Today, at school, Sydney Williams told me that my hair looked like a red Indian’s. I wasn’t offended, but Master Klyde took her to the principal’s office and she had to sit in detention all afternoon. I didn’t feel so bad for her until her mother got there. She looked quite angry.
Also, God, I must apologize. Raymond gave Caroline a haircut and, I’m sorry, Lord, but I’m afraid I couldn’t control my laughter when she walked out of the bathroom this morning, all uneven and funny-looking, like lawnmower had attacked her. Well, I certainly wasn’t laughing for long. Aunt Esther whipped around and smacked me so hard on the rear I thought she’d broken her wrist. Through my watering eyes, I saw Raymond come out, explaining that the situation was not as bad as it looked, and that if Caroline would only sit still for another minute, he’s have her fixed up in a jiffy.
Anyway, God, thanks for listening. Please bless Grandma, Grandpa, Mother, Father, Raymond, Uncle Ralph, Aunt Esther, Caroline, and Margaret.
“Eliza!” Uncle Ralph’s booming voice echoed up the stairs.
Elizabeth Stewart rolled over in her bed. Glancing at the alarm clock, she saw that she had to leave for school in ten minutes. She sighed and pulled herself to her feet, hastily grabbing her school uniform and managing to pull herself into it without falling over.
Stumbling into the kitchen, she saw that it was packed with people. Caroline Mariner, her six-year-old cousin, sat on the lap of her father, Uncle Ralph as they struggled to finish their breakfast. Eliza’s cousin, Raymond, who’s parents had passed long ago, leaned against the kitchen counter. He appeared to have been forced into service by Aunt Esther, for he held baby Margaret and a bottle filled with milk. His expression was uncomfortably tolerant at best.
Grandma stood by the stove, shoveling more food onto everyone’s plates and keeping everyone on schedule. Grandpa sat in his chair, observing everyone with a peaceful expression. He greeted Eliza with a serene smile and a wink.
Mother and Father sat with Aunt Esther at the far end of the table, going over accounts as they spooned oatmeal and bacon into their mouths. After a moment’s deliberation, Eliza decided to sit on the other side of the table with Uncle Ralph and Caroline. Anything rather than listen to Aunt Esther rave about the economy.
Eliza had barely sat down before Grandma was at her side. “Good gracious, child, what in heaven’s name is the matter with you? Sleeping like that on a school morning. You’ll barely have time to eat a decent breakfast!”
“Yes’m” Eliza mumbled, knowing it was best to just agree with Granny in most scenarios.
Uncle Ralph stood up, his chair scraping against the floor. “Raymond, Caroline, Eliza, in the car, now.”
Raymond gratefully handed Margaret over to Eliza’s mother. Eliza hurriedly gulped down the rest of her oatmeal, while Caroline ran about wailing that she couldn’t find her homework.
That afternoon, when Mother pulled up in the car to pick up the school children, only Eliza and Raymond were there waiting.
“Where’s Caroline?” Eliza asked.
Mother sighed wearily. “She threw up at school. She’s at home and not doing well.”
Eliza grimaced. Raymond looked unbothered.
Caroline is very ill. I don’t know what she has, but she’s not been well all day. I’m not sure what to do for her. All the adults assure us that she is fine, but Granny, Mother, and Aunt Esther won’t leave her side.
On a more cheerful note, I aced our surprise test today. Mother was so worried about Caroline, she didn’t seem to notice me telling her about it, but Grandpa smiled at me and gave me a hug of congratulations.
Anyway, God, please let Caroline be ok. I feel so awful for her.
“Raymond!” Granny’s voice echoed up the steps. Eliza was at the top of the stairs and saw Raymond bolting up the steps two by two.
“Eliza, move!” He pushed past her and crashed his way into the bathroom. Eliza saw him hunched over the toilet.
Yikes, she thought. She walked over to the bathroom door and asked “Raymond? Are you ok?”
He managed to raise his head long enough to shake it miserably before plummeting back into the toilet bowl.
A moment later, Uncle Ralph was there. “Eliza, go on now.”
“Yes, sir,” Eliza willingly left Uncle Ralph standing over Raymond.
She made her way downstairs. Granny was there with Aunt Esther.
“How is he?” Granny looked concerned.
Eliza shrugged. “Vomiting,” she said unnecessarily.
Caroline is worse today, and Raymond is sick, too. Please help them to get better soon. Mother and Father are worried, as is everyone else. Well, except Aunt Esther.
Anyway, Margaret said her first word today. Guess what it was? “Lizza!” I’m so excited. Aunt Esther’s furious, though, that she said my name before she said “Mama”.
Well, it’s quite late, Lord. Mother and Aunt Esther were caring for Raymond and Father and Uncle Ralph for Caroline, so I had to stay awake with Margaret. I didn’t really mind, until she woke up and cried for her mother.
I’m very tired, so I’ll go to bed now. Please heal Raymond and Caroline and don’t let anyone else get sick- especially Margaret and Grandpa.
