The Precious Love of Margaret and Bill

Submitted into Contest #211 in response to: Write a story starring an octogenarian who’s more than meets the eye.... view prompt

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Fiction Contemporary Romance

Margaret Reed had a secret. A secret that she wanted to share, but couldn’t; no one would believe her. It started about six months ago, right on her and Bill’s anniversary.

Ted and his wife Claudette had come to visit and say happy anniversary, but it felt dutiful. They stayed and chatted about the weather and Ted’s work and how Chad was doing in school; the same kind of conversation that they’d had since Margaret moved into the nursing home. 

After they left, Margaret sat alone in her room, waiting for dinner. She’d tried watching TV but found it annoying. She tried reading but just couldn’t concentrate. She tried to crochet but she did that morning and her arthritis protested a second round. 

She decided that she wanted to listen to some music and tried to get her iPad to play the playlist Ted had made her, but she was having a hard time remembering how to navigate the tablet. Some things were getting hard to remember.

She was almost in tears when a nurse came by and asked if she needed anything and got the iPad going for her.

So she spent the afternoon in her armchair, thinking about Bill and humming the songs of their youth. Occasionally, her eyes would tear when a song came on that reminded her of a time long gone, and of places that didn’t exist anymore: their first house that had since been leveled to make room for a new subdivision, their favourite diner that sat in the corner of a now-dying shopping mall, the beach they loved that had been bought by some wealthy investor and turned into private cottages.

For Your Precious Love came on; her and Bill’s wedding song. She sang along while tears rolled down her face and remembered their wedding day, and how handsome Bill was with his wide smile beaming.

She thought about her wedding dress and how her curls had been styled and her red lipstick. She thought about the people that were there with them, many of whom were gone, their stories told and finished. It was strange to think about her life as being lived, all the chapters written. All but the last one.

She thought about how much she missed Bill and how badly she wanted to see him again, to hold his hand and kiss him, and for him to call her “my darling Peggy,” the way he had for forty years.

Otis continued to croon and she kept singing. Something strange started to happen. The music seemed to get louder, beat by beat. Margaret sang louder. She could feel it thumping in her chest and she felt like she was drifting out to sea, the waves rolling in time with the music.

She opened her eyes to see Bill’s smiling face staring back at her. But not Bill the way he was when he died. Bill on their wedding day. They were dancing their first dance as their wedding band, The Amplifiers, played

At first, she thought it was a memory, but it was too vivid. She could see Bill’s twenty-five-year-old face clearly before her, better than she could have ever remembered it. The lines and pores and stubble, the way the light reflected off his forehead. She could count his eyebrow hairs. 

She looked around as they turned slowly to the music and she could see everybody she remembered being there: her parents, her Aunts and Uncles, and her cousins. Not there in the sense that she remembered them being there, but she could see where they were sitting and who with. 

Even the smell was familiar. It smelled like her wedding day, which is something she’d never thought about. Flowers and perfume and cologne mixed with the smell of alcohol and smoke. She’d always hated the smell of smoke indoors but now it smelled like home. 

She turned back to Bill’s smiling face. “Bill, I-” but she stopped, shocked by the sound of her own voice. It wasn’t the voice she’d gotten used to over the years, the one like she remembered her Grandmother having, but the voice she had at twenty-five.

Margaret had always hated the sound of her voice; she thought it sounded too husky. Now, nearly fifty years later it sounded soft and beautiful.

“Yes?” he asked, still smiling. Something sparked in Margaret’s memory. She remembered this moment, this moment exactly. She remembered her wedding day in the broad sense, but the little exchanges between them had been lost to the years. But, somehow, she knew what to say next.

“Bill… I’m just so happy right now. I can’t believe this is real.”

“I know what you mean,” he responded.

More words came to Margaret as if she had memorized a script. “This feels like a dream.”

“If this is a dream, I don’t want to wake up.”

Margaret closed her eyes. Her heart felt as though it would burst. She was there really there! I want to stay here forever, she thought. I don’t ever want to go back there…

The feeling of coming up for air after being underwater rushed over her. She opened her eyes and she was back in her room at the home, another song playing over the speaker and the rain still pattering on the window.

‘No,” she said. “No, no, no, no… Please! I want to go back. Let me go back!” she started to cry. She tried to get out of the chair but she couldn’t. “NO! PLEASE! LET ME GO BACK!” she wailed until a nurse came in to calm her down.


* * *


She tried for weeks to get whatever it was to happen again. She’d sit in her room concentrating with all of her might, listening to music and hoping somehow it had been real, instead of some strange, enchanted moment. Or maybe it was a sign that she was losing her mind.

