer having a bathroom, even using a spoon to dig a hole to use, which she covered up afterward, on those days and nights when she couldn’t go inside the library to use their facilities or haul herself over to the Texaco station. It had been the final indignity when the landlord had taken Dad’s stuff out of their house and to the dump, informing Sarah that she’d have to find a new place to live now that there was no rent money without Dad’s check. She didn’t know where to start looking for a job. Everyone in town knew her as Sarah who stayed at home, Sarah who took care of her silent, demanding father, and Sarah whose mother worked with a bitter, down-turned expression on her once-vibrant face. Sarah’s mother had always apologized for the girl to people in Blue Mound, saying, “Sarah has brains, it’s true, but she won’t open her mouth—it takes putting yourself out there to get somewhere in this world.”
Long ago, Sarah had trained herself not to feel hurt by her mother’s lack of respect or understanding. Sarah retreated instead to her inner world, where she was beautiful Sarah, the princess, and someday a queen. She would someday sing and make people cry with the penetrating loveliness of her voice; with her graceful, sensual rhythm, she would out-dance even the longer-legged, thinner Mosley sisters. Her poetry, someday when she could figure out how to express what she felt, would show her sensitivity to the world around her—and if someone (Eddie) had ears to hear it, to understand what he read, he would cry.
Would Eddie have cried, if she had written him something, if he had read it? She would never know, now. Sarah watched as the light flicked off, and knew the familiar clench in her stomach and womb as she imagined Eddie and Sandy in each other’s arms. It had been easy sometimes to imagine Eddie making make love to her instead of his wife. In her dark nights in the little house, with Dad drugged asleep and Mom at work, she sometimes imagined her way through scenes similar to those she’d only read about in books. However, it was futile comfort, hopeless in the face of Sandy, the boys, and the years.
Bingo asleep in her lap, Sarah leaned back against the tough, fragrant eucalyptus; watched the sky lighten; and listened to the arrogant, beautiful, insistent cries of the mockingbirds that nested in Eddie and Sandy’s roof. The pain in her stomach was not going away. There was a hose on old man Miller’s property; all she had to do to get water was make sure he wasn’t home or that his shades were drawn, which usually was the case when he was home. She needed water now. Sarah suddenly choked again, and Bingo started in her arms. She shook her head; she couldn’t see well all of a sudden or catch her breath. What was that, coming? She squinted. It was a woman; no, a man with long hair, reddish, and some kind of glow all around him. She marveled as the aura of the strange man warmed the cold morning, outshining the shimmering hint of sunrise on the horizon. He held out his hand; she reached for it without hesitation, and slipped out of her tired, painful body.
Sarah looked back at the frame that she’d inhabited for twenty-eight years and that had finally given up, and she felt grateful that the transition had been so painless. She asked the man—her thoughts flew out to him, no words sounded—if she could say good-bye to Eddie. The red haired man looked into her eyes with his own, full of effortless mirth and light, and answered directly into her mind, Of course, you have all the time you need .
Sarah first brushed invisibly against the small, dusty cat who had been her faithful companion for the last few years, who sat by Sarah’s lifeless body washing herself in seeming unconcern. At her touch, Bingo stopped licking her paw and stood straight on all four legs, then performed a giant stretch worthy of Baryshnikov and ambled off, no doubt looking for a morning mouse. Sarah thought, Here goes, and immediately found herself in the master bedroom with Eddie and Sandy still sleeping, warm and tousled, right in front of her eyes. She felt the anguish she’d known she would, but no pain in her body, in contrast to the stabbing aches that had bothered her over the last years and especially this morning. She smiled to herself, grateful that that, at least, was over. She gazed at Eddie and Sandy, whom she had been unable to hate, Sandy who had been a loyal support for Eddie and raised their two boys so well. Yes, he was still Eddie, and the sight of him lying asleep drew Sarah to his side.
She bent over him and touched his face, feeling the morning stubble, the tender sleeping lips, the hair curling behind his ears. She floated over him, realizing he could not see her nor would he even if he woke, and kissed him on the lips with deep love and regret. He stirred underneath her but didn’t wake up. She kissed him again, and he smiled in his sleep. Goodbye, Eddie, for now . Her red haired guide appeared.
There are no goodbyes to be made here, only a change in your situations, he said, gently.
Sarah wondered what he meant. She looked out the window, and then found herself back next to her lifeless body on the grass under the eucalyptus tree. The sun was up now, although it must be only around six o’clock. At the curb, on the other end of the driveway on the side of Eddie’s house, Sarah saw a police cruiser stop. She had to laugh; in her former life, she would never have been so careless as to let the cops find her sneaking around in Eddie’s back yard. The officer stumped down the driveway, radio clutched in hand, and arrived at the toes of Sarah’s former body, which sat propped up, mouth open, hair disheveled, dirty, and definitely dead.
“We’ve got us a body here, Mac,” the man growled into the radio.
Sarah felt sad that no one was here to take care of her remains, and she wished Eddie would at least look out the window. But he slept on, and she stood by as the ambulance came and identified her as dead. Eddie finally woke up when the officer pounded on his door and demanded to know who the deceased was and why her corpse was in his back yard.
Eddie’s blue eyes, still sleepy, filled with tears and his face went white as he recognized Sarah even after all the years. “She was a girl I knew in high school, officer; she lived at home with her parents. I believe both of her folks recently died.”
Sarah’s heart turned over at the sight of Eddie’s tears and at his words about her, that he had in truth remembered her and knew about her life, even a little. Then she froze again as Sandy came out and joined Eddie on the back porch, slipping her arm, in its comfortable terry bathrobe, around his waist.
“Baby, it’s Sarah, remember from Blue Mound High?”
“God, Eddie, what’s she doing here? Oh God, she’s dead!” Sandy hid her face in his shoulder.
Sarah pulled back in disbelief. After all, she’d died, and apparently not gone to hell, despite her shameful relationship with Dad’s dirty books and her anger at her parents’ neglect. However, what was this; in the next world was it still going to be Eddie and Sandy, and she would have to sit on the sidelines feeling hopeless love for him, even if no longer feeling pain from the cancer-riddled body she’d finally escaped? Sarah ground her teeth in frustration, wondering as she did how she had teeth to grind. They must be angel teeth, she thought, and smiled at the thought, in spite of her pain at Eddie and Sandy, wondering if she’d have to brush. She drew a breath. The red haired man had appeared again and smiled into her eyes.
Come on, let’s get a snack; there’s plenty to eat here, he said.
After a final look at Eddie, who still stood next to her dead body in the yard, Sarah took the arm offered by the red haired man. She was ravenous.