An author friend of mine challenged me to use a photograph to inspire a short story. He posted this, and I accepted the challenge.


Ernestine Jones knew every creek and squeak in the old house. At 91 she still managed to climb the rickety stairs every night. For 75 of those years she was one step ahead of James. He’d tease her, “Tina you got a bit much in your caboose” as she made her way up to their small bedroom.

Frayed lace curtains still danced at the open window. The old pink bedspread had been patched and darned so many times, she wasn’t sure if any of the original coverlet was still there. But it was a wedding gift to her from James, and she loved it.

She and James had lived in the old house since they were first married. And her parents had lived there as their first home. She had always hoped for their own place, but when her mother died, the house was deeded to her.

Tonight it was Jennie behind her — no comments, just a steady hand on her back to make sure she didn’t lose balance. Each step was labor…partly because of Tina’s age, but mostly because the brass bed with the pink satin was empty.

“Would you put my record on?” She clasped her hands as if expecting a wonderful surprise.

Jennie picked up the arm on the phonograph and set the needle gently down. The soft tones of “Smilin’ Through” scratched the air.
Jennie loosened the pins from her mother’s hair, and brushed it several times. Ernestine sang silently…

And if ever I’m left in this world all alone
I shall wait for my call patiently
For if Heaven be kind
I shall wait there to find
Those two eyes o’ blue
Come smilin’ through at me

“Dear, would you braid it please? James always liked my long braid.”

Jennie finished plaiting the thick gray hair, helped her dress for bed, and tucked her in. “Good night, Mom. Can you see the evening star?”

Ernestine smiled, “Yes, I see it.

“It’s twinkling. That’s dad winking at you.”

Ernestine’s tremoring hand brushed a tear, and whispered, “I’ll see you soon, James.”

Jennie kissed her mother, and left the room.

Ernestine closed her eyes. She never had to walk downstairs again.

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