Marsha’s Comet by Amanda Smith

“JERRY!” Marsha screamed out of the front kitchen window. She thought it would be best for dramatics given the sharp angling of the shutters. She realized smugly that her choice was correct, thank you very much, when her husband of forty years turned from his tractor seat to flip her the bird.

“Marsha, for crying out loud! You know I don’t like to be interrupted while riding Lucy.” She shuttered at the name he had bestowed upon his lovely hunk of metal.

She cupped her hands around her mouth. “You know I can’t hear myself breathe when you’re mowing!”

“Might as well mow. Can’t dance, never could sing, and it’s too wet to plow.”

Rolling her eyes, she shut the window and stomped her way out onto the porch. Good thing it was Spring or there’d be hell to pay. “I’m not screamin’ for pleasure. It’s the news.” Marsha said.

“The WHAT?”

“THE NEWS!” Scrunching his nose Jerry turned the key of dear old Lucy and slowly ambled his way towards the walk.

“Do ya gotta screech?” Jerry said.

Ignoring his playful adjective, she added, “now listen, this looks grave.”

He paused after his knees ended their orchestrated popping session from the short climb up the cement entryway stairs. He knew she meant business; her voice got quiet. It never got quiet. He asked, “now what is it?”

“Come look for yourself.”

Jerry placed his hand lovingly on her back as they made their way to the cream-colored pleated sofa, sitting side-by-side and taking in the television. After watching in silence a few minutes, Marsha broke the silence, as she so often did. “What does it mean?”

“What channel is this?” He said.

“For Christ sake’s Jer it’s CNN, look at the screen.”

“CNN? Why would they post something so ridiculous?” He rubbed his glasses across his checkered shirt.

“I don’t know that’s why I came and got you!”

“Alright, alright.” Jerry patted her knee as he started to ponder the truth laid out on the screen. Before he could concoct an explanation to satisfy his wife, the phone began to ring.

“I’ll get it.” Marsha’s knees were better. Plus, she couldn’t stand watching that rubbish any longer. She answered the phone, “Wilson residence, Marsha speaking.”

“Ma, you don’t have to answer the phone so formally. It’s not 1950.”

“Heather is that you?”

“Yes, mamma it’s me. You know, you two are the only ones with a land line.”

“And risk all that radiation from those hand-helds? No, thank you.”

Laughing, Heather paused. “Momma, did you watch the tele today?”

“I just turned it on. Brought your dad in, he’s got his tail up. What are they on about? Bout to give us a heart attack.”

“I called Stan earlier, you know he works the local paper.”

“Oh, dear Stan, God love em’. Those hogs though.”

“Best in town. Listen. His Auntie Marlene, she works some hoity toity job in New York.”

“She hear anything?”

“She said it’s 100% accurate.” They rolled through the pause that settled on the conversation.

“But that’s ridiculous, this isn’t a blockbuster.”

“Mom, I think I should come home.”

Marsha began to feel hot, face perspiring as she shouted into the living room, “Jerry! Pick up the bedroom line, it’s Heather.”

After an extended grunt a click was heard on the other end of the line as Heather filled in her father on the latest.

“Are you telling me, an asteroid is headin’ toward earth. This very second.”

“That’s what they say, pa.”

“That’s ridiculous.” The sound of a spring condensing upon itself squealed through the line as Jerry released his weight on their bed.

Heather replied, “I didn’t make it up for crying out loud. There’s scientists behind this, I’m telling you.”

Jesus.” Marsha whispered.

Heather said, “have you talked to Todd?”

“You know we haven’t seen your brother in ten years, Heather.” Marsha said quietly.

“Ma, I know things run deep, but it might be time.”

Jerry said, “you know as well as I do that this was his decision, he stopped talking to us.

Knowing it would take her husband a lot more to budge on the matter, Marsha changed the subject. “Heather, when are ya coming home? You’re bringing the family? Lil’ Tucker?”

“Of course. And Brian’s parents live down an hour from you guys, so it’ll work. We’ll leave tomorrow. I know it’s been awhile; all I’m asking is you think about it. With Todd.”

After hanging up, they made their way back to the couch, hardly believing the news in full.

“Think she has a point?” Marsha said.

“Drop it, hun.”

Marsha sighed and flipped the channel; all networks bore the same breaking news segment. Before she could tisk tisk at the anchorwoman’s poor taste in a peach blazer, the phone rang again.

“Good lord almighty. You think the world was ending.” She coughed into the crook of her arm. “Wilson residence, Marsha speaking.”

“Marsha? It’s Holly.”

“Did ya hear?” Marsha’s voice sounded conspiratorial.

“If I didn’t, I’d be living under that boulder on route 15. I for one think it’s bull hockey. We’re from the South, a hunk of rock can’t take us down. We’re stubborn.”

“Heather called up Stan, sounds mighty real, Hol.”

“I’m shocked after all the late-night martini drinkin’ and secondhand cigar smoke we’re still alive to begin with.” They laughed. “But Marsha…”

“It’s kinda scary ain’t it?”

