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Better Days Are Coming

The doctor wheeled the gurney carrying Anna into the elevator. Her breathing had slowed considerably. A few more breaths and the once vibrant lady whose entire life personified the Frank Sinatra song “My Way” was gone. Her resolute spirit surrendered to the cancer that had ravaged her frail body.

My car accelerated along with my anger. I veered left, then a sharp right, hugging the guardrail on the narrow stretch of road.

The lake had always been my refuge. One hundred and eighty-five acres of ecstasy, far from the clamor of city life. Rows of country homes lined the lakefront. None of them were mine. Once I reached my destination and parked the car, I gazed out into the distance. The wind and water interceded, causing tiny ripples to fluctuate back and forth.

“Inconceivable,” I shouted. People like Anna can’t die. It would be like trying to extinguish a gusty wind on a cold winter’s morning.

I didn’t yet know that she was gone. That news came later when I returned home. All I knew was that her health had taken a turn for the worse and doctors didn’t think she’d make it.

The universe had given me Anna, and now it was taking her back from whence she came.

Tears flowed easily from my blue eyes; droplets clung to my lashes before shimmering down my cheeks and plunging onto my lap. “She can’t die,” I pleaded.

A bird landed in a nearby tree. Although I couldn’t see it, its vocalization filled the air with splendor and charm. Birds lost one another all the time, yet they seemed undeterred. No cries or moans, funerals or burials. If they suffered, they concealed it well, taking flight without so much as looking back.

At that moment, I longed to spread my wings and soar through the air, leaving the past behind.

But my attention drifted over the horizon to another lifetime. She was there waiting like nothing had changed.

When did I first become aware of my Great Aunt Anna? Pictures revealed her singing to me as a baby. She would scoop me up in a blanket while I lay peacefully in my bassinet and carry me down to her apartment. Whatever memories we made at that point did not register, nor can I recollect being three and running down the stairs of my grandmother’s house to Aunt Anna’s, so we could sit on her plastic covered sofa, while thumbing through magazines for pictures of cats.

She comes into view around the age of four. I can see her auburn hair done in a half bouffant with a slight flip at one end. She swapped her thick coke-bottle glasses, which helped assuage her severe sight deficit, with amber brown, oversized frames.

            Anna is the oldest in a family of seven. Though she dated, she never married. Two of her brothers remained single as well, but their nicknames differed from that of a woman.

            “What does spinster mean?” I asked my aunt one afternoon.

            She put down the newspaper and took a long sip of ginger ale. “It’s a term used for a woman who isn’t married.”

            “What do they call men who don’t get married?”

            Anna pursed her lips to stress her annoyance. “They’re called bachelors.”

            I didn’t understand the terminology, but I wondered aloud why Anna never donned a wedding dress like the other women of her generation.

            “I never met anyone I loved enough to give up my freedom,” she answered.

            Not that Anna was lazy. She cooked and cleaned every day; she just didn’t want to cook and clean while her husband sat idle in an easy chair, listening to ball games on the radio.

She grew up watching her parents fight over money, wondering how they were going to support all their kids. While she was supposed to be asleep, she could hear quarreling through the thin walls. It was then and there in the small bedroom she shared with her sister that she vowed never to live a life indebted to anyone but herself. Like all difficult times, she repeated her catchy mantra: Better days are coming.  

 Only rich people ever saw farther than their front lawn. Times were hard, money scarce. But without the responsibility of a family, Anna traveled the country on various occasions, hosted cocktail parties, wore pearls around her neck, and a gold bracelet around her ankle. It was an existence most women envied.

            Rumors swirled around the neighborhood about Anna’s spinster existence. She either had to be gay or some kind of shrew that men couldn’t bring themselves to wed. Neither was true. Men lined up to take her out. Why wouldn’t they? Her flawless ivory skin mirrored that of a porcelain doll. Fancy dresses covered her petite figure. She had style and grace that left her male counterparts whistling her name.

