With two of my big brothers – March Forth found its seed in my relationship with brother on the left.
Today is March Fourth – a date I have always adored. But in 2008, the date became marked the date when my brother died by his own hands. This short story is based on that event. However, the beauty of being an author means I can create a better world (or worse, if I choose) than reality in hopes of presenting alternate ways of viewing the world and our place in it. This short story appears in the box set Unshod along with other short stories set in the West. The box set is perma-free.
By P.C. Zick
Eve woke from the first sound sleep she’d had in months. Silence greeted her, along with an empty spot next to her on the king-size bed.
Throwing on the robe she’d laid at the foot of the bed the night before, she walked over to the sliding doors and pulled aside the thick deep purple curtains. She viewed a snow-globe world as snow fell in large white drips obscuring the view of the mountainside she so dearly loved to see each morning. Yesterday, she spied the new green growth of tulips and crocuses—planted by the previous owners—poking through the soil in the beds surrounding the patio off her bedroom, but now snow lay an inch thick, with larger, wet flakes following one after the other. Rocky Mountain weather changed as quickly as the mood of a mercurial menopausal woman.
Despite hiding the flowers, the snow held its own beauty, which pleased her. Peace surrounded her and held her tight in its arms. She’d finally slept last night after weeks of restlessness. Or maybe it had been a year of restlessness. She had hoped that by moving away from Chicago and heading west into the mountains outside Boulder her life would improve. It did for moments that shot through her with the sheer enormity and beauty of the terrain enveloping her in a safe cocoon. But then came the nights, and the memories flooded her. She analyzed every sentence, paragraph, and action she had made through her entire life. In Eve’s analysis, she always came up short, and then somewhere between dark of night and dawn, she declared herself a failure.
As she watched the snow fall, she felt gratitude that last night she had slept, and no such declarations of a botched life assaulted her.
The day had finally arrived—March 4—and she greeted it calmly despite the ramifications of what it might reveal. Her bones told her that whatever transpired today would change her life forever, but she felt no judgement on the change. It would happen, and there was nothing to do about it.
Fifty years old, divorced, and living alone for the first time in her life, she was learning about loneliness. But this morning, Eve felt renewed with confidence that she hadn’t felt since Dan came home and made his announcement. “I’ve met someone,” he said in a clichéd regurgitation of events leading up to the moment of his confession. How unoriginal she thought now, although at the time it cut through the bone to her heart.
Wrapped in her serenity after a full night’s sleep, she walked to the antique walnut secretary in the corner of her bedroom. She knew what she needed to do before she left for the biopsy.
Eve pulled out a white sheet of stationary, a yellow sunflower imprinted on the top of the page. She frowned when she gazed at it. Her twin sister, Allie, had given it to her on their last birthday, right before the terrible fight that had cast a shadow on their relationship and from which they’d yet to recover. She always thought she and Allie had the twin connection stronger than any other twins did, but that had changed when Allie’s daughter died. Eve didn’t blame her sister for how she reacted. If anything ever happened to Carli, her daughter, she’d probably want to die. Allie lashed out at others after the accident, but Eve never dreamed the lashing would reach to her. She knew Allie resented her for being the one to deliver the news. But that’s the way it had played out, and it was just another of those memories that ran repeatedly in Eve’s head on the nights of her worst discontent.
It was a primal scream that erupted from Allie when Eve said, “Susie is dead.” Allie never forgave her for being the one to utter the words.
Pushing aside the negative thoughts, particularly on this day, she put her pen on the paper and began writing straight through to the final words. She folded the sheet in half and shoved it in the envelope before sealing it. She wrote, “Carli” across the front, and then placed the envelope in the drawer under the pull down desktop.
When she walked out to the great room of her cabin, she found her friend Sarah sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee and reading a novel.
“No paper today?” Eve asked.
“The snow delayed everything this morning,” her friend said without looking up from her book. “I was about to come in there and wake you up so we could get an early start. Did you finally sleep?” Sarah raised her eyes to look at Eve.
“I did. I feel at peace this morning. I don’t know what’s going to happen today, but I have a feeling it will be something significant. It’s March Fourth after all.”
Sarah smirked. “All right, Miss Soothsayer. I thought it was March 15, the Ides of March, that held significance.”
“Nope, it’s today. Besides, what happened on the Ides of March? A murder at the hands of best friends. With friends like those …”
Sarah held up her hands to stop her. “Don’t say it, Julius Caesar. So we shall march forth into the day with our shields and swords at the ready.”
Eve laughed at her friend. They’d only known each other a few months, but they’d quickly developed a strong bond when Eve took a job as a copy editor at The Rocky Mountain News. Sarah wrote a column on gardening and landscaping in a mountain terrain, which Eve appreciated especially now that spring soon would be here, and she’d have to learn all about the flowers and plants of her new home.
