Iris loves Fred. Fred loves Iris. After fifty years, “till death do us part” takes on new meaning. Which one gets to go first?
They married young. The war injected urgency. Work hard, have kids, work harder. Iris and Fred were blessed with five daughters and all turned out pretty well. But sometimes at night, listening to Fred snore as if his nose was its own roaring engine, or pee in the bathroom for the umpteenth time, Iris wonders what if she had her life ahead of her again. Which is a lot of work, so instead she plans ahead, to her widowhood. Life goes on, after all.
She loves the idea of going where she wants, when she feels like it. Fred likes to travel some, but when he finds a place he favors, he wants to go back — again and again. And so they do. Simple swallows.
“Alone?” her girls will ask their newly widowed mother as she packs her bags for Africa. “Why not go with Aunt Alice?”
Iris is too kind to go on about her sister — how she swears at cab drivers and leaves pathetic tips. She will just say, “Oh, I’ll be fine.”
“Why not take one of the grandchildren along, then?”
If she hesitates, they might come back with something deadly like, “Don’t you want to give (Annie, Sarah, Elizabeth) this special time with you, Ma?”
Stuck at home then, Iris supposes solitude wouldn’t be so bad. She could eat what she wants. Fred’s tastes are plain. Iris could dine on gourmet frozen dinners and watch television, any show she likes. But in this daydream, the phone rings suddenly. A daughter says, “Come to our house, don’t eat alone.” Iris counters with, “But I’m fine!” — and then she hears the hurt: “Okay, Ma, if that’s the way you want it.”
About the time that Iris concludes widowhood will be trickier than she thought, she suffers a terrible stroke. Lying in the hospital, surrounded by her devoted daughters with dear Fred hovering over her head, she tries to speak. But “How did this happen to me?” comes out sounding like, “Alllllllmennnnnnnallllmennn.”
Fred whispers, “Your mother’s praying, girls. This could be the end.”
The oldest grabs her father’s arm so tightly Fred winces through his tears. “We’re here for you, Dad. We’re right here. Always.”
And Iris, listening from her deathbed, smiles.
Priscilla Kipp is a writer living in Massachusetts and Prince Edward Island. She has attended the Wesleyan Writers Conference and studied under Amy Bloom and Chris Offutt. Her fiction has appeared in print (Worcester Review and Berkshire Review) and online (Night Train and Literary Mama). She also earned an award for short-short fiction in New England Writers Network.