Susan W. Hudson
Fifty seven thousand, six hundred and seventy (57,670). That’s the number of sunrises and sunsets a human with an “average lifespan” encounters in his or her lifetime.
The trouble with sunrises is they are so early. Even early risers take them for granted because they are grooming and preparing for the promising new day they bring. One only “experiences” them occasionally. And they are rarely fully appreciated.
Sunsets are sometimes daunting. They signify closure and impending darkness. If a sunrise can be viewed as the birth of a day, then sadly, the sunset is the death.
Fern sits and savors her morning coffee while actively watching the sunrise this morning. She never has to set a clock. Her big, solid white, long-haired, 20 year old cat wakes her. Snowflake exfoliates her face with her pink sandpaper tongue, tickles her with her freakishly long whiskers, and nudges her until she finally gets her up to dispense food.
When Fern adopted a kitten from a local shelter, she was such a tiny thing. She looked like an oversized coconut macaroon with two little blue spots and a pink valentine for a face. It was just after the tragedy of the 9/11 attacks in New York City. Fern had taken a job that required that she move to a small college town. She worked long hours and had little time to develop friendships.
Her two adult sons were up North, and she was lonely. She fretted over what to name the tiny thing. The “Snow” part was pretty obvious, but after she watched her kitten antics, she decided “flake” would work nicely.
Snowflake sits on her lap. The sun slowly creeps up the horizon; it is a brilliant red, which means, per the legend, “sailor take warning.”
Fern and Snowflake are headed out on a trip today, so it is good to be up early. Fern totally experiences the sunrise, but ignores the warning.
Fern packs up the car and makes a nice little bed for Snowflake. “We’re going home today, baby,” she croons to the cat.
A couple of hours later, Fern exits her car. With one foot on the ground, she surveys her surroundings. The home where she grew up looks almost the same. The fence is in a bit of disrepair. The stone stairs down to the road that her daddy built when she was a baby have begun crumbling. The mailbox she has checked hundreds of times is barely hanging on.
It’s been years since she’s been here. She sees her mama and daddy coming down to greet her. They have in tow her precious little nephew; they have been raising him since her sister, his mother, has gone rogue. Rose chases every man in sight and settles for the dregs of the earth.
There, in the driveway is the red and white 1958 chevy her high-school boyfriend drives. It’s very sweet of him to be here. She knows he is waiting inside, and she can hardly wait to see him.
Such heavenly smiles she receives from everyone. How welcome she feels. It’s so nice to be back home.
Others come to greet her. There’s her lovely third grade teacher, whom she admires so much. Ms. Simpson always has a big smile and reassuring words for everyone. Fern’s friends and classmates run in delirious circles around their teacher.
Fern’s best friend brings her Double-Bubble gum. Sarah’s mom and dad own the only gas station and “convenience store” near their school. Sarah decides day by day which of her friends she will share her treasures with. Today it is Fern. She can hardly wait to taste the sweetness and blow a big pink bubble.
Her fellow cheerleaders, Kay, Joan, Sylvia, Mary, Sharon, Virginia, and others from her four years on the squad are here supporting her as she competes for the title of homecoming queen. Her football hero/sponsor, who is also her fiance, is here. This could prove to be an interesting afternoon.
The front yard is covered with folding tables laden with Fern’s favorite foods: chicken and dumplings and Mama’s slaw; corn on the cob, fried okra, and fresh Big Boy tomatoes from daddy’s garden that Fern loved to help him plant and harvest; and cakes and pies that Mama and the mothers of the other children baked.
Fern eats her fill and attends to Snowflake who is unhappily confined to her cat carrier.
As the afternoon wears down, and storm clouds begin to gather, Fern begins to worry. She knows she and Snowflake have a long trip back. The sunset will not be beautiful on the drive, but the rain and thunder will pound them.
When they pull into the driveway, Fern feels a wave of relief and fatigue. She grabs Snowflake’s carrier, takes her inside and frees her. She doesn’t bother to unpack tonight. She plops down a can of Snoflake’s favorite food and checks her water. She lies down on her bed, fully clothed and falls into a deep sleep. She knows her cat will follow her there.
When Fern awakens, she sees people in hospital type uniforms all around her. It doesn’t seem like a real hospital - not sterile, but warm and friendly. She just went home and saw all her family and friends; now she’s being attended to by these very pleasant people.
“Where am I”? Fern inquires. Her hospice workers are all busily caring for her every need. One of them holds Snowflake, and declares, “She will come home with me and will never want for anything.” Fern smiles and scratches Snowflake behind her ears. She doesn’t know how long she slept, nor where she is.
“You are at Teer House; you have been here about two weeks and we are here to take care of you and Snowflake.
She asks the hospice workers to move her bed over to the window so she can watch the sunset.
She gleefully watches the brilliant red sunset, the most beautiful ever. She knows it is the last one of her life. Snowflake has squirmed out of the hospice worker’s arms and is at her side. Fern closes her eyes and gently drifts from the world. Snowflake goes with her.