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Today's Story by Nancy Gauquier

The house is eerily quiet. The television is not on. There is not even the smell of food cooking.

The Big Dipper

It’s one of those days. Gloria felt it coming on in the middle of last night, while she was listening to NPR. All that talk about the war, all those people dying.

It’s already noon, she sat up late last night, writing a poem about a dark shadow under a full moon, but it’s still not right. She slips out of bed, scrambles up some potato and onion and egg, takes one each of all ten vitamins with a small glass of wild blueberry juice, and a cup of tea. She puts on her Breakfast CD. Breakfast is a local street musician. He plays “Canon in D Majorly” on the piano as if it is a funeral dirge and then a carnival song. She turns on the radio, but it’s someone singing about Jesus. She turns it off. She calls her friend Casey, who is somewhat brain-damaged. “Is the boardwalk open?”

Casey, who is twenty-five, always knows when the boardwalk is open, as if he has a neon umbilical cord from his brain to the boardwalk, that lights up whenever it is open. “Yes!” he says. “Let’s go!” Casey has turned out to be her best friend. He doesn’t care if she is old and not pretty anymore. He simply sees her as another human being.

“I’ll meet you at your house.” It’s on the way. She loves to visit his rec room, in the garage behind his mother’s house. It has a pool table in the middle of it, a huge one, a classic, and he teaches her how to play. He is quite good, he is very focused. She is totally erratic. When she can focus, she surprises herself, but she’s easily distracted by her own thoughts. One whole wall holds his collection of Pez dispensers, and the counter under it holds his collection of matchbox automobiles. And it’s neat, everything dusted and in its place.

“Let’s go!” he says, when he opens the door. He has an innocent face, framed by black curly hair.

“Should we say goodbye to your mom?”

“I already did. She’s on the phone.”

They walk to the boardwalk. It’s March, so it’s not crowded with tourists, the ocean is calm and they feel the excitement they always feel when they are going to the boardwalk and they catch that first sight of the roller coaster. They begin to walk faster.

They don’t have to wait long in line. They sit in the middle of the chain of seats. At the top of a steep curve, the train hesitates before suddenly plunging down.  It catches her by surprise every time. She takes a quick breath just before she screams. Casey screams louder, he is unself-conscious at the boardwalk.

They walk by the ocean on the way back, as the sun begins its descent behind the waves. When they get to his house, Casey says, “Come on up and see my mom.”

Gloria hasn’t seen her in a while, so she walks with him up the stairs. It’s dinner time, she will just say hello and leave. Casey opens the door and shouts, “I’m back, Mom!”

The house is eerily quiet. The television is not on. There is not the sound of his mother talking on the phone to her grown daughter. They walk in and look at each other, there is not even the smell of food cooking.

They go right to the kitchen. At first, it seems empty.

Then they see her on the floor. Suddenly their senses are sharp. Casey drops down to her side.

“Mom?” He looks up at Gloria and says, automatically, “Call 911.”

She does, and notices her hand is shaking.

She hangs up. “The ambulance is coming.”

She sits down on the floor by Casey, not taking the time to wonder how she will get up again.

Casey’s mother is dead, she’s not sure if Casey knows it, he is holding his mother’s hand.

Gloria looks at her face. Her mouth is slightly open, and her eyes are staring up, as if she had watched her last butterfly of breath flit away.

Suddenly, everything stops. She is suspended in black space, floating. Everything disappears, except for this black space.

The siren pierces the air. Gloria finds herself sitting by the body, and the ambulance has arrived. An attendant helps her up, and she turns to Casey. “Call your sister, as soon as you get to the hospital.” Casey nods. They are whisked away.

Gloria walks home alone as evening approaches, under a graying sky, and wonders if it will rain. She feels a little dizzy, almost as if she is alone on a roller coaster, poised on that still moment, just before it plunges down.


Nancy Gauquier lives in central coastal California, with two cats.  Her stories have been published in the US, Canada, England, and New Zealand.


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