Holly sighed. “I dunno, we’re old enough, but our kids? Tuck? What if it’s real?”

“I know. It’s still early though, right?” Marsha said.

“They’re sayin’ it could be this Friday night and cover the whole US of A. It’s Wednesday.”

“Christ on a cracker. What are we supposed to do with that? Hardly time to water the chickens.”

Holly said, “Rebecca says she sure as hell ain’t goin’ into work. Guess nobody is who’s still workin’.”

“What about the supermarket? Holly, if no one goes into work how do we buy meat.”

“Lines are already formin’ down at Rooster Row. Better go if there’s anything you need.”

Jerry and Marsha spent the next half hour debating, wondering if the politicians were putting on a show because of the election year. Marsha thought it was better to be safe than sorry and they finally arrived back home from the market three hours later.

“This better be the best pot roast this side of the Mississippi after that mess.” Jerry had Marsha’s arm in his as they instructed Charley, the neighbor boy, where to put the last bag of groceries.

Marsha asked, “why do you think there were so many pot roasts left?”

“No one wants to spend 4 hours of their last 48 watching meat cook, Marsha.”

“Sometimes I just don’t understand people.”

Their conversation was cut short, once again, by the ringing of the telephone.

“I hope you have enough ammunition to shoot the crap outta that line when I’m done with it.” Ambling over to the phone, she proclaimed, “Wilson residence, Marsha speaking.”

“Marsh, it’s Holly again.”

“So glad you called. The market was a disaster, but the roast was cheap, so I’ll count it a win. Hol, there were so many I couldn’t help but buy em’ all.”

“I hope you bought water to match it.”

“Oh, you know Jerry. Hol, it got me thinking. I got all this meat. Why don’t you and Greg come over Friday?”

“We were thinkin’ the same. Why be alone when it ends? I’ve been with you through the best and worst.”

“Come over around noon, I’ll even squeeze some lemons.”

“It’s a date.”

The rest of Wednesday flew by. Other than the foreboding newscast, it was a beautiful spring day. That night, Jerry and Marsha brushed their teeth side-by-side like they had for the past 50 years. Before they knew it, it was Thursday.

 Not bizarre in the least, three of Marsha’s other friends called that afternoon. Marsha thought herself lucky that she bought all the meat she did, half the neighborhood was coming over on what was now to be the last day of the week, including Heather’s parents from down yonder. Even Jerry started to get into it. She thought he would be more excited if it wasn’t the end of the world.

“Marsh, I can finally smoke my Fuentes. Greg n’ I’ve been waitin’ for something.”

“Well, this sure is something. Tina said she’d bring her cousin Carl’s moonshine. Guess it’s worth the risk being the end n’ all.” Marsha shrugged as she began defrosting the game hen’s she planned to stuff the next morning. She almost dropped one when she looked through the front window and saw Heather and Brian coming up the walk holding a sleeping Tuck in arm. Marsha squealed, “Jer! Heather’s here!”

“Hi, mamma!” The family circulated hugs, afraid to mention the asteroid plummeting towards earth so began talking pleasantries instead. After some time, Heather took her mother aside.

“I know I’m beating a dead horse, but I’d hate to think of it all ending without you saying something to Todd.”

“I know honey. Don’t think it hasn’t been on my mind. Think I should call him? Your father doesn’t need to know.”

Heather replied, “can we? I’d like to hear his voice again, if I’m being honest. It’s been a few weeks, but these last few days have been murder.”

Both women walked inside, Marsha nervous yet relieved in her decision. She had Heather dial as she was shaking with anticipation, sweat gathering on her brow. They waited, and the phone continued to ring. They dialed again to be safe, but no answer. Heather left a short voicemail and looked at her mother forlornly.

“Well, it was worth a shot.” Marsha wiped a tear from her eye as she stood, turning to Heather, “come help me make the stuffing. I got hens to cook.”

“Ma…”

“Nothing more on the matter.”

Heather nodded, knowing there was nothing else to be done.

They finished stuffing hens and making potatoes throughout the evening, drinking beers and talking about the past. The next morning, it seemed to dawn on the residents of Marsha and Jerry’s home that today could be the last.

“Ma, anything new on the tele?” Heather asked, tearing up as she held Tucker against her chest.

“More of the same.” She sighed. “around midnight they reckon’.”

“Well, I’m glad we’re here.” She said while wiping her face.

“Stop that belly achin’, it’s not gonna do us any good. Let’s marinate some steaks for the grill, come on.”

Jerry entered the room with his longtime friend, Greg. “Good lord almighty are you feeding an army?”

“Have you guys looked in the mirror lately? You are an army. Where’s Holly? You’re early.”

“Oh, she’s comin’, bringing some fried chicken. Thought we’d help with the setup, brought an extra grill and some whisky.”

