Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Mary's Story Part Four

(A short story of Fiction) Conclusion

We never got the chance to help Mary.
Two days after that visit, my husband's mother suffered a bad fall, breaking her hip and causing considerable extra damage.
For the next two weeks, when we weren't at Mother's bedside, we were running up and down the road at a frantic pace. Our visits to Mary were cursory and brief.
Through that time, she remained a beacon of light in a darkening world. Cheerful. Helpful. Always there with a smile and a story.
Ready sympathy.
And tea.
When complications set in, we were again by Mother's side, watching helplessly as she slipped quietly away from us.
Broken-hearted and feeling very much alone and vaguely as though we had failed somehow, we spent the next two weeks in a fog as we cleared out the family home and took care of the multitude of services that accompany letting go of someone so dearly loved.
It was a painful time for both of us.
Finally, feeling drained and ineffectual, we were once more in the car and on the road home.
Mary's house appeared in the front window.
"We can no longer be of help to my mother," Frank said softly. "But there's someone else we can help."
We didn't do anything for her during our visit with Mary that day, but it was exactly what the two of us needed.
She made us sit, served us tea and encouraged us to talk about Mother. Choice memories long buried were brought to light and, by the end of the visit, we were even laughing.
It was the beginning of healing.
With one thing and another, the next month passed far too quickly. Without the added incentive of returning to Mother's home, we found it difficult to make the time to visit Mary.
But finally, on a clear, bright Sunday, my husband made the familiar turn.
We found ourselves parked beside a strange vehicle.
Mary's car was nowhere to be seen.
We looked at each other and I shivered. We both knew it. Something was wrong.
We got out quickly and hurried toward the front door.
But the sight of two unfamiliar figures seated on the stone steps stopped us. "Hello?" one of them said.
We approached slowly.
"Hello. I'm Mary and this is my husband, Frank--" I began. I stopped. The couple, a young man and woman were staring at us strangely.
"We know who you are!" the young woman said softly, reaching out her hand. "We wondered if you'd come. We hoped we'd be here if you did."
I raised my hand doubtfully and felt it gripped tightly.
"What's the matter--?" Frank spoke up beside me.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Of course you don't know!" The woman dropped my hand and locked both of hers together. "I'm Mercy Edwards. This is my husband Jacob. We have quite a story to tell you."
"Yes?" Frank prompted.
"Well, she--the woman who lived here. She's--dead."
The words went through me like a bolt of electricity. "Oh, no!" I whispered.
Mercy turned to me. "I'm afraid it's true."
"But how? The last time we saw her, she was fine. Happy!"
Mercy smiled softly. "Yes. I'm quite sure she was." She took a deep breath. "And that's something we need to talk to you about." She turned towards the doorway. "Please, come in. I'm afraid this is going to come as a bit of a shock."
We followed her and Jacob up the steps toward the sweet, familiar home with dragging feet.
How could this be? My mind struggled to take it in.
They paused just outside the door.
Or the gaping hole where the door had been.
And that's when I began to notice the differences.
The front stoop that had been so neat and tidy was looking--neglected. Leaves and dirt had blown up and piled against the stone walls.
The tubs of flowers, so cheerful and bright had disappeared.
The sparkling clean windows were gone. I frowned and moved closer.
Gone. As though they had never been.
Everything seemed to slow down. I turned to Frank and clutched at his hand. He turned a pale face to me. "What's going on?" His voice was faint.
"Please," Jacob said.
Dazed, I looked at him. He and Mercy had moved through the doorway and paused there. He was beckoning to us.
Clutching Frank's hand, I followed them.
Mary's lovely, tidy home had been transformed.
Gone were the furniture and trappings. Curtains. Rugs.
The remaining bare, stone floors were heaped with dirt in little piles and eddies.
We walked through and into the kitchen.
The stove was gone. As were the table and chairs. The old sink, containing the remains of what looked like an ancient bird's nest was the only thing I recognized.
Frantically, Frank raced through into the bedroom. I followed slowly, stopping in the doorway.
The room was empty.
Completely empty.
The back door hung precariously on a single hinge.
The ragged shreds of the curtain that once covered it waved gently in a soft breeze that blew through the opening.
Frank came slowly back into the kitchen. "But this looks as though it has been deserted for--years.
Mercy nodded. "It has."
"But we were here--" he paused.
"Just a couple of weeks ago," I finished for him. "We saw Mary. Spoke to her. She was cheerful. Loving. Help-ful." My voice broke on the word.
Again Mercy nodded. "Not surprising. That sounds like Mary. That's what she is."
"Was," Jacob said.
She looked at him and smiled. "Is."
He shrugged, then nodded. "And this is the part I need you to prepare yourselves for. Mary died--" he paused.
"Yes?" I said. I shivered and moved closer to Frank. I suddenly felt cold.
"Mary died about ten years ago."
I had to sit down. I dropped abruptly to the dust on the cold, stone floor.
"But--how--? What--?"Frank was as confused as I.
The couple smiled. "Mary--comes back," Mercy said.
We stared at her.
"When people need her, when someone is alone, she comes back." She tipped her head to one side as she stared at us. "Have you been having some troubles?"
"Well--" Frank said slowly. "My mother just passed."
Mercy nodded.
"Mary helped us immeasurably. Especially in the last weeks."
"That's Mary. She just--knows. And cares." She straightened. "There's something else you need to see."
She and her companion moved through the kitchen and back into the front room.
Moving stiffly, I got to my feet and followed.
She was standing, staring at the fireplace.
Instinctively, my eyes followed hers.
There, framed neatly above the cold, long dead firebox was a large picture of Frank and me. The two of us were leaning towards each other and smiling broadly for the camera. Behind us, through clear glass windows, one could see the mountains, close up and falling away into the distance. The sun was just setting behind the furthest ones.
It was a beautiful picture.
Obviously the one taken by Mary with her ancient camera on our very first visit.
"Oh," I said, rather ineffectively.
Frank gripped my arm tightly.
"I think I need to sit down again," I said.
The two of us moved instinctively toward the spot where Mary's old, horsehair couch had stood.
And received yet another shock.
There on the window sills, exactly where they had been before, stood my row of plants. Healthy. Waving gently in the breeze blowing in through the gaping windows.
"We check in here periodically," the young man said. "And as soon as we walked through the front door, of course we saw the plants. And the picture. We figured that Angel Mary must be back."
"Angel Mary," I said.
"That is what she is. Our family angel." Mercy smiled and held out her hand. "Welcome to Angel Mary's forever family."


  1. What a beautiful story! Gave me goose bumps!
    Keep up the great writing, sweet sister.

  2. I've got chills and tears in my eyes. We could all use an Angel Mary in our lives. Why did I have the feeling right from the start that this was a ghost story?

  3. What a sweet ending to your story, Diane. And Delores was right - ghost story. Well done; well done.

  4. Well I was half right in thinking Mary was a ghost. But I was thinking a temporal time shift occurred each time they drove up to the cabin and their Mary was the future ghost of the current Mary.

  5. Echoing other comments. Through misty eyes.


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Diane was born and raised on one of the last of the great old Southern Alberta ranches. A way of life that is fast disappearing now. Through her memories and stories, she keeps it alive. And even, at times, accurate . . .

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