In many ways it made perfect sense. Light flashed across her closed eyelids and she heard a muffled sound immediately afterward. She opened her eyes. What had she just been thinking about? She blinked, trying to remember. Her husband rolled over, facing away from her. She thanked the Good Lord above that he no longer snored. A miracle if there ever was one.
Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled, gathering strength and momentum until the house shook, the windows rattling in their panes. The bed trembled beneath her. A transformer box out on the curb near their window exploded in a shower of sparks, drawing her attention outside. The streetlights winked out. She barely heard a thing.
Frowning, she reached up, pulling on her ears to try to get them to pop. They must be stopped up for her hearing to be so poor. She stuck her fingers in her ears and wiggled. She yawned and moved her jaw from side to side. Nothing seemed to help. Maybe she’d have to go see Doc in the morning.
Lightning flickered outside like a child playing with the light switch. She wasn’t scared, particularly, but in between the flashes it was pitch black in the room and she wasn’t used to it anymore.
Of course, she’d grown up on the farm without streetlights. Many a day she’d had to visit the outhouse in the black of night. But that was before she married Charlie and he whisked her away to Springfleld. She yawned again and turned to her side. On the bedside table sat a portrait of an elderly man and woman surrounded by younger men, women, and children. She didn’t recognize them.
The furniture looked familiar though. And the patchwork quilt covering her. She rolled onto her back again. Memories stirred and fled with the lightning bolts outside her window. They must be visiting Charlie’s parents, she decided. They often stopped there when they traveled, and their anniversary was coming up. An important one too.
Was it their first? No, they had their two boys already, didn’t they? Yes, Chuck and Roger. And Mildred. Right. Three kids. Maybe it was their fifth anniversary. Charlie loved to surprise her. Where would he take her this time? She hoped they’d leave before the kids woke up. She hated saying goodbye to them. Tears formed in her eyes, just thinking about it.
She reached up to brush them away and froze as the strobing lights revealed withered, knobby, and trembling hands covered with age spots. Mesmerized in horror, she wiggled her fingers, wincing as pain echoed her movements. She brought one hand up to her face to feel the soft, wrinkled skin across her cheekbones.
“No,” she muttered. “I’m not old yet.” A nightmare. She must be dreaming. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee—” She tried to concentrate. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee—”
The faded quilt lifted like a wave rolling beneath lily pads. Charlie reached out and pulled her to his thin, bony chest. She relaxed against him. When had he lost so much weight?
“Be not dismayed,” Charlie’s deep voice rumbled in his chest. “For I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” He kissed her forehead. ”It’s okay, Maudie. It’s just a thunderstorm. It’ll pass soon, my love.”
“Thank you, Charlie.” She kissed his cheek. “How long are we staying at your parents’ house? And which anniversary is coming up? I’m so tired I can’t think straight.” Draping one arm across him, she snuggled closer. Charlie was getting downright scrawny. She needed to bake him some pies or something.
He didn’t answer, just stroked her hair. She let him do that for a few moments, then raised her head so she could look at him. But the storm was blowing over; the lightning came more infrequently. She couldn’t see him, so she reached up and touched his face. His chest quivered and a sob broke from his lips.
“Charlie!” She crawled up higher so she could kiss him. “What’s the matter?”
He said something she couldn’t hear. “What was that? Please stop mumbling and speak where I can hear you.”
She felt his chest shaking as he chuckled. “I’m not mumbling, babe. You’re deaf as a fence post!”
“I am not deaf. I can hear you perfectly now.” She slapped his chest lightly. He always teased her so. “Now why were you upset a minute ago?”
“A moment of weakness, my love.” He swallowed. “You asked me what anniversary is coming up?”
“Yes. I’m having trouble remembering. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“Oh babe, I love you more than I did when I married you sixty-two years ago.”
She froze. “Did you say sixty-two years?”
“Yes, Maudie. Sixty-two years.”
She shook her head. She was still dreaming; still stuck in this nightmare. In many ways it made perfect sense.
Author's Note: I wrote this short piece for one of my writing class assignments when I was an undergrad at Concordia College. My professor asked me to read it to the class after he gave a short introduction on the subject of unreliable narrators. I wrote this with my beloved maternal grandparents in mind. My grandfather, Charlie, died too early of a heart attack. My grandmother lived for more than twenty years without him, missing him every day.