Jessie Williams is sixty-nine years old when she spots her dead husband across the street. Of course, she does the classic double-take, closes and opens her eyes several times, and pinches her arm until her eyes water. He is still there each time, giving his patented closed-mouth smile. (She has always wondered how he could smile that wide and still not show his teeth. But, when he did show that open-mouthed smile-pow!-right through her heart every time.) 

Like many in her age bracket, Jessie’s worried about dementia, being called delusional or paranoid, and the never-dying fear of being “sent away”, so she turns and walks back the way she came. She pulls her cardigan across her chest and walks as fast as she dares, refusing to look back. When she comes to the next intersection, he’s across the street from her yet again with that same sly smile. Despite being surrounded by strangers, Jessie covers her mouth with her hand, hangs her head, and begins to cry. 


Jessie Williams was married for forty-seven years to her husband, William. Yes, his name was William Williams. His double name and how he handled everything that came along with it, was one of the first and strongest reasons she was attracted to the tall, gawky, stumbling drink of water. Jessie always admired how he handled the inevitable double-takes, snickers, and various stupid comments people made when they heard his name. 

Shortly after meeting him their sophomore year at North Marion High School (Go Pirates!), Jessie was amazed at how he handled the daily challenge of his name. No matter if it was a subtle furrowing of the brow as if the person wanted to be sure he heard correctly, or the outright rude abbreviations and adaptations of his name, he would either smile gracefully, give a nod and short chuckle, or if he was truly upset, a subtle shaking of his head. He never spoke an insult in return or raised his voice in anger or frustration. Based on her own home life, Will’s ever-present calmness rocked Jessie’s world like nothing else. 

Jessie was the oldest of six girls and lived with a constant noise level that rivaled a naval airbase. Her sisters were always screaming, crying, or both, over anything, small or big, all day every day. Seeing someone, who in her opinion, had good reason to be upset over something he had no control over, yet never doing so, fascinated Jessie. He was always so calm, something Jessie rarely seemed to be. Being the oldest meant she was expected to be responsible, helpful, in charge, and always on call. Perhaps predictably, Jessie was in a constant state of stress and worry. Her awe of Will’s stoic personality became respect and eventually attraction. 

For his part, Will was attracted to Jessie right away for more traditional reasons. With her long blonde hair, sky blue eyes, and slim figure, Will was far from the only boy in the school interested in Jessie Parker. He was also one of the least likely to earn her attraction in return. His repetitive name was not Will’s only issue in high school. He was one of the tallest and least athletic boys in school. Being nearly six and a half feet tall can have its advantages. But, the combination of that height with spindly legs that seemed to take up four feet of his height caused many a trip, fall, and stumble, along with poor eyesight requiring thick lens and poorly chosen black-framed glasses, and horrendous acne that seemed to take permanent residence on his nose and chin, well overshadowed any advantages. Will also struggled to put any muscle or fat on those long bones of his. 

None of that mattered to Jessie. They started dating that October only because she asked him to the fall Sadie Hawkins dance. By Halloween, Will was head over heels. Jessie, always the careful one, took a good three months later to return his level of love and commitment. (His Valentine’s Day gift of a silver heart locket, with their picture from their Sadie Hawkins first date inside, sealed the deal.) They stayed together through high school, community college, and were married a week after their graduation when they were both twenty. After a three-day honeymoon to the Oregon coast, Will was hired on at the third-largest accounting firm in Portland, where he earned the perfect tax accountant nickname “W2”. Jessie was hired as the firm’s secretary. For the next forty-seven years, they were inseparable.

The first forty-two of those years were not perfect, love never is. But, they were happy and relatively healthy. If not a fairy tale to the masses, the tall, clumsy nerd with the double name and the petite, nervous beauty from the large family, it was to them. Just three years from their retirement, with three grown, happy daughters and seven grandkids within five hundred miles, all was going well. Until a burned-out lightbulb in the garage and an aluminum ladder threw everything into a tailspin. 

