November is National Novel Writing Month. So, I’m writing a novel. This is my first long piece of fiction, although it includes elements of myself and my life. The story revolves around three women and the struggles they face. As we navigate our lives, we have little concept of how the choices we make for ourselves affect those around us–and sometimes those far away. Our lives are not mutually exclusive; that is, we all have an impact on what happens to others. Even when we are not looking, or cannot see it, we are all connected. When times are bad, it might just be the action of a stranger who makes our circumstances turn around.
I wanted to share a piece of my new novel that highlights Sally’s struggle after her husband Fred dies on a cruise ship. On their anniversary trip, she finds herself alone on the ship, with only her anxiety and the cruise staff to accompany her.
As always, I appreciate the support I have gotten from my writing community. Keep in mind this excerpt is a first draft–so please excuse any typing errors or wordings that could be improved. I am striving to get 50,000 words by the end of the month, so there will be time in December for edits. I am excited about this project and just wanted to put a piece out there to keep everyone interested.
I know Sophia’s Story has been quiet lately, and this project is largely why. I do have, however, a couple pieces that will be published on Scary Mommy (November 17) and Still Standing Magazine (November 20). Stay tuned!
Carrie had called the funeral home at Sally’s request. Another member of the Guest Care Team had dropped by with a laptop for Sally to use. She had mentioned that Fred had a pre-written obituary but could only access it from a computer as it was saved on a remote server, and only one person knew the key to digging it up.
Fred had always been one to plan out his life, including his death. He knew he could never predict just how he would die, but he wanted all his affairs in order so Sally would have nothing to worry about. Her ability to plan under stress quickly deteriorated, and he rightly assumed his death would likely push her anxiety over the edge. He had seen her in states of paralysis when she felt overwhelmed by planning a birthday party, so he insisted that he plan his own death.
Ronald had been a close family friend who worked at the Orlando Sentinel. While he was better versed in sports news, he had been known to write an obituary or two. With his verbose talent, he crafted lengthy ones–ones reserved for those in society who either had a lot of money or had contributed significantly to the community.
Despite this odd pastime with which he had kept up, Ronald had still been surprised when Fred asked him for this favor.
“Fred, c’mon, man. You want me to do what?”
“Ron, I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t think it was important.”
“Okay,” Ronald said. Fred was often convincing even without bringing out the lawyer in him.
“Great! Ron, I know you’ll do it justice. Thanks, my friend.”
“Fred, I think I’ll need more space than would fit on the page to describe you.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.” Fred winked and extended his hand to his dear friend.
Sally knew if she could contact Ronald, he would dig up what he had written nine years ago. She had asked Ronald to save the document within his close reach but far from hers. Sally wanted nothing to do with Fred’s death. The very thought of it made her stomach turn into tight knots. Opening the internet browser, Sally pulled up her email. Two-hundred sixty-four unopened messages stared back at her. She had vowed to not check anything on the internet during this anniversary trip. The sight of all the messages awaiting her attention sickened her.
Sally regained her focus and clicked on the ‘new message’ button. Starting the email was harder than she had thought. She was not only asking Ronald for a innocuous document he had written and stored securely years ago, but she was the first to inform him of Fred’s death.
How are you? I hope this letter finds you well. I have some bad news….
Sally’s fingers stopped clicking the keys. She stared at the screen.
“That’s no good. Who says that as an introduction to a ‘your good friend just died’ message?” Scoffing in disgust at herself, Sally’s pointer finger quickly found the delete key and held it down to the beginning of the line. She started again.
I’m sorry to have to write with sad news. Yesterday, Fred had a heart attack. He did not survive. From the time the heart attack hit to the time of his death was relatively short, so I’d like to think he had little suffering. Also, his last bite of food in this life was a strawberry crepe, so we all know he died happy with that.
I’m still on the cruise ship since our vacation was supposed to go another two days. I chose to stay on the boat until we dock again. However, there are people on the ship who are helping me coordinate things with the funeral home. I’m hoping you could send me the obituary you so graciously wrote all those years ago? I’m sure Fred would want to use it.
Thank you, Ronald.
She sucked in so much air it felt like her lungs would drown under the weight of the oxygen. Sally tried to slow her breathing when she found her chest moving rapidly in an effort to keep up with her rapid panting. Keeping the air trapped in the upper part of her torso made her head swirl. The room spun. She shut her eyes to make it stop. The air began its exit from her lungs, slowly sliding passed her pursed lips. She counted: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. By the last number, her lungs were void of any of the life sustaining substance. As the breath turned around and started inflating her chest again, her counting started back up. One, two, three, four, five. Sally tried to blow the air out forcefully yet as slowly as possible. She had read once in a meditation guide that releasing the air out slower than it was sucked in was the most beneficial in one’s attempt at calming the body and mind. She opened her eyes. The room had steadied itself. Perhaps that mediation guide was onto something.
A loud “ding!” made Sally jump. Sucking in the air around her head as fast as she could, Sally nearly choked on the invisible sustenance. So much for the minutes she had just spent on the controlled breathing.
Sally had a new email. Ronald must have been sitting right at the computer, or had his email linked to his smart phone, because that was the only way Sally could reconcile the speed of his response.
First, let me say just how sorry I am to hear of Fred’s death. He was such a dear friend, and a fine husband. I can only imagine how difficult this is for you right now. I wish I could stop by to help you with whatever you need done, but seeing as how you are on a boat, I guess that is not possible.
