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And So It Happens

by Fatima Hyman about a year ago in immediate family
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Florida's Surprise

Miracles out of the blue

Florida put her hands over her face. It was enough. It was too much. She could no longer pretend that everything was okay. It wasn’t. It had not been for a long time. She blew out a breath, or maybe she should be taking one in. Either way, she felt calmer. She almost broke down for a minute, and that would not do in front of her sixth-grade math class.

She looked up at the plain black and white clock on the wall. 4:20. School would be over in ten minutes. Then the weekend. She needed that break. The week had been long and arduous. Not at work, necessarily. But her life seemed to have been spiraling downhill. All of her bills seemed to be due at the same time. Her mother was going through a bad time financially as well. There seemed to be no end in sight. No light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, there didn’t seem to be an end to the tunnel.

The bell rang and the kids jumped up from their desks.

“Don’t forget to do chapter 4’s question. They will be due when you get here on Monday,” she said to their retreating forms.

Florida sat back for a moment. She looked over the classroom and saw that the kids had left candy wrappers and pieces of paper on the floor. As always. She wondered how many of them actually had to do anything at home. She sighed and pushed away from her desk. There was a cleaning crew that came in every night, but she could not stand to see the mess.

She went back to her desk to gather up the things she needed to take home. Her purse was slung across the back of her chair. She pulled it over her head, so it was slung across her like a bag of arrows. Or a beauty queen banner. She laughed. She would never win that. She was of average height with chocolate brown skin and short black hair. She wore glasses to read but didn’t need them to see. Her teeth were white and fairly straight, but she didn’t like her smile.

Florida walked to the door and turned off the lights. She did not give the classroom another look. Her mind was now on what she would have to do to get an extension on some of her bills. Payday wasn’t for another week, but her bills were due now. She could probably get the power and water people to extend her due date. They were really good about that. That took a little of the load from her shoulders.

After that, she would have to go see her mother to make sure she had enough food to last until Florida got paid. Her mother lived in the same house they grew up in. Her father had been dead now for about ten years. Her older brother lived in Nevada, and only came to visit once a year. And he only stayed for two days. She frowned. And when she called to ask for help, he had prevaricated and hedged until she had given up. She didn’t understand how he could be so cruel to their mother. A woman who raised them with love and did the best she could with what she had. But he turned his back, and she thought this was very sad.

Florida finally reached her red Honda Accord. She pushed the button on the key fob to unlock the door. She got into the car.

Florida lived twenty minutes from the school. She usually stopped at the store or a restaurant on the way home to get dinner, but she didn’t feel like it tonight. There might be some leftovers in the fridge. Her mother had always told her to buy groceries instead of a little here or a little there.

“You’ll never have any money,” she said.

It turned out; she was right. But old habits die hard, as the saying goes. She pulled into her townhouse. She had opted for a townhouse instead of a house because yard maintenance had been included.

She turned the key in the door.

As she put her things down on the front table, there was knock on the door. Florida started. She wasn’t expecting anybody. She walked to the door and peeked through the peephole. A man stood there in a green uniform. Florida opened the door.

“Florida Johnson?”

“Yes,” she said.

He handed her two packages.

“Please sign here,” he said, handing her a clipboard.

Florida closed the door and looked down at the packages. The label said it was from her Benson Johnson. Her brother. One of the packages was a big yellow envelope. Inside she could feel a book. The other one was a medium sized box.

She sat down on the sofa and put the envelope and box on the coffee table. She reached for the box, but a voice told her to open the envelope first. She frowned but followed her instinct.

The envelope didn’t seem unusual. The only thing unusual was that it was from her brother. She didn’t have any real contact with him until his yearly visit. And the last time she called him, they fought about his not helping their mother. She opened it and took out the book. Which turned out to be a journal about the size of a romance novel, which Florida read now and then, but half the thickness.

She flipped it open to the first page. She recognized the writing immediately. It was little and close together. Benson’s. Her mother said that since he was stingy with his writing, he would be stingy in life. Florida hadn’t believed her, and neither had Ben. But her mother had been right about that as well.

Dear Florie,

We did not end things well in our last conversation, and that was entirely my fault. Most of our fights are my fault. You were right to call me selfish, but it was for a good reason.

Florida scoffed. How could being selfish ever have a good reason? As she thought about it, Ben had always been selfish.

