This story is by Cheri Powell and won an honorable mention in our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Cheri Powell is the author of Seven Tips to Make the Most of the Camino de Santiago. She has garnered recognition for her short stories and has had a short play produced. To further her foray into fiction, she is currently developing a series of four related novellas.
It was on a Wednesday in early spring when Carla woke up dead.
Since she did not realize the seriousness of her situation, she went about her normal routine. She headed for the kitchen where the aroma of freshly brewed coffee filled the air with tantalizing familiarity.
The coffee pot with a timer had been a birthday gift from her very busy son, Robert. He had loved coffee from the first day he stole a sip as a youngster. Throughout his childhood he surreptitiously drank from Carla’s cup until she acknowledged his craving and proffered a mug of the captivating liquid to accompany his breakfast. Coffee became the beverage of choice not only for breakfast, but for discussing life’s issues, both big and small. A mug of hot coffee had been an invitation to talk. In recent years visits were few, conversations fewer and the coffee pot a sad reminder.
Carla still yearned for these intimate visits with her son. On the rare occasion when Robert would visit and bring his son, Carla attempted to initiate her grandson in the ritual. Unfortunately her grandson was more interested in video games than talking with his grandmother.
Carla didn’t like to dwell on the past and so brought her attention to happier thoughts.
A beautiful sunrise this morning. A mixture of sporadic clouds and dust combined to create cartoonish pink cotton balls scattered over the treetops. Carla soaked in the beauty until the sun became stronger and the cotton balls slowly faded and finally evaporated. She was so preoccupied with the sunrise she forgot to take her pain medication. She felt wonderful, the best she had in years. She decided to skip the pills. It promised to be a delightful day.
Wednesday. Senior Citizen Day at the grocery store. Ten percent discount on all purchases for those of a certain age. With appropriate electronic card, of course. Carla’s neatly written list lay on the kitchen table where she left it the night before. She was meticulous in her shopping. No unnecessary purchases, but buy everything needed. She noticed there were no cleaning products on the list and headed to the utility room to see if her supply was low.
As she went down the hall, she passed her bedroom and stopped short. Someone was in her bedroom. Worse than that, they were in her bed. Fear froze her as she stared, uncomprehendingly at the incongruity of a stranger in her bed. Had she forgotten to lock the back door? Had a homeless person wandered in? And actually crawled in her bed for a nap while she was in the kitchen enjoying the sunrise? Would they be dangerous? Should she call Robert to come over and take charge? Momentary fear gave way to curiosity. She reasoned that if they were in her bed, sleeping, they could not be dangerous. Maybe someone just needed a warm place. She would offer breakfast.
As she entered the bedroom she felt taller than usual. Her perspective was off and she found herself looking down over the bed. The covers were pulled high and she could see strands of gray hair sticking out in haphazard directions. I know what that’s like. My hair is all over the place when I get up in the morning. Not like the auburn tresses of earlier years. She had worn her hair long and flowing and considered it her best feature. She decided she would let this person use her comb and brush to tidy up.
From her vantage point over the bed, she could not see the person’s face. She knew she needed to be beside the bed and with that thought, that’s exactly where she was. What a strange sensation. Could it be senility? Carla did not have time to ponder the philosophy of strange sensations, for she was face to face with the person in the bed. She stared in wonderment. The person looked just like her. What sort of trick was this? Had someone somehow made a mask of her face? Was this a game? Would they jump up in a second and yell, “Surprise?”
Who would do such a thing? Certainly not Robert. He was all business and never seemed to have time for anything relaxing. Not even with his own kids, poor dears. Maybe the neighbors? They were a nice young couple with a toddler. She dismissed both ideas and continued staring at the lolling figure.
An overwhelming sensation of caring settled in on Carla. She must protect this person, whoever it was. Old people came to look alike in later years. That’s probably what happened. This poor person needed her. Carla would stay by her side until she woke and would offer whatever aid was required.
The sun poured light and nurturing warmth through the windows and then faded as Carla kept vigil. Another sunrise appeared and another and another and still Carla stayed at her post. She marveled that a person could sleep so much and that she did not feel the need. She noticed that with each sunrise, the light became more luminous until it came right though the walls. She felt giddy with energy, restless to be elsewhere.
A key in the front door lock took her attention away from her task. She watched Robert open the door and quickly retreat, gasping and waving his hand in front of his face. He took in a large breath of air, put his tie over his nose, rushed back in and started opening windows. He muttered something like Oh my God.
Carla watched him peek into the bedroom and then enter a short number on his cell phone. All business, that’s Robert. He went to the kitchen still waving his hand in front of his face. After looking frantically around, he unplugged the coffee pot and turned on the kitchen exhaust to clear out the air of burnt coffee.
Carla was becoming bored with the situation here. Robert would take care of this person. The sun felt so good. She was above the trees as a swarm of people came in vehicles with sirens and invaded her home. Her home? She no longer felt attached. There were new places to explore. She looked down and wondered who all those people were and why she was watching them. They knew what they were doing. She needed to go.
Carla left, although she occasionally thinks of Robert and finds herself immediately in his house with his wife and children. They’re doing the same sorts of things she did when she was raising him. She easily becomes bored with their day-to-day routines and doesn’t want to stay long. But she has learned one trick since coming to her new environment. If she concentrates with all her will, she can turn on his coffee pot at odd times to let the aroma of fresh coffee permeate the house.