Doris and Carl Malone sat at their usual table in The Forgotten Crumb enjoying the performances of slightly inebriated patrons searching for their fifteen minutes of fame at the karaoke microphone. The couple had met here nearly twenty-eight years before, fallen in love, and married on the very stage that was now a platform for a middle-aged woman trying her best to sound like Barbra Streisand. She was followed by a young construction worker channeling his inner Barry Manilow and then by an elderly couple singing “I Got You Babe,” expertly and comedically nailing the mannerisms of Sonny and Cher.
Doris relaxed, enjoying the music, but enjoying her time with the love of her life more so. When Carl impulsively rose and moved toward the stage though, she gasped and blushed. This was something she would never consider doing in public despite the fact that she was in front of a demanding crowd of third graders every Monday through Friday. Carl, on the other hand, had no inhibitions, and moved confidently toward the microphone.
With the first few notes of “Song Sung Blue,” Doris felt happy tears rolling down her cheeks. Our song, she mused. Better even than Neil Diamond himself.
“Song sung blue, weeping like a willow,
Song sung blue, sleeping on my pillow…”
Doris awoke with a jolt. Her old digital clock radio, the one with the plastic numbers that systematically flip every minute, was playing – had been playing for quite some time – and Neil Diamond was finishing up his performance. She yanked the covers off and jumped from her bed in a panic.
“Oh, no!” she shrieked. “School starts at eight. I will never make it!”
There was little time to look for the perfect outfit and absolutely no time for her usual make-up routine. Doris grabbed the pair of black pants and the floral blouse she had worn the day before. The kids will notice, she thought as she rushed through the house looking for her shoes and then for her purse and book bag. She could hear them already. Didn’t you wear that yesterday?
She grabbed the old gray cardigan from the back of Carl’s chair at the kitchen table, and the tears began to flow again. Oh honey, she thought, why did you have to go so soon? Talk about a song sung blue. “I miss you,” she said aloud, before heading out the door.
Doris slipped into her late husband’s comfortable sweater. It still smelled like Old Spice, like him. You always wear that old thing, the kids would say. But how, she wondered, could they even begin to understand?
As she threw her bags into the back seat of the car, she noticed a red thread clinging to her right sleeve. Where in the world? she wondered. Impatiently, she plucked the thread from her arm and threw it to the ground. A light breeze lifted it and carried it away, and Doris sped away for another day of teaching eight-year-olds.
Maria Torres looked out her kitchen window as her two granddaughters finished their cereal and squabbled over the free toy inside the box. She noticed the storm rolling in as she saw her sheets and towels whipping wildly back and forth on the clothesline. “Come with me,” she ordered. “Bring your bowls and sit on the porch while I get the linens down.”
The children knew not to disobey their Nana and jumped from their chairs immediately. The free toy forgotten, they imagined being in the middle of a tornado as the wind intensified.
Maria yanked the towels and threw them into her green laundry basket. Next came the sheets, which were snatched from the line even more forcefully. With but one item still hanging, Maria saw in the corner of her eye a scraggly-looking terrier moving menacingly toward her porch, toward her little ones.
“Get inside!” she screeched. “Now! Leave your bowls!” The children jumped to their feet, dropping shredded wheat all about. Maria ripped the final sheet from the line and ran toward the mongrel yelling, “¡Sal de aquí! Get out of here!” She snapped the sheet, striking the dog in the side of his face. Taken aback, he stopped momentarily and shook his head. Then, growling, he charged toward the woman. She flung the sheet at the beast, yanked the screen door open and slammed it between herself and her attacker.
Angrily, the dog grabbed the sheet and shook it ferociously. A red thread floated from the fabric into the darkening sky.
A few sprinkles of rain began to fall, and William Ford, already late for first hour English, began pedaling faster upon his ten-speed bike. I knew I should have worn my raincoat, he grumbled as the raindrops began to cover the thick lenses of his glasses. At first, he swiped them away with the sleeve of his shirt but as others fell more rapidly, he gave up and concentrated on remaining upright on the two wheels beneath him on the wet asphalt.
“Help me! Someone, help me!”
William barely heard the old man’s plea. He turned his head in the direction of the man’s cries coming from across the street. A garage door was open, the only door open on the entire street. An old man was slumped over the back end of his Cadillac.
“Help me!” the man repeated before falling to the ground.
William grabbed the hand brakes and almost fell from his seat as the back wheel slid out of control. He jumped from the bike and let it crash into the concrete. He threw his backpack to the ground and ran to the man’s aid.
“My chest…,” the man muttered. “I can’t breathe…”
William grabbed his cellphone from his back pocket and dialed 9-1-1. He shook uncontrollably as he cradled the old man in his lap. In the shelter of the garage, he watched the rain begin to pour, and he cried.
He took off his glasses and wiped his eyes. “Hurry,” he whispered, willing the ambulance’s arrival. “I don’t know what to do.”
The boy wiped his eyes against the man’s limp arm. “Don’t die,” he cried. “Please, don’t die.” He wiped his entire face now on the man’s sleeve.
Unnoticed by both, was the transfer of a red thread.
