Can't Wait to Get to Heaven (7 page)

BOOK: Can't Wait to Get to Heaven
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Going Over to Elner’s


uby and Tot walked across the lawn to Elner’s house, and Merle Wheeler, Verbena’s husband, a large man with a potbelly who always wore a white shirt and suspenders, was sitting in his yard across the street picking weeds. He called out, “Have you heard anything about Elner yet?”

Ruby nodded and called back, “We just got the report a little while ago, she didn’t make it.”

Merle, an expert on the running and maintenance of L&N toy train sets, but a little slow elsewhere, said, “To the hospital? What happened?”

“No,” said Ruby. “She didn’t make it period, Merle. She’s dead, stung to death by wasps. They said she was practically gone before she got there.”

Merle stopped picking weeds and sat in his green and white plastic lawn chair, also not believing what he had just heard. He and Verbena had lived directly across the street from Elner for the past thirty years. They had talked back and forth every day, he in his yard, Elner on her porch swing. After he had his heart attack and had retired, he and Elner had both joined the Bulb of the Month Club and had spent a lot of time together tending to their flower beds, watching the many varieties of bulbs bloom. Their spring jonquils had just bloomed a few days ago, but with all the snails in her garden hers were already half gone. Elner, who had loved all living creatures, had had a particular fondness for snails. She would pick them up and show them to visitors. “Aren’t they the cutest things?” she would say. “Look at those little faces.” Consequently she never kept her flowers long.

Merle had tried sneaking over into her yard and sprinkling Suggs Slug and Snail Poison in her garden, but she had caught him and had come running out of the house. “Don’t you be killing my snails, Merle Wheeler,” she had said. Every year the birds got most of her fruit and the ants got the rest, but she didn’t care. She said the only insects she felt OK about killing were mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas, and an occasional spider, if it bit her first. Then something dawned on Merle; after all the years of Elner loving insects, going out of her way to save them, it had been insects that had killed her. “So much for being nice,” he thought. Tomorrow he would go over to her house and kill every damn last one of them, snails and all. Slowly he got up off of his chair and went inside to call Verbena down at the cleaners and let her know the latest bad news.

When Tot and Ruby got to Elner’s back porch, Sonny was scratching on the kitchen screen door trying to get in and have his breakfast. Tot opened the door and said, “Poor old Sonny is an orphan now and he doesn’t even know it.” As they walked in the kitchen, the smell of coffee was still in the room. The coffeepot was turned on, and so was her oven. They turned off the pot and the oven and removed the pan of biscuits that were now black and hard as a rock, and threw them out. Her frying pan, with several pieces of burned bacon in it, was still sitting on the gas burner. There were a few dirty dishes from the night before in the sink, so Tot walked over and started washing them while Ruby went in the pantry and found the cat food and fed Sonny, who was sitting by his dish meowing.

After she fed the noisy cat, Ruby went into Elner’s bedroom and found the bed unmade and the radio on, tuned in to Elner’s favorite station. Ruby made the bed, and tidied up the bathroom. She picked up a few things off the floor and put them back in the drawer. She tried to straighten out all the things Elner had sitting on her bedside table, her hearing aid, an old photograph of her late husband, Will Shimfissle, standing by their old farmhouse, a glass paperweight with the Empire State Building inside, a sixth grade school picture of her friend Luther Griggs, and the small clear glass snail figurine Luther had bought her. Ruby wanted everything to look a little neater when Norma came back. She dusted off the top of the table and emptied a glass of water and closed her small Bible. When Ruby went back into the kitchen, Tot was still at the sink. She turned and said, “I wonder what they will do with Sonny?”

Ruby looked over at the orange striped cat, who at the moment was sitting by his dish, cleaning his whiskers, and said, “I don’t know, but if nobody else wants him, I’ll take him, I guess, Elner thought the world of that old ugly thing.”

“She did,” said Tot. “I’d take him if my cat wouldn’t have a fit. You know, now that I think about it, it was Elner who gave me my first cat, after I had my breakdown, when I told her the doctor said I needed Prozac. She said, ‘Tot, sometimes what you need is a kitten,’ and you know, she was right.”

“Oh yes, she’s pretty smart about mental health matters,” said Ruby. “Look at how she was able to turn Luther Griggs around.”

“That’s right. She had the patience of Job with that boy.”

Ruby looked out the window at all of Elner’s birdfeeders. “Somebody is going to have to keep feeding her birds, you know she would want that.”

“Oh yeah, I’ll do it, I guess.”

“It’s a big job. She feeds them three times a day.”

“I know, but it’s the least I can do for her, she loved her birds.”

“She did. She loved her birds.”

Tot looked around the room with all the pictures of insects and flowers taped up on the wall. “I wonder if Norma will keep the house or sell it or what?”

“I imagine they’ll sell it.”

Suddenly Tot burst into tears. “It’s hard to believe she’s not coming right back. Isn’t life the strangest thing, one minute you’re picking figs and the next minute you’re dead. It’s enough to make you not want to get up in the morning.” She blotted her eyes with a tea towel. Growing up in a close-knit small town, she had been through this kind of thing many times before, but it was still sad to see it happen. When someone old dies, it is even sadder. First you notice that the paper doesn’t come anymore, then gradually the lights are turned out, the gas turned off, the house gets locked up, and the yard is no longer kept up, then it goes on the market and new people come in and change everything.

Elner’s phone rang, and they both looked at each other. “This could be Norma calling,” Ruby said, and walked over and answered it. “Hello.”