Sarah had spent the night with her so she could drive her to and from the biopsy in Boulder about a half an hour from Eve’s cabin.
Allie popped into her head again, and the pain seared through her. How could her sister be her enemy? Again, she brushed those feelings into the dustpan and mentally tossed them in the trash. Visualization worked for Eve on most days. She woke at peace with herself and her life, and she wanted to go forward in harmony with whatever the day might bring.
“Now don’t freak out,” Eve began, sitting down at the table with her friend, “but I have something to tell you. You promise not to freak out?”
“I don’t make it a habit to ‘freak out’ as you so quaintly put it. So, yes, I promise if it makes you feel better. What’s going on?”
“Something beyond my control is happening today that will change my life forever,” Eve said. “I don’t know what it is, and I don’t feel good or bad about it. It just is the way it is. But things will change after the day ends.”
Sarah stared at Eve before speaking. “You’re scaring me a little, but go on. I’m listening.”
“I woke this morning after the best sleep I’ve had in weeks. I woke feeling calm and with a sense of peace that I haven’t had since first Dan and then Allie left me.”
“That’s huge. It makes me happy, so why would I freak out?”
“There’s more.” Now Eve hesitated. What she had to say sounded so final. “When I woke up, I wrote a letter to Carli. I wrote out my last wishes.”
Sarah didn’t move or speak. She simply nodded her head.
“I didn’t do it because I think I’m going to die, I did it because I realized how very alone I am in the world. It doesn’t make me as sad as it did once. But I realized Carli is it as far as my survivors go, and she has no idea what my wishes might be after I’m gone.”
“So you wrote it all down?”
“Yes, I did. I wrote it down, and I put it in a sealed envelope with her name on the front. I put it in the drawer in my secretary, and you’re the only person I’m telling about it.”
“That’s good. Carli might not understand, especially with the biopsy and all.”
Eve smiled. Carli had wanted to be the one to take her today, but Eve insisted that Carli stay in Ann Arbor where she was in her first year of college. If she needed her, she’d bring Carli home at the right time. If the test came back with bad results, then they would figure it out. She only had six weeks left in the semester, so she’d be back in Colorado soon enough.
“She doesn’t need to know about it. Only you.”
“You’re probably just spooked with finding the lump and then the doctor rushing the biopsy.”
“Maybe, but it feels like something outside of myself. I’ve been through so much this past year that cancer is the least of my problems.” She stopped talking as tears threatened. When would that stop? She felt like she’d been crying for months, and she probably had. How Sarah put up with her, she didn’t know.
“Let’s get going,” Eve said. “If I can’t drink coffee or eat anything this morning, I might as well be on the move.”
The neighbor, a retired gentleman who kept a watch out for Eve, had already plowed the driveway, but the sidewalk leading to the house was nearly a foot high. They trudged to Sarah’s SUV. Mr. Carson was out on the road with his tractor. He waved to them as he passed.
“Nice man,” Sarah said. “You lucked out with him and his wife. Some neighbors aren’t so helpful. Or if they are, they’re too helpful.”
“No, Mr. and Mrs. Carson are just right. I don’t know what I’d do without the two of them here.”
The new life she’d chosen contained hours of loneliness. There was no way she wanted the house in Evanston, Illinois, where they’d raised Carli. It was a house of deceit now, filled with memories of a husband who came home every night pretending to love her and to care about the family. All the while he’d been spending his days at work with the “someone he’d met,” another CPA who’d taken the office next to his last year. He waited to tell her until Carli had started college at the University of Michigan last fall. Talk about the empty nest. Hers had been vacated, excavated, and exhumed. There was nothing left. So she took her share of the house from Dan and bought the cabin where she’d been ever since.
Eve sent a quick text to Carli, who she knew was already at work at the coffee shop near campus, telling her she was on her way to the hospital and that Sarah would keep her posted.
“I’ll give you my phone and wallet to keep,” Eve said. “The rest of my purse can stay in the car.”
“Sounds good. It’s going to be fine today. I know it. I’m starting to think like you. Something big is going to happen today, but what it is who knows?”
Eve woke in the recovery room. The doctor had told her the size of the lump required them to do general anesthesia, and she hadn’t protested. The less she knew about how they were invading her body the better as far as she was concerned.
“There she is.” A nurse stood next to her bed fiddling with the IV stand. “The doctor should be in here in a few minutes to tell you how it went. Do you want your friend to come in now?”
“Yes, and can I have some water?” Her lips felt parched and dry as if they might crack. The nurse held up a Styrofoam cup with a straw, and she sipped.
