She Loved Bacon

Mementoes and awards, framed photos and letters from devoted friends of local prominence and covers of journals where my stories found a home and, resting comfortably between my laptop and a cup of green tea, my favorite photo of Christine.

And from the recesses of the darkness that had become my sheltered life since losing my heart, there came a voice.

“No need to be frightened, Mister Warren,” he said, shambling out from the shadows of my study to the small chair next to my desk, and carefully removed the clutter and sat down in its place.

“There. Better. My bones aren’t what they used to be.”

“How did you do that?”

“Appear out from nowhere?”

It was late enough in the morning to be fully awake, but not so alive as to deny the occasional daydream that was often the fuel that stoked my stories alive. “Are you going to rob me?”

“Oh, my goodness, no, no sir, and appearing out of what you call nowhere is not what I just did. In fact, in my line of work, there only is an everywhere.”

“Maybe I’d be better off if you killed me instead of robbing me.”

The old man took a handkerchief from his breast pocket and wiped his brow. He straightened his old jacket and flattened out his crumpled trousers.

“This job gets more difficult every day,” he said. “Mister Warren, again, if you will, I did not come to rob you and if you want to die ahead of your time, I am the wrong man for the job. However, as fate would have it, I’m here about your future, or in your case, what remains of your time left on earth.”

Then I picked up a faint scent, a smell of humanity and a very tired wardrobe: not old-man-needs-to-take-a -bath humanity, just what some people naturally smell like when they pass the age of no return. Okay, so maybe not a dream. “What the hell does that mean?”

“I’m here about your death.”

I nodded in return, staring at the wall of awards and recognition in front of me. Catherine put it together against my better judgement. Those things should be stored away, I insisted. Fortunately, her judgement was invariably better than mine.

“You’re not listening?” he continued.

“I am, though not as much as you would think I should be.”

“Then you don’t think why I’ve come is important, or that I appeared out of the ether is in any way surprising?”

“In a way, yes; in a way, you know, not really.”

“I came to tell you that this is going to be your last decade.”

Seemed like a nice enough old man, except for the dandruff which I thought strange since it had chosen a home on one side of his shoulder and not both. “You came all this way from everywhere to tell me my future?”

“In a way, yes, exactly that.”

“And for that I should be, what, grateful? And frankly, how do I know you’re real? Showing up on my doorstep as if you had nothing better to do on a crap day like this, you may as well be a fabrication of my imagination.”

“One of my favorite words, ‘fabrication.’ Don’t know why, but it has so many meanings I delight in exploring each possibility.”

“I’m delighted to know you have a hobby, Mr….?”

“But, to get back to the purpose of my visit, I can assure you, Jonathan Warren, I am quite real, as is my message a truth.”

He leaned back in the chair and stared at me. And I stared back at the spectator of this absolute anomaly who just stopped by to let me know how many, or how few, days, months, or years I had left to live.

“So, whomever you are, what would you do if you appeared from nowhere and told you it was going to be your last decade, with no more than six years, eight months, and fifteen days left on the calendar?” I asked, now fully engaged with what was already a painfully grim, freezing, February fabrication.

“No one ever asked me that.”

I took a slow draw on what warmth remained of my home-brewed tea. “But what I don’t understand, if you will, is why?”

“Not how? Most everybody wants to know how.”

“I’m saving that gem for later,” I answered, recalling this difficult day how Christine loved bacon as if it were her drug of choice.

“Why I’m here then, or was sent or was chosen or for what purpose I have appeared in your rather cluttered study where you ponder the fate of space aliens, shape-shifters, ghosts, and axe murderers?”

“And heroes and heroines often with great purpose and character, and who at times can wield both great deceit and treachery.”

“What does that taste like?”

“The tea tastes, well… organic, clean, simple, comforting.”

“Such a great word ‘comforting.’”

