Journey to the Other Side of Life Sample

Read the first part of Grandma's Haystacks (a selection from Journey to the Other Side of Life) here. 

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Grandma's Haystacks 

 Seven months after Sam died, I still don't expect to survive him. Widows should be seventy-eight. At least. Not thirty-eight. Not like me.

"Too young to die," folks whisper just loud enough for me to hear whenever I enter a room. Some inner demon compels those-who-know to explain to those-who-don't: the details of Sam's leukemia. When do all the needs stop?

"Don't change anything now that you'll regret later," well-meaning friends advise me. Then they disappear from my life. Such as it is. Sam and I never had children (none that survived the pregnancies), and I'm not going to start over now. But I have the rest of my life ahead of me, anyway, and I have to figure out how to fill the hours - some 380,000 of them left, and counting.

Look how healthy you are, dear.

Yes, Grandma, I'm looking. Parked now in my VW microbus, The Chocolate Expresso. That's what I call my home on wheels, not having anyone else to call a name. I park here at an overlook somewhere on the Oregon coast while I sip espresso from my travel mug.

Something is missing.

I stare at the forever sea and think. (You can't run any farther away than this.)
I'm six tanks of gasoline from home, my wallet is running on low, and I don't know how many more tanks I'll need to reach wherever I'm going.

A slim barrier of rocks between me and empty air. That's all.

Wherever I'm going, I'm closer now. (Never close enough.) I'm here, aren't I? I made it all the way west.

Followed the dream quest. 

People got to search... Got to get...down the road.

Down the road, where?

Dunno. (You surely don't.)

The ocean doesn't run away, not forever, not like me. Lava rock points out of the sea like a haystack, not too far from shore, and a rolled-up wave explodes in a spray of foam. Sea lions plastered there don't slide away, but then again, grime clouds my windshield, so how would I know? As fast as it started, it's over, washed away, and the tides whisper themselves back into deep ocean beds. The cycle starts again, hammering away at the door to my soul.

Coffee warms my lips and coats my throat and leaves my head sighing "ahhhh."

A boost when you're dragging, says Grandma in my head.

And isn't that the point? (What is the point of being a too-young widow, laid off again?)

When the accounting job dried up, leaving my mind a wreck, I found mindless work in the coffee shop on The Hill. Customers flitted through, fodder for that daily fix of contact all humans need. But most of them were university students and professors who were too absorbed in their thoughts to converse with servants like me. Some of their faces I recognized after they'd been in several times for their double and triple and quadruple shots...but they might as well have not had any faces at all. I was always surrounded by people, yet never with any of them.

Grandma's voice draws me back to other memories of percolating coffee in her cinnamon kitchen, an island in a foreign sea of rustling corn husks. I wonder how I got here. So far away from there. Here, by the sea. How long?

You'll know when it's time.

The dream quest, Grandma used to say, was always in the Mertens blood. Starting with her parents' voyage west by steamer from Rotterdam to Philadelphia in 1884.

I don't know when it's time!

Grandma continued the journey alone in 1900 but only made it as far as Ohio before she found whatever she was so goddamned sure she was searching for. Daddy picked up the dream and took it on to Kansas after the war, and an entire century after the cycle had begun, I carried the Mertens westward movement with me to the University of Colorado.

That's where I met Sam. In Harrison's statistics class. I thought I'd gone as far as I could go.

Seals crowd together out there on their island rock, and I wonder what keeps them happy. Must be each other. (Duh.) They are life's glue that flaked away when Sam died.

My mug is suddenly empty. (How long have you been sitting here?) I climb out of the driver's seat and head back to the galley to press more espresso. Yet, while I am away, the ocean does not go away.

Not like Sam. (You shouldn't have gone to work that day Sam needed you. You gave him away for faceless people.)

Crawling back behind the wheel, I slam my mug into the cup holder. Stab the key into the ignition and yank at the gear shift. Tires screech and hot coffee splashes onto my thigh. VWs aren't meant to go this fast, but I push it. Can't run fast enough. (You traded for these underpowered wheels, remember, to keep you safe.)

No. Not really.

Puttering, swerving, splashing round the bends in the road. Heading north. Not west.

West has always been the destination for us Mertens.

Nowhere left to go but back.

Pine trees crowd the narrow ribbon of pavement to my right. The cliff, a spume-coated wall to my left. The Chocolate Expresso barely holds onto the curves, barreling along them.

Like me, barely holding on.

I become entangled in a chain of backed-up vacationers. I can't go on like this forever, not like the ocean can.
As soon as we whip into the edges of town, we drop to a crawl. Fingernails drum on the wrapped steering wheel. Mine?

Lined up, we are waiting for the march to begin that will pull us along like lemmings (pushed from behind). A row of shops catch my eye, and I remember that Sam always said there wasn't a store I could not meet.

To prove him right makes him less gone. I can interrupt the dream quest, for I have nothing but time. I almost tip over The Chocolate Expresso in my haste to exit -

Come back soon next time, why don't you?

Then the missing counterpart to my coffee presents itself: a wedge of chocolate jammed between a Christmas shop and a quilt shop. All three doors are gateways to Grandma.

And where, I wonder, is Sam's gate? (Surely farther ahead. Just keep on going - don't stop! And you'll find it.)
But first things first. I'll give this a try. There's plenty of time yet. I park the bus and carefully lock the doors, for all my assets after Sam's bills have been reduced to this one vehicle and its contents. The house is gone, the furniture, too. Who needs it? Only one box of photos records my life. The rest is lost, but it was never permanent, anyway.

A chill wind shoves me along the sidewalk and reaches into my jacket collar, gripping my throat. Before it can strangle me, I open the door (your gate) and a warm air current blasts my face.

Chocolate... Gooey, warm, oozing bubbles and strings and slabs and droplets and buckets and more GLORIOUS buckets of chocolate...

To read all of Grandma's Haystacks and two other stories, please purchase the ebook Journey to the Other Side of Life:

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Also available on most other ereaders