Marion Wilson’s Last Walk (Free Fiction)

Marion Wilson’s Last Walk

A.J. Brown

It wasn’t supposed to snow. Not in the middle of March and not down in South Carolina. But it did. 

Marion stared out the window of the small cabin. He held the curtain back with one knobby, arthritic hand. He felt the cold coming from beyond the door, but it was the bright white, not quite frozen flurries that held his attention. The yard wasn’t covered yet, but he had a feeling it would be soon enough.

“Don’t worry, Olivia,” he said in a tired voice that sounded nothing like that of his youth. “I’m coming to see you.”

Marion turned and shuffled his way across the living room floor to a closet held closed, not by a knob, but by a hook latch. He flipped the latch up and the door opened with a groan he had heard so many times it no longer registered in his brain. He plucked out a gray coat, one he has worn since the early seventies. He slipped it on. 

Still a perfect fit, he heard Olivia say. 

“Yes, it is,” he responded.

Then he reached onto the shelf above the pole the clothes hung on and grabbed his gray fedora, the one with the black ribbon and the deep pinch in it. He placed it on his head. There was a mirror on the inside of the door. He looked in it and then tugged the fedora down so the brim was just above his eyebrows. Satisfied, he nodded and closed the door, latching the hook to keep it closed.

Don’t forget your gloves.

“I won’t, Darling.”

In his bedroom, one with dark wood paneling on the walls and an almost threadbare carpet on the floor, he reached into the dresser across the room from his bed. The top drawer held socks, underwear and his warm gloves. They were gray, like the fedora and his winter coat.

He straightened his coat and took a deep breath.

You look quite dapper, Olivia said.

“Thank you, Darling.”

A few minutes later, he stepped outside and locked his door. It wasn’t as cold as he thought it would be. Still, he buttoned his coat all the way to his neck. 

You forgot your scarf, Marion.

“I know.”

Maybe you should go back and get it.

He thought this over, and shook his head. “No. I need to hurry. They’re calling for more snow and lower temperatures, so I don’t have much time, if I’m going to make a visit today.”

Marion turned from the door and looked out over the yard. It was nothing special, just some bushes and trees, and an old tire swing in the tall oak off to his right where his car sat. A wooden fence surrounded the yard, with an opening where the dirt driveway led to the house. Beyond the driveway and the yard was an expanse of trees that didn’t quite equal a set of woods, but more like just a field where trees had grown. This is what Marion would walk through.

Though he wore gloves, he shoved his hands into his coat pockets. 

“I’m going to hurt when I get back,” he whispered and then cringed. He looked around, as if someone had heard him. “I’m sorry, Darling. I didn’t mean it that way.”

There were no steps leading to a porch on his cabin. There was a small deck and a six-inch drop down to the ground. He stepped from the porch and made his way through the yard, onto the dirt and gravel driveway. Snow floated to the ground around him and crunched beneath his weight, along with the rocks. Though he was well into his eightieth year, he still held the wonderment of a six-year-old child when it came to winter weather. Even now, when he needed to make his weekly visit, he was still in awe of its beauty.

His cheeks were already cold and pink by the time he made it down the drive and to the line of trees. 

It’s cold out here, Olivia said.

“Yes it is, Darling,” he responded. “But it will be okay.”

He dipped into the trees, following a footpath barely touched by the snow so far that morning. Sure, there were still flurries falling and landing, but nothing really sticking in that area. But when he reached the other side and stepped from beneath the cover of trees, the snow was coming down harder. The flakes were as big as nickels and quarters, and at least half an inch had already accumulated on the ground.

“It’s coming down good, now.”

Standing outside the trees, he looked on toward the field in the distance. Like the line of trees, there was a path that led through the field and to where Marion’s eyes stared off to. It was a small area, fenced in with a brick wall and an iron gate, one Marion had built when he was younger when his dad passed away. 

“Almost there, Olivia,” he said. 

The snow picked up and blew around him. His cheeks were red and his nose was a shade of cherry. The chill had set into his bones, especially his legs, causing him to walk stiffly. It didn’t take him long to reach the fence. Outside the gate was a sign that read Wilson Family Cemetery. Marion went to the gate and worked the handle to open it.  

He walked in, passing the gravestones of long passed family members. To the left was Dad and Mom. A little further down were his grandparents, buried here before Marion built the fence and put up the gate. Uncle Abernathy was to his right, interred with Aunt Myriam. He passed three of his four children, all passing from this plane of existence before turning fifty, one of them—Marion Junior was killed in Vietnam at age twenty. He didn’t look at his oldest son’s grave—it hurt too much, even all these years later.