She would try every day, sometimes for hours at a time, but it was exhausting. She started falling asleep earlier and sleeping later. She even started skipping going to some activities. (her arthritis seemed to improve from the break in crocheting)

A month later, it happened again. She’d been listening to music and singing along with her eyes closed and thinking as hard as she could about the time she was pregnant with Simon, Ted’s father. It was about two years after she and Bill had been married.

It wasn’t a significant memory, just one of those small sweet Saturday mornings she and Bill spent together, drinking coffee and tea over breakfast (pancakes). Then they sat in the living room together reading, while the sun streamed in through the windows and highlighted the dancing bits of dust.

She listened to the music and thought about as many details as she could: the way the kitchen looked, what she had on the countertops and where she kept things in the cupboards, what frying pan she would have used to make the pancakes and what brand of syrup they bought.

She thought as hard as she could, fearing that she was going to give herself a headache when the music started to get louder and she got the feeling of riding waves.

She didn’t dare think about the nursing home, she just kept concentrating on her and Bill eating pancakes and reading in the living room…

She opened her eyes and she was there, lying on the couch with her legs on Bill’s lap and a book in her hands. (Jubilee) She was wearing a blue top and a pair of shorts and could see and feel her baby bump. 

Bill was staring at his book (The Learning Tree) intently, holding it inches away from his face. His brow was furrowed and his eyes darted across the page, reading as quickly as he could. He was in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and had his legs propped up on the coffee table. Margaret always loved that he loved to read as much as she did.

Margaret looked around the room and smiled to herself; this was home. The sun streamed through the window and onto her legs and her toenails were painted pink. She could feel the fullness of the pancakes in her stomach and the taste of syrup in her mouth. 

She looked over at the coffee table where her cup of tea and Bill’s cup of coffee sat cooling and wondered if she could pick up the tea, drink it, and taste it. She thought about reaching for it-

Wait! She thought. What if I reach for it and it’s not at the right time? She decided against it and instead pretended to read her book, trying to soak up as much as she could.

After a few minutes, she could feel something nudge her, like when you swim over a cold spring in a lake. A fuzziness was starting to settle in and she started to worry that she was going to drift off into sleep. She fought to keep the nursing home out of her mind; she didn’t want to be sent back like last time.

Bill set his book down on the edge of the couch and leaned forward over her legs for his coffee. He took a long sip and set it down.

“Do you want your tea, Peggy?” he asked.

The fuzziness cleared for a moment. She remembered this.

“Yes please,” she said smiling and reaching for the mug. He gave it to her and it was hot in her hands. She sat up a little and brought it to her lips and drank. It was hot and delicious and milky. It was the best sip of tea she’d had in years. “Thank you,” she said handing the mug back to him.

She settled back in. The fuzziness came back stronger. The cold spring feeling began to pull at her from somewhere below and a sleepiness started creeping into her eyes.

Tiredness won and she felt herself travel back to her room in the nursing home, sad that it was over but overjoyed that she’d managed to make it happen again. She slept the next day away.


* * *


Margaret honed her ability to relive the memories vividly over the next several weeks. The more she practiced, the more success she had.

She found that she could stay longer too. It was like she was growing a muscle. She traveled back to the night she met Bill and to when the kids were little. She went back to the night Bill proposed and to when she and Bill made love for the first time.

The nurses started to get concerned about how much time she was spending in her room and called Ted. He came, without Claudette, to visit and see if she was all right. 

She didn’t dare tell him about her “visits” to the past, lest she sound like she was losing her mind. She told him that she’d gotten into a reading spell and that the break from crocheting had relieved some of her arthritis and assured him everything was fine. 

After Ted’s visit, the nurses insisted that she spend more time out of her room and she knew that it was because of Ted’s doing. 

A week or two after Ted came, she found herself alone in her room and went for another visit, this time to the vacation they took to California. (Margaret still couldn’t believe that they managed to go)

She put on her music, (she’d gotten good at remembering how to get the playlist going) sat in her chair, and sang along while remembering as much detail as possible. The feeling of riding the wave came and when she opened her eyes, she was there in California taking pictures of the Hollywood sign.

A while later, something began to worm its way into her consciousness. At first, it was something far off, like the hum of traffic, but kept growing louder, making it hard to concentrate and she could feel the pull of the present.

It was a voice, repeating the same thing over and over. She panicked when she realized what the voice was saying.


“THIS A CODE YELLOW. ALL RESIDENTS MUST REMAIN IN THEIR ROOMS.”


The acknowledgment of the voice pulled her back to the present when the door to her room burst open. It was one of her favourite nurses, Lucy, and one of the supervisors whose name Margaret couldn’t remember.

