Sera’s Toast

The sun sets on his east Texas pasture, taking the day with it in a silent blaze. Wayne rambles over bumpy roads, rounding up memories as if he could drive them all home and park them in his driveway for show. Retelling his heroic past from a Lazy Boy chair, his wife of 65 years, Judith, nods respectfully, though she’s heard it all before. His thoughts are now comfortably scrambled in vodka and Coca-Cola. His best friends these days, two Aberdeen Terriers, herd him toward the bed. His farmer-sized hands steady him against thin walls. Wayne leans against the bedroom door shutting it with his weight then hits the mattress with a thud. Like centurions, the terriers file in, surrounding Wayne’s long, lean body.

Judith puts her ear to the door. With the sound of his snore, her shoulders drop and her back straightens. She lights a Virginia Slim and sits down to enjoy the first quiet moment of the day. A halo of smoke gathers around her head when she hears a knock at the back door. Placing her cigarette in a crystal bowl, an ashtray souvenir from Germany, she lifts herself from the easy chair. Seraphina has come to return the lillies Judith had placed on the New Year’s altar. Sera, that’s what Wayne called her for short, is a widow, an old friend.

He had once said to her, “Listen sweetheart,that’s a pretty name but it’s longer than you are tall. Can I just call you Sera?”

She was a “good-natured gal” he had always said. She had to be, married to Sonny, his partner in a Venezuelan oil drilling company in the ‘60s. They made the deal one night over a bottle of Jack, in a thatch-roofed bar in Caracas. When they stumbled through the door together, arms over shoulders to tell Sera, she raised her glass. In a mixed accent of Portuguese and Spanish she proposed a toast, “Well, eef we loos it all tomorrow, we jes start over. Sheers!”

They had a hell of a run until Sonny started stealing and Wayne sent him back to Texas on a second-class charter.

As the bouquet passes between Judith and Sera, a quaking blast from the garage shakes red pollen from the stamen onto the white, wilting petals.

There are not many unpredictable night noises so far out in the piney woods. Dogs bark at owls and every now and then, a coyote. Exxon/Mobil trucks occasionally rumble on and off of the property to check their wells. But when the dogs are asleep, there is only the lowing of distant cattle to suggest waking life.

Before Judith can gain a grip on the flower pot, she sees fire clawing at the back door. Startled, she stumbles over soil and shards from the shattered lilly container shoving Sera toward the front door.

She yells for Wayne, but there is no reply.

The terriers scatter, disappear as the bedroom door flies open. Wayne lay still and quiet, but for the snoring. He blows air through his nose and lips, like a horse nicker and rolls onto his side.

The two women struggle with all six feet and two inches of his dead weight until he flops to the floor.

His eyes peel half open as he sits up. Grabbing him under his shoulders, they drag him outside, just as flames over take the home.

It is only a pre-fab house, not like the handsome homes they had known before retirement. But it held nearly every reminder of their combined 140-some years of life.

Coatless and shoeless in the cold January night, the three are now monoliths in the field. Sera’s stature is noticably diminutive next to Wayne, her arms outstretched to wrap and warm the couple.

Flames burn, blot out the stars.

In minutes, the home is reduced to cinders. Indifferent to their loss, the flames turn and begin to feed on surrounding tree branches. The fire department calls. They are lost. The small dirt road turnoff is not visible in the night. A short red truck follows the glow on the horizon, getting there in time to save a few Venezuelan trinkets but not in time to save the two tiny terriers. The three watch the horror with tear-stained faces, imagining what must have become of the loyal companions — staring, glassy-eyed, no tears left.

The final flame is exhausted. A blanket of pitch dark covers the now open field, like an old quilt with stars for pinholes.

By DonnaRae Wisor

(Published in ISSUE Magazine December 2014)

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