His feet left big prints in the deepening snow as he passed the rest of the graves, stopping only when he reached a new one—five months new. He knelt, carefully, his knees sinking into the snow. It took only seconds before the bite of the cold and wet had seeped through the material and sunk its teeth into his knees.

With one gloved hand, he wiped the snow away from the marker on the ground. He stared at the engraved inscription on it until cold tears blurred his vision:

Olivia Marie Wilson

February 4, 1939 – October 28, 2016

Beloved Wife and Mother

At Rest With Her Savior

Headstone“I’m here, Darling,” he said. His voice was thick with sadness. 

I am, too, she whispered.

He felt her hand on his shoulder. 

Thank you for coming.

He turned his head and shoulders. There she stood, in her Sunday best, a white dress with blue flowers on them, her black heels and her gray hair pulled back from her face and held in a bun by a hair ribbon. Her eyes were the same gray as her hair and the wrinkles on her face didn’t appear as deep as they had been before she died. No, they looked less like the wounds of time and more like lines of character, put there through years lived.

“I told you I would always be there for you.”

You always were.

“I’m tired, Darling,” he said as he looked at her. 

Then rest, Love. 

He nodded. “I think I will get on home now.”

Marion looked back at the marker with his wife’s name on it. His heart hurt. It had been less than six months, but it felt like it had been just yesterday when she took her last breath and left him alone.

“I miss you,” he said and let the tears fall. They were warm against his cold skin. He put his face in his hands and leaned forward. His forearms touched the ground. Like his pants, the snow soaked through the material of his winter coat. He closed his eyes against fresh tears. As he knelt, his legs grew numb, as did his arms. The exhaustion of the walk there and the weight of his loneliness pulled at him. 

At some point, he yawned.

“I need to go now,” he said and went to stand up. He pushed up with his hands and then Olivia was beside him. 

Love, let me help you up.

He looked at her soft hand, one that had grown bony and brittle at the end of her life. It seemed to have a little more flesh on it than when she passed. 

Please?

Marion nodded. “Thank you.”

He reached up and took her hand. It was tangible and soft and it felt like her. He got to his feet, a little easier than he thought he would. 

Come. Let’s go home, she whispered.

“I’d like that.”

His voice didn’t feel as heavy as it had earlier. Neither did his heart. He seemed … whole, a feeling he hadn’t had since Olivia’s death. 

Marion left her grave and made his way back through the final resting spots of his family members. Olivia held his hand. In their wake, they left no footprints in the snow and Marion was no longer cold.

____________________

On March 12th of 2017, something happened here in South Carolina that doesn’t occur too frequently. It snowed. It’s not that it doesn’t snow here, it just doesn’t snow often and rarely in March, when temperatures are usually warming up and heading for one of our famously hot summers.

Seeing how the snow wasn’t sticking in Cola-town, Cate suggested we drive North. So, we did. We stopped off in Peak, where the snow had stuck. 

Before you actually get to Peak (which is pretty much a loop around downtown and back out again), we saw a cemetery on the left. We stopped and Cate took some pictures. While there my son pelted me with a snowball (which was more like a slush ball because it was mostly ice and little snow). A short, albeit fun, snowball fight ensued. 

It was epic. I will definitely say I won, though The Boy’s hairs would bristle and he would beg to differ.

After the snowball battle ended, I noticed a set of footprints leading to a grave. (I do not recall seeing footprints leading away from the grave). I followed the tracks to where they appeared to stop, and then circle around a tombstone. 

I took a moment to look at the head stone. The woman had passed away in October of 2016, less than six months earlier. In my imagination, I saw her husband walking to the grave, kneeling, having a conversation with her, even in the cold and snow and wind. 

That’s love.

My imagination about broke my heart.

While looking at this final resting place, I could only think how painful it must have been for this man (who from the information next to his wife’s epitaph, would have been at least eighty), both emotionally and physically, to be out there. It was one of those moments of realization that most folks have about life: we’re not forever. It stayed with me long enough to write this story.

(If you liked Marion Wilson’s Last Walk, please share this to social media and help me share my stories to the world. Thank you!)

Grave Stories

There is  a dirt road off of Highway 176 in South Carolina. Like many dirt roads around the country, if you blink you might pass it without realizing it exists. That almost happened to us on Friday as we drove along in search of old cemeteries. If not for Cate’s eagle eyes, we would have never seen the road, and we would have never came across the Tabernacle Cemetery just outside of Cameron.

