She was headed north, alone, on the gravelly edge of a two-lane highway. Her feet were beginning to hurt but they kept their usual steady pace. For over an hour, no car passed from either direction and no houses appeared. In fact, the nearest town, such as it was, lay ten miles back, just beyond the river. Though she did not notice, a late autumn breeze lifted a strand of silver hair and drew it across her eyes. A canvas tote bag weighed heavily on one shoulder and she was thirsty and sorry she ever left the house. Could be relaxing in the recliner right now with a tub of caramel pecan swirl and the television turned up loud. On top of that, it was almost time for a pill.
She trudged along, sweating substantially as stray memories of her fox-trotting days buzzed around her and she wondered how fox-trotting ever was possible. Her feet were swelling now and she was aggravated, but turning around was out of the question. She was too exhausted and there was no one there anyway.
Back when she could still wear heels and dance the night away, she had relished being the youngest in her set . “What a cute little thing you are,” they used to say and try to pick her up off the floor. That was then, when being the youngest was an amusing advantage.
But now on this silent, dusty pavement, some eighty years past adorable, she was one of the last still around from those days. And because some forgotten close friend would likely die any day now, and someone she never liked would surely feel the need to inform her, she had been avoiding answering the telephone lately unless it was the regular morning call from her daughter. She quit going to funerals years ago.
Her pace slowed a bit and she pulled a bottle of water out of the tote bag. She looked back along the way she had come and thought hard, trying to recall the point she was trying to make. Trying to make sense of it. To understand. She sipped some water, returned the bottle to the bag on her shoulder and continued on. Somebody had some explaining to do.
The car approached without her noticing. She lifted her head to catch some fresh air and found that a vehicle had stopped in front of her. A big car. A big maroon Oldsmobile station wagon like they don’t make any more, the kind once used to haul carefree summer vacationers in Airstreams to Yellowstone National Park or the Grand Canyon. It was parked cross-ways across the highway, which would have blocked traffic if there had been any traffic. The car was old but in decent shape, well taken care of with a few more miles left in it.
There was a kid behind the wheel, a boy about fourteen years old, just sitting there grinning at her through the driver’s side window as if he had just cracked a joke and was expecting her to laugh. The kid looked alright, friendly even, and she was not afraid. His face seemed big for a kid that age, like there was a lifetime behind the blue eyes that had swelled the kid’s head in order to contain it. She took a small step back as he opened the door and got out. The kid was not fourteen now, but a handsome young man about twenty years old. How’d that kid grow up so fast? She thought.
“Hi, Grandma. Where ya going?”
For a full minute, she looked at him without speaking. Then, “What are you doing driving? You got your license? Does your father know you’re out? You damage that car he’ll…”
“Grandma, don’t you remember? Look at the road. Look where we’re standing.” She looked.
“Is this the place?”
“Yes, this is the place.”
She looked again and began to cry.
“Grandma, don’t cry. I’m okay. Really.”
“But, how . . .I . . . What are you doing here? You . . . How can you be here? You’re supposed to be there!”
“I am there, Grandma. It’s okay. Just listen.”
She was getting aggravated again. “Oh, you always did stuff like this, and then you’d laugh about it.”
And he laughed. “I know, Grandma. Remember when you came to visit that one time and you slept on the bottom bunk and I dropped the “B” encyclopedia on you?”
“You nearly killed me.”
“The funniest part was the noise you made, like a cat when you step on its tail.”
“I’ve missed you. So much. It’s been . . . hard.”
“Yes, Grandma. I know”
She brightened. “Let’s go back, to my house, and you can chop me some firewood while I make you something. You must be hungry. I’ve got ice cream.”
“No Grandma. I can’t stay. I came to tell you something.”
She peered at him cautiously. “Tell me what?”
He took the heavy bag from her shoulder and set it on the pavement. “First, you tell me why you’re walking all alone up the highway.”
“I just need to, that’s all. And I miss you. I miss you bad.”
He could tell there was more, so he waited. He recalled how it was to have to wait on things, to have to think and run it around in your brain before you could say it. How much simpler it was now just to be, just to love and to see and to do. And all in an instant, without any effort. To be at rest while full of energy and calm, clear light. To be full of His Goodness and Peace. He smiled when he thought how long it would take down here to tell it all.
She leaned toward him then and out it all came, “I want to be with you. And with Me-maw and Rita and Elaine and all the rest of them. But mostly it’s you. I still can’t believe it. I can’t believe you’re gone. It’s too much sometimes. I’m tired. I’m so dreadfully tired. And I’m crying again.” Back to the tote bag to dig for some tissue.
“It’s okay Grandma. Tears are a part of it for now.”
She blew her nose and met his eye. “I’m tired, I tell you. I can barely hear the doorbell. I’ve had cancer three times. I have to sit eighteen inches from the screen just so I can make out what movie I’m watching. Someone dies on me nearly every week. The country’s going down the tubes and I’m the last one and I’m tired. Tired of it all. I’m going back with you.”
“No, Grandma. You can’t do that. It’s not time yet. You haven’t finished; there are a few things left for you to do here. That’s what I came to tell you.”
“Do? And what am I supposed to be able to do? I can’t even do my own grocery shopping anymore. Mac put ice cream in my freezer six months ago and I just noticed it today. I had to call a guy to open my sliding glass door which I thought was stuck but I just left the broomstick in the groove and forgot to take it out because I didn’t see it there. I’m half blind, I can’t drive, I can’t cook, I can’t read my own mail. What can I do that anybody else couldn’t do better?
“Can anybody else be you?”
She stood looking at him again and then picked up the tote bag.
“What’d you have to go and say a thing like that for?”
“Well what?” She put the tote bag down again.
“Grandma, if God wanted you to go to Him today, you wouldn’t be here right now walking this highway. He would take you home and that would be that. Grandma, you ask Him what He wants from you. He’ll show you.”
“But it’s so long. Why did He leave me here so long and then take you so young? I just don’t get it. I can’t. It’s too much. I don’t want it.”
He understood her pain without himself being wounded. “Leave that with Him, Grandma. It’s better this way, you’ll see.” He smiled, right into her heart. “I have to go now.”
“The station wagon will be at Mom & Dad’s house. You can pick it up there when the time comes. I love you, Grandma.”
“Please! Wait!” He turned and began walking north, away from her and all alone, walking up the highway. That’s the part she couldn’t take. The all alone part. “Come back! Please!”
He was leaving, getting smaller, and there was not a thing in the world she could do about it. She watched him as the distance grew between them. Though she could not see his face now, he seemed to glow with happiness. He looked fourteen again. So happy.
She awakened with fresh tears on her face. With some effort, she rolled out of the recliner, clicked off the television, dropped the empty ice cream bucket into the trash and, smiling, stepped outside into the sunshine.