This story is by Gary G Little and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
This room was built in 1896 of wood and plaster, and mortar and brick, and just a touch of blood. The thumb of a clumsy carpenter provided the blood. This room heard the strains of Mozart as interpreted by a seven-year-old that preferred playing first base on a spring day. This room has heard the first cry of babies as well as the death of loved ones. This room has room-enough for love lasting a century.
“George, it’s time …”
“Time? What time … oh my god, yes,” he leaped from the bed and shouted, “Harry! Evelyn!”
“Please beloved, not so loud. Help me to the birthing chair and then wake the children. They know their tasks.”
“Yes of course.”
“George, I can walk, you need not shepherd me.”
Martha lowered herself into the chair just as George disappeared through the door and her oldest daughter stepped into the room. “Momma?”
“Evelyn, have your father boil water. When he brings a basin in toss it out the window without him seeing you, and tell him to boil more.” She stopped and thought and continued, “Why am I telling you this? You know what to do and how to handle your father. He’s a wonderful man but comes completely unhinged during a birth. You’d think after five children he would know how to help bring them into the world. Uh? Oof … Cramp,” she muttered through clenched teeth.
Martha’s face turned red and she grabbed Evelyn’s hands. Using a series of short quick breaths, Martha got herself back under control and continued with several long cleansing breaths.
From the sounds in the hallway, George had the rest of the children awake.
“Evelyn, Georgia should …”
“I know, Momma. Georgia is herding the little ones to the back drawing room. Harry ran to the barn to saddle Noble.” Outside, the sound of a horse’s hooves receded into the distance. “He’s on his way to fetch Doc Martin.”
“I believe Doc will not be here in time. Again.”
“Yes, Momma. But he may come in handy. You know what happened with Patricia.”
“Yes, I know. What is your father doing?”
Evelyn went to the door and came back.
“He’s fetching water, and has a pot on the stove,” she said with a wink and a grin to her mother.
Martha grimaced and began chuffing again. Evelyn noticed the time, moistened a washcloth, and wiped her mother’s face.
Doc Martin was in time, barely. Evelyn caught Barbara and held her newborn sister while Doc did his duties. He welcomed the infant to life with a sharp slap on her buttocks. Barbara heralded her arrival with a beautiful trumpeting cry that filled the room and echoed through the house.
Of all the sounds heard in this room, this is the most precious; the beginning of a new life.
In this very room, arrived a new puppy named Lily. The walls echoed with the giggles of young children receiving incessant licking from an eager pup. This room saw the impossible attempts by a puppy to chase a ball on waxed hardwood floors. Paws spinning faster and faster she ended in a full paws akimbo sprawl. That never slowed the joy of chasing a ball for either pup, dog, or stocking-footed child. This room saw much joy from Barbara and her best friend Lily.
Through the windows of that room passed the march of time. Spring with the pecan tree budding, marigolds and hydrangeas blooming, and spring storms thundering. Winter snow fell and snowballs were thrown. Inside that room, not too close to the fireplace, stood many Christmas trees. Joyful laughter rang through that room with the opening of many a brightly colored package. In time Barbara’s beau’s knocked on the door and Lily became the perfect chaperone. They were inseparable until the time came that none can deny, and all must face.
“He’s here Momma,” Barabara, 17 and nearly done with high school opened the door and showed Doc Long into the room.
“Thank you, Doctor,” Martha said welcoming the veterinarian. “She hasn’t eaten for three days, not even treats.”
Doc Long removed a stethoscope from his bag, applied it to a furry chest and listened. A massive paw placed itself on the doctor’s forearm, and Doc Long used the other hand to stroke the chest. A lick followed.
“How are you doing lady? You just getting tired?”
A low whimper answered.
“How old is she Martha?”
“About 16. We picked her from a litter the year after Barbara was born. So yes, she would be 16.”
“That’s old for a Shepard. Just shows how much she is loved and how much love she gave.” He hemmed and hawed a few times and asked, “Is she drinking water?”
“No, not today. Barbara?”
“No. I don’t recall her drinking yesterday either.”
Doctor Long moved his stethoscope and listened, then turned to Martha. “Do you want to step to another room so we can talk?”
“No, Lily is Barbara’s friend. We have talked and she knows.”
Stepping forward, Barbara laid a hand on Lily’s flank and took her mother’s hand, “Doctor?”
“Barbara, I don’t think … no that’s not right … Lily’s not going to improve. Her heart is just worn out. I would say days and very little quality of life.”
“Momma?” a quivering voice pleaded.
“I know it’s hard Barb, but only you can make the decision. Lily is your friend.”
“It’s not fair Momma.”
“No, of course, it isn’t, but it is life.” Martha took Barbara into her arms and let her daughter bury her sobs into her bosom.
Steeling herself, knowing Lily was depending on her to make the proper choice, Barbara stood, blew her nose, wiped her eyes, and mirrored the stance of a strong woman she had learned from her mother. She stood straight, tall, hands folded together in front, and faced the doctor.
“Doctor Long, if it is not inconvenient, could we wait for Poppa to return from town?”
“I have nothing pending, but I would like to be on my way home as soon as possible. My eldest has a birthday.”
“My husband should be home shortly,” Martha said looking to the window and continued, “yes, I hear him now.”
Barbara knelt by Lily and kissed the ears that had heard her walking up the road for so many years. Lily washed the face of the adored one. A whimper, and a paw, to get that scratch behind the ears that had been demanded for all of those years. Barbara complied.
There came the heavy tramp of boots on the porch. The door opened and George stepped through.
“Doc,” he said, concern showing on his face. “Doctor Long,” he said with recognition. “Lily?” He turned to face Barbara.
A lower lip quivered, but firmed as Barbara faced her father and said, “It’s time, Poppa.”
Doc Long prepared his tools for what he now had to do. Momma, Poppa, and Barbara gathered around. Barbara sat on the sofa, near the fireplace, and Poppa laid Lily beside her, Lily’s head in Barbara’s lap. Momma sat next to Lily and provided long gentle strokes down the flanks that had powered Lily on many a run.
Nothing was said. Nothing needed to be said. Nothing was heard save for quiet sobs as the members of Lily’s family gathered around her. She licked a hand when it got close or laid a paw on an arm that was available. Poppa helped Doc do what had been decided.
Barbara watched Lily’s eyes close, and felt the pal she had loved to tumble and wrestle with go limp. She cried, tears freely falling on that fury brow, as Doc placed the stethoscope and listened for that great heart to beat one final time. At last, he stepped back, removed his stethoscope and placed it in his bag. Then, he too cried, silently, but tears ran down his cheeks. There were many things he enjoyed about his profession; this was not one of them.
“Shall I take her with me?” Doc asked.
“No,” Poppa whispered. “She had a favorite tree where she lay waiting for Barbara. Lily will rest there.”
Barbara placed an arm around Poppa’s waist. “She would like that, Poppa.”
All the sounds of life echoed through that room. It whispered of birth, it whispered of joy, it whispered of despair, it whispered of loves lived and lives loved.
Of all the sounds heard in this room, these were the most precious; the quiet ending of a life well lived, and the beginning of a life well loved.
Gary G Little