This story is by Darrell Eugene McGuire and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I might hesitate in telling my little tale to strangers. I would not want to violate a trust of privacy in discussing the intimacies of my comrades’ brief lives. They were, after all, among my best of friends, and I miss them terribly. That said, with some effort, I think I can feel comfortable speaking about them now, as the passage of years permits.
Though we traveled in the same society and circle of friends, I cannot say I knew them from birth. Much of what I know of them came to me second-hand. But still, they were socially and emotionally close to me. I cared about and for them as they did for each another and for me.
She was the standout. I was not the only one who considered her thus.
Most people called her “Sis”, although it was not her name. She went along with it, as she went along with most things others said or did. Like the day, I am told, when, as a child, she first laid eyes on Rob. Others thought it a casual introduction and that Sis merely went along with it as was her usual way. They were wrong.
Sis was immediately in love. She followed Rob, played with him when they were young, and supported everything he did, then and later in life. There was seldom a time when her first thought was not about him. Rob, on the other hand, was inclined to ignore Sis. He stayed by her side and was protective of her but mostly ignored her. All the while, she was attentive to his every act. They traveled together, dined at the same table whenever possible, and were generally inseparable. With all of that, Rob remained aloof.
Rob tended to be of a belligerent sort and quick to come to an argument with any others with whom he might find a disagreement for one reason or another. He was usually on the wrong side of a dispute, but Sis was right there by his side. Like that time in the park.
The three of us had taken an afternoon off from our daily routines for an afternoon of leisure surrounded by the comforts afforded us by the sweet sounds and aromas of trees, bushes, and nature. I had brought along a blanket to put down on a spread of lawn for the purpose. We lay in the sun and lolled, unattached from and unaware of the rest of the world about us. After a while, a passerby paused on the nearby walkway and took an interest in us. The stranger uttered what Rob took to be a disparagement of some sort. Rob likely heard it as an insult in the direction of Sis. I knew at once there would be trouble.
Rob immediately took affront and called out the other. The newcomer seemed at a loss as to the cause of Rob’s ire and responded in kind. They argued and bickered over whether an insult had indeed been uttered or not. Rob, in his typical manner, puffed up and issued a challenge, which the other accepted in hot anger. As always, Sis rushed up to Rob’s side and was ready to charge into the fray on his behalf when the object of Rob’s wrath suddenly stepped back and thought the better of it. Possibly in his mind, I thought, the idea of taking on Sis in all her loveliness and obvious class was unimaginable to the fellow. He bowed his head in profound respect and walked away from us. Rob reluctantly watched him go into the distance and out of our lives.
Over time, health issues came to light, as they often do to all of us when we travel our paths through life. The day came when Rob was told he had inoperable bone cancer and did not have long to live. He shrugged it off and went on his usual way until the day he stumbled and fell, and broke his leg. The fracture was irreparable. Sis remained by his side and grieved with him. Over the next few weeks, she cuddled up and held him close. And then, one quiet Sunday, Sis watched her beloved Rob gasp out his last breath. She mourned over his bedside, touched him lightly as he gently passed away, kissed his forehead, and said goodbye.
She was never the same after that. Others still knew her as Sis, nevertheless aware that she was different and not the alert, happy soul she had been throughout her life before Rob’s death. Her friends, I among them, tried to introduce her to others, but she could not get in the spirit of it all. There was no one otherwise, before or since Rob.
Then Oswald came along. Oswald was squat and gruff in appearance. His shaggy beard was unkempt. He had few teeth, and his breath smelled terrible. No one knew of his past, only that it was dark and tragic. He demanded respect from others, though not through such belligerence as Rob might have done, but rather in a taunting and humorous manner. He jested and joked with any who took the time to greet him. His brusque behavior caused others who did not know him better to back away and yield some distance between him and them. The diligence, attentiveness, and sense of duty that he exhibited served him well in his employ as a security guard. But always, he had an eye for Sis.
Sis ignored him. On the other hand, Oswald was as wholly taken with Sis as she had been with Rob, and she ignored Oswald as Rob had ignored her. Oz, as many called him, courted Sis doggedly over the months to come and watched over her as a protector and suitor, her disdainful response notwithstanding.
Oz never gave up on her, continued his courting with no mind to her dismissal of his very existence. He carefully surveyed the path before them when they walked together to ensure there was no threat there to her. Time passed with no change in their situation until our choir practice on a Wednesday evening when Oz unexpectedly joined in the singing with his rich baritone voice. Sis was mesmerized by this startling revelation. His croon invited her attention to his other changed attributes, including dental repairs and less aggressive attention to his security duties. Oz never complained about anything, accepted the good with the bad, and never wandered from his adoration of Sis. They were ever after friends for life.
One Spring day, the oncologist came again to visit upon them his heartbreaking news. The good doctor informed Sis of the carcinoma that ran throughout her body and brought its black curse down upon a now-shortened future. Sis accepted the report calmly. It was as though she knew it was coming. Had she and Rob been related in some way? Was her cancer a link to his through some distant relationship? No one knew of the days before they came together into our common society. It was indeed possible that they shared a place on the same vessel toward eternity.
The ignoble malignancy pushed the breath up out of her body until Sis died gasping for air. They say Oswald went berserk at the moment of her death. He screamed to the heavens that they had no right to take her from him. She was his world, a world so recently reclaimed from a sadness that none other could have realized. He stormed about the place where she had just died, gently kissed her ear, lay his body over hers in profound anguish, and subsequently refused food or drink. He finally relented and halfhearted accepted that she was gone forever from his life. He acknowledged the pleas of others who would say, “Look to your own life, Oz. You still have much to live and be thankful for. Through your grief over the loss of Sis, we have all come to know you for the loving and kind soul you are. Everybody loves you, Oz. Be grateful for that and accept it from us.”
In days afterward, Oswald would revisit the places where he and Sis had gone, feel the comfort of her past presence, and imagine the fragrance of her sweetness.
After he had completed his daily policing of the fence around the house to fend off any trespassers or cats, Ozzie would spend much of every day at the big window in the family room. He would lie there on Sissy’s favorite blanket. Sleep and dream of the day when he would cross over the Rainbow Bridge to chase balls and romp and play with Sissy and Robbie and all the other little Bichon puppies in their land of forever after.