Do you ever look at gravestones and think about the life contained between the two dates inscribed on stone? This is my whimsical way of weaving a story about the adventures in the dash.
The first Monday of every month, I’ll feature a gravestone (or two) along with a fictional story depicting what a piece of their lives might have looked like.
In the interest of privacy, I’ll give only first or last names, not both. I hope you enjoy this fanciful peek into what might have been.
Previous stories can be found on the Graveyard Tales Archive
Name: Donald and Brenda
Dates: Donald: 1934-2000; Brenda: 1951 – Present
Donald was a life member of a volunteer Fire Department and served as a fire chief from 1970 – 1976. He married in 1976 and moved to a new area with a new career, and I can’t believe that is a coincidence. So, why did he marry so late? Why did he change careers after he married? Why did he become part of the fire department in the first place? My imagination couldn’t help but surmise some tragedy in the past played a part in all these things, and based on that, I have written my inspired fictional story.
Inspired Fictional Story:
He choked on the black air swirling around him, inhaling more ash than oxygen.
“Amanda! Amanda!” The cry was in his heart only, unable to break through the blazing heat.
He blinked away the tears that his ducts were desperately trying to form, any wetness dissipating in the dry air, and tried to search the smoke through narrowed eyes, ignoring the penetrating stinging.
“A-man-da!” Though the call escaped his throat this time, it was more of a croak. He fell to his knees, crawling toward the blaze in front of him, willing it to come and swallow him up.
Donald jerked to a sitting position, inhaling ragged breaths of the clean air around him, startled eyes taking in the sunshine streaming through the clear, glass window.
A shuddering sigh escaped from him and he buried his hands in his thick, black hair, shaking his head, trying to clear away the all-too real dream.
It had been a long time since he’d dreamed of his fiance’s death, but yesterday’s fire had brought it all back. Watching the house crumple in front of him, unsure if they had gotten everyone out, the familiar pounding in his chest making him wonder why he’d ever become fire chief.
But he knew why he’d become fire chief. Because for every life lost, there were a dozen or more saved from the fires he’d helped put out.
He jumped out of bed as a pounding sounded on his door—an emphatic sound that could only belong to one person.
“Jim, do you have act like you’re about to die every time you knock?” He greeted one of his volunteers, and best friend, as he opened the door, involuntarily inhaling the fresh breeze as a welcome reprieve from his dream.
Jim shrugged as he brushed past Donald before turning to face him. “Just want to make sure you can’t ignore me.” He studied Donald’s face, and Donald knew he was seeing the fresh grief in his eyes. “Wanted to make sure you were okay after yesterday.”
“Want some coffee?” Donald didn’t wait for an answer before heading to the kitchen and turning on the coffee pot, Jim at his heels.
Jim didn’t force any conversation until they were both seated at the table piled with paperwork and dishes, coffee cups in hand. Then, “Another dream?”
“Yeah. This time I was going in after her.” Donald sipped his black coffee without letting his mind trail back.
“You weren’t even there.” The statement was more of a leading question. Jim had made no secret of the fact he thought Donald would do better if he talked about the incident from three years before.
“I know. But now that I’ve been in fires, I know what it would have been like. I know…what she suffered.”
“She wouldn’t want you to keep spiraling down like this.”
“I don’t know how to stop it.”
“You could start with dating again.”
“There’s no one like Amanda.”
“You’ll never know if you refuse to try.”
“I’m done talking about this.” Donald stood and stalked over to the coffee pot to refill his cup.
“I’m not.” Jim took another gulp of his before handing it over for more.
Donald sighed. “What is it you want this time?”
“Not a date. Just come to the fundraiser tonight. As fire chief you should be there anyway. And promise to talk to at least one, single, woman.”
“Are you going to leave without extracting my promise?”
“Nope.” Jim gave a loud slurp as he drank.
“Great—see you there.” Having accomplished his purpose, Jim rose, threw Donald a smug smile, and swaggered to the door.
Donald kept the smile frozen on his lips as he greeted one person after another, thanking them all for attending and supporting the fire department. He tried not to think about the long evening ahead of him and how much he would rather be sitting alone at home on his couch, letting TV drown out all thoughts.
“Glad you made it, Don.” Jim approached him as the couple he was talking to left to find their seats.
“Didn’t realize it was an option to miss after your visit this morning.” Donald said wryly, raising an eyebrow.
“It wasn’t. I’d like you to meet someone.”
“Jim, you said—” Donald stopped as Jim turned and motioned a smiling woman over. He smiled politely, even as his brain zoned out before it could pick up on the woman’s name, and was pretty sure he gave the right, polite responses and thank-you-for-attending speech. He ignored the exasperated look Jim flashed him as the woman moved on, and, nodding to a few other people, hurried over to his table before he could be expected to say anything more. Knowing Jim, he’d have another woman there to “greet” him within minutes if he stuck around. As he approached the chair reserved for him, he slowed, his forehead creasing. He paused a few feet from the seat, and only had to wait a moment before the woman sitting in it turned towards him, her shoulder-length red hair swinging. Her welcoming smile faded a little as she assessed him.
“This is your chair, isn’t it?”
“It’s all right.” She uncrossed her legs, stood, and held out her hand in one smooth motion. “I’m Brenda.”
“Did Jim send you over?” Donald did his best to look displeased and not notice the lively glint in her green eyes.
“Jim?” She tilted her head, sending her silky hair over a shoulder. A spark of understanding crossed her face, and she looked from him to Jim, who was eyeing him with open curiosity. “Ah—having matchmaking troubles?”
Donald lifted one shoulder in an uncomfortable shrug. “He refuses to believe I’m just not there yet.”
“Bad past experience?” Brenda asked, raising her carefully manicured eyebrows.
Donald shrugged again, the thought of Amanda making him uncomfortable as his traitorous eyes admired Brenda’s heart-shaped face, tapering off at the chin to accentuate her full lips, which were currently curved in a half-amused, half-sympathetic smile.
“Maybe we can help each other out,” Brenda suggested and a light laugh escaped at the question in Donald’s eye. “Not much for words, are you? Well, I need a seat, and you need to escape your friend. Find me a seat, and I’ll keep you company—without expectations—for the evening.” Her mouth twisted in a mischievous smirk. “I can be pretty tenacious. Jim would have a hard time prying me from your side.”
No one could resist responding to that smile. Donald felt his own mouth curve up. “Well, I think I could be—”
“Don, if you aren’t busy, I have someone—”
“Sorry, Jim, he is very busy.” Brenda was at Donald’s side and slipping a small hand into his before he could even turn to face his friend.
“I’m sorry, I don’t think I’ve met you.” Jim glanced at Donald before smiling at Brenda.
“No, you haven’t.” Brenda gave him a grin and a wink. “And you won’t until the end of the night, because until then Don is all mine and I have eyes for no other man.”
Donald had to restrain a snort at Jim’s expression.
“Shall we?” Brenda blinked up at him, fluttering her eyelashes with exaggeration, and then tugging him back toward the table.
Donald nodded at Jim, reveling in his confused surprise, before turning to follow Brenda. Maybe it would be a fun night after all.