One paramedic remained in the back of the ambulance while his partner drove to the hospital. The old man stirred on the gurney. “Easy, easy, easy,” the EMT soothed. “You’re in good hands. You’re going to be okay. We’re on the way to the ER.”
“Ancora tanta vita da vivere,” the old man whispered.
“Still so much life to live,” the paramedic translated aloud. “Still so much life to live.” He tried to place where he had heard those words before, and a few seconds later shouted, “Mr. Mancini?”
The old man turned his head and quietly whispered, questioning, “Aye?”
“Mr. Mancini! I haven’t seen you since I was nine. You invited my family to your home for a summer party. I’m Joseph Arquette. You always called me Little Joey.”
“Aye. I remember, I remember.”
“You saved my life, Mr. Mancini.”
“You saved my life,” Joey repeated. “I was on the bottom of the pool. You are the person who found me and made me breathe again.”
“Aye,” the old man whispered.
“The first thing I remembered was you shouting, ‘Ancora tanta vita da vivere! Still so much time to live! Breathe, kid! Breathe! Please! Breathe!’”
Both men sat quietly, crying as the ambulance pulled into the hospital parking lot.
Joey took Mr. Mancini’s hand and squeezed it. “Thank you, sir. Thank you. I promise to take care of you, Mr. Mancini. Ancora tanta vita da vivere.”
Members of the ER staff raced to the vehicle. Joey jumped out and assisted in transferring the patient to the hospital gurney.
“Just breathe, Mr. Mancini!” Joey hollered as the gurney was rushed inside. The old man held up his hand and waved.
The red thread floated from his sleeve and through the ER doors.
Dr. Kate Lawson rushed past the old man on the gurney and headed directly to the employee elevator. She pushed the button for the fifth floor where her office in Pediatric Oncology was located. As the car moved upward, she was glad to be alone. She needed time to process what she had just heard on her drive in to work regarding little Hope Miller.
Dr. Lawson hurried to her office and locked the door. She sat at her desk and looked at the lab results that had been placed there per her freeway order. She began to cry. Rarely, she thought, is there any good news to report in this office.
She picked up her phone and dialed Hope’s mother.
“Mrs. Miller?” she began.
“Yes…,” the woman answered hesitantly.
“This is Dr. Kate Lawson from Liberty General. I think you’d better sit down before I start.” She could hear a faint gasp and then crying on the other end.
“Okay, Doctor. Please, tell me what you must.”
“Well, I don’t exactly know how to explain this. We have been treating your daughter for the past seven months. Her brain tumor has been resistant to almost everything in our toolbox. Hope’s cancer has been relentless and has been increasing in size throughout the past half-year.” She began to choke on her words and tried to hold back her tears.
She continued. “This morning I received yesterday’s scans. Mrs. Miller…”
“Yes?” the woman on the other end squeaked through her own tears.
“Mrs. Miller…I don’t know how to explain this. The tumor is gone.”
There was no response.
“It’s a miracle, Mrs. Miller. There is no tumor. It is gone.”
Mrs. Miller shrieked, “Hallelujah! Thank you, Jesus!”
Both women were crying now.
“Hallelujah!” Mrs. Miller repeated. “Thank you, Doctor! Thank you, Jesus!”
Hanging up her office phone, Dr. Lawson looked out the window, made the sign of the cross, and whispered, “Yes, thank you, Jesus!”
She reached into her purse for her cellphone so that she could call her husband with the news. As she punched in his number, she removed a random red thread from the phone’s screen and let it fall to the floor.
Mrs. Miller arrived at the school office around ten-thirty. “I need to check my daughter out of school for the rest of the day,” she announced. “Hope Miller. She has Mrs. Malone for her teacher.”
The secretary called Mrs. Malone’s classroom and asked that Hope be sent to the office. Her mother was waiting.
“We were just about to leave for music,” Mrs. Malone replied. “I’ll bring her up after I drop off the rest of the kids.
Mrs. Miller jumped to her feet the minute she saw her daughter enter with her teacher. “Mrs. Malone,” she said, “do you have a moment to talk?”
“Sure,” the teacher said with a sigh, resigned to the fact that her break was now about to be taken from her. “Let’s go in here,” she said, pointing to a small conference room.
Mother, daughter and teacher entered the tiny room and closed the door.
When they emerged a half-hour later, all three were wiping away tears, smiling, and laughing. “Such a beautiful miracle!” exclaimed Mrs. Malone. “You have definitely made my day. Thank you, Mrs. Miller! Thank you, sweet Hope!”
Mother and teacher embraced, still laughing through the tears.
“You’d better button up your sweater, honey,” Mrs. Miller instructed her child. “It’s getting pretty chilly out there.”
“Such an adorable red sweater, Hope,” said Mrs. Malone. “Here, let me help you.”
Hope charged toward Mrs. Malone and enveloped her in a tender hug. “I love you, teacher,” she chirped.
It wasn’t until Doris had returned all of her kids to the classroom and succeeded in getting everyone started on their math review that she looked down and noticed on the sleeve of her gray sweater…
Copyright, Tim Ramsey, 2018.