When we were children, all I ever wanted was to get away from country Georgia. I wanted more than the little house in downtown Atlanta. I wanted a penthouse in an expensive hotel or condo. I wanted a fancy car and all of the money in the world. I vowed I would get it. And you know what Florie? I did. I came to Nevada, and I hustled. I started off with odd jobs, but I worked my way up in a restaurant. I started as a waiter, and then I began to work in the kitchen. I used the money I made to go to culinary school. I lived in my car, which was an old Toyota Camry. I never asked anybody for anything, Florie. I never wanted to ask mom and pop for help. They never knew about how my life was. When I came to visit, I always pretended that things were fine. And then I would fly back to Nevada. It took all of my money to make that trip each year. That’s why I couldn’t come more often.

Florida lowered the little black book and stared at the wall. All this time, she would have never guessed that Ben had struggled through life when he left Georgia. When he turned eighteen, he graduated from high school, and the next day, he announced he was leaving. He told their parents that he had a job lined up in Carson City, Nevada.

“Nevada?” their father had asked. “Who do you know in Nevada?”

“Nobody but the people who hired me,” Ben said, his packed bag on his shoulder.

“What kind of job?” mama had asked.

“It’s not important. Just know that I’m outta here,” Ben said with a smile.

“Boy, you don’t know what you doin’,” their father roared.

Ben recoiled but then straightened his shoulders. He and their dad had always bumped heads.

“I do, and I’m gone,” Ben said and walked out of the house.

Mama went to follow him, but daddy stopped her.

“He’ll be back,” he murmured.

But Ben hadn’t come back. Not for a long time. She picked up the book.

Life at home wasn’t a bed of roses, as you well know. I had to get out there. I had to make something of myself to prove to me that all the time daddy said that I wouldn’t be anything was a lie. I came to Nevada without a plan except to make it. I don’t know why I picked Nevada, but one day while I was in my room, I heard the word Nevada. I thought someone was in there with me, but there was no one. It might have been my imagination, or maybe God, as mama would have said. Either way, I couldn’t get it out of my head.

But to make a long story short, I did become successful, Florie. I became head chef at a respected restaurant.

Florie, five years ago I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. The once-a-year visits had become necessary. I have been taking chemo and doing all the things the doctor said. When he first diagnosed me, he said I would only last a couple of years, but he was wrong. I have lasted five. But now, my time is drawing short. By the time you read this, Florie, I’ll be gone. I have a friend who will mail this after my death. I don’t want a big funeral or for you and mama to see me like I am now. I have lost a lot of weight. You probably wouldn’t recognize me. I’m sorry it had to be this way, Sis.

Now that you have read my story, please open the box. I have every confidence that you would have read this before you opened it. I prayed that you would, anyway.

I love you, Florie. Tell mama I love her as well. I even loved daddy, but I just couldn’t live with him. I have willed everything I own to you; everything in my condo and all the money I have saved, something over $20,000. Take care of yourself and mama. See you both on the other side!

Love forever,

Ben

Florida dropped the book. She sat in shock. Ben was dead? Gone? She reached up to cover her face and realized she was crying. Her hands were also shaking. She wrapped them around herself to try to still them. She looked over at the box. She found she didn’t want to open it now. What more could he say or give her? He had given her everything he owned. Money, restaurants, and furniture. But what she realized she really wanted was more time with her brother. They hadn’t been close, but she had loved Ben. She had missed him when he left.

She put her head down and sobbed until she was drained. She would have to tell her mother about Ben’s death. She shook her head. She would wait until tomorrow. She would be steadier then. She got up and went to get a glass of water. Why do people always drink water at time like this? She had to smile. It was ludicrous. It was absurd. She wanted to cry again.

She went back to the living room and stared at the box. She pulled it over and ripped the tape from across the top. She took a deep breath before she looked inside. She opened it and laughed. It was an urn with Ren from Ren and Stimpy painted on it. That had been their favorite cartoon.

More tears streamed down Florida’s face, but she felt better. Ben hadn’t really changed. He had still been her big brother.

Thank you, Ben, she thought.

immediate family

About the author

Fatima Hyman

I have been writing for years, but this is the first time I have written any short stories. I have self-published a few books on Amazon, and have some WIPs. I hope you enjoy my short stories.

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