“There’s our sleeping beauty,” Sarah said as she came into the small cubicle where Eve lay trying to wake up. “You were in surgery for quite awhile. Have you talked to the doctor?”
“Good afternoon, young lady,” Dr. Gershom said as he came around the curtain. “How are you feeling?’
“Like I slept forever.” Eve tried to sit up but didn’t get very far.
“You did fine today,” the doctor said. “But the mass was deeper than we anticipated, and it took longer.”
“Is that bad?” Eve felt as if she was swimming underwater, trying desperately to reach the top for air.
“We won’t know anything for a week or so, but we took more tissue than planned. We want to know everything we can about it before we make any decisions. My office will call you when we have the results, and then we’ll schedule an appointment for you to come in and discuss the next steps.”
After the doctor left, Sarah pulled a chair up to the bed. “I called Carli when they told me you were out of surgery, but I’m sure she’ll want to hear from you as soon as you can.”
“Did you bring my phone?” Eve asked.
Sarah dug around in her purse and pulled out the cell phone, handing it to Eve.
“There’s something else, Eve.” Sarah paused. “I need to tell you something else.”
“Allie called a few hours ago.”
“Allie? Did you talk to her?”
“No. I heard your phone ring and looked at the screen. She left a message. I didn’t think it was my place to answer the phone.”
Eve’s head swam. Why would Allie be calling her on this day, of all days, after so many months of silence?
“I’ll call Carlie first, and then I’ll listen to the message.”
After Eve assured her daughter that everything was fine and that she’d be released soon, Eve handed the phone back to Sarah.
“Go ahead and play the voice mail on speaker. I have a feeling I’m going to need you.” Eve lay her head back on the pillow and shut her eyes. She rose this morning knowing that the day would bring some type of movement to her life. She hoped the date would live up to its name, no matter what Allie had to say to her. At least, she had called.
Sarah fiddled with Eve’s phone for a minute, and then she looked at her friend. “Ready?” Eve nodded.
The voice, so similar to hers, startled Eve into opening her eyes.
Eve, it’s Allie. I woke this morning with one thought in mind. I decided today would be the day I would end it all. What do I have to live for repeats over and over in my head, keeping me from sleeping most nights. I rose and went directly to my secretary in my bedroom—you know the one, it’s just like yours—and wrote out my last wishes. When I finished, I paused wondering whose name to write on the front of the envelope. Only one name came to mind, so I wrote “Carli,” but just as I dotted the “i” on her name, my phone rang. I wouldn’t have answered except that I glanced at the screen lying next to my stationary and saw “Carli.” I knew then it was a sign from Susie—one I’ve been asking for ever since she died.
Her voice cracked at the end, and then she stopped talking. Eve’s heart did a flip flop, not knowing what was coming next. Was Allie going to kill herself? Finally, the voice started again.
So I answered. Carli was calling to tell me about your biopsy today. She said she couldn’t stand that we weren’t speaking and that it made Susie’s death even harder for her. Funny, I’ve been so lost in my own misery, I never thought that others might miss Susie, too. Carli said she thought I should know. Now I know, and it feels as if she threw a rope down into the abyss of my despair. I threw away the pills a few minutes ago.
Again, silence, but Eve felt relief course through her knowing the pills were gone. She didn’t know if Allie had hung up or not. Sarah whispered, “She’s still there.”
I’m driving west in a few minutes and should be at the cabin by tomorrow night. I hope you’ll welcome me. You are my way back.
“She’s coming.” Eve shut her eyes, and tears fell on her cheeks.
“It’s happening just like you said.” Sarah wiped the tears on her checks with the coarse tissue provided by the hospital. “Are you okay with her coming? I can always call her and tell her to wait a few days.”
“She’s already on the road. I want her to come. Besides Carli, she’s all I have.”
“And she’s your twin. You must have felt like you had an amputation after the fight.”
“I haven’t felt whole since that day she told me she hated me. It was worse than the divorce.”
“All right,” Sarah said, pulling Eve’s clothes out of the plastic bag provided by the hospital. “Let’s get you out of here. You need to get some rest so you’re ready for tomorrow night.”
Sarah spent the night with her again, just to make sure she was all right, but in the morning while they drank coffee, Eve assured her friend she was fine.
“I can stay and help you get ready, maybe make something for dinner?”
“No. I’m fine. I’ve got some soup frozen, and I always have the stuff to make our favorite dessert.”
“Chocolate sundaes with French vanilla ice cream. It’s what we always had as kids on Saturday nights.”
Sarah hugged her as she prepared to go. “You were right. Your life changed yesterday, didn’t it?”
“We’ll see.” Eve wasn’t sure how they’d ever make things right again. Too much had passed between them during those dark months of death and divorce.
