I Still Dream About You: A Novel, page 25
It was a fitting ending for her last day—just like life itself: incredibly beautiful, incredibly sad, bittersweet. She started the car, took one long last look, and then turned and headed back to Avon Terrace.
But before she went home, she slowly drove by Crestview one more time, and it made her happy to think about David and Mitzi living there. She had found Crestview good owners; not much in the scheme of things, but at least she had accomplished something. She could now leave without feeling like a complete failure. Maggie sat down and went over her “Things to Do” checklist again, and by the time she finished, it was almost six o’clock. She decided it was too late to go to the river today. She guessed she would just wait and go in the morning.
Is It Real or Is It Memorex?
April 12, 2009
MAGGIE WOKE UP AND LOOKED OVER AT THE CLOCK. SIX A.M. Good. She might as well get an early start, and there would be less traffic on the way down to the river at this hour. After she was dressed in her fishing shirt and jeans and men’s boots, she emptied out the refrigerator, took out the garbage, placed the ant traps under the sink, and took out the “To Whom It May Concern” letter and laid it on the kitchen counter. When she left, she locked the front door behind her and put the key under the mat. The taxi was right on time, waiting, and to her surprise, the driver looked exactly like Omar Sharif from Doctor Zhivago. The bad news was, he could barely speak English, and she had a hard time explaining how to get to the river. But the good news: he was from Siberia, so he had no idea she was a former Miss Alabama or that she was not Mrs. Tab Hunter.
She tried to be pleasant and asked him how long he had been in America. When he told her eleven years, she asked, “Do you ever miss Siberia?”
He looked up at her in the mirror and said sadly, “Oh, yes, I can’t wait to get back.”
She couldn’t imagine how anyone would long for Siberia, but she guessed everybody loved their home, no matter where it was. As they drove, Maggie sat and thought about how life was so full of surprises, even up to the very end. She was sure a lot of other people must have considered ending it all at one time or another but had chickened out at the last minute. She’d bet that a lot of people would be surprised that she, of all people, had actually gone through with it. But then, they say it’s always the quiet ones you never suspect. She was even surprised at herself and was amazed at how calm and serene she felt. She knew intellectually that this should be a big dramatic moment, but she didn’t feel it. She had been more nervous just going to the dentist than she was now. But real life was never the same as they showed it in the movies. And then, too, she had made this same trip so many times that now it all seemed anticlimactic.
When they reached the river road, she had the driver let her out a few minutes from the old Raiford Fishing Camp. She gave him a nice tip, and when he was out of sight, she walked the rest of the way to the spot where her things were waiting. When she reached the clearing, she went down the path, snakebite kit in hand, but luckily she didn’t see one snake. Near the water, she was glad to see that everything was still there, exactly as she’d left it. Maggie inflated the raft with the pump that came with it and placed all four weights in the boat. She then climbed in and pushed herself off with the paddle and started rowing out to the middle of the river.
It took her about fifteen minutes to get there and, just as she expected, there was not a single person or a boat in sight. She picked up the two ten-pound ankle weights and applied a generous amount of the sticky, white, As Seen on TV “miracle glue” onto the Velcro and wrapped them around her ankles; she did the same thing with the two wrist weights. Now all she had to do was wait the twenty minutes for the glue to dry and she’d be good to go. She set the egg timer on the seat and realized that she had worn her expensive watch. She should have left it in the envelope at home for Lupe. That was so stupid. Oh well, one small detail missed. Everything else had been taken care of. As she sat there waiting for the glue to dry, she found out that twenty minutes is a long time, especially if you have nothing to read. She should have brought a magazine.
As she sat there, an old song ran through her head, and she began to sing, “Oh, Mr. Sandman … bring me a dream, make him the cutest that I’ve ever seen …”
After singing the entire song all the way through, twice, she looked down at the rooster egg timer again … Good Lord, eleven more minutes to kill. So she started another song that had always been one of her mother’s favorites: “Blue champagne, purple shadows and blue champagne.”
It was a strange sight, a woman alone, sitting in the middle of the river, singing all the “oldies but goodies” she could remember. Finally, after another ten long minutes, the timer’s bell went off. She put one leg over the side of the boat, then the other, and slowly lowered herself into the cold water. She held on to the side of the boat with one arm for just a moment, then let go.
The second she let go, she immediately began sinking straight down to the bottom at a surprisingly rapid speed, and her last thought was “Well, I did it.” As the cold water rushed past her ears with a loud roar, she sank deeper and deeper, and the water became darker and darker. But just at the very moment she was expecting to black out, a brand-new thought suddenly hit her.
“Wait a minute, this is a mistake!”
In that one second, she had completely changed her mind and now wanted to go back up to the surface. Maggie began to flail around in a panic, kicking and struggling with the weights around her wrists, desperately trying to pull them apart, and as she continued to sink, she jerked and pulled at them with all her might, but to her horror, she could not get free. As advertised, the “guaranteed-or-your-money-back magic glue” was holding tight. Sinking deeper, she could hear herself screaming and yelling underwater, “Wait! Stop!” And then came the terrible moment, the horrible realization that she could not save herself. It was too late.
