~ June 23, 2005 ~
“To thirty years of marriage,” Ginger toasted, holding up her teacup full of whisky to Jamie.
“To thirty years,” Jamie echoed, his expression pure happiness. His eyes never left her face as he drained his cup.
As Ginger drank, she thought to herself that Jamie didn’t look a day over fifty. That set her off giggling, but it was true. His tanned skin made her a little self conscious about her own wrinkled pallor, but Jamie never seemed to mind. She wasn’t as young as she’d used to be, it was true. Her once auburn mane of hair had whitened with age, and her body had seemed to shrink into itself, skin and bone seemingly knitting back together in an attempt to prolong her longevity. It had been a long time since she had felt truly pretty. After all these years though, Jamie still looked at her like he couldn’t believe his luck.
To celebrate, she'd brought out a gauzy, mauve swing outfit she'd worn the night Jamie had proposed. It fit loosely, and seemed to bring out the blue of her veins more than the blue of her eyes, but Jamie's eyes had still sparkled when she'd twirled for him.
She felt a newfound rush of love towards him, spurred on by the alcohol. She felt downright giddy. “To Jamie!” Ginger cheered, blowing a kiss to her husband. The move was more energetic than she'd intended, and she had to brace herself against her armchair to keep from tumbling down to the shag carpet.
“C’mon, Mom. Maybe it’s time to cut you off,” Shelly said, attempting to take Ginger’s drink.
“The nerve,” Ginger huffed, winking at her husband. He held up his hands, in a ‘what are you gonna do’ motion. Ginger let her daughter take the teacup away, trying not to begrudge her too much. She loved her daughter, of course, but she could be a Negative Nellie.
Slyly, Ginger stole the bottle from the bar cart and took a swig. Her eyes shone mischievously, the only feature that hadn't been touched by age. The whisky burned on the way down, and set her off hiccuping and laughing until she was gasping for breath.
Jamie broke out laughing along with her, the timbre and burr of his laughter warming his wife’s heart. She’d fallen in love with that laugh back in the ’40’s, and she loved it still.
Shelly came back from the kitchen and frowned. “Are you sure you’re going to be okay tonight, Mom? I could stay with you if you want. I know it’s a hard day for you.”
“Nonsense, nonsense. You go on home dear. Give those grandchildren of mine a kiss when you get back.” She smiled wider than she needed to at her daughter, attempting to reassure her that everything was okay. She wished Shelly would stop worrying so much. It would give her wrinkles.
Shelly rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet, caught in the indecision of whether to follow her mother’s request, or stay anyway. “Alright, Mom. If you say you’re okay … I guess I’ll go.”
“Goodnight Shelly. Thanks for stopping by! I love you.”
“Love you too, Ma.” Shelly kissed her mother lightly on the cheek, then left the apartment.
“Well, now that she’s gone, we can have some fun!” Ginger trilled, hoisting herself up to stand with difficulty. “That just doesn’t get easier with age! May I have this dance?” She fiddled briefly with the record player in the corner to find their favourite song. Smiling shyly at her husband, she held her hand out to him.
He got to his feet smoothly and took her hand. She blushed as he kissed the back of it, and sighed breathily as he pulled her close. Back in their dancing days, they’d used to practice for hours to nail moves like the Jitterbug and the Lindy Hop. She still had the pictures friends had taken in some dusty old photo albums. Crowds would part for them to watch their polished moves, but Ginger always liked to think that the swelling cheers came because of their chemistry. They’d had fun, dammit, and it’d be obvious to a blind man that their dancing had flair and feeling.
They couldn’t Jitterbug anymore, but it was enough to feel Jamie’s arms around her and sway to the music. Since their first dance, it had felt like puzzle pieces clicking into place for her to be in Jamie's arms. She felt tears begin to well up, and she gripped on to her husband tighter.
"Jamie, do you remember our first dance," she asked.
"Of course," he said, dipping her confidently and chuckling. "That horrible Bobby Schultz kept following you around--"
"And wouldn't take "no" for an answer!' Ginger exclaimed. "I felt like you were my knight in shining armour when you asked me to dance." Back then he'd been gangly and charming, just seventeen years old.
"I would have asked anyway," he said, serious and earnest now. "You were the most beautiful girl in the room. Still are, Ginger." The record skipped, as though it was holding its breath for them both.
“You won’t ever leave me, will you, Jamie?” she asked, already knowing what he’d say.
“Not even death could part us, Ginger.”
She smiled into his chest, and mused to herself that it no longer troubled her that she couldn’t hear his heartbeat. Even when she had her hearing aids turned all the way up.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Hey, hon,” Shelly said into her phone, rifling through her bag to find her keys. It seemed like her purse swallowed them out of spite.
“Hey, how was your mom?” Mark’s voice sounded distant and tinny, and she could hear high pitched chatter in the background. Probably putting the kids to bed.
“Not good, to be honest.” Shelly unlocked her car, and caught a glimpse of her mother dancing as she settled behind the wheel. Her worry lines deepened. “I think we’re going to have to seriously consider putting her in a home, Mark.”
“What did she do? Set the kitchen on fire? Forget what year it was? Forget who you were?” His voice rose, real concern coming through.
“No, no, nothing like that,” Shelly said, turning the key in the ignition. The car fired up easily. "I’ll tell you when I get back, I just have one more stop. Tell the kids I love them.”
“Alright, Shelly. See you soon. Love you,” he said, and after she told him she loved him too, she hung up.
She cast a look at the flowers on her passenger seat. She’d picked out daisies. They seemed like something her father would appreciate, even if he wasn’t a flowery guy. The drive was short, only about five minutes, and her headlights picked out the curling and intricate grating of the cemetery entrance. She grabbed the daisies and left the car running. She knew the way to Dad’s grave well, and soon she was standing in front of his headstone.
April 12, 1925
June 29, 1977
Shelly didn’t have any tears left to cry over her father’s death. Those had come earlier, when his passing was still fresh and painful. After the funeral, she'd found it hard to visit him but by now the hurt had lessened; scar tissue forming to harden her heart. Or maybe just to help her survive his death. She’d started coming yearly to leave flowers on Dad’s grave. Always their wedding anniversary. Always alone.
Mom hadn't seemed to accept Jamie's death. For years, she'd tried to help her mom grieve, but she was firmly stuck in the 'denial' stage. She'd refused to take her wedding ring off, had never dated since her husband's passing, and in her old age had made increasingly bizarre comments. It was like she thought he was still around. Like tonight, insisting Shelly pour a cup for her father. Shelly had been tiptoeing around the subject for what seemed to be forever.
Mom wouldn't even go to the funeral. Shelly hadn't thought about that in years, decades probably, but the sight of the headstone stirred up the memory. She could still remember how adamant Mom had been that she didn't want to go. Pleas about how it was her last chance to say goodbye to Dad had fallen on deaf ears, as well as pointing out how it would look to other people. She wouldn't go, and that was that. Every busybody and gossip worth their salt in town had talked it to death, pardon the pun, after the funeral.
It was like she couldn't accept that Dad was dead. Wouldn't accept it.
“Why’d you have to go too soon, Dad. Mom wasn’t ready to lose you. Hell, I wasn’t ready to lose you either.”
The grave stood, impassive and unyielding. “Silly of me, I guess, to expect an answer from a ghost,” she muttered. She sighed, aware that she should be heading back to her car and her husband.
“Happy anniversary, Dad. I miss you.”
She left the daisies and the headstone behind, petals fluttering in a light breeze. She could have sworn that she smelled her father’s aftershave and tobacco as she walked away, but she dismissed it as wishful thinking.