This great, big house.

In the early, gray morning, about the time fog becomes dew and day lilies begin their ritual greeting of the sun, “Big Jim” Buchanan smokes.

It’s been a long day already for the old man… Sarah’s had him up since about 2 this morning. She coughs so hard these days, the menageries on her bedside table rattle and shake and clang about and Jim just plain can’t sleep.

He starts out in the bedroom, holding Sarah’s hand or rubbing her calloused feet until she drifts away. He usually falls asleep fully clothed, sitting up, but when Sarah begins her coughing, Big Jim moves to the front porch to smoke… and wait.

The Buchanans’ children left home years ago. Jim, Jr. is an architect in Atlanta. Anna married a Navy man and has been in Hawaii for the past 7 years. Benjamin died in a car accident at the age of 19. So, it’s just Jim and Sarah now. Alone. Together in this great, big house.

Sarah fell ill only a few weeks ago. Her chest began hurting and the wheezing in her lungs became so that Jim drove her to Birmingham for a check-up. Cancer. It’s only been a month, but Sarah already forgets her place. Jim has to remind her every morning why she can hardly draw breath and they routinely weep together. Alone in this great, big house.

Jim cooks breakfast and serves his bride: Two eggs, over-light. Bacon. Biscuits. Buttermilk. And Sarah’s very own blackberry preserves. Sarah tries to eat because she knows how badly he needs her to stay strong. But it’s too much. And she’s too tired.

Jim smiles a big, toothy grin and kisses her on the nose — the way he’s done every day of their life together. Sarah coughs. Jim cleans the dishes and whistles her favorite tune. Sarah becomes quiet and drifts away.

Big Jim returns to the bedroom and covers Sarah with her favorite blanket — making sure the tassels fall short of her face and fit snugly beneath her chin.

Sarah rests quiet now. And Big Jim smokes.

Alone, in this great, big house.

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