The voice on the other end said, “Elner?”

“No, this is Ruby, who’s this?”

“It’s Irene. What are you gals up to this morning?”

“Oh, Irene, hold on a minute, will you?” Ruby put her hand over the receiver and whispered to Tot, “It’s Irene Goodnight, do you want me to tell her or do you want to do it?” Tot was on the Elmwood Springs ladies bowling team with Irene, and said, “I’ll do it,” and took the phone from Ruby.

“Irene, it’s Tot.”

“Well, hey, what are you girls doing over there, having a party?”

“No, not really.”

“Well, I won’t bother you, but tell Elner to call me later, will you? I found some old
National Geographic
magazines she may want.”

“Irene, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Elner’s dead.”


“Elner is dead.”

“You’re kidding me, right?”

“No, honey, I’m as serious as a heart attack. She got hit by wasps, and fell out of her tree and killed herself.”


“Not more than an hour and a half ago.”

Irene had been cleaning out her basement all morning and had not heard the siren go through town, or even been aware of Elner’s fall, so this news was like a bolt out of the blue. “Well,” she sputtered, “I’m just—I’m just…stunned.”

“Oh, honey, we all are,” said Tot. “After we finish straightening up the house, I’m going home and get in bed. I feel like I’ve been hit by a ten-ton truck.”

Irene sat down on her bed and looked out the window toward Elner’s house. “Well, I’m just stunned…Where is she?”

“In the hospital in Kansas City. Norma and Macky are over there with her.”

“Oh. Poor Norma, you know she is going to take this hard.”

“You know she is…I just hope they are giving her something for her nerves.”

Irene agreed, “I hope so too…. well…what’s going to happen now?”

“I don’t have any of the details yet, but I’ll keep you posted.”

After she hung up, Tot walked over and sat back down. “She’s all broken up, could hardly talk.”

Ruby said, “Well, I guess we should start making a list of all the people we need to call and let them know, save Norma the trouble.”

“You’re right, you know she’s going to be busy making all the arrangements, that will be one less thing she will have to worry about. I guess Dena and Gerry will come in from California, don’t you think?”

“Oh, I’m sure, it will be nice to see them again, although…I wish it could be under better circumstances,” said Ruby.

“Yes, I do too, I wonder when the funeral will be.”

“In the next couple of days, I would imagine.”

Tot looked at Ruby. “I’m so sick of going to funerals I don’t know what to do.”

Ruby, who was a little older than Tot, sighed. “When you get to be my age, all the different weddings, christenings, funerals, start to blend together. You get used to it after a while.”

“Not me,” said Tot. “I don’t ever want to get used to it.” She turned and looked out the kitchen window at the puffy white clouds in the blue sky, and spoke. “And it’s such a pretty day too.”

Irene Goodnight


fter Irene put the phone down, she felt sick. She looked over at the small bunch of yellow daffodils in a jelly jar Elner had brought over a few days ago. She felt a huge wave of sadness hit her as she realized that Easter was only a few weeks away and Elner would not be here this year, or ever again. Every Easter, for as long as she could remember, she had taken her kids, then later her grandkids, over to Elner’s yard to hunt Easter eggs. Every year without fail, Elner had dyed over two hundred eggs and had hidden them all over her yard. She always held the Easter egg hunt for all the neighborhood children. Irene’s own five-year-old twin granddaughters, little Bessie and Ada Goodnight, had found the golden egg one year. What were the parents and the children going to do this year with Elner gone? What was going to happen to the Sunset Club? What was she going to do without Elner? She had known her since she was a little girl, and remembered when Elner used to keep chickens in her backyard. Irene’s mother used to send her over to Elner’s house for some eggs, and she had always left with a sack of figs as well. One time Elner had said, “Tell your mother my hens have been laying double yolks lately, so be on the lookout,” and sure enough there had been five in a dozen with double yolks. When Irene had been younger, she had only thought of Elner as the egg and fig lady, then as she grew older and spent more time with her, she came to know her as plain Miss Elner. And Miss Elner always had some funny story to tell, mostly about herself. She remembered the story that Miss Elner used to tell about what had happened in the snowstorm the first Christmas she had moved into town from the country. She had been waiting for Norma’s husband to come pick her up and take her over to their house for Christmas dinner, and when a green car slowed down, she thought it was Macky and ran out and jumped in the front seat. She said a complete stranger had been driving around looking for Third Street, when all of a sudden a big fat woman jerked the door open and hopped in beside him. She said she scared that man so badly he almost wrecked the car. Irene and Elner had laughed so hard over that, tears had run down both their cheeks. Little silly stories, like the time when her husband, Will, had swallowed a mother-of-pearl button she had left on the bedside table, thinking it was an aspirin. She said she never did tell him. No matter how blue Irene had been, Elner could always make her laugh. It was going to be sad to go by the old house on First Avenue North and not see her out on her porch waving, and knowing she would never be there again. But Irene had discovered over the years that unfortunately that was the way life was, something was there for years, and in an instant, it was gone. One day Elner’s out on the porch, the next day, it’s just an empty swing, another empty chair, another empty house, waiting for the next people to come and start all over again. She wondered if the houses ever missed people when they left, or if furniture knew anything at all. Would the chair know it was a different person sitting there? Would the bed? She sighed. “Death—what was it all about?” She wished she knew.

BOOK: Can't Wait to Get to Heaven
3.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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