It was a subdued breakfast. Caroline and Raymond were both absent, as were Mother and Granny, caring for them. Uncle Ralph held Margaret, and Father sat with Grandpa, helping him eat. Eliza went and helped herself to breakfast.
Looking over at the clock, she began to eat quickly. She didn’t want to be late for school. Aunt Esther came into the kitchen and, seeing Eliza, said, “Don’t bother, Eliza. You’ll not be going to school today.”
Eliza was stunned. She had never been kept home from school when she was perfectly well. “Why not?”
Aunt Esther rolled her eyes. “Your cousins are much to sick, no one can drive you, and you’ll just infect the rest of the school.”
“But there’s a huge exam today and it will reflect really badly on my grade if I miss it and-”
“Eliza,” Her aunt’s voice cut across the table. “I really am sorry, child, but you will not be going to school. That’s all there is to it.”
Eliza knew it was useless to argue. Once Aunt Esther had willed something, that was the way it was. She swallowed her disappointment and began picking at her oatmeal with her spoon. Aunt Esther pursed her lips, her gesture of regret, and left the kitchen.
Eliza stared miserably at her breakfast. It wasn’t as if she really liked school, but she had been doing so much better in her class as of late. This could really hurt her grade.
Suddenly, sounds of shattering glass were heard from the other room. Everyone looked up suddenly. Then, Aunt Esther’s voice, “Ralph! Ralph! Robert!”
The men were on their feet in an instant, bolting out the door, Uncle Ralph still holding Margaret. Eliza followed them, scared. In the upstairs bedroom, where Raymond was, they found Mother facedown on the rug, Aunt Esther leaning over her.
Eliza’s world began to spin. “Mother,” she whispered. “Mother!” She ran over to the floor and grabbed onto her mother. “Mother!” She began screaming hysterically. “Mother!”
Aunt Esther was by her side. “Get her out of here, Ralph.” Eliza felt strong arms lift her up and carry her flailing body from the room. Uncle Ralph set her down in the kitchen, where she sobbed hysterically for another five minutes.
Only after she had calmed down did it occur to her that Granny had not rushed into the room like the rest of them when they heard Aunt Esther scream. Eliza jumped up and ran up the stairs to Caroline’s room, where Granny had been. She stopped short in the doorway. Granny was slumped over at the edge of Caroline’s bed, saliva dripping from her mouth.
For a moment, Eliza was frozen. But she pulled herself together and walked over to Granny. She shook her gently. “Granny?”
Her grandmother shifted a bit and sighed. With difficulty, Eliza stood her up and managed to help her into an easy-chair next to the bed. Then she ran from the room.
“Father!” she cried. “Please, come quickly!”
Today was one of the worst I’ve ever had. I found Granny slumped over and sick. I was all alone in that room, with only her and Caroline. Mother is also so sick. She hasn’t woken up and doesn’t move.
Oh, God, I’m so scared. What if the entire family is infected with this terrible sickness? Little Margaret and Grandpa- what would happen to them?
Father says all I can do is stay cheerful and help any way I can. But I do feel so helpless, Lord. I wish I could do something to make them well again.
Lord God, please heal all of them. Don’t let anyone else get sick.
Elizabeth Footsteps clattered down the stairs. “Esther!”
Aunt Esther rushed out of the bedroom. “What is it?”
Father was panting at the bottom of the stairs, sweat trickling down his face. “Caroline… she’s so much worse!”
Words fail me right now. I know you already know all things, but I must tell you in order to substantiate this awful truth in my own mind: Caroline is dead.
After Father came downstairs, we all gathered up in Caroline’s room. The worst part is that she didn’t get to say goodbye to Mother or Granny, for she died within the hour. It was awful, Lord. One moment she was there, and the next, she was gone.
Uncle Ralph has also taken ill, as well as Margaret. Raymond is much worse, and Granny has not been doing well. Right now, I’m sitting with Margaret and Granny in their room. Father is with Uncle Ralph and Mother, and Grandpa is with Raymond. Poor Aunt Esther is still sitting with Caroline. She has not said a word, nor shed a tear. She just sits there, holding Caroline’s hand, talking to her. I can’t think what to do for her, except just sit with Margaret. And pray. And… and…
Grandpa came into the room. “Eliza, dear?”
Eliza started awake. “What? I mean- yessir?”
“Shh,” Grandpa beckoned her. “Come quickly.”
Eliza followed him from the room into Raymond’s room. Raymond lay on the bed, very still. Too still. Eliza rushed over and felt for a pulse. Nothing. She gasped and began to choke with the weight of her sorrow. Grandpa came over and wrapped his arms around her, holding her tightly against the crushing pain.
Why did you take them? What did they do? What did we do?
Margaret is still asleep, thank heaven. So is Granny. They say Uncle Ralph is struggling mightily, but I haven’t seen him.
Father and Grandpa have attended to Raymond. According to Grandpa, it was peaceful. I don’t think that makes it better at all, but Father seemed reassured.
