Ten Minutes

by on October 11th, 2010
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It happened again. I sat up in bed, wet from sweat. They keep coming, the dreams. I moved from there and still they haunt me. I take a deep breath as I turn to rise from my bed. I find my slippers and place them on my feet. I stand and walk toward the kitchen. I think to myself, “This place isn’t too bad. A little smaller then I’m use to but it will do.” I reach the kitchen and turn on the light. I reach in a small box on the table and pull out a plastic cup. “I got to make time to unpack tomorrow.” I go into the fridge and pull out some milk. Then to the pantry and pull out my favorite snack…cookies. I sit there eating and I look at the clock. “Ugh, its 4:33 might as well stay up and start unpacking”. A hour and a half later the kitchen is unpacked. I walk in the living room and start to unpack the boxes. One box becomes two. I start the third box and there, half way down, I see it. The picture that drags me back, back to the time I much rather would forget. My heart skips at the very sight. I can feel myself start to breathe faster. The room fades and I fall back.

I wake in the living room. I’m not sure how long I have been in here but I’m stiff from the way I was laying or from the fall itself, which I don’t know. I sit up straight and begin to look around. I see the clock, “Damn, I’m late.” I jump up off the couch and run to my room. I undress and start the shower. Done, out, dry and dressed in less than ten minutes. Something I learned from my Marine Corps days. I can still hear the Drill Instructor yelling at us “Lights! Lights! Lights! Ten minutes maggots! Wash your nasty faces and get dressed, outside in ten or you don’t eat!” I miss those days. I mean not so much the war but the friends. The structure, the discipline, the uniform. Oh, to be young again. I walk pass the living room on my way out and look at the box. “I have to take care of that when I get back.” I walk out and lock the door behind me. I get in the car and leave.

In the car it’s quiet. No radio. I mean, I have one but it’s just not on. I prefer it that way, easier for me to get lost in my thoughts and that I do. It’s cool outside. I have some black slip-on shoes, jeans, a ribbed gray pull over sweater and a red scarf. I have been driving for ten minutes and it starts to rain. She would have loved today. I look over at the passenger seat and there seating with her face to the window, I see her. My hand moves to touch her and she is gone. I feel that loss again like it was yesterday and I close my eyes. Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump. The reflective median dividers scream until my eyes open. Damn, I drifted into the lane next to me. I roll down the window and light a cigarette. I should have quit years ago like I promised her.

I’m here. A little later then the norm but she will get over it. I reach into the back seat and grab the bouquet of wild flowers. She didn’t like roses. I close the door and look at my reflection on the window. I adjust myself and make my way to her. I’m nervous because it’s been awhile. It stopped raining but it is still chilly. She would have liked the rain to continue, especially because I’m in it. I don’t know why but I have always hated being in the rain. Maybe it’s the cold it makes me feel or the fact that I’m wet. Whatever it is I don’t like it. It’s been ten minutes and now I’m standing here with her and I can’t breathe again. I grab my wedding ring from her tombstone, place it on my finger and sit. “I’m here baby. I’m sorry.”

Time passes and I get up. Our conversation is over and I feel better. She always had a way of doing that to me. I take off my ring and place it back on her tombstone. I thought for a second to leave it on but no, I don’t need that to remember our life together. Hell, we weren’t even going to get married. I was in the Marine Corps and had received orders that would have brought me to Camp Pendleton, California from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. We were not married at the time and they were only going to move me. I thought for a minute then said “I do love you and you do love me. You don’t come with me and we might as well end the relationship because long distance doesn’t work.” We were getting ready to go to the beach and we were in bathing suits. “Let’s go, right now before we go to the beach. Let’s go get married.” She said “Are you serious? Don’t say that if you don’t mean it!” It took me ten seconds. In the car we went to get married.

Back in the car I start to think about what I have to do when I get back and decide to go see a movie. That’s two hours gone. Now to the store for groceries and another two hours are gone. I can’t fight it now, nothing else to do time to go home. Ten minutes later and I’m sitting outside my home. I gather up the groceries and head in. I unlock the door and walk in. SLAM! The door closes and my focus is on the box in the living room. I walk pass it into the kitchen and begin to put the groceries away. I grab the milk and cookies and begin to eat. It’s so quiet I can hear the ticking of the clock. Something else she loved…clocks. There was a time that at least two clocks were in every room in the house. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock. Away go the cookies and I wash the glass and put it away. It’s time.

I need to do this. I walk into the living room. I sit facing the box and begin to empty it. There it is. My hands are sweaty and my heart starts to race. I can hear my own heart beat. I reach into the box and pull it out. The photo of them, all of them and their names start to fill my head. Toni, Lyn, Kay, Janette, Florence, Shirley, Vera, Elaine, Rona, Judy, Glenda, Sybil, Yvonne, Barbara F., Fay, Barbara B., Earl, David, Brian, Mervyn, Bruce, Peter F., Royce, John D., Doug, Ken M., Ken P., Peter D., John C., Trevor, John S., Rob, Ray, Noel, John B., Graham B., David, Fred and of course Me. The year was 1949, Chinchila State school, Queensland, Australia and this was our first 2nd grade class.

It was my greatest mistake. That day was like any other, hot and humid, so humid the walls would sweat. The school was old. It was built in the early 1800’s completely out of wood and was just expanded to increase the amount of students we were able to teach, from 12 to 40. It was a great day. The kids came to take their school picture and of course, me being me, didn’t want to be in it. She ended up taking the picture and I hid in the school. Great, this gives me time for a quick light. I should have quit like I promised her years ago. “It will be the death of you.” She would say. With the picture over, the children poured into the class. We had set up snacks and drinks for them. Gave the parents a minute to talk and socialize amongst themselves outside. Ten minutes later and it was quiet. “Too quiet. Be back in a minute love” she said. Ten minutes passed and she had not returned. There was a scream. We all ran to the other side of the school.

Ten minutes…too late. I knew what happened but the investigation was inconclusive. What was learned was the older few were trying to fight the fire and the little ones hid. She had gotten there and they were scared. She carried ten to safety before entering again and never coming back out. She had surrendered to the smoke and the fire consumed their flesh. A mother of one of the children screamed when she saw them outside, lying there on the ground coughing. That scream is what brought everyone else. The total that died that day was 39, 38 of them children and her. My wife, my love, my very breath. I couldn’t walk anywhere in that town without a look or a stare in my direction. I could hear the gossip. They knew what I did. They knew what the truth was. I shouldn’t have left those matches there. “They will be the death of you” she would say. Little did she know, it was her death they would cause. Ten minutes after they buried her, I left that town never to return again.

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