"I Wish I May..." ... by Becca O.

The black, low-hung clouds spill forth their chilly contents in what seems to be rivers, rivers of pain that match the tears that I have shed in the past seventy-two hours. The sound of the familiar scriptures being read dim in my ears as my mind wanders, and I smile at the random thought that flutters through my brain: happy birthday to me. I sigh as yet more tears find their way over my pale cheeks, falling onto my black linen dress. Black, the color of death. Black, the color of mourning. As I raise my eyes to scan the crowd that has gathered, it seems that all I see is black.

Just three short days ago, we had such high plans. The kids were all spending the night with a friend and we were going out on the town, toasting my fortieth birthday in a wild fashion. Yet instead, here I was, staring at the open hole in the earth that would soon enshroud my best friend forever. Her grave. You see, Marty Harrington was dead, the victim of colossal poor timing and a driver who should have been poured into a cab outside the local bar, not handed the keys to his SUV and the keys to the fate of my best friend.

~ Last Wednesday Night ~

"Jo, come ON!" Marty begged. "You can't just pretend this birthday isn't going to happen."

"Oh no?" I replied, "Watch me." I fluffed the pillows in Brianna's room as I made my daughter's bed. She'd flown out the door in all of her twelve year old haste, leaving her room in its usual state of disarray. I smiled as I looked around at the chaos, and for just a moment, I let the thoughts of Brianna's father into my mind. She was so like him in so many ways, and I sighed, trying in vain to push the image of her father, my husband, back into the tiny mental compartment that I kept reserved for him.

"Joanna, stop it!" Marty pulled the pillow from my hands before I could shred the pillow case, and glared at me. "You're doing it again, aren't you? I can't understand you," she said shaking her red curls, "you do this to yourself every year on your birthday. When are you going to give up on him?"

"When he tells me why he left me, I suppose. When he has a good enough excuse for breaking my heart and leaving me to raise his children alone."

"Jo, you're hopeless." Marty put her arm around me, hugging me close. "This is another reason I'm taking you out. I will NOT let you spend this birthday wallowing in 'what-ifs'. Saturday, 7:30, meet me at Casa Grande. Mexican food and two-for-one margueritas. I guarantee you, in no time you'll forget about old what's-his-name."

"Who?" I said with a straight face.

"Exactly!" she laughed. "See? It's working already. I gotta go, I promised Mrs. Carroll I'd feed her cat this week while she's in Vegas."

"That woman is something else. Marty, you need a man to look after, not a cat."

"Sure," she snorted. "Look where it got you."

I grinned back at her, "Not everyone you can be lucky like I was, maybe you'll get a good one. I hear there are still a few left."

"No thanks," she chuckled, "I'll stick with my cats. They love me unconditionally, never complain if I'm out late and they don't eat much. AND," she emphasized, "they keep me warm in the winter without any other weird demands. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, I always say."

"Shoo, get out of here. I'll see you Saturday." I walked her to the door and waved as she set off on foot down the street. She only lived a few blocks from me, and never drove, even in the pouring rain.

~ Saturday ~

They insisted that she never knew what hit her; that she'd felt no pain and had died on impact. I prayed that it was so, because that was the only thing holding me together today. In my grief I realized that the final commission had been spoken and the crowd was beginning to disperse. I gently laid my hand upon the cold, steel exterior of her rose-colored casket. I smiled through my tears, placed a spring flower among the others and whispered, "Peace Martha Jo, Marty... I miss you already."

My eyes filled, and I turned to go, needing to get to my car before the day laborers began the gruesome task of settling Marty into the cold, damp earth. Only one other mourner remained, and in my haste to flee, I brushed past him. I left the tented area behind, but his softly spoken words of condolence stopped my exit as none other's could ever do.

"I'm sorry for your loss, Joanna."

I turned quickly and ungracefully, my heels sinking in the mud. No, not after all this time, and why now? The rain soaked my dress, and my hair began to droop around my face as my lips spoke his name aloud for the first time in years. "Nick?"

part 2