As she gasped for what she knew was her last breath and felt the heavy ice-cold water rushing down her throat and into her lungs, just as she was on the very verge of losing consciousness forever, she suddenly shot straight up in bed with her heart pounding in her chest, covered in sweat, still screaming at the top of her lungs, “Wait! Stop!” She sat in the pitch dark struggling for breath, still in a blind panic, not knowing if she was dead or alive. Had the river been a dream or was this a dream? She could still hear the sound of the water rushing past her ears. Was she dead? She reached over to the nightstand and grabbed the remote and, with shaking hands, clicked on the television set, and when the gray light came into focus, there sat Rick and Janice on the set of the Good Morning Alabama show, and Maggie had never been so happy to see any two people in her life.
Still, her heart continued to race out of control. It was pounding so hard that she wondered if she was having a heart attack and if she should get up and take an aspirin. Ironic that someone who was planning to drown herself was now terrified about having a heart attack and dying, but she was. She jumped up out of bed and ran into the bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet, but it was empty. She had thrown everything away last night. So she just stood at the sink and did some deep breathing until, finally, her heart slowed down a little. She was still slightly disoriented, but now that she thought more about it, she realized that of course it had all been just a terrible nightmare, a bad dream. She should have realized it sooner. What had she been thinking? Omar Sharif was from Egypt, not Siberia!
She made her way into the kitchen and fixed a cup of herbal tea. Still sweaty and shaky, she then went outside and sat on her patio in the fresh air, just as the sun was starting to come up over the mountain. She sat there, still in a state of shock. She had had nightmares before, but never one that vivid or real and certainly never that terrifying. Up until a few minutes ago, she’d had no idea she wanted to live, but clearly, she did. She had fought with all of her might. Even though it had just been a dream, she still felt exhausted from the struggle. What a total surprise! She had assumed she was perfectly ready to
Maggie looked up at the sky and watched as it turned from early morning pink to a pretty robin’s-egg blue. The colors were so amazing; she hadn’t sat out on her patio in months, and almost never at dawn. How beautiful it was!
As she sat there looking up at the sky, she realized something else. This happened every morning. No matter what was going on in her silly little life, the sun always came up. Why hadn’t she remembered that? Then something Hazel used to say popped into her mind: “Remember, girls, it’s always the darkest right before the glorious dawn.” Hazel had been referring to real estate at the time, but it could apply to her this morning. Hadn’t she just gone through her darkest hour? And hadn’t there just been the most glorious dawn? Certainly the most glorious one she had ever seen. And now, in the early morning sunshine, everything looked so fresh and beautiful, like something out of a movie. The world had suddenly turned from dark gray to bright Technicolor. She fully expected Gene Kelly to come dancing around the corner and swing on the lamppost at any moment. She felt absolutely joyful. But then she thought, Wait a minute. Why was she feeling so happy all of a sudden? Could she have just had a break with reality? Had she finally just snapped and flipped out and gone completely crazy? Or had she been crazy before? Surely, planning to jump in the river was a pretty good indication that something had been off. Could the dream have scared her so badly that it had shot an overload of adrenaline into her system and flipped her back into her right mind? Or maybe this euphoria she was feeling was just some sort of temporary chemical imbalance from all the lemon pie and hot dogs she had eaten yesterday. Of course, her heart had been pounding pretty hard, so there was the possibility that she could have just suffered a minor stroke, but whatever it was, she was feeling absolutely—what was the perfect word? Hopeful, that was it.
And thank God she had had that dream last night; tomorrow night would have been too late. But what had caused the dream? Could it have been a simple case of indigestion that had saved her life? Or had it been something more? Could it have been someone from another dimension? Her parents or Hazel or a guardian angel of some kind trying to reach her, to stop her, before it was too late? She didn’t know who to thank, the hot dogs or an angel, but she was grateful to whatever it was, because she was so glad to be here to enjoy this perfect beautiful morning. She looked up again at the blue sky, just in time to see three little puffy white clouds float over Red Mountain. She smiled and waved at them as they passed by. “Hello, you pretty little things. I’ve missed you.”
Everything was so quiet this morning that she could hear the bells of the big Highlands Methodist Church start to ring way off in the distance. Church bells, what a happy sound. But wait a minute. Why was everything so quiet? The dull roar of Highway 280 traffic usually started around six A.M., but this morning, she couldn’t hear a thing, except for a few birds chirping. Had there been some big accident, had something happened? Then she remembered what day it was. No wonder it was so quiet. She had completely forgotten. It was Sunday; not only Sunday, but Easter Sunday. Imagine. She must have been out of her mind. How could anybody forget that?
Now Maggie began to wonder if having that dream on Easter had been some kind of miracle—or was it just a coincidence? She would like to believe it was a miracle, but of course, she had no idea if it was or not. But then, a few seconds later, she glanced over to her left and saw something she had not noticed before. She couldn’t believe her eyes. Standing right in the middle of her rock garden was one large white Easter lily! After all these years, it had somehow managed to survive and push its way up through the rocks. And it was now just blooming away, happy as a lark and enjoying the sunshine.
