By Jared McVay
December 25, 1949, Christmas day and Jubal Courtney’s 104th birthday.
Jubal swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood up. Through the window he could see several feet of snow on the ground. He walked over to the bureau and grinned at the picture of a woman who smiled back at him. Jubal reached out and slowly let his finger trace the outline of her face.
“If you could only know how much I miss you,” he whispered. “These past nine years have been the longest and loneliest I’ve ever known. But don’t you worry none. After today, we’ll be together, again.”
Yesterday, Jubal had decided he’d been alone long enough and had gone out to the garage where he’d rigged a hose from the exhaust pipe to the inside of the car. Today he would start the car, lean back and close his eyes and wait for that long sleep that would reunite him with his beloved, Melinda.
In the kitchen, Jubal put a pot of coffee on the stove to perk, then went to the bathroom where he shaved and got dressed. On the way back to the kitchen, Jubal picked up the picture of his wife and took it with him, setting it on the dinette table.
As Jubal shuffled around the kitchen, turning off the fire under the coffee pot, taking a cup from the cupboard, and removing the half full bottle of Jim Beam whiskey from it’s hiding place behind the container of Quakers Oats, he talked to the picture.
“Remember how I used to joke about us being a team – like, Mutt and Jeff, cake and ice cream, the Lone Ranger and Tonto – and you would smile and pat my cheek and say, ‘I love you too, Jubal.’ Oh Melinda, how I miss those days. Why did you have to get sick and die?”
The picture of Melinda could only smile back at him as Jubal remembered standing alone next to her grave, tears streaming down his face, mixing with the rain that soaked him from head to foot, as he cursed God, the doctors and even the minister for his loss, wishing he would die here and now and fall into that black hole where Melinda rested.
But he didn’t die that day. Instead, he lived, on and on. And now, nine years, two months and twelve days later, Jubal Courtney was still the picture of health: six feet tall, and so robust and healthy he couldn’t even catch a cold.
Even though his hair was as white as the snow outside, it was still full and wavy. His teeth were still all his own and he could see and hear better than many of the younger men he knew.
Since the day he was married, eighty-two years ago, his weight had not varied more than a pound or two either side of 180 pounds. And he still walked five miles a day, rain or shine: the distance from his house to the graveyard and back, where each day he would visit with Melinda.
While downing three cups of coffee, Jubal thought over his plans and found no hitches. He would wear himself down by walking in the bitter cold, to the graveyard and back, then fortify himself with the whiskey so sleep would come easier and by the time the car ran out of gas, he would be with Melinda and the cold would keep him preserved until the county nurse arrived tomorrow.
Finding no flaws in his plan, Jubal donned his hat and heavy wool coat and headed out the back door. The thermometer on the back porch read, five degrees below zero and the snow from last night was beginning to crystallize and crunched beneath his feet as he walked along.
Overhead, the threat of another storm was evident as dark clouds rolled in, blocking the sun. Jubal smiled. Everything was going as planned. Six blocks from the house, Jubal turned onto the lane that led into the city park. The lane would take him past the small fishing pond and out the backside of the park to the road that would take him to the graveyard.
As he trudged along, Jubal allowed his mind to wander back to his childhood, when he and Melinda had played here. He had been Robin Hood and she, of course had been maid Marion. She would always smile at him and say, “Jubal, you will always be my knight in shining armor.”
Suddenly the air was filled with the sound of cracking ice, the splashing of water and the screech of a young girl’s voice, calling for help.
Jubal was still a short distance from the pond, but he knew instantly what had happened. A young girl had gotten a pair of ice skates for Christmas and had been too eager to wait for her parents to get up and had sneaked off to the pond to try out her new skates, and had fallen through the ice.
As Jubal ran, the girl’s cry for help stopped and he knew she had slipped beneath the icy water.
“Please, God, don’t let her die. Let me get there in time,” Jubal cried out as he ran up the small hill overlooking the pond.
As Jubal ran to the edge of the pond, he could see the hole in the ice, but no evidence of a child. Then a pair of hands appeared, followed by the face of the young girl, gasping for air as she tried to grab onto something, anything; but there was nothing to grab onto and she slipped once again beneath the icy water.
Without hesitation, Jubal pulled off his coat and ran out onto the ice and when he neared the hole, the ice broke and he slipped into the icy water. Just as his feet touched the shallow bottom, Jubal found the girl and pulled her upward until her head was above the water, again. Then he turned and with his fist, beat a path back to shore. Once on shore, Jubal wrapped the girl in his wool coat and with great effort, took her into his arms and stood up, looking around, unsure which direction to go. His body was wracked with pain and his teeth were chattering.
To his right, Jubal saw a man and a woman running in their direction. The woman was waving her arms and screaming,”Melinda!”
The young girl snuggled closer to Jubal, then looked up at him and said, “Thank you. You are my knight in shinning armor.”
Jubal looked down at her and smiled, knowing he wouldn’t be taking that long sleep any time soon.