A Box of Moon Pies

This is the short story I wrote in 1998 that inspired the poem, “She Sat Alone”. It’s rather long–almost 4000 words–so if you’re interested in reading it, I suggest printing it and curling up in your favorite chair, or maybe taking it to bed with you if you like to read in bed like I do. It’s a sad tale, and it’s loosely based on real life, and yet goes a little bit sci fi in a way. If you read it, I hope you enjoy it.

A Box of Moon Pies

by

Charles L Mashburn

 

The woman moved slowly and soundlessly along the silent hospital corridor. Her progress was slow, not because she was old, but because she was in no hurry to arrive at her destination. No, in spite of her age—ninety-seven—Ruby Porter was, as they used to say, as healthy as a horse. If you were to consult Ruby about this, she would also inform you she was as strong as an ox and at times as stubborn as a mule.

Much of the reason for Ruby’s remarkably good health could be attributed to the amazing advances which had been made in the medical field over the last fifty years or so. But then, a lot could be credited to Saul.

A smile came to Ruby’s lips at the thought of her husband, Saul Porter—the light of her life for the past forty-five years—and a spark flared in her beautiful brown eyes.

Ruby had moved to Austin, Texas in the mid-nineteen nineties after going through a painful divorce. She had come to Austin seeking a fresh start and—she hadn’t been ashamed to admit then and wasn’t now—a husband. Regarding the husband, God had blessed her beyond measure.

Saul Porter was a gentle man; so full of love and understanding that at times during the past forty-five years, she had thought him to be not a man, but an angel. Oh, he had his faults; he could be as stubborn as any man, and he could show a temper now and then. But the good things about Saul were so good and so many they made the bad easy to swallow in the small doses it arrived in.

A nurse dressed in a military type skirt and blouse uniform came out of one of the nearby rooms and rushed past Ruby. The nurse, or floor officer as they were called these days, appeared to be talking to herself.

Ruby shuddered. Teleplant, she thought as she looked over her shoulder at the nurse who continued to hurry down the corridor. The woman was talking rapidly and waving her arms in an animated fashion. Ruby had never wanted a teleplant. They gave her the creeps.

The age of advanced electronic communication had set upon the world in the nineteen-nineties. It had started simply enough with cellular telephones, then had come voice activation, and the next step had been implants. The latter phase of the communication movement had not become popular until sometime in the early twenty-twenty’s.

Ruby and Saul had voice command on their phones—on all of their electrical appliances for that matter—and they could even call from the car or wherever they might be and instruct one machine or the other to perform its task. Ruby was the first to admit that being able to just speak the name of the person or place you wanted to call instead of dialing the number was certainly convenient, especially in this day and age where telephone numbers—personal or business “communication codes” they called them these days—were sixteen digits long. But Saul and Ruby had drawn the line at implants. “Call us old fashioned,” they said, “but we’ll continue to hold the phone to our ear.”

The teleplant was simple enough and supposedly painless to install, and there had been times when Saul had tried to convince Ruby maybe they should try it, but, Ruby had stood firm. Saul was right about most things, and she had followed him from ocean to ocean—several times—but she was not going to have a microscopic headset installed in her face. She didn’t care how convenient or unnoticeable they were. Besides, she hadn’t seen one yet she couldn’t spot. There was always a lump in the earlobe where the receiver was located, and the pin-holes on the edge of one nostril where the microphone was hidden beneath the skin were a dead giveaway. In any case, Ruby wanted no part of the things. The very idea of electronic gadgets imbedded in her skin made her nauseous. Not to mention, it was another way for them to keep track of you.

Stopping suddenly, Ruby looked nervously at the room numbers on the doors closest to her. A confused expression wrinkled her smooth forehead as she realized she had somehow gotten lost. She cursed herself silently, smiling slightly as she did, knowing Saul would tease her about it if she told him. And she would probably tell him. If there was time. She glanced at her timepiece. So little time.

Saul’s good-natured ribbing didn’t bother Ruby; she enjoyed it actually, because she knew good-natured fun was just what it was. In all the years they’d been together, Saul had never criticized her. Scolded—maybe; instructed—definitely; but never had he criticized her. He had always encouraged her, and pushed her to be everything she wanted to be; not what he or anyone else thought she should be, but what Ruby Porter wanted to be.