With his high metabolism, Will would never be overweight. But, he was able to put on some weight in his thirties and a bit more in his forties and fifties. He never quite lost the awkward clumsiness of high school, though. Throughout the remainder of his life, Will sprained his ankles multiple times, tore a tendon in his knee, and picked up innumerable cuts and bruises. Miraculously, he had never broken a bone. That burned-out bulb in his garage changed that and everything else. 

It was a stormy December evening when Will went into their garage to grab a couple of russet potatoes from their spare fridge for dinner. When someone turns on a light and sees it flame out there are two choices, leave it for later or fix it immediately. Will knew if he didn’t change it right then and there, Jessie would see the bulb soon and mention it to him repeatedly before he finally had enough and replaced it.

Will sighed, realizing changing that bulb typically meant pulling a car into the driveway to give proper space for the ladder. A gust of wind shook the garage window. Will turned and saw streams of rain flowing down the pane of glass. He wasn’t wild about dealing with heavy rain and wind with temperatures in the low forties, even briefly. Will opted to keep his wife happy by dealing with the bulb before she could get on him about it. But, he also chose to stay dry by not moving his car out of the garage. 

Thus, Will made the ill-fated decision to squeeze the ladder between his Buick and her Subaru Crosstrek. After placing a fresh bulb into the front pocket of his Eddie Bauer flannel shirt, Will maneuvered the thin, aluminum ladder around the rear of his Buick and between both vehicles with nary a scratch on either one. Perhaps feeling a bit too overconfident and proud of himself, Will didn’t take the extra few seconds to make sure both braces of the ladder were fully extended and locked before climbing. He climbed the first two steps and just finished unscrewing the bulb when he felt the first quiver of the ladder. Turning his body to look down threw off Will’s balance just enough. Both Will and the ladder wavered slightly. A life of clumsiness foretold what happened next. 

 Still holding the dead bulb, his right arm extended and wavered trying to keep his balance, looking a bit like a cowboy riding a bull. At the same time, his left hand gripped the top of the ladder as it moved and jerked from one severe angle to another. Just as he thought he might gain control and chalk it up as another close call, Will’s left foot slipped from the second step, knocking his balance off for good. His hips twisted as he fell, crashing into the passenger’s side mirror of his bottle-green Buick, then twisting his hips again on the way down and smashing the ladder into Jessie’s light blue Crosstrek, shattering her driver’s side window. Will slammed into the floor, striking the back of his head against the garage floor. 

The bulb in his right hand shattered on impact, sounding like a muffled gunshot. The ladder ricocheted against both vehicles and landing atop Will, slightly askew. Those noises, along with Will’s anguished cries of surprise, pain, and despair brought Jessie scrambling through the garage door in a panic. 

Jessie never forgot what she saw when she burst into the garage. Her husband splayed on the floor, right arm above his head surrounded by the shattered lightbulb, his left across the ladder, almost hugging it to his chest. Will’s left leg extended out, the other bent at the knee like a flamingo. Blood pooling under his head, his body covered diagonally by the ladder, along with broken bits of glass from the car window. The side mirror of Will’s Buick dangled by a few sad wires. 

Fourteen minutes after a desperate 911 call, the garage and driveway were full of EMTs, an ambulance, with a fire truck parked along the curb, and no less than six neighbors looking to find out what happened to the oddly paired, but kind, neighbor couple.

Will had gone sixty-two years without breaking a bone, an impressive feat considering his natural clumsiness. The fall in the garage evened things up considerably. Will’s most severe injuries included a broken pelvis, lacerated kidney, shattered right elbow, and a fractured skull.

The years after the lightbulb mishap were miserable for both Will and Jessie. Not surprisingly, Will’s retirement from the firm was immediate. Unfortunately, for both husband and wife, so was Jessie’s. 

