"Jonathon is survived by Arnell Roberts, his wife of twenty-five years."
Arnell paused for a second, considering the words she had entered into the computer. Was that really what she wanted the obituary to say? She reached down to stroke the head of the mixed breed dog that lay with his nose inches from her feet. Traces of mud from his last excavation of her flowerbeds still stained one of his white paws.
"Some things just smell better after you bury them, don't they, Scrappy?" Arnell remarked.
She leaned back in her chair and laughed out loud, enjoying her own joke. There was an edge to her laughter. Scrappy looked up, alerted.
"Am I scaring you, old fellow?" Arnell asked. "Well, I'll be honest with you. I'm kind of scaring myself."
Arnell took one last look at the brochures. The beautiful cruise ship sparkled almost as much as the icy waters on which it rode. Totems stood on the shore. A lone moose with spreading antlers gazed over the water with wary brown eyes. A bear reared up on its hind legs, clutching a thrashing salmon. Arnell sighed. She had been planning this trip for years, maybe her whole life. She had saved religiously to make it happen… and now her husband Jonathon was demanding the money.
"Don't be such a baby, Arnell," Jonathon chided. "I need the money to get this new business off the ground. It's not like you even deserve a vacation anyway. I'm the breadwinner here. I'm the one who's working twelve hours a day. It's not like you could call this little hobby of yours work!"
That was not exactly true. Arnell's scrapbooking shop, Scraps, was practically a landmark in the little town of Purcellville. It may have begun as a hobby, but Arnell had turned it into a small business which not only paid the bills, it had turned a decent enough profit to fund start-up costs on several of Jonathon's entrepreneurial ventures. But Arnell could not argue that she worked as hard as Jonathon. He was seldom home before dark, even in summer. He almost always worked weekends. Anyway, Arnell never argued with Jonathon. She took one last look at the brochures before letting them slip from her fingers into the wastebasket behind her worktable. They landed softly on the scraps of ribbon, paper, newsprint… remnants of the morning's scrapbooking classes. Arnell forced a smile onto her face before she looked up to meet her husband's eyes.
"I'm sorry, Sweetheart," Arnell responded. "Of course you can have the money. It's too bad you didn't get here before I called to make the final reservations, that's all. I'll have to pay a pretty big cancellation fee."
Jonathon snorted softly. He was too busy and too important to care about such details. Arnell cut him a check from the company account and he left. "Don't wait up for me!" he called over his shoulder as he went out the door. "I'll be working late."
Arnell sighed. Jonathon was always in a hurry these days. Perhaps this new business of his would be enough of a success that he could hire a couple of people to help him out. Maybe then she would see him once in a while. That would make the sacrifice of this vacation worth while, wouldn't it? She sighed again, then called the travel agency and cancelled her reservation. They promised to post a refund to her credit card, less the cancellation charge, of course.
The little antique bell of the shop door tinkled to let Arnell know her afternoon students were arriving.
"Shoot!" whispered Arnell. "What page were we supposed to be doing? Vacation?"
Arnell looked desperately around the table. Instead of going home to gather photos and mementos to demonstrate scrapbooking a vacation page for her class, she had spent her lunch hour listening to Jonathon whine about needing money and canceling her own vacation with the agency. Her searching eyes landed on the wastebasket and her recently discarded brochures.
"Might as well use them for something," Arnell muttered. She pulled the brochures from the trash and slapped them twice against her hip to dislodge the bits of ribbon and confetti held there by static electricity. By the time her students gathered around the table for their lesson, Arnell was organized and ready to go.
It was a good class. Arnell used the pictures from her brochure in lieu of family photos. She cut significant phrases from the descriptive blurbs to emphasize various aspects of her make-believe vacation as a demonstration. Her students followed after, gleefully decorating pages to keepsake their own happy memories of travel and adventure. Arnell served afternoon tea and scones while everyone admired the finished pages at the end of class.
One of the students held Arnell's page up for consideration. "This is just not fair," the student said. "Your vacation isn't even real and I like your page better than mine! How do you do it, Arnell?"
Arnell laughed. "Lots of experience, that's all. After a while you just know what works and what doesn't. But always remember that this is supposed to be self-expression. My pages are going to look like me. Your pages should look like you. You'll get the hang of it." She took another look at the page. "You are right about one thing, though. This is a nice page. In fact, I think I'll keep it as an example for future classes."
