They grew up together playing in the slick sand of the Long Island Sound. Mollie was the granddaughter of a rich man who owned many of the grandest houses in Glen Cove. Minor’s family was more modestly well-off. They were married a week before he shipped off for his second tour of naval duty, as a captain of a warship stationed in the Phillipines, and their first son was born before he came back. They lived in San Francisco, New York City, and finally settled with their three children in a little stone house on 40 acres just outside of Willmington.
Mollie’s wispy hair and crooked grin made her the “fun one” of the couple. She was known for her mischevious cooking, such as the wine jell-o that she liked to serve to her grandchildren. In the fall, Minor sometimes went out on the porch and shot a goose from one of the V-shaped flocks that flew over the house, and Mollie plucked it, cooked it, and presented it to be eaten. Their cocktail parties were frequent and sometimes raucous. They were an admirable couple, and it was shocking when she died (of complications from a hip surgery), but what surprised everyone the most was that he didn’t die with her.
For five years he lingered on. His children helped him to move out of the stone house and into a home, and he had to give up his guns and his tractor. At the breakfast table old ladies wearing pastel sweaters twittered around him while he read the newspaper, and in the afternoons he sat by his window and watched the ravens circle a copper beech tree down by the forest’s edge. One spring, half of the beech tree remained bare while the rest of it grew green with sprouting buds. By the summer, it was clear that the half tree couldn’t survive. Minor, too, was dead by November.
He found the path to heaven clear enough. It was smooth and narrow, and flanked by great bushes of goldenrod on either side. At the gate he asked for Mollie, but no one had heard of her. “Heaven’s a pretty populous place, you know,” he was told. He found a river, rushing with ice and trout. She wasn’t there. Nor in a peach orchard, the warm grass brushing his hip and hopping with katydids. “Are you sure she made it?” somebody asked him. He was sure.
He found a cool looking bar and decided to rest for a bit, knowing he wouldn’t find Mollie in there. He ordered a scotch and asked the bartender about Mollie. The bartender was young and wore a short embroidered vest over a clean white t-shirt. He gave Minor the whiskey in a fine blown-glass cup.
“You know, a lot of you new-comers are lookin’ for someone. Who was she, anyway? An old flame? A childhood love? A sister? A daughter?”
“She’s my wife,” Minor drank his scotch, suddenly impatient. There was no point to being in heaven if she wasn’t there with him.
“You’re wife? Well, if your vows were anything like the rest of ours, they didn’t say nothing about any kind of obligation after death. You might just find out you don’t have a wife anymore.”
Minor finished his drink and held the glass, looking at it. Green glass blended into a red blush, and at the lip all color had bled away to the finest rim. “No, I know she’s somewhere around here, waiting for me. I just have to remember where we said we’d meet.”
“Well, I wish you the best of luck. Heaven could use a good romance.” The bartender made his way down the bar, rubbing the wood with a rag until it glowed.
Outside, Minor looked left and right down the neat dirt road. To the left, the buildings became more crowded and cars stopped for people as they crossed the street between busy sidewalks. To the right, the houses gave way to fields of yellow grass and the odd grove of trees. Minor turned right.