Eunice tugged on her overshoes and slipped into her heavy wool coat, her crooked fingers working the buttons into their correct holes. She pulled a hat over her head of curly white hair and gloves over hands wrinkled by time. Carrying the kerosene lantern, she trudged from the kitchen to the bedroom. She held the lantern out to get a better view of Amos on the bed. At first, she thought she saw the rise and fall of his sunken chest, then realized she was second guessing herself. At her age, her eyes couldn’t be trusted. She traipsed back through the kitchen, turning the flame out from the lantern and setting it on the oak table before making her way across the field toward Gerald and Rose’s farm.
The star-filled sky and bright moon was all the light Eunice needed, her footprints christening the deep, pristine snow. Her breath was visible as she lumbered the mile or so. A longing got hold of her, one she could not let go. Bending down, she lay in the white fluff and flapped her creaky arms and legs. Her own laugh startled her; she hadn’t heard such a sound in decades. She clambered back up into a hunched stand to see her lopsided snow angel.
Eunice decided she’d have to try again later and plodded along until she made out the barn in the distance; soon, the house came into view. There was no need to wonder how she’d awaken her neighbors. The shrill barks of their mutt did the deed for her. Just as she reached the door, it flung open, Gerald standing in his long johns.
Eunice averted her eyes. “That callin’ machine of yours still work?”
“Calling machine? Oh, the telephone. Whatcha need?”
“Coroner. Amos’s gone.”
“Goodness, Eunice!” Rose said, appearing behind Gerald. “Come in, you poor thing.” She, too, was in long johns.
At the flick of the switch, Eunice gazed in wonder at the kitchen suddenly filled with bright light. She stomped her feet, then edged in, careful not to track snow beyond where she stood. She watched as Gerald cranked the gizmo on the wall and talked into one end. When Gerald and Rose first got the telephone, they’d invited Amos and Eunice over to see it. Amos hadn’t said anything in their presence, but on the bouncy ride home he growled that Eunice better not get any ideas about them trying to get one of those instruments. “Got no need for it,” he said.
Gerald put the telephone back in its place. “We’ll drive you back home. He’s gonna meet us there.”
Gerald and Rose followed Eunice into the kitchen where everyone took off their coats, tossing them in a pile. After lighting the lantern, Eunice went to the cupboard, scooped some coffee beans into a grinder and began churning. She didn’t appear to notice the couple’s curious expressions at the rough and ready pine box, hammer and nails sitting in the middle of the small room.
“Where is he?” Gerald said.
“You don’t expect him yet,” Rose said. “He’s a good half hour away.”
“Not the coroner,” Gerald said. “Amos.”
Picking up the lantern, Eunice motioned for them to follow her.
“Merciful Jesus.” Rose started to sniffle. Gerald bowed his head. Eunice studied her husband, the man she’d been with for close to fifty years. Within the last six months, his muscles and solid frame wasted away to a skeleton of himself. Instead of making sure he had his meals like clockwork and opening her legs for him whenever he demanded, she was left to sponge-bathing his withering body, changing soiled sheets, and waiting.
“Who needs to know?” Gerald said, following the lantern’s trail back to the kitchen.
Eunice shrugged. Most every blood relative had passed on before them, while no children had come into their marriage. She vaguely recalled the monthly grief she’d felt for the continuous failure, but all these years later it now seemed like someone else’s disappointment.
“Ground’s too frozen,” Gerald said. “When morning comes, I’ll go tell Reverend to make room in the vault.”
The aroma of percolating coffee filled the kitchen and Eunice placed three mugs on the table, along with some sugar. She took a creamer out of the icebox. Rose got some spoons while Eunice filled everyone’s mug.
Just as they took their first sip, there was a knock at the door.
It was early dawn by the time the death certificate was filled out. Gerald decided it wasn’t too early to disturb Reverend while the women went about the business of preparing Amos for the pine box. Eunice raised the body as if she were holding a burlap bag of potatoes and worked a white shirt onto the stiffening arms. When she happened to catch Rose’s expression, Eunice saw she had the oddest look. That’s when Eunice realized she’d been humming. After managing to get the shirt on, she took the pants that had been at the foot of the bed and grappled with Amos’s two sticks for legs, and lifted, tugged and pulled before getting the pants up to the waist.
“Now, then,” she said, taking the shoes and putting them on the feet, the visible bottoms scuffed and worn.
Flushed to a glow, she said, “More coffee?”
After Reverend shut the vault door, Eunice turned to Gerald, who had his hat in his hand, and Rose still dabbing the tears from her eyes. “Would you mind givin’ me a ride into town?”
Rose said, “We’ll be glad to pick up what you need.”
Eunice patted her bulging coat pocket. “If you don’t mind, I’d rather go.” Earlier, before heading to the funeral, she emptied the jar with Amos’s savings. Since he was gone, she figured she had the right to claim it. At first, her hands shook as she unscrewed the cap, but then she remembered she had no one to fear and pulled out a wad of bills and some coins, giddy with the thought.
Gerald stopped the truck in front of IGA. Eunice climbed out, but instead of going into the grocery store, she crossed the street and went into Alex’s Five and Ten. She made her way to the shelf where the miracle sat. Alex called it a transistor radio, but hearing voices come out of it, Eunice thought it was a miracle. Months ago, when she’d showed Amos, he said it had to be the devil’s work.
Alex wandered over. “Want another listen?”
Eunice shook her head, reached into her pocket and pulled out her bills, her eyes sparkling.
“Lord have mercy,” Alex said. “You buying it?”
The sprite of a woman jiggled in anticipation.
“You’ll need batteries, too,” he said.
Eunice pushed the money at him and he counted out the exact change before she ran across the street, cradling the radio in her arms.
Instead of waving to Gerald and Rose, watching as the truck streamed a trail of fumes, Eunice raced to get inside. She scraped out a chair, sat down and began fiddling with the radio. The dial was very sensitive, bringing in static with each turn, until finally, clear as anything, voices were singing:
…bring me a dream…
She hunkered low, tears coming to her eyes.
…Give him two lips like roses in clover…
Hours whirred by, as evening shadows moved into the house. Eunice did not budge from the table. For the first time, she heard President Eisenhower’s voice. Soon, another song came on and it made her want to do a jig, but then she heard restlessness coming from the barn and realized the cows were overdue for milking.
Soon, winter gave way to spring and it was time to take Amos out of the vault. Eunice watched the coffin being lowered into the ground while the words to the top ten songs played in her head. After, when she was returned home, she went into the backyard, screwed herself down close to the ground and pushed. Dizzying moments later, the blue sky above her, she lay sprawled on the grass, her dress hiked up to her thighs. Her whole body felt bruised, and when she sat up, she saw that her knees were bleeding. Still, she was laughing. It had been years since she’d tried to do a somersault.
Eventually, winter returned. Rose knocked on Eunice’s door before entering. When she called out, she could see her own breath. She went to the stove and saw only ash; on the table, sat the radio in a clutter of batteries. She ran outside, shouting to Gerald, ““She’s not here!”
They slogged around to the back of the house and followed footprints that led them out into the field. They called out Eunice’s name, yielding no reply. Abruptly, they reached the end of the marked trail where the footprints stopped and a perfect snow angel remained.
Goodnight, Sweetheart, it’s time to go…