Arnell slid the new page over the posts of her demo album and clipped the cover in place. "There!" she laughed. "My memory of the vacation that almost was."
Everyone chuckled. Once the tea and scones were gone, Arnell walked her clients through the shop, helping them pick and choose among the sheets of scrapbook paper, scissors, stickers, markers, glue, miniatures, and other items that made up her stock and trade. As usual, a happy and successful class made for lots of purchases. Arnell reminded herself once again that the time she spent teaching and encouraging her students always paid for itself in sales generated… and there was no way to place a value on the fun and friendship. As she rang up each customer's items, Arnell thanked them for coming. She also took time to hand out hugs and kisses as they were called for. Then, as she was locking up after the last customer left, Arnell heard the phone ringing in the back room.
"Scraps, Arnell Roberts speaking," she answered, even though the shop ought to have been closed by now. Arnell hated turning people away.
"Arnell Roberts! This is Wage Radio… W.A.G.E.! You are on the air!"
"I'm sorry… what?" Arnell was not sure what was going on.
"You're on the air!" the voice on the phone continued. "You are our business person of the week, Arnell. One of your clients nominated you, your name was drawn, and you have won!"
"Arnell is speechless, Folks!" the voice laughed. "Isn't that cute? Don't you want to know what you've won, Arnell?"
"Won?" Arnell was starting to get with the program. "Oh! Yes! Yes, of course. What have I won?"
Music began to play over the phone. Arnell assumed this meant the announcement of whatever it was she had won was a recorded message.
"You've just won a dream vacation for two! It's an all-expense-paid cruise of Alaska's Inside Passage! You'll see the glaciers and wildlife of the Alaskan coastline from your private veranda on our beautiful cruise ship. Ports of call include Hubbard Glacier, Skagway, and Juneau. We even include transportation from your own front door to the nearest airport and roundtrip airfare to San Francisco to meet your ship. The cruise departs May 1. Can you be ready?"
"Oh, my goodness," gasped Arnell. "Yes. Yes, of course I can. Yes."
It was exactly the vacation she had just scrapbooked as a demonstration for her afternoon students.
Arnell picked up the vacation documents on her way home and decided to wait up for Jonathon even though he had told her not to. This was too exciting to keep to herself! She fashioned a small display on the dining room table to showcase the tickets and reservation confirmations using small totem poles and plastic animals she had purchased years ago from an Alaskan tourism catalogue. It would make it so much more fun to tell Jonathon! She wanted him to be as surprised and happy to hear about this trip as she had been. A bottle of rich, dark wine and two glasses finished off the display. As an afterthought Arnell added a framed snapshot of Jonathon and herself standing in front of their first apartment.
"I love you, Jonathon," Arnell whispered to the picture. "I know you've been busy, and it has caused us to grow apart… but I still love you. This trip is going to bring us together again. You'll see."
Arnell sat down to wait. Excitement kept her alert at first. After that she tried television, then her favorite romance novel. Finally, at about one in the morning, she dozed off…
"What's all this crap on the table!?"
Arnell woke with a start.
"Yeah, it's me. Who else would it be?" Jonathon laughed drunkenly. "What? You were expecting your lover maybe?" He laughed again.
Arnell could smell the liquor on him, but she didn't say anything. Of course since he had been working late it was reasonable that he should stop for a drink on the way home. A little drink would have helped him relax. Jonathon worked so hard. If he ended up drinking a little too much once in a while, that wasn't so bad was it?
"I'm sorry, Darling," Arnell responded. "I was just startled. I fell asleep here on the couch. You just startled me, that's all."
"I told you not to wait up," Jonathon said. He took one of the totem poles in his hand and twirled it idly. "So answer the question. What's all this crap on the table? You know I don't like crap on the table."
"Oh," said Arnell, getting up from the couch. Her tone was apologetic. She was trying to placate him. "It's just a little surprise… a little surprise for you."
Jonathon snorted. He evidently didn't think it was possible for Arnell to surprise him.
