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Contemporary Fiction Inspirational

Melody skipped down the pebbled pathway, stopping occasionally to collect a flower that caught her eye, anything she thought her mama would like. She was in the most beautiful botanical garden she’d ever seen. The colorful perfumed surroundings made her nose tickle in the most delightful way, and the hum of the busy bees buzzing about made her feel as though she were visiting in a fairy tale. It was all so perfect. She wore a white lace dress with a pink sash and a ribbon to match that was braided in her hair. The shining sun blurred her vision for a second before she could make out what was waiting for her at the end of the garden path. It was Jerrod, her best friend in the world! She started to run, letting the flowers fall away as she spread her arms, intending to wrap them tightly around Jerrod.  “Where have you been? Oh, how I’ve . . .”    


Melody awoke to her mama’s hand patting her gently on the shoulder.  “Time to get up, Mellie. We have a big day ahead.”


The little girl rolled onto her back, rubbing her eyes. “Oh, mama. I saw Jerrod. He was waiting for me in the most beautiful garden I’ve ever seen.”


Jacquie Miller sat on the side of her daughter’s bed. She fought back the tears that instantly would appear at the sound of the young boy’s name. She smoothed Melody’s wild curly hair back and away from her face. 


“I know how much you miss him, honey. I do, too.”


“I don’t blame the angels for wanting him, mama, but I wish they coulda waited a while. And now I’m losing you, too!”


Jacquie gathered Melody in her arms and held her close.


“Now, listen to me, baby girl. Remember what I told you?”


Melody buried her little face into her mother and nodded.


“You will never lose me and I will never lose you,” she mumbled half-heartedly.


“That’s right. This is a special opportunity for you to be far away from all the dangers around here.  You’ll be with my sister Angie, and she’s going to love you, too!  I’ll be happier knowing you’re in a safe place. And, don’t forget, as soon as I can arrange a better life for the two of us, we’ll be together again. I promise.”


Melody sank deeper into her mama’s embrace.


“And what if I just don’t ever let you go?  What if I’m glued to you and you’re stuck with me! Bwahahahaha!”


“Ah, my clinging vine! You don’t scare me! Gimme what you got!”


They clung to each other for a few more delicious, meaningful moments and then slowly, delicately released.


* * *     


Melody was the first to board the plane.  She’d already been introduced to Terri, the stewardess, who would accompany Melody on her journey and see that she was delivered safely into her aunt’s care once they reached their destination. Terri showed Melody the first row of seats in the economy section.


“You have your pick. Would you like to sit next to the window or near the aisle?”


Melody had never flown in a plane before and didn’t understand.


“Can’t I just sit in the middle?”


“Of course you can. It’s just that there should be one more passenger sitting here with you and I wanted you to have first choice of the seats.”


Melody thought about that.


“The window then!”


The stewardess smiled and waved to seat A-1. 


“All yours. Let’s put your bag in the overhead bin.  Is there anything you need before I store it?”


“May I get Crystal?”


The stewardess placed the bag next to Melody.


“Of course you can. Let me know if you need any help.”


“I can get her.”


Crystal, the pink pig that was Melody’s first choice for travel companion – not counting Jerrod - was right on top of her things. She hugged the stuffed animal close.


“All set.”


The stewardess was so nice, but Melody forgot about her in seconds. She traveled deep inside of herself to the empty pit of her stomach. She already missed her mama so much, she was afraid she might burst into tears and run screaming from the plane. She grasped for the sound of her mama’s voice. What had she said? Melody held Crystal closer and looked out her window.


Grey. Grey tarmac. Grey wagons hauling luggage. Grey conveyor belt to transport luggage into the cargo area.  She didn’t realize that what she smelled was petrol but imagined that’s probably what grey smelled like, too. Everything's grey. Jerrod had taken all the color and the perfume from her world when he left.  The beautiful things now only resided in her dreams and in her mama’s eyes.


You will never lose me.


But it feels like loss. Dreams don’t stay. They end. People don’t stay. They end, too. 


Other people were beginning to board the aircraft. Her companion stewardess reappeared with an older lady that needed assistance to relocate from the wheelchair she was in to the aisle seat in Melody’s row. Once she had been gently deposited into her seat, belt clicked into place, the woman held her hand to her upper chest, catching her breath.


“Whooph.”


Terri was lifting the woman’s travel bag into the overhead.  She then knelt before the two of them. “Melody, I’d like to introduce you to Mrs. Sherman. Mrs. Sherman, this is Melody. This very brave young lady is traveling all by herself, as is Mrs. Sherman. I wonder if I might count on you to look after each other while I take care of some of my other duties?”


