Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: CROWD (07/06/17)
TITLE: Not Yet Time to Go
By Jody Day
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Martha’s cousin Earl and his brothers, Dwayne, Carl, Iggy, and Ben sat wedged like sardines on the couch across from Ralph’s recliner.
He didn’t think 40 years as an English teacher was nothing. Had Earl and his sidekicks forgotten how Ralph kept them afloat during their various periods of unemployment?
“Martha,” he called toward the kitchen. “Did you invite your idiot cousins for dinner?” He hoped she’d make fried chicken, but it smelled a little like burned tomato soup.
The cousins snickered and kicked off their shoes. “Where’s the remote?” asked Earl.
“Yeah, Mr. Ralph, where is it? I wanna watch cartoons.” The neighbor kid crawled into Ralph’s lap.
“Bobby, your parents are looking for you. You should go home.”
“No, don’t turn it on. We need to study.” Five of Ralph’s English Lit students turned the pages of his precious classics as they crowded around the bookcase . They’d all gone for soldier boys over several different wars. He’d prayed so hard for them.
“Martha, it’s not my birthday. What are all these people doing here?” Why didn’t she answer?
“Hey, Ralph, we brought trio practice over here. Joe and Alex gathered around the piano and began to sing. “Come on, Ralph. We’re supposed to sing this Sunday.”
“Now’s not a good time, guys. Looks like Martha has company.”
He didn’t even know the dozen people at the dining room table. Some had the characteristic big ears of Ralph’s family, and others had Martha’s jet black hair. Well, it used to be black.
“Martha, I don’t know what you’ve got going on in here. Why didn’t you just invite the whole state of Delaware, they might fit,” he said, hoping she’d come out of the kitchen.
“Here I am, love.” She walked over to Ralph,and kneeled before him. She picked up Bobby, kissed his forehead, sat him on the floor, then lay her head in Ralph’s lap.
“Who’s that poor sap crashed out in the middle of the floor? Everyone is stepping over him,” Ralph said.
“That’s you, sweetie. You fell and hit your head.” She looked up at him, tears brimming her blue eyes.
“I don’t remember,” he said, nudging the Ralph on the floor with his foot.
“He’s fallen, and he can’t get up,” Earl said, doubled over with laughter.
“You need to wake up and push the button that hangs around your neck. Please, Sweetie.”
He looked around the room and remembered. All these people were dead, except Bobby. What was he doing here? Had his parents asked him to watch Bobby this afternoon? He couldn’t remember.
“Please, Ralph, you have to wake up.”
“But I want to come with you.” He placed both hands on Martha’s cheeks.
“It’s not time yet, sweetie,” she said.
“Not yet, Ralph,” said all those gone before him. They began to fade from view.
“No, Martha, don’t go. I want to be where you are.” He held onto her hands as she stood.
“I have to go. Please wake up. When you get better, let them take you to the nursing home. You can’t be alone anymore.” Martha began to fade.
“But nobody needs me. I’m completely useless. I want to come with you.”
He heard the host of company laughing somewhere in the walls. “Useless, that’s a good one, Ralph.” They all continued to laugh until they faded completely away.
Martha leaned over and kissed his cheek. “You have a purpose until your final breath, my love. You’ll see.” She kissed Ralph’s hand. “Bobby’s mom works at the nursing home. She’s going to need you.”
Bobby nodded, then snuggled up to Martha.
“Why, Martha. How can an old geezer laid up in the nursing home help that young woman?"
“They are going to find Bobby’s body today. You know he’s been missing for weeks.”
“I don’t remember. I love you, Martha.”
She stood, took Bobby by the hand and walked away. Ralph opened his eyes just as her “I love you, too” vanished like a puff of smoke.
He stared up at the ceiling fan. A dream? Hallucination? The smell of tomato soup boiling over on the stove wafted through the house. If he just lay there, he might die. Heaven would be better than this crushing loneliness.
A wisp of a child's voice called his name. He strained to hear.
“Bye bye, Mr. Ralph.”
He pushed the button.
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