(This story is part of the flash fiction challenge organized by Patti Abbott. The rule are simple: we each wrote an opening paragraph and sent it to her by January 10. Three days later, she shuffled them all around and gave us someone else’s opening paragraph, not naming the original author. From that, we were to write a story. Mine went a little long. For the rest of the stories, head on over to Patti’s blog or Gerald So's blog. Thanks to Patti and Gerald for all the coordination.)
Construction Paper Camelot
Wilson lay on the ground, watching the first flakes of snow fall around him. It reminded him of childhood, the first snowfall he'd ever seen--Lincoln's birthday, 1961. The second-graders had traded Valentines at school that day--it was a Friday--and then gone home to play in this wonderful snow. By Sunday, it was mostly melted, but they'd had fun while it lasted. Now 48 years later, the snow was still beautiful, but he knew the cold was deadly and he needed to get up and get moving.
Her name was Ida Lynn Bailey. She was the new girl in town. Came up from the South. That’s why she had two first names. Her dark brown hair reminded Wilson of the new First Lady. He had seen pictures of her and the new president in Life magazine. Mrs. Kennedy’s smile and Ida Lynn’s smile were one in the same.
Wilson turned over and managed to get on all fours. His knees hurt. He shivered. He saw his breath huffing out of his mouth like a steam engine.
The snow looked so beautiful, gently falling amidst the pines. The flakes lighted on the pine cones the same way the flakes had flittered on Ida Lynn’s brown hair that Valentine’s weekend of so long ago. They had played together that Friday afternoon, laughing and running, amongst the trees.
Wilson got his right foot underneath him. He rose and wobbled. He put more weight on his right leg. Gingerly, he put pressure on his left. The thick pines smothered his cry.
“I can’t go on like this,” he said to the air. He scanned the ground, looking for anything to help him walk. That stick looked stout enough. He hobbled over and picked it up. Now, he had a cane.
Ida Lynn’s father walked with a cane. Old war injury sustained at Anzio. Wilson remembered how he had stood on his front porch and watched the two of them frolic in the snow. Even from a distance, Wilson could see her father’s smile. Wilson had found it strange. He so rarely made grown-ups smile.
Ida Lynn had her father’s smile. Her image floated in front of his eyes now. Her mouth moved. She was saying something to Wilson. He heard her voice in his head.
“You’d better get going.” Heaving a rackety breath, Wilson got going.
They had all passed out Valentine’s to every student in the class that day but Wilson had made a special one for Ida Lynn. She smiled her thanks when he gave it to her after the final bell. For a moment—a long moment—she said nothing. She just stood there, staring at him. His heart pounded and his mouth went dry.
Slowly, her smile widened. Wilson saw her fine, neat teeth, one gap on the top. There was a small pop when her lips parted. She reached in her bag and pulled out a special card and gave it to him.
Wilson and Ida Lynn, smiling for reasons they didn’t quite know, read their special Valentine’s cards. He opened the card she had given him. She had made it out of construction paper—red, white, and pink—with some of that white paper lace. In neat block letters written in red crayon were the words “Wilson, thank you for being my friend. Will you be my Valentine?”
Wilson stopped. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a plastic bag. The blood on his fingers smeared on the bag. He didn’t want to smudge the forty-eight-year-old Valentine’s card so he kept it in the bag. The ends of the card were frayed with age and too much Scotch tape. The crease had long ago separated the two halves of the card. He traced his finger over the heart-shaped paper and bit back tears.
“Yes, I will.”
He slipped the bag back into his pocket, gritted his teeth, and moved forward.
The hills, low and rolling, all looked the same. The monotony crept into his thoughts, made him doubt the wisdom of his choice. Was he going the right direction? The sky, a gray mass—not unlike the human brains he’d operated on—hid the sun and prevented proper orientation. He knew where north was but the fall down that last hill made him doubt.
Wilson’s legs gave out. He slumped. The limb slipped from his frozen and unwieldy fingers. He lunged but it was already halfway down the treeless hill. He didn’t have any more strength.
He pulled the plastic bag out again and put it on his lap. He broke the seal of the bag and withdrew the Valentine's card. He fingered the edges of the paper. The old construction paper nearly matched his red pants, the special pair he always saved for Valentine’s weekend. He gazed at the card, lost in time.
Wilson laid down and closed his eyes.
“An amazing story this evening,” the television anchor said. “Wilson Burka, brain surgeon and amateur pilot, and his wife, Ida Lynn Burka, feared lost for the past two days, were rescued late this afternoon. Their single-engine airplane lost power and crashed in the Hutchinson Forest. Mrs. Burka was injured with a broken leg and couldn’t walk. Dr. Burka set out to find help. He had traveled for over ten miles on foot before his own blood loss caused him to pass out.
"It was Dr. Burka’s red pants that saved him. With the snow all around him, Dr. Burka’s red pants stood out like a…”
Ida Lynn Burka switched off the TV in the hospital room. She looked across the room at her husband. He looked back.
And, knowing exactly the reasons for it, they smiled.