Melody peered over at her new travel companion.  She didn’t sense that she had much choice but nodded.  Mrs. Sherman’s voice was kind of creaky, like it hadn’t been oiled in a long time.


“Hiya, kid.”


“All right then. You two get comfortable and I’ll be back to check on you as soon as I can. Mrs. Sherman, would you care for a blanket before I go?”


“I think I’d know if I wanted a blanket, and I’m perfectly capable of asking for myself. Still of sound mind, got that?”


Terri smiled, then winked Melody’s way.


“I’ll keep it in mind. You know where the buzzer is.”


“Won’t do any good if you’re like the others and pretend you don’t see it.  Think I’ll reserve judgment on that.”


Terri turned and smiled at Melody.


“Is there anything I can get for you?”


Melody spoke barely above a whisper.


“No, thank you.”


“All right then.” After one more smile her way, Terri left to help the other passengers get settled.


Melody smelled something musty and slightly pungent. She thought it might be coming from Mrs. Sherman. She pressed her tiny nose into Crystal’s pink neck and closed her eyes. What did mama say?


Mrs. Sherman was digging around in her purse, her face furrowed with concentration, inches from the contents. At last, she pulled out a roll of lifesavers. As she fumbled with stiff fingers to extract one, she suddenly aimed the pack at Melody.


“Butter rum?”


Melody glanced at Mrs. Sherman, then at the candy.


“No. I can’t.”


“No, of course you can’t,” Mrs. Sherman cackled to herself. “For all you know, I could be a wicked old lady who enjoys having children for breakfast, eh? Good for you.”


Just then, a male voice came over the loud speaker, muffled and difficult to hear over the steady chatter of the other passengers. Melody could only make out the words, “We hope you enjoy the flight.”  


Terri then appeared. “Pilot says we’re cleared for take off. Seats upright? Buckled in? Great. I have to take my seat now, right over there. See? All right then, here we go!”


Melody felt the plane move and heard the roar of the engines as she felt a rush of fear and mild panic. Her entire body tensed as a barrage of scary thoughts invaded her mind, until . . .


“Hey, kid, you okay? Breathe.”


Melody frowned at Mrs. Sherman, tears beginning to form.


“My name’s not ‘Kid,’ it’s Melody.” 


“Well, sorry then. You look scared.”


“I’m not scared,” Melody’s arms tightened even more around Crystal. “This is new to me, that’s all.”


“Well, you’re going to strangle the life out of that dog you’re holding if you don’t relax. Looks like his eyes are ready to pop.”


“Crystal’s not a dog!” Melody held Crystal out for Mrs. Sherman to see. “She’s a pig! Pigs are pink, dogs aren’t pink!”


“Oh, I don’t know. In my day that might’ve been true. Not today. I’ve seen animals of all description come even plaid or with polka dots. Anything goes. At least your Crystal there has some regard for tradition. I salute you for that.”


Wow, thought Melody, you’re really weird, lady!


Just then the engines revved into a deafening crescendo as the plane gained more speed and began to gently lift.


“Do this if your ears bother you.” Mrs. Sherman opened her mouth wide and demonstrated what appeared to be a fake yawn. Melody looked at her as if she’d lost her mind. At mid-stretch, Mrs. Sherman’s face suddenly collapsed as she broke into a raspy, choking kind of laughter. Melody couldn’t help grinning a little. Mrs. Sherman shook her head, chuckling.


“My mother taught me that trick. It helps the ear channels stay clear. Chewing gum works, too. I think the gum's more dignified, though mother would never allow it. It's not what a real lady would do.” More chuckling.


Melody looked around her. She could see they were in the air and she began to calm down.  The pilot’s muffled voice came over the speaker again. She could barely make out the words “cruising altitude” and “roam about the cabin.” She watched as Terri and two others in airline uniforms collected belt and air mask props and positioned themselves strategically down the plane’s long aisle.


“Here comes the big show,” Mrs. Sherman rolled her eyes. “I know it by heart.”


Melody listened and watched Terri demonstrate how to buckle and unbuckle their seatbelts. As she was pointing out the emergency exits, Melody leaned over and whispered.


“M-Mrs. Sherman?”


The old woman reacted as though Melody were a fly about to land on her soup spoon. But when she noticed that Melody’s bottom lip was quivering, she softened, a little. 


“You’re not scared, are you?”


Melody shook her head.  As she looked down, Mrs. Sherman could see that her lashes glistened with captured tears. One escaped and rolled down her cheek. Melody rubbed it away with a fist before it could get far.


“Well, I admire anybody who’s got the good sense to be afraid to fly around in a gigantic tin can with wings.  They say the odds of one of these going down is like one in five million. That’s a lot of lottery tickets. Not that I believe it. This is what ‘they’ say. You know who ‘they’ are, don’t you?”