“Last weekend I was at a housewarming party for a couple who long ago agreed to be the executors of my estate—estate spelled with a very small ‘e’—and yesterday I started redrafting my will. In five days, nine hours, and fifty-five minutes, I’m scheduled for an annual checkup to see if my cancer has remained in remission.”

“I believe you will find it has.”

“You know that for a fact too, do you?”

“If it’s helpful, your illness should be of no future concern to you.”

I suspected this guy, this aberration in street clothes with a trace of acne on his forehead, was going to disappear momentarily, and I am going to wake up from this minor nightmare in a predictable cold sweat.

“Does everyone get a warning like this? I mean, how many people do you alert, or warn, and how are they chosen and, just for the hell of it while you’re at it, is there a God?”

“Jonathan, I’m a messenger, nothing more.”

“And you know what can happen to messengers?”

“And there have been times when I wanted to shoot myself before anyone else does.”

“Fair enough.”

For a moment I caught the old man staring out the windows behind my desk that overlooked one the prettiest rivers in Arkansas. It was wide enough to be respected, yet intimate enough to beckon a picnic between lovers.

“Though I do miss coffee, pizza, and great dark chocolate, cigars, and the occasional Kentucky sour mash, spring days, and other pleasures.”

“Like bacon?”

“Yes, of course, bacon. Absolutely.”

“And the warmth of a woman’s embrace?”

“Yes,” he said, visibly pained, “that too.”

A sadness between us sprang from nowhere. He must have been someone, not unlike me, until he was saved by a force powerful enough to repurpose him from the absolute darkness of another more purposeful task.

“And God?”

“A question I routinely get and can’t answer.”

“Cannot or wouldn’t?”

“If I answered, it would be more speculation than truth.”

“So you can’t be more specific?”

“No, and it’s not that I am trying to make things difficult for you.”

“You think telling me I have less than six years to live is not making it difficult?”

“‘Difficult,’ Mr. Warren, is telling you that by next week you’re going to be attached to a ventilator and surrounded by tangle of IVs and suffer unremitting pain for the remaining years of your life while you torment yourself because your drunken stupor was responsible for your grandchildren’s death in a terrible car crash. I could warn you,” he went on in a somber whisper, “that you have so little time left that your entire family will never see you again. I could tell you that I don’t know why or how I was chosen for this task, only that my visits are not mine by choice, and lately I crave release from my burden, and in fact question why such an undertaking is at all necessary.”

Whatever his purpose, I was getting the impression that this particular trip meant more to him than usual. Another question added to my list.

“And do you know how important this particular day is to me?”

“I do, Jonathan.”

“Then you know this is my second anniversary?”

“I do.”

“Then you know what I am referring to?”

“I know what and who and how and can only imagine the terrible loss, one you rightfully think the agony of remembering will never release you from its grip.”

“And you’re here to do what, suggest I celebrate what little time I have left when most of my heart is already dead?”

“In a way, yes.”

How often have I heard those words from my doctor, relatives, friends, well-meaning neighbors, none of whom ever had a Christine in their uninspired lives, a woman with beauty and charm, of grace and native intelligence, who saw through me from the very first day, saw the good and less-than-perfect and still committed herself to me forever.

If they gave out an award for being the least judgmental soul, she would have won it easily. I, on the other hand, well, not so much.

“You think me bitter?”

“I think you suffered a terrible, very recent loss that many never recover from, so I wouldn’t characterize it at all. Your anguish is understandable.”

“Understandable, yes, and soon you will vaporize and have gone on to your next victim.”

“I don’t have victims, Jonathan,” he said, and rose.

“Where are you going?”

“It’s time.”

“No, please,… ah, stay a while longer. I didn’t mean to offend you.”

“I can’t.”


“There are others I need to see, and many of my messages aren’t as…well, benign as the one I passed along to you.”

“But I have so many questions and—”

“And you will find the answers to some,” he said, noticing some of the framed letters and my few awards. “I believe in you, Jonathan, in your spirit, and I am certain you will find a less painful path for yourself in the coming years.”