It’s strange, Lord, but these past few days I’ve spent fearing what the morning would bring. Now, I feel nothing can be worse than this night. Somehow, dying in the night seems so much worse than during the day.
Oh, Lord, do you suppose my turn will come? Will I be the next to get sick, and then, eventually, to die? If I do, Lord, I should hate to die in the night. Please, oh, please let me die in the bright daylight and the sunshine.
It’s 2:45 AM, and I’ve only slept a few hours. I must try to get rest, Father says, but I can’t sleep. I’m too scared to sleep. What if I wake up and Mother is gone? Or Granny? Or Margaret? Or… or…
Coughing sounds woke Eliza the next morning. She looked up at Margaret, but Margaret was still asleep. Then who…?
Eliza jumped up and rushed over to Granny’s bed. “Granny,” she cried.
Granny’s eyes opened. When she saw Eliza, she smiled. “Eliza,” she whispered. “Dearest. You are so very beautiful.”
“Granny, hold on, I’m going to get Father-”
“Wait!” The sharpness in her grandmother’s voice surprised Eliza.
Granny was shaking her head. “It’s no use,” she whispered. “I’ve known, ever since Caroline passed.” She smiled contentedly at Eliza, frozen next to her. “Don’t be afraid, Eliza. Death is not such a bad thing. Don’t we all, at some point, have to die? Why should we spend time fearing something we know we’ll never escape?”
Granny kept shaking her head. “No, I don’t fear death. What I fear is death without those that I love.” Granny stopped shaking her head now and smiled a strained smile. She reached for Eliza’s hand. “And I have you.”
Do you suppose Granny was right? Is death to be feared? I suppose it isn’t, but it is so uncertain. No one truly knows what happens when you die.
Father has decided to leave Granny where she was, and, though I swore up and down it wouldn’t bother me, it is a bit disorienting to be in a room with a dead body.
Now, Caroline, Raymond, and Granny are all dead. Mother, Uncle Ralph, and Margaret are sick, as well as Aunt Esther, who we found taken ill this afternoon. She has been put in a room with Uncle Ralph and Mother, and Father is looking after them.
I am so very tired, Lord. I’m not sure how much longer I can take this. I’m so, so afraid. So terribly afraid. I don’t know of what, though. I’m just afraid…
“Eliza!” The voice was low and urgent. Eliza opened her eyes. It was still pitch black outside. The candles burned low, and Margaret was still sleeping.
“You need to come, now.” Father’s voice cracked. “It- it’s your mother, Eliza.”
Without another word, Eliza followed her father from the room and into the hallway by her mother’s room. Father paused in front of the door. “Go on, dear. She’s waiting for you.”
Eliza went in. “Mother,” she whispered, tears spilling over.
Mother smiled wearily. “Oh, my dearest Eliza.” She shook her head at me. “Don’t cry. I’m not afraid to die.” She ran her fingers through Eliza’s hair. “The only thing I was ever afraid of was losing you. And now-” Mother’s eyes filled with tears. “I won’t have to.”
Eliza buried her face in her mother’s nightgown and cried.
“Shh,” her mother soothed. “Don’t be afraid, Eliza. Keep being happy and kind, say your prayers, and, most of all, trust in God.” She kissed her head and whispered. “I’m so proud of you.”
A moment later, Father came in. Together, the family sat, watching and waiting for the inevitable.
I can’t bear to talk tonight. Mother is dead, Father is sick, and, just a few hours ago, Uncle Ralph died as well. I didn’t even get to say goodbye to him.
Now, Grandpa is looking after Father and Aunt Esther, I am still watching after Margaret. Everyone else is gone.
I can’t even begin to describe my pain, oh Lord. Do you know what Mother said to me? She said she wasn’t afraid to die, just afraid to lose me. I guess that’s how it really is. I suppose that death really isn’t so bad for the one who dies, it’s the ones they leave behind who get hurt.
“Margaret! Oh, Margaret, please, wake up! Please, Margaret, please?”
Grandpa came in. “Come along, Eliza.”
He looked at her eyes, and she knew.
I used to think I would spend the rest of my blessed life caring for that little fountain of drool and spit up. How could I ever have resented her?
When Grandpa took me to tell Aunt Esther, she just sat there blankly. I went up to find her later and check on her. Sure enough, dead. I suppose she just lost the will to live.
Grandpa was taken ill just after Margaret died, and I am trying my best to care for he and Father. But it isn’t easy. Please, God, please. I have no one to turn to, all my support has been taken. I don’t know what I’ll do if- if they…
“Father? What will happen to me if..”
“Find the address book, call my sister Erica, and tell her what’s happened. She’ll come take you.”
“But she scares me, Daddy.”
It’s done. It’s all over now. Father and Grandpa both passed peacefully in their sleep.
I think Granny was right. Everyone must die. Even Margaret was going to die one day. Why should we question your timing, God?
I think Mother was right, too. Death isn’t so bad, really. It’s just the ones you leave behind who mourn.
I’m not afraid to die, God. I'll leave your timing up to you. But I'm not afraid.