Lucy was talking to the supervisor and searching for the light switch on the wall. “-after breakfast and when I came in to check on her- MARGARET! There you are!” she said rushing over to her.

“We found her. Call off the search,” the supervisor said into his two-way before coming over.

“Margaret, where were you?”

Margaret was confused. “I- I’ve been here in my chair the whole time.

“Sweetie, no you weren’t. I came in to check on you an hour ago and you weren’t here. You weren’t anywhere. We searched all over the place. We were about to call the police.”

“Ma’am, you don’t remember where you were?” the supervisor asked.

She realized what was happening. “I- Oh, I don’t remember where I was or how I got back!” she said burying her face in her hands and pretending to cry. She didn’t know what else to do; there was no way to explain it.


* * *


Margaret didn’t go for any visits for a while after that. The knowledge that she was physically traveling into her memories scared her. She didn’t know where that power came from or how it came to be hers. Her code yellow, it turned out, was the first that the facility had in over fifteen years of operation.

Ted came to visit her again, this time with Claudette. He grilled Margaret about where she had gone and how she’d gotten back to her room without anybody seeing her, but she maintained that she didn’t know.

Ted threatened that if it happened again, they would have to start locking her in her room and coming to get her for activities. Margaret cried and promised not to let it happen again.



* * *


Margaret woke up in the middle of the night with tears in her eyes. She checked the alarm clock on her bedside table and it said 3:27. She’d been dreaming about Bill and the old Buick he had when they first met.

They were driving down the coast in California at sunset while the waves slapped against the shore. Bill turned to her and said, “You haven’t visited for a while.”

Margaret turned to him to say something but couldn’t. 

He grabbed her hand. “Come back to me and stay, Peggy.”

That’s when she woke up. She sat in her bed and listened for a few moments to the rain on the window and the ticking of the clock on the wall, fighting the urge to go into her memories.


Come back to me and stay, Peggy. 


She couldn’t help it. She got out of bed and grabbed her iPad and headphones. She sat in her chair, put on For Your Precious Love, and started to softly sing along.

She thought about that trip to California again and tried to remember a part of it where they were driving down the coast like they had been in her dream.

The waves came and whisked her away again, but she didn’t find herself in that old Buick beside Bill. She was in bed at their first house with the blanket over her head. A radio was playing Otis.

She looked out from under the blanket. Bill was sitting on the edge of the bed. “You came,” he smiled.

Margaret knew that this wasn’t a memory; that there was no script. “I was trying to travel to California like I had been in my dream,” she said.

“That wasn’t a memory and neither is this. You’re really here, with me.” He stuck out his hand. “If you want, you can stay here with me.”

She looked around at their bedroom as it was over fifty years ago, how the golden sunlight streamed in and how the dust danced in it. She thought about the nursing home and the sterile colours and the nurses and the infrequent visits from Ted…

She reached out and took Bill’s hand and he pulled her up out of the bed and to him and kissed her the way he used to when they were young. He let her go and took her hand and lead her through the house to the back door. 

“Are you ready, my Peggy?” he said while he squeezed her hand.

Margaret wiped a tear from her eye and nodded. Bill opened the door and they both walked through.


* * *


Lucy noticed that Margaret wasn’t at breakfast. It had been about six weeks since the code yellow. Oh no, she thought. She went to Margaret’s room and opened the door. She wasn’t there. “Margaret?” she asked walking in to check the bathroom. The door was open and Margaret wasn’t there. 

What if she fell out of bed in the night? Lucy thought. She walked around to the other side of the bed but Margaret wasn’t there either.

She walked back out and noticed the iPad and headphones sitting on the chair.

She jogged to the nurse’s station and went into Ben’s office. “Margaret is missing again,” she said trying to catch her breath.


* * *


They searched inside the home, then they searched the grounds. They contacted Ted and the police.

The search stretched into hours, days, and then weeks. The news got a hold of it and soon everyone was looking for Margaret. Ted gave up hope that they’d find her alive.

Eventually, the search was called off. It seemed that Margaret had vanished without a trace.


August 18, 2023 22:51

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3 comments

18:45 Sep 25, 2023

While I was reading it made me think of a story of mine called Bottled Time, but that one is working on a toxic obsession with past to escape the present. Yours has a real physical transport element and is much healthier for the woman. It’s an interested twist on heaven.

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C. Charles
00:41 Sep 26, 2023

Oh that’s really interesting! I’ll check your story out! Thanks for reading!

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Mary Bendickson
04:30 Aug 22, 2023

I think she is happy where she is.

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