Death had a name and it was Grace. Death was a bright blonde girl and was adorned in a blue dress. She paid Clarence visits frequently, but rather than whisk him away, she would sit at the end of Clarence’s bed, smiling gently as Clarence’s dying breath gasped underneath his oxygen mask. Clarence could see her from the corner of his eye, but whenever he would spare a glance, Grace was gone.
But it was only time when the two would lock eyes and Clarence would be no more.
It was New Years Eve. Much to Clarence’s heartbreak, Grace had not visited him for weeks. As a replacement, however, his entire family came to visit frequently. His sons and daughters would proudly boast their 108 year old father was in exceptional health, to which Clarence dismayed. Meanwhile, the grandchildren were far more realistic. In each of their hearts, they knew that Death would sit at Clarence’s bedside again. It was only a matter of time.
Clarence was a lucky man. Born in 1912, he had survived a Great Depression and two world wars (in which he served in WWII). In total, he had three sons, eight grandchildren, and sixteen great-grandchildren.
The most precious thing to him, however, was his wife. He and his wife had been married for eighty years before she passed at the ripe age of 101. This heartbreak sent Clarence’s health plummeting. No more than a month after losing his wife, he suffered from a stroke. Since this, Clarence was never the same. Losing the love of his life was the worst thing he had ever experienced on Earth…
Yet, Clarence considered himself a lucky man.
As the clock struck seven, his family began to depart his side. Gatsby Hospice had very strict visiting hours. Nurses ushered each of them out as another RN began to dim the lights. Each great-grandkid kissed Clarence goodbye, the grandchildren embraced, and his sons nodded before parting. With Clarence’s last son turning away, Clarence rested his eyes.
Everyone was gone to celebrate the New Year.
A sudden voice shouted from the corridor.
As his eyes expanded, Clarence caught a glimpse of a barricade at his door.
“Sir, you can’t go in!” exclaimed a nurse.
The man argued, “I just need to give him this, please!” There was a brief pushing at the door, to which the nurses resiliently stood their ground.
“Visiting hours are passed. Please sir.”
That last cry. Clarence knew it in an instance.
“Taron.” Clarence whispered. His shaking hand began to raise ever so slightly, a smile growing on his face, “Taron, did you bring it?”
After one final push, Taron passed through the barricade of nurses and rushed to Clarence’s side. Taron was Clarence’s youngest grandchild, a 30-year old businessman who never had time for a wife. He was the closest ally Clarence had since his wife passed. Taron’s black hair was freckled in snow. Instinctively, Taron shook his hair and swiftly knelt to his grandfather’s side.
“Paw-paw, it’s right here.” Gently, Taron reached to his knapsack. After unzipping it, he pulled out a tattered blanket. It was a faded, torn, and soiled blanket that was only hanging by threads. It was despicable to look at, but for Clarence, it was all he needed.
Mustering his energy, Clarence asked his grandson, “Put it on me.”
Taron nodded. Gently he spread the blanket across his grandfather’s body, tucking the ends underneath him. As delicate as he could be, Clarence began to caress the rugged blanket. It was a mystery why Paw-paw had asked for this, but Taron didn’t wish to question it. The grateful smile across Paw-Paw’s face was all Taron needed to see.
Before Taron could anticipate it, a nurse approached Taron. He took a hold of Taron’s shoulder and spoke roughly, “Visiting hours are over, sir. For the sake of our staff, we need to ask you to leave.”
Taron nodded and rose to his feet. As he did, he couldn’t help but smile. Before turning away, Taron cheered, “See you next year, Paw-paw!”
With this, Taron turned.
The light began to dim. Clarence’s finger clutched onto the blanket, the smile still flourishing. Once Taron was gone, the nurses exited one by one. Clarence’s eyes began to flutter as sleep spelled his body. Yet before his mind could succumb to slumber, something flickered in his eyes. He turned his head. Sitting at the foot of the bed was Grace.
Clarence closed his eyes.
“That’s the one!”
It was 1920. The streets were strung with lights leftover from Christmas. The cheers of children screamed from alley to alley, bridge to trafficway. Standing at the corner of Winston and 23rd was a young woman named Cherise Smith. Burrowed deeply beside her was a young Clarence.
Clarence’s pudgy fingers poked at the window across them. His dirty fingerprint stained the window. His fingers laid upon a wool blanket, knitted tightly with love. As Clarence looked at it, he knew he wanted it. Without a moment of hesitation, the mother and son entered the store. Clarence had been saving up for the day he could buy this particular blanket. With the 15 cents he had scrounged up, he purchased the prized blanket.
Clarence was a happy boy.
The town of Leavenworth was quite tiny at the time. In not a minute later, Clarence and his mother were approaching home. Clarence swung by his mother’s arms as she hummed an old familiar tune. Yet for the life of him, Clarence couldn’t remember it.
Approaching the house, something struck Clarence particularly. The Smith’s had been living in Leavenworth for eighteen years and the neighborhood had not once changed. Yet from the corner of his eye, Clarence sought a new discovery. At the corner of 25th used to be a boarded-up barn. Yet parked neatly before the house was a moving van. He tilted his head, noticing that the doors and windows were no longer boarded.
Clarence was utterly fascinated, so much so that he let go of his mother’s hand.
Are these new neighbors?
The adventurous boy approached the house with ease. As he came to the curb, he overheard a great wail. As he glanced over his shoulder, he spotted a small figure curled into a ball. He tilted his head and approached. As he did, he noticed it was a young girl, perhaps two years younger than himself.
The boy tapped on the little girl’s shoulder. At first she jolted and faced away from him.
“Are you my new neighbor?”
The little girl sniffled and nodded. She still faced away from Clarence.
He asked again, “Are you sad?”
The little girl nodded. Quietly, she whispered, “I didn’t want to move. I don’t like it here.”
Clarence nodded, empathetic to the little girl’s disposition.
“It must be scary,” replied Clarence, “Leaving your old home and into a place like this.”
Clarence couldn't imagine what it must be like! Leavenworth was all Clarence had ever known. He looked towards the house and shivered. As he did, he clutched onto the blanket. It was then that he realized what he must do.
Gently, Clarence draped the blanket over the little girl’s shoulder. He spoke softly, “Have this. I bought it earlier, but I think you need it more than I do.”
It was then that the girl clutched onto the blanket around her. A soft giggle came from her lips. As she turned, Clarence was amazed. This young girl was a bright blonde girl adorned in a blue dress. She was the most beautiful thing Clarence had ever seen in his life.
“T-thank you.” The two locked eyes and she said gently, “I’m Grace.”
Clarence was left breathless. The look in her eye killed him, but Grace lent out her hand to his. As she grasped onto it, she spoke, “Come on, Clarence. Let’s go home.”
The world went white as both children, hand to hand, went from 1920 to eternity at last.