Ruby put a hand on one of her firm thighs, smoothed her tight skirt and smiled. If you asked her how she could be so healthy and vibrant, not to mention drop-dead gorgeous at the age of ninety-seven, she would answer without thought or hesitation, “Saul.” Ask for an explanation, and she would tell you the story:

**********

When Saul and I met (in 1995) we were in our mid-forties. Both of us had been trying to lose weight, and so at the time we met we weren’t at our heaviest, but we weren’t competing for modeling assignments either. Well, it just so happened we were both very good cooks, and after about a year of trying to outdo each other in the kitchen, we had turned into Mr. and Mrs. Can’t-tie-our-own-shoes.

Well, one Sunday evening after we had been to one of the street fairs they used to have here in Austin, when the air was clean and a person could stay outside for more than thirty minutes at a time, I went to Saul, in tears mind you, and told him I had to do something about my weight. Oh, I was a mess. I accused him of ignoring me and staring at all the hard bodied women who had been at the fair, and yes… I think I even accused him of not loving me anymore. I was being silly, I know, but I was feeling desperate. I really felt in my heart I could never be one of those hard bodies I had accused Saul of ogling, and it scared me. We had only been married less than a year at the time, and I knew what I had in this wonderful man. And, silly me; I didn’t think I could keep him.

Saul just smiled at me. I can still remember standing there with an exercise book in one hand, my other hand busy wiping tears from my chubby cheeks and thinking to myself, why is he smiling? But then I can remember thinking that to myself several thousand times during the last forty five years.

He took the book gently from my hand and thumbed through the pages then he set it on the dresser, took me in his arms and said in his sweet, gentle voice, “I think that’s a wonderful idea. Let’s do it together. Lord knows I need to get back into shape, too.”

And by golly we did. It wasn’t easy. But Saul never gave up on me. He always told me I could do anything I wanted to. The key word being want. “You have to want it,” he’d say. “You want it bad enough, Ruby, you’ll get it.” And well, here I am; living proof. Sure, everybody’s healthier these days what with the government food regulations and “free” health care, but when was the last time you saw a ninety-seven year old woman with a body like this?

*******

At this point she always does a little pose for whomever she’s telling the story to, and none will argue she is indeed a remarkably beautiful woman for any age.

Ruby turned and started back down the corridor the way she had come then stopped again. She was confused. A voice, no hint of machine about it, spoke to her from the wall at her right.

“This is security, Mrs. Porter. Is there a problem?”

Ruby cringed then searched the wall for a speaker but saw nothing resembling one. She hated this feeling that someone or something was constantly watching you. She was convinced that at some time in her life the government had implanted a tracking device somewhere in her body. How could they know where she was right now if that wasn’t the case?

“Mrs. Porter?” the voice inquired politely.

Ruby let out an exasperated sigh and said, “Oh, for heaven’s sake. Yes. I guess I’ve gotten turned around somehow.”

“No problem, Mrs. Porter. We will be glad to assist you. Just follow the red ball.”

Ruby could not stifle a small yelp of surprise as a bright red ball about the size of a baseball hit the floor in front of her with a sharp click, then bounced up and hovered in front of her, spinning slowly.

She held one hand to her chest and stared wide-eyed at the ball, as it wavered up and down smoothly, then made a soft mewling sound much like a kitten calling for its mother. It made one last wavering move then moved slowly away.

Ruby relaxed—a tiny smile turning at the corners of her lips—then followed the ball. This is new, she thought as she walked behind the ball; and the kitten sound was a wonderful touch. They probably had different sounds for different types of people. As she followed the ball around one corner and then another, she wondered how in the world they could keep coming up with this crazy stuff. It seemed as if there were new things every day. It was like they were children with so many toys they didn’t know what to play with next. The world had gotten way too fast and—to Ruby’s way of thinking—out of control in this year 2047. She had to admit though—she smiled again—the kitten sound was ingenious and cute. It had soothed her almost at once, and it had a follow me sound to it which was hard to ignore. She wondered for a moment why they didn’t just project the image of a kitten.

The ball slowed to a stop then dropped to the floor with another metallic sounding click. It remained on the floor this time, spinning slowly. After a few seconds it mewled softly, made a sound like the flaring of an old wooden match when you lit it, then it vanished.

Ruby was not surprised when she looked up and saw she was standing in front of Saul’s room. She looked both ways down the empty hallway then stepped quietly into the dark room, blinking rapidly as her eyes adjusted to the darkness.

Someone—or something—somewhere, evidently aware of her presence, raised the lighting to a level resembling dusk in the old days; back when a person could still sit outdoors and watch the sun go down.

Frowning, she searched the room for unseen eyes. They were always watching.

