CHAPTER EIGHT: THE BEGINNING
OF THE END
I. THE TRIP HOME
Cat had set up the trip back to Oklahoma. The name of their home town was now forgotten, but not it’s location. She’d planned to travel into Oklahoma City, then turn westward to finish the final leg. Somewhere between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, sat the town where their joint journey had begun with a tragic loss for all of them. Maggie had demanded that they lay that part of their past to rest by erecting a monument to those who’d died there.
At their departure, she’d made a promise to Lena and Sonny that she’d make sure that their mother would be alive when the small group returned. Though worried, Maggie had lost quite a bit of weight due to her disease, she was out to keep her promise to Maggie. And Maggie, too, was out to fulfill the promise she’d made to the executor over the Usher estate. The old man had died a year earlier, and Maggie had received the lump sum settlement—the entire estate-soon afterward.
Now it was time to finish the journey. Time to forgive those who’d been used by the Usher brothers in their plot to destroy their brother Calvin. Maggie had come to understand that everyone had been used. They’d let their human laws sway their thinking and had ultimately paid the price for their greed. She felt their penance had been paid. It was time to give them a final peace.
Once in Oklahoma, they set about keeping the promise. Maggie had one last surprise for all of them. She did remember the town’s name. She revealed this when she had the monument made at an Oklahoma City monument shop. The other ladies in the group could only stand and stare at her in awe. Not even they remembered that much! They’d tried to kill the memory after they escaped the horror. But Maggie, as always, had committed the name to her memory.
When the monument was finished, there was over two thousand names listed on it. Some of those listed had not died in the massacre, but had been hunted down like animals by Lucifer and Cain Usher. A few had died in elative safety, but had died indirectly from those events. At the head of the list, though, was Maggie’s parents’ names. The two who’d been the first victims…though her mother had died in Akron of this damned disease that she was now dying from.
Heading west, they went toward where their home town had once been. It had been burned to the ground by the Usher brothers after the massacre, but it had not covered up their crime. Empty, dilapidated buildings—better described as nearly unrecognizable ruins—stood a silent sentry to what had taken pass there. They stood there as if to say, “there was an unsolved mass murder committed here years ago.” many buildings were mere piles of burnt wood, others were actual buildings that were beginning to cave in.
How ironic, Maggie thought, how similar we are. We’re both caving in. Those buildings are caving in to the wiles of time, while I am caving in to this damned disease. Ironic, indeed.
II. MAGGIE’S SIXY-FIFTH BIRTHDAY
The table had been set. How huge it now seemed. Such an effort to make it there, too. Maggie struggled with the thought of trying. She’d become so weak in the weeks since the trip to Oklahoma and life had become too hard, some days, to even bother with. Yet, Maggie felt somewhat more fulfilled. She’d lived ten years more than her own mother. It was somewhat sad, but she had actually lived longer than she once thought she would.
Back when she’d been in her thirties, when she was first diagnosed with the disease, she thought that she was at the end of her life. Yet, twenty years later, she was still alive…barely. She still clung to life. It was the only thing she knew how to do. But her grip was starting to loosen. She was too tired to go on much longer.
Still, she didn’t want to leave. She didn’t want to hurt those she held dear. And her death would hurt them all. She knew it would.
One of Cat’s beautiful birthday cakes sat in the center of the table. The decorations, Maggie knew, had been seen to by Macie Loomis. They had always seen to the birthdays. It brought her to tears. How glad she was to have them as friends. They always made these events so special. And Rosa. She always did something to make Maggie laugh. Well, not this year. There wasn’t much to laugh about.
Sonny wheeled her in to her place at the table. Others were already settling into their places, but stood in honor of the last great Usher matriarch. Lena and Sandra picked up their guitars and began to play. The voice that began to sing “Happy Birthday” was the sweetest one she’d ever heard. Then, Rosa appeared and revealed that she had been the one singing. Tears welled in Maggie’s eyes.
III. THINGS WORSEN
Things rapidly got worse in the days following Maggie’s birthday party. She was forced to quit working altogether and became bed-ridden. Her breathing seemed to get shallower with every passing day. Never before had she ever known a day where she could not do anything, and now she couldn’t even get out of bed. There were no more walks. No more eating in the dining room. She was forced to rest.
People came in and checked in on her. She faded in and out of consciousness. She slept more than she ever had in the past. God, she felt old.
“She’s asleep again,” Sonny said to Todd, as he checked in on Maggie from the door to her room, “it’s just not too reassuring, the way things have been going.”
“Then,” Todd replied, “I shall go in and pray for her. Her faith was what strengthened her in the past, you know.”
“That,” Sonny answered, “and her love for all of us. And her friends.”
“I know,” Todd acquiesced.
Sonny admitted Todd into their mother’s room, then went to sit down for a while. Lena entered the apartment and went to where her twin brother was sitting.
“Who’s with Mama?” she asked.
“Todd,” Sonny replied, “He’s praying for her. Said it might do her some good. It couldn’t hurt either.”
“I was just with Sandy,” Lena stated, changing the subject, “she’s asked us both to join her in Nashville when she goes back. I, for one, am going. Are you?”
“Yes,” Sonny replied, “I think it’ll be time for a change after this is all over. Why not start working on music with our dear sister?”
Phillip entered the room. He looked like he was about to bust out in tears. Danelle entered just a few minutes after him. Then, Brenna entered as well.
“What’s up?” Sonny asked, “what’s with all the long faces?”
“I-I don’t know,” came the reply, “I just feel something’s wrong.”
“Hey,” sonny began, “buck up! The day’s not yet lost! She’s still kicking and we’re still here.”
Felicity and Samantha entered the room.
“Charles is coming home!” Samantha exclaimed.
IV. CHARLES COMES HOME
Charles walked into the room and everyone’s mood brightened. He had been gone since the last graduation, but had finally graduated, himself, from college. Now, he came home for good. With him, his fiancée also arrived. She was a beautiful!
When Todd finally came out of their mother’s room, Charles took him aside.
“Could you do me a favor?” he asked in a whisper.
“What is it, Charlie?” Todd inquired.
“We wish to be wed in Mama’s presence,” he replied, “and the only way that’ll happen is if we hold a small private ceremony in her room.”
“Then,” Todd replied, “consider it done.”
The wedding ceremony went without a hitch and Maggie weakly smiled with pleasure. Her children were all finally together. Now, she could see them all.