"We won a trip, Darling," she continued. "The exact trip I was planning before… you know the one… the cruise to Alaska? We won it. So now you can start your business… but we can still go… I… "
Jonathon was leaning closer and closer to Arnell as she spoke. He finally stopped her by pausing within inches of her nose and putting a finger to her lips.
"Isn't that just like you," he hissed. "Little Arnell thinks she can have her cake and eat it, too. Well… go on your trip if you want to Little Arnell. I've got work to do. I'm not going anywhere."
Jonathon staggered into the bedroom and collapsed on the bed, leaving Arnell with her vacation display… less one totem pole… alone. She stood for a few minutes, considering what he had said, then turned out the lights and followed him to bed.
In the morning, Jonathon was syrupy sweet and apologetic. In less than a hundred words he convinced Arnell to take her dream trip alone. He would stay here and "hold down the fort," laying the groundwork for his new business venture. She could take enough pictures to make him believe he had been there, too. It was not a good time for him to leave town. But, of course, she must go. He would not dream of asking her to give up this vacation. In the end she agreed. Everything he said made perfect sense. Of course he could not take a vacation right at the start-up of a new business. They would have a trip together next year… or the year after.
The cruise was everything Arnell had imagined it would be. In fact, it was so much the way she had imagined it that she teased her scrapbooking students about it later.
"You see?" she said, holding up the page she had made from the discarded brochures just weeks before. "I just put the real photos I took myself in place of the brochure pictures, added a few bits and pieces of memorabilia, and there you go… "Arnell's Alaska Inside Passage Cruise". She snapped the page back into her demo album and pulled out a blank sheet. "But today we are doing a 'grandchild' page… and since I don't have any grandchildren, I'll have to use my imagination again so I can demonstrate and give you ladies some ideas."
The students chuckled. Everyone who knew Arnell also knew how badly she wanted grandchildren. Her daughter, Cathryn, had been married for three years, but because her husband was a Marine they were putting off starting a family until he finished his enlistment. Arnell joined in the joke by having her demo page show not one grandchild, but two. In Arnell's pretend scrapbook memory, Cathryn was the proud mother of healthy twin boys.
The class was particularly fun that day. "Grandchildren are always a good subject," Arnell commented as she helped the students sort their photos and choose the best ones for display. "Think of the child. What is his or her favorite color? What is their favorite toy? What song do they sing until it drives you crazy? Use all of these things to design a page that does more than capture the memories you have of this grandchild. Let it capture the essence of who they really are." The room hummed with enthusiasm and energy. Arnell did not even pause to answer the phone when it rang once… then again.
On the third ring, Arnell excused herself. "Pardon me, ladies," she said. "It must be important if they are still trying to get through after I've ignored them twice!" It briefly crossed her mind that she hoped it was not Jonathon calling to ask for more money for his business, but Arnell quickly chastised herself for that thought. How unfair! Jonathon works so hard, she told herself. But it wasn't Jonathon.
"Mom?" It was Cathryn's voice on the line. "Mom, you'll never believe it, but your dreams have come true. It was totally an accident. But we're totally delighted!"
"What are you talking about?" Arnell asked her daughter. She held the receiver under her chin so she could continue helping her students while she talked. Her hands were full of ribbons from one of the scrapbooker's baby shower and she was only half listening. Cathryn had a habit of calling over trivia.
"Can't you guess?" Cathryn exclaimed. "Mom! I'm pregnant! Peter and I are having a baby! But that's not all, Mom. We're having twins! Can you believe it? Twins!"
Arnell's fingers suddenly went numb, releasing the baby shower ribbons to drift softly to the floor. Her eyes fell to the demo page that lay before her on the table. Twins.
Arnell barely remembered the rest of that day. Later, at home, she laid two demo pages from her album side by side and stared at them. What was going on? One page, the vacation, had come true in an apparent coincidence when she won a cruise through the local radio station. The other, twins, was soon to be true as well. Was this a coincidence… or was her scrapbook making things happen? Arnell poured herself a cup of tea… then another. Halfway through the second cup, she decided to run an experiment.
Jonathon was working late again, so she had plenty of time. Arnell was fond of jewelry, though she never wore any. She and Jonathon had agreed years ago that jewelry was an extravagance better left to the rich and famous. The two of them would be better off spending their money more sensibly. But that had not kept Arnell from dreaming. She had catalogues from several of the local jewelry stores with her favorite pieces marked. One day, she always told herself, when Jonathon's business makes us wealthy, I'll have some "pretties." She got those catalogues out now and went to work.
