Goodbye, Ernest Robinson
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.
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.