Oh, my God, she thought, it must be Hazel. Hazel had sent her those Easter lily bulbs, and she had planted them years ago, and not one had ever bloomed. It couldn’t be just an accident that this one had waited all these years to bloom, could it? Of course, they’d had a lot of rain this year, so was it just a coincidence? A fluke of nature? She wanted to believe with all her heart that it was Hazel, but she couldn’t be a hundred percent sure. Now she didn’t know what to think. Then, as if on cue from some stage manager in the sky, a large white dove flapped its wings and flew directly across the patio and landed on the edge of her bird feeder and looked her right in the eye, blinking at her twice. Oh, my God. Not one sign from Hazel, but two! After she got over the initial shock of seeing the bird and looked at it more carefully, Maggie saw that it was a light gray pigeon and not a white Easter dove, as she had first thought. But she didn’t care. As far as she was concerned … it was close enough.
Maggie wanted to jump up and run inside and call everyone she knew and tell them she was back. But since nobody knew she had been away, they might think she was insane. And they could be right. A moment ago, she had been talking to clouds, but if this was insanity, she would take it. And most of all, she thought, God bless Hazel Whisenknott. Hazel obviously didn’t want her to jump into the river; she just knew it!
HAPPY EASTER. HOORAY AND HALLELUJAH!
LATER THAT MORNING, after Brenda got up and listened to the message Maggie had left on their machine at 6:47 A.M., she remarked to Robbie, “If I didn’t know her better, I’d think Maggie might be drunk or stoned or something.”
“She sounded funny.”
“What do you mean, funny?”
“Sort of silly … or something.”
“Oh, she’s probably just happy; it’s Easter.”
Just the same, Brenda called her back, but Maggie did not answer.
As Maggie drove across town in the clear, bright sunshine, she looked around and was amazed to see that spring had already arrived in Birmingham and she hadn’t even noticed. The dogwood trees and the azaleas were all in bloom, and every yard was full of yellow and white jonquils. She had her windows down, and the smell of the clean, fresh air was wonderful. Just being able to breathe was wonderful. Everything was wonderful! She turned on the radio and heard the swelling of the organ music being broadcast from the big Baptist church on the south side and sang along with the choir as she drove. She thought this was exactly what Scrooge must have felt like on Christmas morning, only it was Easter.
Maggie realized that it was she who had changed, not the world. The birds still chirped, the sky was just as blue, the dogwoods still bloomed in spring, and the stars still twinkled at night. And the good news was that she was still here to see it.
She stopped at a roadside flower stand and bought a dozen white roses. When she arrived at the cemetery, she walked over to where her parents were buried and was surprised to see that there was already a huge beautiful bouquet of flowers on their grave. She bent down and opened the card. It read, “Happy Easter. Love, Margaret.” They were from her. She had completely forgotten, but the woman at the Bon-Ton florist had delivered them, right on time as promised. As she stood there looking across the cemetery, Maggie realized just how lucky she was to be here. She wouldn’t have been if Crestview had not come up for sale and if the mattress truck hadn’t hit her and if Brenda hadn’t thought she was having a heart attack and if she hadn’t eaten those chili dogs and had that nightmare. Contrary to what she had always thought, she was one of the luckiest people in the world.
As she stood there, Maggie wondered how many people in those graves would have loved to have lived for one more year, one more day, or even just one more hour. How could she ever have been so ungrateful, to just throw away whatever time she had left? How could she have ever even thought about it? All right, so life wasn’t great and wonderful all the time. So what if she couldn’t work a BlackBerry or program her oven or parallel park? What difference did it make if the napkins weren’t folded properly or the silverware was not set correctly? Who cared?
Hazel had always said, “If you’re still breathing, you’re ahead of the game.” And she’d been right. Life itself was something to look forward to, and so for whatever time she had left, she was going to enjoy every minute, wrinkles and all. What a concept! What a relief. She looked down at the flowers again and noticed something. She then bent over and picked a four-leaf clover growing right beside the headstone, and she had to laugh. It was Hazel all right.
ACROSS TOWN BABS Bingington had just picked up Mr. and Mrs. Troupe, her Texas clients, the ones she had stolen from Dottie Figge, to drive them to the airport, and they asked if they could stop by the model unit at Avon Terrace for a few minutes and measure the rooms once again before they left. Babs tried calling both Maggie’s home phone and her cell phone to let her know they were coming by, but she couldn’t reach her, so she guessed she was not home and drove the clients on over to Avon Terrace. She knocked on the door several times, but when no one answered, she used the key in the lockbox, and they went in. As her clients walked around, measuring for their furniture, Babs sat on the stool in the kitchen and waited. Then she noticed a blue envelope addressed to “To Whom It May Concern” lying on top of a stack of papers on the counter. She figured she’d better read it. It might have some instructions about showing the unit that she needed to see.
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