Melody shook her head.


“Me either. All I can really tell you with any certainty is that, even though the odds are generally in your favor, you can still worry your little head off and be miserable, kicking and screaming, and it won’t make one little bit of difference in the outcome. I learned long ago not to waste my time or use up precious energy worrying about things I can’t do a thing about.  I just prepare best I can and then let ‘er rip.”


Melody’s eyes had dried as Mrs. Sherman talked. She smiled at the way the old woman said, “let ‘er rip.” She lifted Crystal to eye level and spoke to her pink friend.


“There, Crystal, see? One in five million! That’s a lot of piglets!”


“Say, kiddo. If we’re gonna be lookin’ out for each other the next few hours, what say you call me Abby. That’s what my friends call me.”


“You have friends?” Melody gasped, immediately regretting what she’d said. Abby just hooted.


“Girl, I like your style! I know I can be a little crusty. That’s just privilege that comes with age.  Want to hear a little secret?  And this is strictly for your ears and yours alone. Deal?  Ears ain’t clogged up now, are they?”


Melody gave her best large, exaggerated fake yawn and shook her head.


“All clear.”


"How 'bout the pig?"


Melody checked Crystal's pink ears.


"They're good. She promises not to tell either."


Abby looked around cautiously to be sure she wouldn’t be overheard.


“My bark is much worse than my bite. Inside I’m all marshmallow.”


“We LOVE marshmallows!”


They both smiled at that.


“You’ve already met Crystal, the P-I-G? And I’m Melody. MY friends call me Mellie.”


“Pleasure.”


Abby and Mellie next turned their attention to the drinks and snacks being served. Terri the Stewardess checked on them occasionally and was pleased to see them interacting comfortably. She left a couple blankets on the empty seat between them, just in case.


When it was quiet and Melody was again left to her thoughts, she felt the weight of her situation return and then the memory of why she was there. Fresh anxiety coursed through her and she felt dangerously close to crying.


“Mellie, look!”


Mellie barely focused on Abby but allowed her eyes to follow where her finger was pointing. Out the window next to her she saw clouds. Big deal.


“What?”


“Don’t you see it? There’s an alligator about to chow down on that poor, unsuspecting turtle!”


Mellie looked again. She knew Abby was certainly weird around the edges but to actually claim to see . . .wait a minute.


“There! I see the jaws, right? And teeth.”


“Quick, before it changes, see the turtle's shell?”


“Get out the way, Mr. Turtle! You’re about to be . . .”


“Gator grub!”


Abby had swapped the blankets to her seat in the aisle in order to skootch over to the middle seat, closer to the window.


"Abby! I didn’t think you could . . .”


“Shhh.” Abby smiled and winked.


“You old marshmallow!”


“You young whipper-snapper pig-lover!”


“Yes. Yes, I am, and proud of it!”


“Speaking of pigs, will you look at that.”


“I see a snout! But it's got a horse's tail!”


“It's a hybrid! Is that a penguin it’s riding?”


Mellie suddenly grew quiet. Abby noticed.


“What’d you see, Mellie?”


“It’s what I don’t see. What I want to see. He only comes in my dreams. He was my best friend and he was killed. We were playing at my house and next thing we know, a bullet flew in from nowhere and hit Jerrod! Now I have to go live with my aunt so my mom knows I’m safe until she can make a new life and we can be together again. I need Jerrod and I don’t know where he is!”


Abby let Mellie go on for as long as she needed.   


“Your mom must love you a lot to put your safety first. That’s a mother’s love.”


“But I’m better with her, not away from her!”  The tears were back.


“I doubt she could do what she needs if she’s worried about you being safe. That’s a mother’s first concern.”


“But before you said worry doesn’t change anything.”


“So you were listening! I'm impressed. Well, something else I can say to you with certainty is, when it comes to children, all bets are off. Most mothers would do anything within their power to keep a child safe from harm. Someday you’ll see”


“Are you a mama, Abby?”


“Yes, I am actually. I have a son.”


“You do? Where is he?”


“He’s where your friend Jerrod is.”


“Oh,” Mellie whispered.


“He was taken in a car crash when he was 17. You know, you remind me of me. I used to only see Seth in my dreams, too.  But gradually, over time, I would see him in the most beautiful things life has to offer. The idea, for me, was to remain open to all the things at the time I felt least capable of. I was sad, I was mad, none of the best things Seth really loved me for. I needed to remind myself that I had a choice. I could make my world, and his, better or I could give up and let it all go down the drain. Nuh uh, I wanted more for his memory, and for me.”


“So, do you see Seth in those clouds outside?”