The stress and nervousness of always being on call from Jessie’s youth came back with a vengeance, along with resentment, for both Will and Jessie. He resented being unable to move without physical pain. But, he detested that every time he got up from his chair, used the bathroom or limped to the kitchen for a snack, caused an automatic reaction from Jessie. She would remind him to be careful, to watch out for the end table, to be sure to use his cane, not to carry anything ever-she would do it-and on and on. Jessie knew she drove him crazy and she resented the fact she had regressed to the stressed-out, nervous, demanding girl who drove her sisters batshit growing up. 

More than anything, they both hated the constant fears that had taken over their lives. Will feared he had sentenced his wife to their remaining years of hating who she was because of his foolish mistake. Of course, Jessie feared her husband’s death. But, the deeper, darker fear was that he would fall again, and not die, that he would live, but in name only. They were barely living now and it was a life they both hated. Jessie was scared of things getting worse.

Five years after the accident, nearly to the day, Jessie came home from her monthly lunch with her sister Emily to find Will asleep in his chair in the living room. It took a few seconds to realize that Will never napped. He could never shut his brain down enough during the day to sleep. Jessie fought down tears as she crept to his chair. It took one cool touch of his hand to know he was gone. A massive stroke had taken him shortly after Jessie had pulled out of the garage, a month after turning sixty-seven.


Twenty months later, Jess is waiting among a crowd of thirty or so people to cross Lewis Street. Since she is the only person in the crowd not looking at her phone, she is the only one who notices who is standing across the street. There is a smaller group over there, maybe ten. One man stands a good three inches above everyone else. But, that isn’t the main reason Jess notices him. This tall man seizes her attention because it is Will, giving his classic closed mouth smile.

After speed walking to the next intersection behind her, seeing him again, and succumbing to tears amid a crowd of strangers, Jessie is frozen in place, crying into her hand. A tear races its way down her cheek as she smiles with a hitching breath. That always seemed to be Will’s constant speed, to mosey, as if strolling down a white sand beach (when he wasn’t tripping over something anyway). And that wide, closed-mouthed smile. She waits for it, knowing if it is really Will, he will break into his open-mouthed smile, that always seemed just to be shy of a hearty laugh. 

Instead, he comes up, just a few inches away, hands in his pockets. She waits, her chest rising and falling rapidly, more tears running down her cheeks. Sadness clouds his deep brown eyes. He gives a sliver of a smile and jerks his head towards the small park behind Jessie.

They sit on a bench in silence like an old married couple who can read each other’s thoughts and feelings. Instead of holding hands, both keep their hands in their pockets. Jessie wants desperately to grab her husband and not let go. But, something inside tells her it would be a mistake. He will be cold, or be as solid as smoke, or worse, he’ll disappear. No matter what, it won’t be like it was and she can’t handle that. So she waits.

Will gives a deep sigh, turns his head to her, and says, “You’ve stopped living, Jess. Enough. Move on. I know you miss me. I miss you too. I miss our conversations, watching romantic comedies in bed; I miss it all. But, this waiting to die shit needs to stop.”

“I’m not-”

Will raises a hand like a stop sign. “Don’t. Just don’t. I may be dead, but I still know you. I know your thoughts. I see your actions, what little there are.”

Jessie narrows her eyes, desperation rising in her chest. “Don’t lecture me, Will. I don’t know where to go. I don’t know what to do without you.”

With his sly smile, Will softens his eyes and voice. “Yes, you do. Take the same trips we always talked about. Take Emily or invite the girls and grandkids. Go to Disneyland. Let them see you smile and laugh again. Move to the Caymans like we dreamed about. You’re not cheating on me by being happy, Jess.”

Jessie’s wide-eyed reaction makes Will laugh. “I told you. Just because I’m dead doesn’t mean I don’t know you.” 

Before she can answer, Will turns his body to completely face his wife. 

“Regrets don’t leave us when we die, Jess. We keep the love we felt, the memories of our life, we keep it all, and it’s amazing. But, it’s the regrets that cut like glass. Knowing what we could and should have done and not being able to do anything about it.” 

Will closes his eyes and shakes his head. “It’s awful.” 