            While other women slaved all day long in a kitchen, struggling to get dinner ready for their families, Anna dashed off to business school to earn a certificate in bookkeeping. For the longest time, she worked two jobs to make ends meet. The arduous hours kept her away from the neighbors’ water cooler chatter. 

            Couples lounged on stoops or in backyards. They never seemed to go anywhere except to the grocery store. Husbands would come home from a long day at the office, prop their feet up, and get waited on.  

            Anna sometimes went straight from work to the theater. “There’s nothing like Broadway,” she would often tell me. She saw plays with the “old pros” as she referred to them: Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, and her favorite, Angela Lansbury, whom she had seen in two Broadway productions: Mame and Sweeney Todd. Besides Broadway, Anna watched every movie and TV show Lansbury ever made. Whether she was solving crimes or stuffing people into meat pies, Lansbury’s incomparable talent captivated Anna.

            In 1983, Anna retired from her job as a bookkeeper and traded in Brooklyn for Florida. She proudly announced that she had purchased her first home without the help of a man.

Anna became more momentous in my life as I got older. I took a job after graduating high school, opting out of college. This pained my aunt, whose biggest regret was being unable to attend a university.

“I had to quit school to support my parents,” she used to say. Though she was pleased with her business certificate, it didn’t quite compare to a B.A.

            Besides other fascinating aspects of Anna’s personality, the most intriguing was her ESP, a strange phenomenon that allowed her to see future events. I was visiting her in Florida one summer when she dropped the bomb that I would one day attend college and become a writer.

            “Aunt Anna,” I said, shoveling grapes into my mouth, “I don’t want to go to college.”

            Undaunted by my admission, she continued crocheting. “It’s your destiny,” she responded.

            By the time Anna turned eighty, she had a lot of miles behind her. A curly perm replaced her bouffant. She still colored her hair, unwilling to yield to nature’s insistence that gray hair reflected a life well lived. “I can achieve the same level of distinction using a hair dye,” she would say. Her compact figure turned robust, mainly because of an underactive thyroid. Despite her age, her perfect skin remained free of wrinkles, thanks to a life spent out of the sun.

            Her time on earth was slowing to an end, although she would not defer willingly to every ache and pain. She still enjoyed social gatherings with friends, and did her usual chores around the house, including gardening — knee replacements be damned.

            Her preferred method of communication was still letter writing, sometimes five pages long, despite the arthritis that plagued her hands. I received two letters per week with her sage advice on everything from world events to personal trials.

            Anna had brought me through the pain of losing my mother when I was twelve, reminding me that no matter how hard it is to lose someone, my journey in this world must continue.  

Her wisdom surpassed that of anyone who had crossed my path. With no deliberate attempt on her part, she had shaped my life with her determination and powerful will. She defied societal norms and cultural stereotypes to become her own person. She unapologetically did things her way. All the way. Right to the very end.

As the birds took flight, flying somewhere, anywhere, I got out of my car and sauntered over to the lake where the tips of my shoes converged with the murky water. How could I possibly survive without Aunt Anna?

While I beckoned the universe not to take my beloved aunt, the clouds directly overhead parted. Beams of light warmed the top of my head. I shielded my eyes from the unforgiving glare of the sun’s persistent rays.  

A jolt ricocheted off the walls in my heart, alerting me that Aunt Anna’s departure was complete. Although I hadn’t received the official word, my insides served me well. I bowed my head, using my palms to knead my weary eyes. How would I cope with the sudden exit of my rock? The thought was unbearable, life without such a force of nature.  

A light, spirited breeze caressed the leaves in the trees, scattering them all around. There came a second wind, bringing with it a familiar whisper. I listened intently, trying in earnest to hush the lake until I could hear the message the wind was carrying just for me.

Better days are coming!

Tara Lynn Marta

Tara MartaTara Lynn Marta is a fiction and nonfiction writer. Her work has been published both online and in print. She has two books published: a novel, Look Back to Yesterday, and a memoir, Dreaming Through the Eyes of God. Tara is also the host of a YouTube podcast called Tea with Tara. She is currently at work on her third book.

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