Margaret Daniels awoke in the night to music that only she could hear. She sighed and wondered if she could go through with her plan, even though she knew she didn’t have a choice. The singing was only getting louder.
At being close enough to ninety that she didn’t bother counting anymore, Margaret was supposed to be finally allowed some peace, but she hadn’t had a good night’s sleep since first hearing the music almost a month ago.
The Brookfield Retirement Home wasn’t much to write home about, even if one of the residents still had kids who cared to hear from them. The walls were paper thin, and Margaret could swear she knew more about her neighbors’ kids than she knew about her own. Consequently, the first night she woke to the muffled sounds, she blamed Barbara Young. Barbara’s husband had recently passed. Margaret assumed the music was part of her mourning, but after three nights, she complained to The Management. Barbara claimed innocence, and Margaret had been further infuriated when The Management told her (rather smugly) there hadn’t been any other complaints.
It wasn’t until she started hearing the music elsewhere– still very distant and muffled but somehow familiar– that she got nervous. She even considered talking to the Resident Quack, but when the song grew loud enough to finally discern the tune, and when Margaret finally looked at a calendar, she discovered what no doctor would be able to decipher. Except for maybe one of them voodoo doctors.
As a teenager, Margaret had loved the song “You Are My Sunshine.” What girl hadn’t? But the song took on new meaning when Herbert (God rest his soul) sang it to her on the night he proposed. Ray Charles had released his version that year, and when Herbert took the stage in a packed jazz club, it was in Ray’s style that he sang before asking for her hand.
Margaret had already been through one bad marriage and wasn’t necessarily ready for another, but she agreed. Herbert sang “You Are My Sunshine” again on their wedding day. He bought her the record for Christmas. And on their first anniversary, Margaret awoke to find her bed covered in daisies and Herbert serenading her, dancing around in his boxer shorts, as smooth as if he had been back in that jazz club.
There hadn’t been a second anniversary.
But now, almost 48 years since his death, Herbert was singing Margaret’s song once again. The first night she awoke marked exactly 49 years since Herbert had proposed. And tonight would’ve been their 49th anniversary.
Margaret climbed out of bed and got dressed. After making sure she had everything, she slung on her oversized shoulder bag, grabbed her cane and crept out of her room. She found Bobby The Intern asleep on one of the chairs in the lounge.
She prodded his leg with her cane. “Do you have everything in your truck?” she asked
Bobby cracked one eye. “That depends,” he said. “You got my cash?” Bobby The Intern was a lazy slob, but like most lazy slobs, it only took the right amount of money for them to do something most others wouldn’t.
Margaret pulled out a wad of bills and waited impatiently while Bobby counted. Satisfied, he smiled. “Let’s go.”
As they drove, the song grew louder in Margaret’s head. “I’m coming, dear,” she murmured, ignoring Bobby’s sideways glances.
When they arrived at the cemetery, Margaret told Bobby to wait in the truck. She shouldered her bag and climbed out, shuffling slowly through the headstones until she came to Herbert’s. As if on cue, a hand broke through the soil. As if keeping time, the fingers snapped while Herbert used his other hand to claw out of his grave.
Margaret had come to expect this, but she hadn’t planned on Herbert looking as handsome as the day he died. She dropped her cane and walked up to Herbert. He engulfed her in his arms and they kissed. The singing finally stopped in her head.
Then the stench hit Margaret. Worse than the time her daddy’s dog hid all those dead rats under the house. When she pulled back, she found Herbert looking more as she had imagined he would, the way someone should look after being embalmed for nearly 50 years. And exposure to the air wasn’t helping. He was decomposing more by the second… until she barely recognized him. Only the eyes bulging from their sockets were familiar.
“I’m here to take you with me, my sunshine,” he gurgled.
“I know you are, dear.” He tried to pull her back toward him, but Margaret reached into her shoulder bag and pulled out a chef’s knife. In what was probably the fastest she’d moved in months, she slashed through Herbert’s neck. His head lolled back, splintering his brittle spine, then the corpse dropped to the ground, and the head rolled back into the hole.
“Maybe you’ll stay dead this time,” Margaret said and spat.
Bobby walked up carrying a shovel in one hand and holding a vinyl 45 record, still in its paper sleeve, in the other. “Sweet Jesus,” he said when he saw Herbert.
“I told you to wait in the truck.” Margaret shook her head and sighed. “Well, quit lookin’ stupid,” she said. “You knew this was part of the deal.”
Bobby stared at her, and she could tell he was considering giving her back the money and returning to the retirement home, maybe without her. Then he must’ve remembered what he could do with that money, and he shrugged. “Whatcha want this old record for?” he asked. “You want me to bury him with it?”
“That was the plan.” Margaret took the record and pulled it out of the sleeve. It was Ray Charles’ You are My Sunshine. She flipped it up in the air, and it spun a couple times before landing on Herbert’s chest. The B-side was facing up. Hank Williams.
Your Cheatin’ Heart.
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