Excerpt from Changing Places
[The day of Ebenís funeral Emma, his widow, and Liz his sister, rock on a concrete slab turned summer house in Emmaís front yard.]
You should of looked at Eben, Liz. He looked so natural, just like he was gonna open those big blue eyes and talk to me.
I couldnít look at him, Emma. I didnít want to remember him like that.
You wouldnít of minded. He looked like he was sleeping. So natural. I took a picture of him with color film. I got all the flowers too.
[partially covers her mouth to conceal a smile.]
I could of sworn at times they smelled like coffee.
Coffee! Donít be ridiculous.
I know itís silly. I know they didnít. I was smelling memories, thatís all, just memories...
[closes her eyes briefly and takes a big indrawn breath through her nose.]
But have you ever seen so many pretty flowers?
I expect theyíre all withered now, Emma, in this heat. I hate to think of Eben lying out there in the hot sun, not a bit of shade anywhere around.
Well, I didnít have a tree to put over him, Liz. I donít think heís feeling the heat anyhow.
You say he took sick late at night?
[takes the black fan from her skirt pocket and slides it gently back and forth between her cupped palms.]
Yeah, it was pretty late. Weíd eaten supper and were getting ready for bed. I asked him if he didnít want to go out to the summerhouse for a breath of fresh air, but he said no. His arm was a hurtiní him, you see. At first he thought thatís all it was, just his arm a hurtiní him from carrying all that coffee, and he always had poor circulation. We thought thatís all it was. Poor circulation. Then he started sweatiní, and he got worse so sudden.
Did he wear his good suit to the hospital, Em? The one I bought him last summer? That pale blue grey suit with the slenderest of stripes? He looked like a million dollars in that suit.
Did he wear his good suit? Was he dressed properly when he went to the hospital?
[squints her eyes and leans in toward Liz]
I donít know what he wore! That boy was sick! Iíd of sent him in his long underwear if heíd had it on. He was SICK!
I know that. Donít be crude. I just wondered how he looked.
He looked sick. Thatís how he looked. SICK!
You said he died AFTER you got him to the hospital?
Yes. After. The ambulance came lickety split when I told them Eben was in a bad way. It may not be Savannah, but Eben was well known and loved in this town. It may have started out being the coffee, but in the end it was Eben they loved. All those beautiful flowers people sent.
Eben had one of those donor cards, didnít he? I remember him telling me he wanted to get one of those new donor cards as soon as they came out. I couldnít do that.
[gives a mild shudder]
Just the thought makes my skin crawl.
Eben was proud to have one. Thatís the way he wanted it. Always trying to help somebody else. You know how good hearted he was. And with his daddy dying of cirrhosis of the liver...
He was my daddy, my papa too, you know. Iím surprised Eben told you that. Not many people knew. We never talked about it. Any number of things can affect the liver, you know. Donít jump to conclusions.
I donít have to jump to anything, Liz, but I was sure glad coffee was Ebenís drink of choice.
How dare you insinuate...
Iím not insinuating anything. But even before they came out with donor cards, Eben talked about leaving his body to science. Now that bothered me. I just couldnít bear to think of Ebenís body laid out on a table some place and people poking and staring at him. I was glad when he got a donor card and wanted to give somebody his liver and kidneys. He said if nothing else they could study his liver and kidneys and see if coffee had any effect on Ďem. He said he might not have anything else worth giving, but he wanted somebody to have his liver and kidneys. See, Liz, some part of Eben is still out there. Part of Eben didnít die.
[Liz leans forward in her chair, her eyes fixed intently on Emma and speaks softly, barely above a whisper.]
You donít suppose he was still alive when they started cutting on him, do you?
[jumps up from the chair, her flat white sandals making a dull slapping noise on the floor. Puts her hands on her hips and leans over Liz.]
Liz, are you sick or something? What a question to ask. Of course he wasnít alive. You sure youíre feeling all right?
[sighs heavily and touches outer corners of her eyes with her handkerchief. Long pause.]
No. No, Iím not feeling all right. Thereís something I need to tell you, something important, but first, this heatís making me thirsty. Do you have a little something in the house?
A little something?
You know very well what I mean. Maybe some sherry or bourbon. Just a little something. Eben always kept something on hand.
Liz, you sure you want to start that? I got a big pitcher of iced tea made.
Oh, Emma, for Godís sake. We just got back from Ebenís funeral! Letís go in the house. Iíll fix a toddy or something.
You go ahead. Iím feeling kinda dizzy.
Can I bring you anything?
Just some tea is all. The pitcherís in the refrigerator.
[Liz walks toward the faint outline of a house at the back of the set. There is a slight rustling of leaves. Emma looks up at the sky.]
Lord, Iíve never asked for much, but I need your help real bad. Please help me get through this day. And not just get through it but get through it and still have a shred of self respect left. Liz is a hard woman, Lord, but I guess you know that. Amen