The bed was around a corner from where she stood but she could see the end of it and Saul’s feet. She smiled again. One of Saul’s strange and somehow endearing habits, of which there were many, was—and it didn’t matter if it was twenty degrees outside the covers—he could not sleep with his feet beneath the blankets. Such a strange and lovable man.

Moving quietly, Ruby stepped to Saul’s side, slipped silently into the chair beside his bed, and watched him as he slept. He was smiling.

Damn you, Saul Porter, she thought as she stared at the man who’d been her reason for living for the past forty-five years. Damn you and your precious smile. A tear raced down her smooth, unwrinkled cheek.

Ruby looked away. She stared at the mural on the wall at the other side of Saul’s bed. It

was a 3-D computer image of the old University of Texas Disch-Faulk baseball stadium, before they had torn it down to build the two hundred thousand seat stadium that now towered above the air-car Interstate. Saul had spent many a happy spring afternoon at the old stadium watching his beloved Longhorns. He had never been to the new indoor Tower Arena. “Just isn’t the same,” he’d say when asked why. “Too big; too many people.” Saul never had cared for crowds. “And,” he would add. “Without sunshine, it just isn’t baseball.”

She had requested the image; a “CID” they called it; Computer Imaged Decor. Patients could request the scene of their choice. You could even request them in action, either real or imagined. The images were supposed to take the place of windows, which most new buildings didn’t have.

It was depressing to look outdoors these days. With the vegetation gone, and the air a constant swirling mass of brownish yellow silt, there wasn’t much to see anyway.

Ruby’s mind drifted back to the only other time Saul had been in the hospital. They had only been married a few years. Was it 1998? ’99? ’98 probably. She smiled as her eyes drifted back down to her sleeping husband. She closed them slowly as she thought back to that time so long ago.

It was a Monday night, and Ruby had been to see a friend, so supper was late. Saul had done the cooking, and then about ten o’clock, as they were getting ready for bed, Ruby noticed Saul didn’t look so good.

*******

“Saul, are you okay, honey?” she asked.

Saul looked at her and with a bit of concern in his voice—highly unusual for him—said, “I don’t know. I’ve had a bit of a stomach ache since about five o’clock. I thought at first I was just hungry, but it seems to be getting worse.”

Ruby was immediately concerned, and as it turned out, for good reason. She knew if Saul

was hurting bad enough to admit it, then he was in serious pain.

In spite of Saul’s protests she managed to get him to a doctor the next morning and sure

enough there was a problem. It turned out to be an acute gall bladder attack, and surgery was

scheduled for the following day.

She took Saul to the hospital on Wednesday morning, and was relieved when the people in charge realized how much pain he was in. They took him immediately into the pre-op area to get him processed and get an IV started with some medication for the pain. Ruby remained at his side every step of the way. When the medication took effect and the pain finally left him, it was as

though it had left her, too.

The surgery was scheduled for noon, but the people in charge had warned them it would most likely not happen until one o’clock. Under the circumstances, however, they took Saul back to the surgery waiting room early at about 11:40. Ruby mistakenly thought they were taking him into surgery at that time. Saul thought the same thing.

Unbeknownst to Ruby, Saul did not go into surgery until almost one o’clock. The surgery took longer than expected, too, and as a result, he was not awake again until 2:30.

Ruby had watched the clock frantically for the last hour and a half of the nearly three hours. She would watch as, one after the other, doctors came into the waiting room and spoke to the loved ones of their patients. The parents, wives, children, and friends would smile and laugh and hug one another as the report all was well was delivered. Ruby was nearly in tears as she yearned for those words to be spoken to her.

She knew it was not a complicated surgery, but still there was always the fear something unexpected would be encountered. Until she heard the words, “everything went just fine,” she would not be able to relax.

Nearing her wits’ end, Ruby watched a young doctor deliver his report to a worried-looking elderly woman. Upon hearing the news, the woman began to wail in despair and collapsed into a chair. Ruby sat frozen in her own chair, watching as the young doctor did his best to console the distraught woman. She imagined herself in the woman’s place and wondered if she would want to go on if anything were to happen to Saul.

She looked up at the clock on the waiting room wall. It was 2:30. He’d been in there for almost three hours. What could be wrong?

When Ruby heard her name on the intercom asking her to come to the front desk, she clutched the arms of her chair and fought for control of her exploding emotions. She felt as though her heart would stop and her mind would simply cease to function.

Her mind raced: Why are they paging me? They haven’t called any of these other people on the intercom. Something’s wrong. Oh, my God! Something’s wrong. Saul! Oh, God! Saul!

