LAUGHTER AND TEARS
By Anna Geddes
(*This story originally appeared in Anchors Away, now out of print)
The Admiral sat down heavily. He looked at the card in his hand again. Had it really been that long? Where had all the years gone? His one and only regret was that he could never show her Seaview. She would have been so proud that he had achieved the rank of Admiral. There was a knock at the door, so he put the card in a drawer quickly. "Come in."
Lee entered. "You promised to open the concert party. Remember, sir?"
"Yes, Lee. I had forgotten. I'll be right down."
Institute maintenance had transformed a room of Nelson's large home into a theater for the concert party. Backstage was the side of the house with furniture and some musical instruments. The Admiral could feel that the atmosphere was highly charged with exhilaration as all the men waited on tenterhooks to go on stage.
"Is everything ready, Sharkey?"
"Well, the curtains aren't working well,but I think we're ready, sir."
The Admiral stepped onto the stage. He trembled with the feeling of every eye being on him. "I announce, with pleasure, the opening of Seaview's first concert party. If this proves successful, I might make this an annual event. So please, have a good time.These men have worked hard and deserve your appreciation."
Riley began. He sang a medley of Beach Boys songs. The audience clapped in time and joined in the chorus. Riley finished to resounding applause. He was followed by a pair of jugglers.Richard and Eric, two of the newer hands,juggled, danced, fooled around, and generally had everyone laughing. Richard juggled with the clubs, then Eric came up behind, grabbed Richard's hat, juggled the hat and the clubs and carried on juggling,changing the pattern. Richard came up behind and took over the clubs again, then Eric came on with the hat on his head and took over the clubs. Richard grabbed back his hat from behind, then took over each of the clubs, finally juggling the hat and the clubs.
Then Eric asked the Admiral and Captain to come up on stage. "Here are the rules. No saluting and no being seasick.'' Eric lined them up."Ready?"
"Ready," Richard replied.They juggled across to each other in front and behind the two officers. Richard too kover the juggling until Eric came on in uniform; Richard saluted sharply, dropping the clubs everywhere. Nelson's memories came flooding back....
He hadn 't been a Captain for very long and was young for that rank. The day was calm and splendid, so he decided to drive over and inspect his new office and the submarine that was being worked on in the harbor. He had just begun to relax when she walked right in front of his car.
"That was a good way to get yourself killed."
"I'm sorry, sir. I was just admiring the sub and forgot."
She had the most beguiling smile he had ever seen and her eyes were the color of the sea. She had been carrying some files and dropped them when she had walked in front of the car.Nelson helped her pick them up. When they had every last slip of paper collected, she looked closely at his rank, realized he was a superior officer, and saluted him. Papers flew everywhere again.Nelson looked heavenward then bent down to help her again. Crash. Their heads banged together. Nelson leaned back and laughed one of his heartier laughs. They lifted up the papers again.Accidentally, they touched, reaching for the same paper and he felt a tingle spread through his body. Her name was Stephanie and she called him Harriman except when they were alone when she called him Harry and he called her Steffy...
Steve Kent came on next with his harmonica. He played a few tunes and played some requests. The men clapped and joined in. James Simpson came on and did bird calls by request. One or two of the men asked for a "pretty chick," but most were sensible. Ski asked for a seagull.
He took Steffy to the beach. She mentioned her interest in marine photography so they arranged to spend the day together looking for photographic subjects. They went snorkeling for most of the day. Steffy wrapped her camera in a plastic bag so she could take it with her underwater. Harry was amazed at her skill at catching seals at play. Later that evening, they lit a fire among some rocks.
"Steffy, I'd like to talk seriously to you." The fire was warm and comforting.
"Harry, you've never been serious in all your life." She leaned her head against his chest, his arm around her.
"I am being serious. Now listen. I...I think Iam falling in love with you."
"Careful, Harry. You are saying something you may regret."
"Listen, you idiot, I'm asking you to marry me." He turned her and kissed her.
"Did you ever doubt I would?" She smiled tenderly and then she kissed him back. They stayed on the beach until dawn...
Chip silently slipped out of his seat. The Admiral looked at Lee, but the Captain shrugged. After James had finished, Chip stepped onto the stage. "Chief Sharkey."
Sharkey saluted. "Sir!"
"I want the stage set perfectly for the next act. Do I make myself dear, mister?"
"That will be a bit difficult, sir. The propman is ill and the plans are missing," Sharkey said.
"I don't want excuses. I want it done now," Chip ordered.
"Yes, sir." Sharkey saluted sharply, and Chip slipped back to his seat. He smiled at the Admiral and Lee as he sat down.
One of the young sailors, Murdock, a small and slender man, came on with a big butch sailor who was wearing a wig and smoking a cigar. He had a very obvious streaming cold. They sat down on a couch.Murdock looked at Pennel, who played a girl, and said, "Darling, you are the light of my life." He added in a stage whisper, "Or you would be, if you took that cigar out ofyour mouth."
Pennel, irritated took the cigar out of his mouth and said in a high falsetto, "But,darling, what about my husband?"
"I love you," Murdock said.
"Sweetie, I have a headache," Pennel replied. Stage-whispering again, he added, "I have to blow my nose," then proceeded to do so.
Steffy's headaches became a bit of a joke between them. They had started two months after they were married. Every time he reached for her, she seemed to have a migraine. She began hating bright light and occasionally her vision would blur. When the sickness started as well, Harry teased her and called it morning sickness. They laughed about it, but eventually she became so incapacitated that she had to leave her work.
Harry Nelson, after some time teasing and persuading, got Steffy to see a doctor. On the day of her appointment, she was so bad with a migraine that Nelson went himself.
