Skip to content

Goodbye, Ernest Robinson

November 12, 2010

She was hanging laundry when she heard them calling over the fence.

The baby was sleeping in her basket under the orange trees. The sun was shining, like always, and the day balmy.

“Mrs. Robinson? Hello?”

“Back here!” Pushing damp curls off her forehead and smoothing apron, she walked toward the gate by the street, heels clicking concrete.

Two men removed their hats as she pushed open the gate.

“Mrs. Robinson?”

Blinking in the sunlight, she put up one hand to shade her eyes.

“I’m Howard Northlake from the Edison plant, ma’am. I’m the managing supervisor.”

He extended one hand, but as she reached, his words stopped the air.

“There’s been an accident.”

Collared shirts and ruffled slips fluttered in the breeze. The baby was sleeping under the orange trees. And the ground tilted at an angle, the sun no longer a friend.

“Ma’am? You need to come with us. Quickly.”

She turned and ran to where Gene lay sleeping. In her mother’s arms the baby blinked in the sudden glare.

The ride to the plant was endless. The orange trees and bougainvillea mocking. The blue sky too blue, too happy.

Fear shut her throat.

The two men stared straight ahead in the front seat. Without turning, the one who introduced himself as the supervisor said quietly, “He was burned.”

The baby fussed in her arms. Squirming, too tight.

The hospital had flowers planted at the entrance. Happy faces of pink and yellow and orange.

A nurse in the hallway outside his room, uniform startched white, eyes sad. She gently lifted Gene from her grasp. “Go quickly, Mrs. Robinson. There’s not much time.”

Northlake pushed open the door, but what was inside didn’t make sense. Ernest wasn’t there. There was something, but it wasn’t her husband.

The figure on the bed was unrecognizable. Blackened and raw, this was beyond human. It was pain and suffering and loss. Youth and hope, destroyed.

But then she saw his eyes, and he was there.

She saw what she had seen the first time – handsome and arrogant, one foot on the running board of his father’s Ford, a cigarette dangling from his lip. The Oklahoma sun was low and his smile was vain.

And she loved him, then and there.

There and then, he lay on the white sheets but there was nothing left, nothing at all but blue eyes and anguish. His pain filled the room.

A white coat turned towards her. “We’ve given him everything we can. It’s just a matter of time. I’m sorry. It’s just too much.”

She would not take her eyes off of the life that was ending before her.

“We’ll try to make him comfortable, but this is one of the worst we’ve seen. There’s not much we can do in this situation.”

I can’t even hold his hand, she thought to herself. I don’t know where it is.

Collared shirts and ruffled slips fluttered in the breeze. The sun was shining, like always, the day balmy.

His blue eyes were clear. But he was gone.


This piece is in response to a writing prompt from The Red Dress Club.

The photo inspired a fictionalized account of my great-grandfather’s death from a work site explosion at the Thomas Edison electrical plant, Los Angeles, on New Year’s Eve, 1929. My grandmother Gene, his daughter, was two years old.

download (6)

Ernest Robinson, circa 1923, high school graduation.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. November 12, 2010 4:33 am

    >Crap. I felt that. Every bit of it. His pain, her love, the blueness of the sky, the mock of the colorful flowers…and it brought tears to my eyes.I have missed your writing.

  2. November 12, 2010 4:48 pm

    >This was incredible, Adelle. Incredible. i am all teary. You're descriptions are amazing. Glad to see you linking up!

  3. November 12, 2010 4:59 pm

    >OMG this just blew me away! Amazing!

  4. November 12, 2010 5:10 pm

    >You have really great skills. I enjoyed reading this.

  5. November 12, 2010 5:39 pm

    >This is absolutely stunning, Adelle. Truly.Impeccable writing, from the repetition of the baby sleeping under the orange trees to the "then and there" flipped to be "there and then." Lovely and painful.

  6. November 12, 2010 8:58 pm

    >this sucked me in from the very first paragraph, which is hard to do (i'm a tad distracted :)AMAZING writing. truly. what a tragic story; i cannot imagine the grief. you captured it impeccably.

  7. November 13, 2010 6:05 am

    >Aw… it is painful and it also freaked me out a bit… i felt a bit scared reading this… imagining how the things would have been… the grief is endless…

  8. November 13, 2010 6:40 pm

    >oh man. That was brutal.

  9. January 2, 2011 6:07 pm

    >How did I miss this the first time around?Shame on me.But thank you for choosing it for your feature.So incredibly spare and emotional.Horror and beauty so tightly entwined.

  10. January 2, 2011 7:40 pm

    >Really beautiful. I'm crying too.

  11. January 2, 2011 8:14 pm

    >I don't want to repeat myself, LOL, but really. This is so beautiful. The whole fact that she can see the man underneath the burned body, through his eyes is simply powerful. A powerful testimony to the love they shared.Yay for being the featured blogger, and I agree that this was a good choice, though I love ALL of your stories.

  12. January 2, 2011 8:24 pm

    >Wow! Every wife's worst nightmare and you wrote it beautifully.

  13. January 2, 2011 8:51 pm

    >Hurrah!Not for the pain in this piece, but for your crystal clear beauty.I love sparse writing.It just turns me on so.Wonderfully bare bones and only the necessary.I loved it.

  14. January 2, 2011 11:05 pm

    >Sad, and sweetly written. Lovely.

  15. January 3, 2011 3:05 am

    >Fabulous piece, Adelle! Great writing. You certainly have IT! Phew…I'm really feeling this story.

  16. January 3, 2011 5:58 am

    >Wow. Fantastic writing. The descriptions were incredible. And the emotion so real. I missed this the first time around, so glad I got a chance to read it.

  17. January 3, 2011 4:58 pm

    >Damn NaNo for keeping me from this earlier – I missed all of November's prompts.This is incredible – I could "see" it all. I'm very sorry for your family's loss so very long ago.

  18. January 1, 2013 2:16 am

    I see you in his photo. 🙂


  1. Flawed and Fearless Fridays: Laugh. More. | Adelle Gabrielson

I love comments! Go ahead. Give me a piece of your mind.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: