Way back then, after they'd been tucked into their beds at opposite ends of the upstairs corridor, one of them would start. Sara would sing or hum a tone, and then Louden would answer with the same tone or one higher or lower. They would sing and hum like that until the door at the bottom of the stairs would open, and a parental voice call out, "Pipe down, you kids, and go to sleep."
Later, when they were old enough to help around the house, they would wash dishes together, and sing, with made-up harmonies, "You Are My Sunshine," and the words of the famous Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis song, "You and me, we're gonna partners, you and me, we're gonna be pals; you and me, when other friendships fail, we'll still be on that long, long trail that leads up to those pearly corrals" (then, shouting at the top of their voices) "up in the sky!!"
But that was then, thirty years ago, before the divorce, before the great divide, before the injustice and the anger. Of course, Louden sided with Dad, and Sara with Mom. They went to live in separate houses, and after they grew up and had jobs, they lived in far distant states, Louden in Florida, and Sara in New Mexico. Through the years, their mom, from her home in Missouri, pleaded with them both, "Please don't let Dad's and my divorce drive a permanent wedge between you two. You were the best of friends. I remember how you loved to hum and sing together. You often wouldn't go to sleep when we wanted you to, and you got soapy dish water on the kitchen floor, but still it was all music to me!" Her pleading fell on deaf ears.
Then their father died, and left everything he had to Louden, excluding Sara completely.
Now, here they were, together in the same St. Louis hospital room, sitting on opposite sides of their mother's bed, watching her breathe with the help of a ventilator, not wanting to look at each other. The news had been sudden and devastating. Pancreatic cancer. Large tumor. Inoperable. Only a matter of time. Might or might not be able to come off the ventilator.
Day after day, Sara and Louden sat, in silence, watching, waiting, not speaking. A week passed, and then another.
Neither could remember when exactly it happened, or who started it. It might have been from the pitch of a monitor's vibration. Or a lilting tone on a neighboring TV. Or the custodian humming as he mopped. But one of them matched that tone. Just for a moment. And the other responded. Hardly believing what was happening, not daring to look at each other, they continued on. Then Louden started to sing, "You are my Sunshine," and Sara harmonized here and there. That was safe. They were singing to their mother, not to each other. Then Sara began to sing, first quietly, then a bit louder, "You and me, we're gonna be partners ... ." Louden joined in. They sang on until they got to the place where they used to call out at the top of their lungs, "Up in the sky!!!" They stopped, finally looked at each other, and grinned. "Up in the sky," they sang, but not too loud.
For the next several days, they sat and sang, remembering all the old tunes, remembering all the old times.
Then one day, the doctor said it was safe to take Mom off the ventilator. She was going to be able to breathe on her own, although after so long on the vent, it would be difficult for her talk. Sara and Louden stood by the bed as the nurses removed the tube. Mom's eyes fluttered open. She smiled from ear to ear, and tried to talk. Sara and Louden leaned in close to her to listen.
"I heard it all," she said in a raspy whisper.
"Well, Mom, you got us back together again," said Louden and Sara. "And we'll be fine now. Don't worry about us any more. Thank you. We love you so much."
"Yes, you will be fine," whispered their mother. "Remember that I love you both, and will forever," she said as she smiled once more, and closed her eyes.
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