“Believe, and it will be so?”

“I wish I could be of more service, but all too few people are blessed with what you had, leaving this earth as they came, wanting, often desperate and alone.”

“Then you’re here on this day is not a coincidence?”

“No, not really.”

“Your warning, your gift, seems to be a hardship for you.”

“Some visits are more difficult than others. It’s the nature of my business.”

“But you haven’t told me anything, from what I understand, out of the ordinary. Is there something else? Something you haven’t said that is beyond benign?”

“Told? No.”

My messenger, a tired old man with the saddest brown eyes I’d ever seen, deserved a medal for trying to communicate more in nuance and tone than what may well be beyond the boundaries of his mission.

Christine’s grandfather was awarded for a different kind of bravery and sacrifice at the battle of the Marne in the “war to end all wars.” Everette Logan Hastings survived the September 9 battle as the exhausted Germans began a fighting retreat to the Aisne River. The Battle of the Marne was the first significant Allied victory of World War I, saving Paris and thwarting Germany’s plan for a quick victory over France.

And for his heroism in attacking and taking out two German machine gun nests, Everette Logan Hastings received the Silver Cross, posthumously. Christine adored her grandfather, never forgetting what he gave up to make her, and the rest of us, safe.

“You two had something special, and while I came to give you what you might feel was warning, please accept as it as a gift, a call to make the most of every minute, no matter how many remain,” he said, and almost miraculously looked younger, years younger, as though a terrible burden had been lifted from his soul. “It’s been my great pleasure to have met you, sir.”

“It’s been my pleasure as well, and thank you for reminding me to celebrate

what time I have left. I didn’t mean to sound ungrateful, but it’s been a difficult day for me.”

“Enjoy, Jonathan, and let yourself delight. Delight in others, and let them delight in you and your wonderful tales.”

And with that, the smile faded, the acne disappeared, the apparition became threadbare, wispy, transparent, and gone.

I stared at the empty chair for a while, then moved it back against the wall of books, facing my desk. Everything was in order. Quiet and still and mine.

Now, I didn’t want to wake up from a dream and find this was a journey of my imagination, and not a rare and unexplainable occurrence, a gift, if you will, like Christine’s love.

I turned to switch off the light in my study and noticed something tucked in behind the plastic frame of a photo of Christine eating a frankfurter on the street, as though she couldn’t possibly be happier, or more exuberantly childlike. Frankfurters were number three and bagels slathered in butter a distant number two behind fresh, soft, bacon.

Locks of curly brunette hair cascaded around a face that “was easy on the eyes” I said during our first date.

She’d smiled. “I like that,” she’d answered, and the deal was struck.

Not too many people get to spend nearly half a century with the love of their life, and maybe it was time to appreciate the gift and not be consumed by the emptiness that will never leave.

Behind the frankfurter photo was a clump of red, white, and blue ribbon linked to a singular gold medallion sprouting five points.

There was little doubt as to what it was, or how it got there.

The Silver Star Medal, unofficially the Silver Star, is the United States Armed Forces’ third-highest personal decoration for valor in combat.

On the back of the medallion was stamped Everette Logan Hastings, FOR GALLANTRY IN ACTION.

Tears drained down my tired, unshaven cheeks.

My breath became shallow and labored.

All at once I remembered a lifetime of happiness and blessings.

I remembered how we met, the joy she breathed into my spirit, and how we parted.

I now understood why my visitor was hesitant, and delivered something I would imagine fell well beyond what he was permitted. He put himself in jeopardy, but how did he come by this wonderful and precious gift?

I will never know, and in the end, what matters is that I have it, as well as his great, kind advice.

In the gray haze of now a late February afternoon I brought my love’s treasure to my lips, “I will miss you always,” and ended the day with a relief I thought would never come, or I would never get to embrace.