“When did her daughter die? Was it before the divorce?”
Eve shook her head. “It was the week after Dan told me. Susie was coming over to the house to take me out for lunch when it happened. I was the last person she’d called before the other car crossed the median and hit her head on. They called me, and when I said I was her aunt, they told me, and I said I’d let her mother know.”
“I am so sorry, Eve. I had no idea that’s how it happened.” Sarah came to her then and held her tightly, while Eve let loose with the tears that had been her constant companion since last September. “And so you told Allie?”
“Yes, I went over to her house. Susie and she had been fighting over the past few months because Susie didn’t want to go to Northwestern. In fact, Susie didn’t want to go to college at all, and the two had been fighting over it.”
“Were Carli and Susie the same age?”
“Yes, we liked to do everything together, even have our kids. Except marriage. That’s one thing Allie never did. She didn’t marry Susie’s father. In fact, she never even told him she was pregnant. Another sore spot with Susie. Allie resented that Susie could talk to me, but she kept it concealed mostly until after the death. Allie said I’d kept them apart.”
“She was in horrible pain. I can’t imagine how she must have felt, and you were an easy scapegoat. If she had been married her husband might have taken the brunt of it.”
Eve’s mind went back to that day when Allie screamed, “I hate you.” It was the day she’d decided to move west, even though she’d only been to Colorado once. But there was something about the Rockies that drew her, and the idea of leaving Chicago and burying herself in the immense landscapes gave her hope that she could escape the pain of the divorce and of Susie’s death. She needed to mourn both. Allie felt abandoned when Eve told her she was moving. She begged her to come with her, but Allie instead lashed out at Eve. And they hadn’t spoken since. She didn’t know how they could ever get beyond all of that grief and anger.
She heard a car door slam late the next day as she stirred the soup simmering on the stove. Heart pounding and hands sweating, Eve managed to open the front door just as Allie walked up on the front porch. They stared at one another for a long time, neither one moving. And then Eve moved toward her sister as Allie also moved forward. They fell into one another’s arms, crying and laughing.
“Let’s get inside before we freeze,” Eve said, even though she didn’t want to let go of Allie ever again.
“This is lovely, Eve.” Allie stood in the middle of the great room with its vaulted ceiling and cathedral windows and knotty pine walls. “The perfect mountain retreat. That’s what you did, isn’t it? You retreated from it all.”
Eve looked at Allie, wondering if she heard resentment in her voice. She decided if it was there, she would ignore it.
“You can hang your coat on the rack in the corner. How about a glass of wine?”
Allie nodded and followed her into the kitchen area. “Smells good. What’s cooking?”
“Minestrone—just like Mom used to make.”
They took their wine to the leather couch facing the stone fireplace, sitting side by side as if the past months had never happened. Eve marveled that it all seemed so natural and right.
“Do you know when you’ll have the results back?” Allie asked.
“Maybe a week. They’ll call me and schedule an appointment.”
“I’d like to stay at least until then.”
“Good. I’d like that. Carli will be pleased, too.” Eve paused. “There’s something I want to tell you. Your message was disturbing, but it also let me know we never lost one another. Yesterday morning, I woke very clear headed but certain something was going to happen that would change my life forever. I was thinking about the date—my favorite date—March Fourth.”
“I know you’ve always said that. Why did you think yesterday would be different from every other year when you’ve said the same thing?”
“I don’t know, but it was clear to me that I needed to do something. So I rose and went to the secretary that’s just like yours, and I wrote out my last wishes.” Allie gasped. “I addressed the envelope to Carli.”
“Just as I did yesterday morning.”
They turned to one another. Eve rose and went to her bedroom. When she came back holding the envelope, Allie was unfolding an identical piece of stationary with the yellow sunflower. She placed it on the coffee table in front of the couch. Eve did the same thing with her letter.
They’d written nearly the same thing, except Eve wrote about how proud she was to be Carli’s mother. Allie wrote about Susie. But they both ended it the same way.
Tell my sister I always loved her.
“I guess we really have that twin thing down,” Allie said. “To the letter.” They both chuckled.
“Move here, Allie,” Eve pleaded with her sister. “We’ll get help for both of us so we can move beyond the grief. And we’ll work through it all together.”
“Do you mean we’ll march forth hand in hand?”
“That’s exactly what I mean. Just you and me.”
“You mean you want me to leave Chicago?”
Eve laughed. “Yes, come west, young woman. There’s something fresh here in the Rockies. It’s the place for new starts while we still remember our shared past.”
Allie nodded, and then smiled.
In one movement, as if with one body, they raised their glasses and clinked them together to seal the pact they’d reached together.
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