“Charlie, have you ever been to Disneyland?” I asked. Mom was standing at the countertop making pancakes and sausage and pouring Dad black coffee. I looked to the window. A new frost dusted the grass. “It’s a pretty morning, don’tcha think, Charlie?”

“Ugh, shut up already!” Robby yelled. “Charlie is not real, Liddy!” I turned to Robby and gasped, “Stop, you meany! Leave Charlie alone!” I turned to the chair next to me and put a comforting hand to the air in front of me. “I’m sorry, Charlie. Some people just don’t know how to behave. Mama, will you tell him that Charlie is real?”

“Rob, please leave your sister alone,” Mom sighed into her coffee cup and hung up her apron. “Your sister can have an imaginary friend if she wants.”

“It’s just so dumb!” Robby rolled his eyes and filled his mouth with buttered toast. He leaned back in his chair (“Rob, I told you not to lean in those chairs!” Dad yelled) and said, “I’m so sick of hearing about stupid Charlie! Get some real friends!” And with that, he noisily got up from the table and left for school.

“Wait for your sister, you two need to walk together!” Mom walked over to me and gave me a little kiss on the cheek and with a soft whisper in my ear she said, “Don’t let stupid boys get to you.”

* * * *

I thought of that memory as a tear ran down my crinkled cheek. It was so vivid in my mind. I looked down at the small prayer card I had collected from the baskets along the funeral home walls.

Robert Ulsted, September 21, 1947—June 20, 2013. Forever in our hearts, the card read. People walked around me, their black suits and dresses blurred together, moving in both fast and slow motion.

“How ya holding up, mom?” I heard Susan from behind me.

“Oh, I’m fine, dear. Thank you,” I gave her a little smile, before her toddlers Joe and Greg interrupted by bounding from across the room. “Careful!” I yelled, stopping them before they knocked over a vase of flowers. Susan kissed me on the cheek before running after the little munchkins.

The drone of voices in the room began to quiet as the pastor approached the front of the room for the prayer service. I gripped my rosary with one hand and the palm of my husband Chuck with the other.

Another tear made its way down my cheek and I glanced at my side to Chuck. He gave my hand a soft squeeze. It was time to say good bye.

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Homecoming

“Now, what did you say happened again?” The officer wrote on a worn notepad. I couldn’t see his eyes, but I could tell he was rolling them behind his dark aviators.  Marie was putting up a fuss on the boardwalk.

“I said, He jus’ took off with my purse. I paid a lotta money fa dat, ya know. I was jus walkin wit my girlfran Jessica here, and all a sudden this guy comes outta nowhere and rips my purse outta my hand. I screamed at da guy, but he just took off and I’m wearin these new heels I got from that shop on Grand Street. Ain’t they nice? I got em for only forty dollas,” Marie took a break from smacking her gum and blew a pink bubble that snapped loudly as it popped. I was almost embarrassed to be standing here with her. Passing tourists were stopping to gawk. I gave them a glare to scare them off—there was still a little Jersey left in me.

The officer sighed, “Yes, anyways, what did the man look like?”

“Hell if I know!” Marie barked. “He was wearin’ one of them black hoodies from that store down the boardwalk a ways. Ya know, Paula’s? Only reason I know that is ‘cause my fiancé Jimmy has the same one. I saw the label on the back, looks like the same one. Yeesh, it’s way too hot out here fa that though. My hair startin’ to get flat in the back. Ya know how long it took me to get it like this, and now I’m out here, sweatin’ my ass off because this dope stole my purse. An’ my friend Jessie is here visitin’ from Maine and this is just—“

“Ma’am,” the officer interrupted. “I just need to know what he looked like. Can you give me a general idea of how tall he was?”

“Ah jeez, he was like medium height, probly,” Marie pointed her finger at me. “Like the height of my friend Jessie. You gonna catch him?”

“I’m trying, ma’am,” the officer groaned. I felt bad for him—Marie was making this absolutely impossible.  It was great seeing her after all these years, but it just reminded me of how different I was after moving east for college.

“Well, I hope ya get him. I really liked that purse. Say, you gotta girlfriend? You want my friend Jessie’s numba?”