Today, Sharon Cupp Pennington favors us with another award-winning piece.
The Lovely Goodbye
By Sharon Cupp Pennington
I stood on the pier’s first rickety step, gazed at a perfect sky and whispered to no one in particular, “Today Linda shall have her wings.”
She had wanted to be a flight attendant since we were kids, to be free to travel a world she’d voraciously read about in National Geographic. She ended up grounded in California, married to a controlling ex-ball player. Mother of five, teacher of many, dead of breast cancer at forty-two.
The weathered planks vibrated underfoot as I neared the T, shoved tousled hair out of my eyes and leaned into a wind whose restlessness matched my own. That’s when I saw the child standing barefoot at the end of the pier. Her soaring kite painted ribbons of color against a backdrop of electric blue and arcing gulls. Its long, knotted tail whipped this way and that as if shouting, “Follow me, follow me.”
The child’s denim shorts and red t-shirt appeared faded, as though she had just stepped from an old discolored photograph. White-blonde hair hung to her shoulders, and curled under.
She released the kite string and waved. My breath caught. If I were closer, I’d surely see the pink spots in her wind-burned cheeks, those familiar azure eyes and dimpled grin, the pale sliver of a scar on her right knee—a fall from our grandfather’s black walnut tree, thirteen stitches.
The kite string’s spool traveled the planks, bouncing high and tumbling low, until it dropped at my feet. I stared at it for what seemed a long while, this dawdling forever. When I reached down, the fist-sized spool disintegrated to a powdery mist, then nothingness.
My head jerked at the child’s impish laughter. She had vanished. The wind gentled through me and restored a calm I hadn’t known in months.
Linda, dearest sister, loyal friend. . .
The ornate copper urn, not at all heavy now, peered from the sagging canvas bag on my arm. I lifted it out, unscrewed the lid and turned toward the sea. Linda’s ashes caught in a sudden stir of air and peppered the sun for a moment. I smiled through a blur of unshed tears. I had regretted too long that I wasn’t with her when she died. The distance between Texas and California had enabled my sister to keep me oblivious to her illness. I suppose with thoughts of sparing me. So like her.
Suddenly everything felt right, the moment, this place—us. Linda would have her wings in the infinite rush of the wind, and in the faithful ebb and flow of the tides.
"The Lovely Goodbye" is a tribute to my sister who died of breast cancer in 1989 at the age of 42. It won an Honorable Mention in the Whim's Place 4th flash fiction contest in February 2002 and second place in The Written Wisdom's Short Story Contest that same year. The story appeared in the December 2002 issue of The Written Wisdom e-zine. Linda would have been thrilled. To learn more about Sharon, visit her website.
Photo courtesy of beautifulillustratedquotations.blogspot.com.