Ronald had a sense of humor that easily inserted itself into places where it did not always belong, but was always welcomed anyway. Sally found herself smiling. She kept reading.
I was honored the day Fred asked me to write his obituary, although I must admit, it also made me feel pretty uneasy. I mean, no one wants to think about their best friend’s death. I am happy to send you the document. I do hope it serves its purpose and is suitable for you. I know it is the copy Fred ultimately signed off on, but if there is something you don’t like about it, I’ll change it to make you happy. You deserve no less.
Beneath his electronic signature was a small square labeled “Fred’s Obit”. Sally moved the arrow over to it and stopped. The cursor hovered over the words, running back and forth along the length of the title. Sally had never read it. Fred wanted her to, mostly to show off the writing skills of his friend.
“This is really good, Sally. I mean really good. You have to read it.” Fred had insisted but knew when to stop pushing.
“Fred, I’m not talking about this.”
“Fair enough.” He had planted one of his tender kisses on her forehead and never spoke of it again.
Sally clicked the box. Nothing happened. She then realized she needed to double-click to actually open the file. Sally was never the most adept at remembering how to successfully use computers.
After the two clicks, Sally only needed to wait a millisecond before the screen changed. The file opened, but looked blank. Her hands rubbed each other in her lap. She played with the fringes of her blouse that dared to tickle her fingertips. Words appeared. The first thing she saw was “Fred White, prominent lawyer and loving husband, has passed away at the age of____.” and she broke down. The tears dripped down her cheeks in a sudden outpouring, like the blackened clouds of a thunderstorm that had threatened in the distance finally broke open and drenched all the onlookers below. Sally did not have a tissue, but wanted gone the tears that obscured her vision from the words. The handiest fabric was still within her fingers, so she grabbed the edge of her top and dabbed her eyes.
Sally continued reading.
The age was not included nine years ago, as there was no way Ronald would know how to enter that part. Sally now erased the line, and entered the “72”.
Fred was a hardworking man, always putting his clients, his friends, and most importantly his family, at the forefront of his life. His passion was in serving others. He always put his wife’s needs in front of his own, and provided a loving home in which he and his beloved Sally could share a life together.
Fred built the law firm of White and White with his father, and took over the business when his father fell too ill to continue. Fred’s clients were loyal because of his honesty. He protected the people who needed it, and for that he earned his success.
Fred was a man we all aspire to be. He had a life we all aspire to have. Yet his humble nature kept him from flaunting his success. His dearest Sally was the pride of his life, and proudly had her by his side through all of life’s ups and downs. She was the one thing in his life he felt was okay to show off–in fact, he felt it was his duty to do so. “People deserve to know Sally as I do” was what he frequently told his family and friends.
As we mourn Fred’s passing from this life, we also celebrate the life he built. He held the compassion all human beings should aspire to have. He was not without his faults, but also knew how to use those faults to make himself better.
In lieu of flowers, Fred requested that donations be made to the Prematurity Awareness Fund in honor of his daughter, Rachel. He will rest in peace as he once again joins his dearest Rachel in this next part of life.
The word ‘Rachel’ bounced off the screen and smacked her in the face. Sally had not spoken that name in years. It did not mean she was not thinking of her daughter on a daily basis, though. There were days she could not stop thinking about Rachel.
A couple months after returning from their Parisian honeymoon, Sally had felt ill. She ran to the bathroom, and was convinced she would vomit into the toilet, yet that relief never came. She reviewed all the foods she had eaten that day: oatmeal, yogurt, a ham sandwich. Perhaps the yogurt had soured, or the ham had turned. Sally had known this was unlikely; surely she would have noticed spoiled food before eating it. Deep down, the suspicion of a pregnancy was born. It grew as she could not shake the nausea, and added a splitting headache. The smell of plastic–trash bags, tupperware containers–turned her stomach. Something was different, and foreign.
Telling Fred about the pregnancy, Sally’s fear of Fred’s reaction was unfounded. His face lit up like a firecracker that had its fuse lit, and she knew it was just a matter of time before he exploded with joy. So, when they found out that she was in labor at only twenty-five weeks pregnant, Sally knew this could not possibly end well. Hers and Fred’s lives fell out beneath their feet. They lost the precious daughter they had hoped to raise together. From the moment when they had to carry their dear Rachel’s urn home, Sally never again felt confident she held any control of life. Her anxiety spun out of control, and Fred was there to keep her in line. He understood.
And now, seeing Rachel’s name in print brought it all back to life. Sally knew that Fred had given the okay when Ronald wrote this all those years ago. In fact, Sally would bet that the first draft did not include Rachel’s name. She imagined Fred insisting to Ronald that his daughter be included. One final gesture to his beloved baby girl.
When Rachel had been born, in 1972, survival rates for prematurely born babies was dismal. Research has since allowed the progression of medical intervention, and now, while babies born as early as Rachel still face the fight of their lives, they at least have a chance. By asking family and friends for donations toward this research, Fred was conducting his last unselfish act. He needed this chance to leave this world with one last good deed, and for that, Sally could never be upset.
“Guess I should send this to Carrie.” Sally found the ‘forward’ button, entered the email address Carrie had carefully spelled out to her over the phone, and pushed ‘send’.