Abby smiled. “You’re actually much smarter than you look, you know that? Your friend Jerrod is wherever you want him to be. Love never dies. It’s forever and it stays with you. You're never alone so long as you can stay open to it, and don't close off the best parts of you.”


Mellie turned and threw her arms around Abby. Turns out, she enjoyed this musty, pungent old marshmallow.


“Everything’s going to work out for you, I just know it.”


Mellie did feel better.


“Well, Abby, there is no way in the world you can possibly know that. But I am glad you said it.”


“Wise ass.”


“Abby, you pig!”


Mellie went to rub Crystal in Abby’s face. After a small amount of giggling and tussling, Abby yawned, for real.


“That’s enough. You wore me out. Blanket?”  


“Sure. Is that butter rum offer still good?”


“Maybe.”


While Abby gently snored beside her, Melody stared out the plane window. The buttery sweetness of the candy danced in her mouth as she took in the pillowy landscape. The clouds had taken on a heavenly sheen and she watched as they transformed into a beautiful choir of angels singing, with Jerrod among them, smiling, waving to her. Happy.


Terri came over and whispered to her.


“Looks like you made a friend. We’ll be arriving shortly. Is there anything I can do for you before we land?” 


“No, but thank you so much, for everything.” Melody smiled. “I’m ready.”


THE END


November 07, 2022 18:22

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13 comments

Marty B
05:23 Nov 18, 2022

Great story about two people connecting over loss- one new to it and one who has coping mechanisms. I like the airplane structure to force two people have to interact and then connect.

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Susan Catucci
11:43 Nov 18, 2022

Thank you for yr comments, Marty. This was great fun to write. You never know, when you first meet people, what impact might result. It's amazing to think we're the only ones living our individual lives. but then the powerful connections we discover that we have with each other. There's a lot there.

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Graham Kinross
02:38 Nov 18, 2022

It's great how you've depicted the way a child can get through years of armour built up by an older person who's world weary and maybe bitter about life. You captured that really well here.

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Jack Bell
01:50 Nov 13, 2022

A well-written gem. Melody's dialogue was a highlight, very convincing. I had a slight reservation that the uplift toward the end pushed a little hard, a couple of Melody's comments got beyond her years. But a very small reservation for a story I thought top-notch.

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Susan Catucci
01:58 Nov 13, 2022

Haha, appreciated observation, Jack. I rationalized that the initial exchange with her mom might showcase enough sass to carry through - but I totally get what yr saying. I never really gave the age disparity any real definition and that could have lent more credibility. Thnx so much for the comment.

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KarLynn Erickson
00:36 Nov 13, 2022

Great job Susan! I love this story. Mrs. Sherman sure was crotchety, but Abby is soft as a marshmellow. The interaction was so sweet and funny. I enjoyed this so much!

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Susan Catucci
01:49 Nov 13, 2022

Kar (KarLynn?) - I'm so glad ! Your comment made my day. Writing about true friendship is not only fun, but important, all stages. And I believe, from your work that I've read, you understand that, Happy you read and liked.

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Aeris Walker
13:51 Nov 11, 2022

Hi Susan! I enjoyed your story—especially the dynamic between this crusty older woman and a nervous young girl. I think children and older people have so much in common in the sense that they say things how they see it, and they tend to kind of be pushed to the fringes of society as people who are either too young to understand the world or too old and out of touch. But you showed how each character has their own unique story, how they’ve endured tragedy, and how they have so much to offer. I liked these last lines here: “My bark is much w...

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Susan Catucci
16:29 Nov 11, 2022

Thanks so much, Aeris, your observations are spot on and beautifully expressed. I honestly love these two and could envision further adventures for them. I think humor can be a crucial component for people, especially knowing life can be so harsh. The fact these ladies of vastly different generations could enjoy some common ground, enough to act so silly, was a key I had a lot of fun exploring. Thank you again - I look forward to reading and writing more!

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Rama Shaar
04:07 Nov 11, 2022

I love this little friendship that sprouted between them. Sometimes that's all we need: someone to just listen to our worries and put them in perspective. I really liked how you described planes "a tin can with wings" 😉

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Susan Catucci
16:07 Nov 11, 2022

Thank you for reading and for your comments, Rama! One of the things I enjoy so much about encountering new people is how our impressions can turn on a dime and how much can be gained by sharing the riches in our lives - especially fun when you wouldn't necessarily see it coming. We are such fascinating creatures. Tanks again!

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Susan Catucci
14:12 Nov 10, 2022

It probably showed through (hope so) but I loved the creaky old (toasted) marshmallow. She pretty much wrote herself - my favorite kind of character. SO glad you enjoyed it.

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Delbert Griffith
11:01 Nov 10, 2022

Great story. The old lady was a hoot! Her aged wisdom certainly made the story move along.

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