Every year she had promised herself the trip; but, like so many other broken pledges in her life, Miranda had been unable to fulfill this dream.
She wearily trudged up the fourth tier of worn steps to her small apartment that stood stark and alone in the attic. Here she had resided for twenty-five years, ever since her husband, Charlie, had been killed in the war.
“How young and naďve I was back then,” Miranda was known to remark to her coworkers at the seamstress plant where she worked.
But then, most people were unrealistic before the ravages of war awakened them from their illusions of loved ones returning victorious and unscathed.
Charlie’s death had left Miranda forlorn and devastated. It took all her energy, combined with prayers of desperation and sorrow, to come to terms with a life without her beloved. Even now, the old wound in her heart could occasionally ache with stabbing intensity, like phantom pains in a foot that was no longer there. She had poured herself into her menial job, but was consistently only able to make ends meet, the years after the war draining their savings like a leaky water pipe.
Absently, the widow rifled through the day’s mail, expecting it would be the same as always—her monthly rent statement and bills, receipts from religious contributions, perhaps a letter from a distant relative and, always, advertisements for everything under the sun. And, like clockwork, her bi-monthly paycheck, which had come the previous Friday.
“How unusual,” she commented aloud (as she was prone to do),” “what would be coming from the Plant?”
Carefully slitting the familiar-looking envelope, she curiously opened it. No, it was not the usual pay stub, but an actual sheet of stationery embossed with the company logo:
“Dear Mrs. Cranbrook,” she read,
“We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for twenty-five years of faithful service to your employer, Singer Seamsters. Your record of perfect attendance and unblemished work ethics has been an inspiration and ideal example to your co-workers.
We, therefore, are awarding you the enclosed certificate in honor of your excellence of service to Singer Seamsters.
We look forward to many more years of your continued employment with us.
Samuel A. Goodard
S. S. President”
An official-looking card fell on Miranda’s lap and she read on in disbelief:
“This entitles the bearer, Miranda Cranbrook, one month of paid vacation from Singer Seamsters.
ENJOY YOUR WELL-DESERVED HOLIDAY!”
“Lord have mercy, I never thought of such a thing!” her former fatigue dissipating into excitement like a gray sky overshadowed by the sun.
An uncommon tear slid down Miranda’s work-worn cheek, pooling in the dimple that Charlie had always found fascinating. She hardly knew what to do next, her usual calm evidently taking a hiatus as this unforeseen blessing took hold of her imagination. Miranda had lived her life by comforting Bible passages stored like pieces of coal against the winter and was therefore momentarily unprepared for such a gratuity. Finally,
“Hallelujah and praise the Lord!” fell from her smiling lips.
Memorial Day was just around the corner, a fortuitous time to finally honor her Charlie with her presence at his graveside. She pulled out the cedar-lined keepsake chest from under the bed where she had carefully stored Charlie’s badges and commendations, accompanied by precious memorabilia from their short marriage. An elaborate painstakingly-crafted floral wreath protected with shellac to withstand all kinds of weather was on the very top. Miranda’s mind played back the many months it had taken her to complete the project as her fingers lovingly traced along its familiar nooks and crannies.
Miranda took the train, finally, several days later, following the printed schedules of stops and transfer directions to the letter, until she finally arrived at the National Cemetery. Colorful flags and profusions of intricate floral arrangements adorned the memorial garden, crosses stretching across the designated grounds in precise rows like battalions of soldiers standing at attention. Overwhelmed and unprepared for the intense emotion washing over her, Miranda knelt before her husband’s gravesite.
“I’m sorry it took me so long, Charlie, but here I am at last,” tenderly placing her precious wreath at the foot of the barren cross blazoned with “CHARLES T. CRANBROOK” across its horizontal beam.
“I am so proud of you, Charlie!” and unspoken dialog between them as clear today as it had been aloud yesterday, she heard him respond,
“Not as proud as I am of you, my liebchen.”
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