It was a splendid day and Nelson was in a good humor as he set off. Stefy had been talking about a holiday as soon as she recovered and there was some talk of a promotion in the air, so life seemed pleasant. He whistled as he entered the doctor's office.
"Captain Nelson," the doctor greeted him."Your wife sill not feeling well?"
"Unfortunately, no. She is lying down with another migraine. She asked me to come and get the results of her tests."
"I want you to brace yourself, Captain. WhatI must tell you will come as quite a shock."
The room darkened as a sudden downpour stated outside. Nelson heard the sound of rain on the roof and felt the arm of the chair and sat down.
"We have analyzed the x-rays and found a small shadow. It may be nothing. It may be a benign tumor, but I am afraid from her symptoms, that it may be malignant and it will certainly need to be removed."
"Yes, there may be complications, but unless we operate she will definitely die."
The doctor walked to a filing cabinet and poured a drink for the young officer from a bottle he kept there. He sat and watched Nelson for signs. After a while, he asked Nelson how he had arrived. When Nelson told him that he had driven, the doctor ordered a young marine to drive him home. Nelson protested that he didn't need the escort, but the doctor insisted. Nelson was grateful for the quiet marine.After asking where he wanted to go, the marine spoke sparingly, leaving Nelson to ponder over what he had heard.
Cancer. The very word frightened him. They had spent last night dreaming about what color they would paint the nursery. Now there was a chance they might never have children. What would he tell Steffy? How could hebreak the news?
"Steffy, we need to talk." He sat by the open fire.
"I'm not pregnant." She turned her face to him.
"It's . . worse. I'm afraid you have a small brain tumor."
"Cancer! No!" She backed away. "I would have known."
"They want to operate."
"No! I don 't believe it. I won't believe...no..."
"Steffy." He held her as she sobbed.
"You're a liar. ..you 're a liar." She thudded her fists into his chest....
The Admiral had, now, lost all interest in the concert party. He had become aware that Lee and Chip were watching him, but he didn't feel he could discuss this with them.Patterson came on stage, pretending to be Pennel's husband. He put the key in the door and he shouted, "Sharkey, this key doesn't work."
Sharkey shouted back from the wings,"Quiet, you fool. Try and act naturally. Climb through a window."
So Patterson climbed in a prop window.
"That's a closed window, you meathead,"Sharkey yelled.
Patterson crept up behind Pennel and Murdock and said, "So, this is what goes on behind my back." He searched in his pocket for a gun and couldn't find it. After trying all his pockets, he took his diary and pointed it at Murdock and shouted, "Bang!" Murdock fell over "dead" and Pennel raced over to Patterson.
"Darling, what will we do?"
"I'll rob the safe and claim he was a burglar." Patterson went over to the safe and found it was full of ice cubes. "I'll put your ice diamonds in his pockets." When he stuck the ice cubes in Murdock's pocket the cold made the "dead" man wriggle. The Admiral could see Lee and Chip almost falling out of their seats with laughter.He decided to try following the play. Patterson tripped over the "dead" body and walked over to the desk to phone the police. He looked in every drawer and even in the waste paper bin for the phone and couldn't find it. So he picked up a vase and pretended to dial the bottom of the base. Then he held the bottom of the vase to his ear and pretended to talk to the police. The Admiral's attention wandered again.
She looked so small and lovely, like a child,when they wheeled her away. He had made fun of her bald head and she had teased him right back. Nelson told her, he'd wait right there until she came back and she smiled and crossed her fingers as she was wheeled out of sight. She seemed to be away for ever.
After hours of waiting a senior nurse came and led him to a small room. A doctor with a brusque manner came in. "Please sit down, Captain Nelson." Nelson sat down slowly. "I am very sorry. While your wife was being operated on, she started bleeding heavily and suffered a massive hemorrhage. She died instantly. She felt no pain. There was nothing we could do."
His mind reeled in shock. He suddenly felt lifeless and drained. Everything he had worked for had turned to ashes. His career, the new sub he was working on for the Navy, the elegant house, life itself, seemed so meaningless now that she was gone. What would he do? Where would he go from here?
After a while, he returned to the ward and found all of Stephanie's belongings had been packed into a case. The ward was quiet. All patients seemed to be aware of the death.
One of them, a charming young girl, came up to him. "Sir?" she asked shyly.
"Before Stephanie left for the operating room,while you were talking to the doctor, she gave me this book and told me to give it to you if anything happened to her. She told me to hand it to you personally."
Nelson knelt down to her and took the small blue book. It was the size of a personal diary."Thank you. I hope your test results are good."
"They're all right, I guess." She turned and left.
Steffy had told him that this girl was dying of leukemia...
Lee closed the show and walked back with the Admiral to his cabin aboard Seaview. The Admiral knew Lee was waiting to find out what was wrong, but he wouldn't pry.The Admiral had taken the blue book with him, along with a card that reminded him about flowers for her grave. He had always kept the notebook with him.
He walked back to the control room. "Lee, I'm going topside. I want to be alone for a little while."
The Admiral climbed the ladder and opened the hatch, enjoying the fresh air. He opened the little book and read it again. He had read it so often that he knew it by heart. Every page was filled with jokes,laughs, and smiles that they had shared from the first time when she dropped her papers to the teasing the night before she went to the operating room. She must have intended to add to it after the operation. At the end, on the past page, she wrote, 'Remember the laughter, the friendship and the smiles. If you must remember me with tears, don't remember me at all.' He put the book back in his pocket and climbed back down.
"Head for home, Lee." And he returned to his cabin to enjoy the laughter and love from the past.
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