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The Natural Order

By Kathleen Ratcliffe

2013 Writers Contest – 2nd place

“First I have to call the children,” Eleanor Carson said to the nurse. The nurse’s hand was resting on Eleanor’s shoulder, more to steady Eleanor than to provide comfort.

Certainly this was expected. Jesse had been in poor health for some time now. But as she looked at her now deceased husband, she had great difficulty accepting what her eyes beheld. Jesse was still. The color was drifting ever so slowly from the front of his body. The back of his head and neck grew darker from the gravitational pull on the blood in his body. That blood had stopped flowing less than one hour ago.

“He looks so much older than he is,” Eleanor told the nurse. “He’s only seventy, I suppose he looks older.” She shook her head slightly as she stared at the man who had been her constant companion for over fifty years. “He’s dead,” she stated, as if to remind herself what the doctor had just said.

Of course the doctor had said it in kinder terms. “We couldn’t save him. He didn’t make it.” Eleanor had a hard time grasping his words. She understood them, but when someone’s been a constant in every aspect of your life, words are meaningless. Eleanor and Jesse even breathed in unison. Others pointed that out.

“I don’t know what to dress him in for the viewing.” Although the nurse was at her side, Eleanor was speaking aloud at this point. She wasn’t looking for advice or even sympathy.

“First I’ll have to call the funeral home. They’ll tell me what to do. Jesse usually let me figure things out for myself. Then he’d say, “That’s right, Mother.” And he’d smile and kiss my forehead.

The nurse’s hand tightened on Eleanor’s shoulder. It was then that Eleanor realized that the nurse was still there with her. Someone was listening.

“We were together since we were sixteen. He was my first date, and my second, and my only. I had a crush on him since I was twelve. Can you imagine that? We’ve been married since I was eighteen, fresh out of high school. Only time we were separated was during the war. Oh, and when I had the children. I had to stay in the hospital. Jesse had to take care of the house.” Eleanor smiled and patted Jesse’s hand.

“Oh! He’s cold!” She fixed the blanket around him, covering his hands. For a moment, she stood back, gazing at him. “I guess it doesn’t matter now. He won’t feel the cold.” Eleanor sank into the chair by the hospital bed. “Reverend Mosby always says such comforting things. He uses just the right verses. Makes everyone feel better.” She nodded as she spoke, eyes never leaving her husband.

“First I’ll have to call the minister. It’s so hard to know where to start.” Eleanor looked at Jesse, then turned to the nurse. “May I please have a moment? First I have to say goodbye.”