“Well, can’t say no to that, god bless ya. And look, there’s Tina and her boy. He was always kind of slow, but boy could he grill a patty. I think they’re bringing burgers.” Marsha ran to greet the guests as Greg and Jerry discussed going out back with their bb’s. No sense in saving the fine china.

Before long, the house was filled with the smell of a home cooked meal on steroids. Holly and Marsha sat back to enjoy the view.

“Look at all these people, Hol.”

“I know it.”

They had known each other so long not much needed to be said. Before them was all they needed: family, friends, meat and potatoes. The day felt long as they drank and ate, reminisced and spit chew, flipping through photo albums and laughing until their tears turned real.

Marsha said, “I’d say I’d miss you but I’m gonna be gone too.” They both erupted into laughter as Jerry poured them another.

“You know, we met back at Oklahoma Baptist University.” Jerry had his arm proudly around Marsha’s.

Everyone in the room said in unison, “we KNOW Jerry!”

“You tell that story every year Jer.” Holly said as she stabbed a piece of sausage on her fork.

Heather said, “I think it’s endearing. Been married since 19. I always think of that when people talk about the real thing n’ all.” Marsha smiled and patted her daughter on the leg, afraid to say anything in case the reason for the party caught up to her. She was proud to be married to her college sweetheart for as long as they had. When Todd was born, it was the happiest she had remembered being up until that point. Before she could harp on that moment, Holly broke the silence.

“Guys, we’re thirty minutes out.”

Greg said, “should we head to the lawn?” Everyone made their way to the immaculate grass that the Wilson’s had looked out onto for more than thirty years. Suddenly, everything looked different to Marsha. It was like looking at something for the first time, but the last. The minutes ticked towards what CNN called the end times, yet everyone present seemed content with their fate.

Jerry exclaimed, “LOOK!” He pointed towards the apex of the sky, where a beautiful misty light began to creep closer from the depths of space. He held onto Marsha tight with one arm, the other around Heather and Tuck.

“Look, lights!” Holly said.

“I know, Hol, I see it. It’s kind of beautiful in a way.”

“No, not up there, over here!” The entire lawn party turned a 180 towards the main entrance as truck headlights crept close and finally came to a stop.

“What in tarnation?” Marsha unlocked her hold from Jerry and slowly made her way over, expecting a late neighborhood visitor. Regardless of end times, she always would welcome a guest in person and with open arms. As she approached the truck, she felt recognition but couldn’t quite place why. Was it Tom from the post office? Carl from Bait N’ Tackle? Before she came to a conclusion on the matter, the door opened.

“Ma?”

She gasped. “Todd? Is that you honey?” She ran over to where he stood, truck door open and the comets glare radiating off the old truck hood in an extraordinary fashion. Yet, Marsha hardly noticed as she embraced her boy in her arms for the first time in ten years. Crying, she said, “you came.”

“Of course, mamma, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I drove all night.” After they hugged for a long while, they made their way back to the group.

Holly said, “Todd! My boy, come here.” Suddenly, he was engulphed by a swarm of lawn people. Jerry stood back from the crowd, unsure, as the sky seemed to turn its light on high, God striking the final match.

“Pa.” Todd nodded.

“Son.”

For once, a party held by Jerry and Marsha Wilson stood as silent as space itself.

He said with a choke in his throat, “come here.” Taking Todd in a hearty embrace the group watched on, a warm, surreal light blanketing the scene.

“How much time, Hol?” Marsha asked.

“Two minutes, according to the news.”

No one felt the urge to countdown, so the group waited in peace. Suddenly, a burst of light erupted, sending sparks across the sky like a chorus of children with sparklers in hand.

After the allotted time frame, Holly said, “are we dead?”

“Sure don’t feel like it.” Marsha peeked at her arms and legs. The group started to mumble, pondering the situation when unexpectedly the lawn went dark, a black sheet draped cautiously over the town.

“Jer, what’s going on?”

“I’m not sure honey…”

Heather looked down at her phone and said, “ma!”

“Baby, what is it?”

“They say the comet erupted unexpectedly before impact. Says it blew up small and little bits are coming down to earth.” As if on cue, a rocky mist began sprinkling over the lawn like Oreo crumbs topping a sundae. Everyone gazed in wonder while the neighborhood kids bolted, arms outstretched through what felt like a newfound freedom.

Greg said, “well how bout’ that.”

“I knew it. Did I not call it Greg?” Holly hugged her husband as they started to walk back to the house. “Those politicians always think they know.”

Todd, Marsha, Heather and Jerry walked back inside while someone on the distant lawn began singing Amazing Grace.

Jerry whispered to Todd, “guess I better not tell your mom about the china out back…”

Marsha and Holly looked over at the group of people they loved, a medley of eccentric people she wouldn’t trade the world for. She said, “well, good a time as any for some steak, don’t you think?” 

Photo by sergio souza on Pexels.com

About the Author:

Amanda Smith resides in the beautiful state of Colorado working as a hospice social worker. She has recently self published her debut novel, “Year 2160” and is an avid blogger. She loves hiking and dancing in the kitchen.

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