It took Arnell a little over thirty minutes to choose her absolute favorite from among the circled and starred pieces in the catalogues, but she finally settled on a diamond tennis bracelet set in white gold with ruby accents. Yes. This was her choice. Over the next hour and a half she scrapbooked a fictional "Just Because" page in which Jonathon presented her with the lovely bracelet after a candlelight dinner just because he loved her. The page was soft and romantic. Arnell let her sensitive woman's heart invent everything that would make such an evening perfect. The restaurant was the one in which she and Jonathon had become engaged so many years ago: the Coach House Restaurant. There was a Bed and Breakfast Inn just down the road where they had gone on their wedding night. Cathryn was conceived there. It was still Arnell's favorite place, even though she and Jonathon had never stayed there again. That, the scrapbook page declared, was where he gave her the bracelet.
Then, because she was also a sensible woman, Arnell put a time limit on her experiment. She placed a banner at the top of the page identifying the date as three days away… Friday, May 24. Arnell found her heart was pounding in anticipation as she finished it and closed the book.
"You silly goose," she said to herself. "Remember why you are doing this. You are trying to prove that you didn't make something happen by scrapbooking it, remember? You're not trying to manipulate the universe." She put the album in her scrapbook bag so she would not forget to take it back to the shop in the morning.
The rest of Arnell's week passed without incident. Jonathon continued to work long hours. No romantic dinner plans were made. When Jonathon called her at the shop on Friday afternoon to say he was going out of town for the weekend, Arnell experienced a combination of relief and disappointment. She kicked herself for thinking that the scrapbook "prophesies" had even been more than coincidence, and made a reservation to eat at the Coach House that night just to have a good laugh at her own expense.
Over dinner Arnell raised a glass to herself in mock solute to her situation. Here she was, in love with a man who was never home, eating alone in a romantic restaurant on Friday night. She was about to toast something like, "Here's to all the silly, lonely, middle-aged women who still think there ought to be romance in their lives" but the words stuck in her throat.
Arnell could not believe her eyes. Jonathon, her Jonathon, the Jonathon who said he was going out of town for the weekend on business… had walked into the restaurant with a woman half his age. Arnell slid her chair over slightly to be sure he would not see her. Then she watched. Arnell watched as Jonathon and the woman ordered the exact meals she had scrapbooked for her romantic fantasy. She watched as they chatted and cooed to one another as only lovers can do. Her heart began to pound. She paid for her uneaten meal and left the restaurant before the couple could discover her.
Arnell sat in her car and grasped the wheel with shaking hands. Did she dare to follow her scrapbook to the obvious conclusion? Yes. Yes, she would. She turned on the ignition and pulled out of the parking lot. She was at the Bed and Breakfast Inn in minutes.
Showing her credit card at the desk, Arnell had no difficulty in convincing the clerk that she was arriving ahead of her husband from dinner. It was, after all, the same credit card number on which the room was reserved. What a fool Jonathon was, she thought, to use their joint credit card for such a thing. But then, he never let her see the bill, did he? Perhaps she was the one who was a fool. She followed the clerk to the room and managed to hold herself together until she was alone… then she began to tear the room apart. She found it under the down pillow on the feather bed with the hand sewn patchwork quilt beside the painted nightstand with fresh cut flowers. It was in a gift box, perfectly wrapped… one exquisite diamond tennis bracelet set in white gold with ruby accents.
Arnell took it and left.
Arnell made a slight change to what she had written.
"Jonathon is survived by Arnell Roberts, his faithful wife of twenty-five years. She is the owner of Scraps, a highly successful shop in downtown Purcellville," she typed, then added, "He also leaves behind his dog, Scrappy, who is the only one who will miss him."
She printed the obituary on newsprint and added it to her brand new scrapbook page… all about how poor Jonathon Roberts was killed by a hit and run driver while crossing the street in front of the Coach House Restaurant on Friday, May 24.
"I am a life-long reader and writer. My fondest memories are of the times I spent sitting under an apple tree with a good book or an empty notebook." E-mail: joyelainegee[at]yahoo.com.