20161104_084141We backtracked and turned down the dirt road that didn’t look to really be off the beaten path. It was littered with small branches and leaves that scraped along the car’s undercarriage as we drove along. We stopped about halfway down the dirt road. A large tree branch lay in the way, most of it shattered into pieces. There was no moving the core of the branch, so we parked and walked the rest of the way.

As we got out the car, two deer ran from the trees on the right into the trees on the left about seventy yards away. They were quick, and in the blink of an eye, they were gone.

Time to walk.

It only took five or so minutes to reach the cemetery off to our left. Before reaching it, three more deer appeared in the distance, just on the edge of the woods where the road dead-ended.

The cemetery wasn’t quite shrouded by trees and shrubbery, but there was plenty of overgrowth and broken branches. There was a tree down about fifty yards from the road, probably felled by Hurricane Matthew, a storm that skirted the edge of South Carolina, but had the reach of winds and rains that spread beyond the Midlands, some hundred plus miles from the coast.

DSCN1404.JPGThe graves, most of which dated to the early to mid-1800’s, felt as if they had been forgotten over the years. The grass was shin high in places and leaves crunched under foot. Like the road, there were small branches everywhere. Tomb stones leaned forward; others had crumbled over time. A few had broken in half. Many of the graves belonged to Confederate soldiers or to the Dantzler clan…or both. There were some smaller headstones, babies and children who passed much too young.

As we wondered around the open cemetery (which I imagine was last kept up about six years or so ago), the sounds of Mother Nature spoke to us. A wind whistled softly through the trees, leaves rustled and fell all around us in ballet pirouettes, deer walked or ran through the woods not far from us. Out in that grave yard, all those sounds gave the place a somewhat creepy atmosphere.

We had seen the large tree from the road, many of its branches b
roken off and scattered about. As we approached it, high-stepping tall grass and other branches, we saw that none of the tombstones along its length had been damageDSCN1413.JPGd when it fell. It was as if the tree had laid down right between several headstones for a little rest. It was like the tree had a respect for the dead that
most of the living
don’t have.

Where the top of the tree lay were three larger markers, Confederate soldiers, an
d Dantzlers alike. The branches hung above them and around them. Some of them brushed up against the markers, as if patting them gently. It was one of the neatest sights we have seen in an old cemetery.

As we left and headed back up the dirt road to where our car sat (waiting patiently for us, perhaps?), I stopped and looked back. The scene before me was eerily quiet. The wind no longer whistled through the trees. The leaves no longer rustled and fell to the ground in ballet-like pirouettes. The deer had left the area or had just stopped moving about. Could they sense something about to happen?

Now, here is what I want you to picture, and no, this did not happen. But this is where my mind painted a picture oDSCN1408.JPGf three men, all Confederate soldiers in their winter coats and britches. One wore a gray hat and sat on the long trunk of the tree, one foot on the ground, the other firmly planted on the tree, knee bent and his elbow on it. He bit into an apple, that in my mind’s eye, looked too red. I heard the crunch of his teeth sink into the apple.

The second guy was older, a salt and pepper beard on his face, a wooden pipe in his mouth. White smoke billowed up from the pipe. He stood on the other side of the tree, sharpening a knife on a wet stone. In the picture being painted in my mind I sniffed the air, thinking I might be able to catch the rich smell of the tobacco, but couldn’t. I can’t say there wasn’t disappointment on the face of my mind’s version of me.

DSCN1401.JPGThe third soldier—the one that felt the most real to me—was kneeling down a few feet from the base of the fallen tree. There was a white bandage around his midsection in place of the shirt he wasn’t wearing. He reached into the ground, his hands clearly disappearing into the dirt of the grave where a small headstone was. A moment later he stood, a baby in his arms. He turned to me and our eyes met. He was smiling as he snuggled the baby against his chest.

I stood for a few seconds, watching these three men, one eating an apple, one sharpening a knife and one holding a baby. Then they faded away, leaving just the graves and woods behind. And just like that, my mind released me from the image.

I stood a couple of seconds more, and then ran up the road to catch up with Cate. We would leave the grave yard behind. Maybe someone else will come along and the ghosts will plant images in their mind. Or, maybe, it’s the other way around. Maybe their minds will plant images on their surroundings and bring the ghosts alive, if only for a few seconds…