After meeting Jessie’s eyes, Will continues.  “I don’t want that for you. You’ve wasted nearly two years. Get up and get back to living.”

Will stands, his hands returning to his pockets. Jessie turns to leave but stops short. 

“What aren’t you telling me, Will? Don’t bullshit me. You may be dead, but I know you too. You always bite your lower lip when you’re hiding something. Spill it.”

Will grimaces and bites his lip even more. Jessie sighs and nods. 

“How much time do I have?”

A single tear forms and slowly trails down his cheek. “Not long enough, Jess. You’ve wasted more than half the time you have left since I died. That’s all I can say about that. I have to go now. 

“And for the love of God, spread my ashes somewhere. What’s the point of cremating me and keeping me in the house? Why do you think no one does that with coffins? It’s morbid as hell. Take me to the Bahamas or something. Go somewhere and start living.”

Before Jessie can speak, Will blows her a kiss, turns, and moseys away. Jessie holds her breath as he vanishes.


Three of Jessie’s sisters, each of her daughters, their husbands and kids sit around three rectangle tables pushed together sitting unevenly in white sand. Jessie sits at the head of the table facing the Caribbean. Jessie has just blown out the candles on the cake celebrating her seventy-fifth birthday. 

After wolfing down cake and ice cream, the grandkids are playing in the sand and sea, with their parents circling around. Jessie sits back beneath canary yellow beach umbrellas and watches her kids and grandkids with a broad smile. 

Jessie feels the eyes of her sister Emily watching her. “What, Em?”

“I’m just worried about you.”

Jessies gives an amused smile. “You’re waiting for me to drop dead because of what Will told me.”

 Emily shrugs and opens her hands. “Well, yeah.”

Jessie leans back and chuckles. “Ahh, sis. Will was lying about that. I’ve known Will since we were fifteen. I know when he’s lying. I knew it when he told me. He just said that to remind me of something.”

“Remind you of what?”

Jessie smiles and lets a warm breeze whip through her hair. 

“I forgot that Will is still with me. Keeping myself locked up in our home was keeping him locked up. Me traveling, enjoying the life I have left, means Will is too. The best way to honor and remember him was to do everything we had planned the best I can.” 

Jessie pulls a silver chain from her pocket and rubs the silver locket from that first Valentine’s Day gift so long ago. She opens it and smiles.

“Will would much rather watch me live than watch me die.”  

July 31, 2020 07:32

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B.T Beauregard
00:15 Aug 03, 2020

Beautiful story. You took a dark prompt and turned it into something bright and inspiring. I love the way you used Will's name to describe his personality, it paints a great picture of who he was (reminds me a bit of Life of Pi). Your descriptions and metaphors are amazing, it makes you feel like your really there watching her husbands death. This is definitely one of my favorite stories for this prompt. PS: If you get a chance, check out my newest story and tell me what you think. Im looking forward to reading more of your stories!! :...


Steve Uppendahl
00:33 Aug 03, 2020

Thanks for your kind words (and the follow). I will check out your story as soon as I can.


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Oh, this was a very good story. I could feel each character with personality. I just have one thing to say, and I'm pretty sure it's just me but I'll say it anyway. At the end of the story, you were saying "and" a lot between the two characters, such as (in order): "Emily shrugs and opens her hands." "Jessie leans back and chuckles." "Jessie smiles and lets a warm breeze whip through her hair. " "Jessie pulls a silver chain from her pocket and rubs the silver locket from that first Valentine’s Day gift so long ago." I'm pretty sure it...


Steve Uppendahl
00:35 Aug 03, 2020

Thanks for your kind review and for pointing out the "and" issue. I didn't even notice it. I appreciate you bringing it my attention.


You are very welcome.


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Aditya Pillai
08:24 Aug 08, 2020

A wonderful story. I liked your take on the prompt so much! I love the detail, and the descriptions used are so on point. The writing style is great. That ending line was really good too. Really enjoyed it. Would love your feedback on my work :)


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