She rose slowly from the chair and, in a daze, walked to the desk. By the time she got there, she was sure her Saul was gone. Taking the phone into her trembling hand, she placed it to her ear.

“This is Ruby Porter,” she said, barely audible.

A cheerful voice on the other end of the line said, “Mrs. Porter, this is Stacey in the recovery room. Your husband is awake and doing fine. We’ll be taking him to room 738 in just a few minutes, and he asked me to call you and tell you to meet him there with a six-pack of RC Cola and a box of Moon Pies.” The young girl giggled.

Ruby’s fears were gone in an instant. A short burst of laughter escaped her and, without a word, she handed the phone back to the receptionist. As she walked out of the waiting room and down the hall to the elevators she was overwhelmed by the thought of how much her Saul must love her. Her heart was so filled with love it felt as though it might burst. She knew he had sent the message, knowing she would be worried. The message, silly as it was, told her his first thoughts were of her.

The quip “Bring me a six pack of RC Cola and a box of Moon Pies” was one of Saul’s seemingly endless repertoire of silly sayings. “RC and Moon Pies” was usually employed when

Saul felt a celebration was in order.

*******

As Ruby opened her eyes and looked at Saul she thought to herself, his first thought has

always been of me.

She sighed. How would she go on without Saul? It did not seem possible. She saw no days in her mind—past, present or future—where he was not with her. Would she want to live after he was gone? Would she be able to?

She would know soon. Too soon.

Saul stirred, then opened his eyes and slowly turned to look at her. The smile he had worn while sleeping never left his face. It did, however, spread to his eyes which lit up as they saw Ruby.

            “What more could a man ask,” he said in a whispery voice, “than to wake up and see your

beautiful face?”

Ruby tried to speak but the words stuck in her throat. She hadn’t thought it would be this way. She battled to regain control of her emotions. Be strong, she silently scolded herself. She could not.

She knew it was time.

The doctor had told her Saul’s heart had stopped at 2:00 that afternoon, and it was almost 5:00 now. The artificial temp-heart, operating in the small black box on the other side of Saul’s bed, would stop pulsing life into him at five o’clock and then her Saul would be gone. He had refused a cloned heart, and had also requested in his living will that he not be kept alive for more than the three hour minimum mandated by the government.

Ruby and Saul had agreed long ago they would eat right, exercise, and stay indoors where the air was mechanically purified, but they would not allow their lives to be prolonged by artificial means. To them, cloned body parts were artificial.

Saul moved a hand from beneath the sheet and held it out to Ruby. “It’s okay, my love,” he said softly, still smiling. “I’ve had a good ride.”

Ruby choked back a sob and fought gamely to hold back her tears. She lost the battle and tears ran in torrents down her beautiful cheeks. She could not speak.

Saul changed his smile to a grin. The sideways grin he always used to talk her into things; the one she could never say no to. He squeezed her hand gently as he glanced at the clock on the wall behind her. It was 4:58.

“Hey,” he said, speaking softly. His voice, his eyes, his whole countenance filled with love for her. “There is one more thing this man would ask.”

Ruby wiped furiously at her tears with one hand and still unable to speak, tried gamely to smile as she shook her head vigorously up and down, and held tightly to Saul’s hand.

Saul’s deep blue eyes sparkled as he looked into her eyes, and he told her without words he loved her and would stay with her forever were he able, but they had chosen this path and now it was time for him to go. He told her, too, that yes, she could go on because she was strong and her family needed her. She would lead them now as they—the two of them—had led them before.

The fiercely burning fire of love in his eyes told her all that and more in the fleeting seconds that were the last of Saul Porter.

As the light in Saul’s eyes began to dim, he slowly closed them. His chest rose high and

then… he sighed softly as it fell.

In an instant his eyes were open again, and Ruby saw in her lover’s eyes the familiar glow of mischief. Oh, how she would miss this man’s wondrous, boyish thirst for laughter and life.

One last time, Saul grinned at Ruby then softly, his voice fading to a whisper just before the temp-heart shut down, he made his request. “Ruby, you think you could round me up a six-pack of RC Cola… and a box of Moon Pies?”

She sat alone then… and she cried.

Copyright © 1998 C. Mashburn

5 Comments »

  1. Awesome, Charles…master of the leaky eyes story it seems. Enjoyed reading it and posted on facebook.
    Peace,
    Siggi

  2. Sherry Mashburn said

    I have always loved this story . . .we will always have moon pies and RC cola to help us along.

  3. […] oldie, but one of my favorites. A link to the original story, A Box of Moonpies is included in the […]

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

Please leave a comment! We love hearing from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: