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Fresh Strawberries and Cream

by Ron Van Sweringen

Robert Carter Mills was dying. No, not dying a little every day like the rest of us, but big-time: dying in a matter of weeks. The walls of the hospice were spring green, with drapes to match. It felt like the inside of a giant celery stalk; it even smelled like celery, with a slight antiseptic crispness in the air.

His hospital bed floated above the floor, he supposed, to make it easier for the nurses who attended him: fewer backaches from bending. What it said to him the first time he saw it was, “This is the reality of your situation. You won’t be coming out of that while you’re still in this world.”

The muted classical music of some dead composer swam around the walls of his room. How appropriate, he thought.

* * *

She smiled and said her name was Claire. His first impression was, “She’s too young and pretty to be in here.” Red hair had always been his downfall. His vision wasn’t great anymore, but what he saw when she approached the bed was close to perfection. “Why now, God?” he wondered through the golden glow of morphine. “Why not forty years ago?”

Her touch was calm and reassuring, reminding him of going to church with his mother when he was a little boy, with angels sitting on his shoulders. Red-headed angels that no one else could see.

“It’s Friday night,” Claire smiled, her voice soft as a forest breeze. “When I make my rounds, I’ll bring you a bowl of fresh strawberries.”

He tried to call out, “Don’t forget the cream,” but the words would not come.

* * *

“Fill the pail all the way up, Bobby,” his mother said, “with only the best berries. We have company coming for dinner.” The sun felt good on his shoulders. He knelt in the warm sand and didn’t need a blanket anymore.

When the pail was full, he saw Claire coming up the lane, her red hair shining in the sun. He wanted to stay longer, to taste the strawberries and cream, but it was late and his mother was calling.

Copyright © 2011 by Ron Van Sweringen

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