A large, red digital clock cut through the silence of the morning with the nerve-wracking whine of a circular saw.  The horrible sound divided the night from day with a sudden, offensive, jagged-toothed line that startled John Millet.  A jolt shot through his body and jerked him awake.  He fumbled and slapped for the snooze.

Ten more minutes…

A few years beyond the threescore and ten life-span allotted by God, John was now in the grace period of his life and felt his happy days ticking down.  A light bulb grows brighter before it burns out.

Normally, the elderly John was already wide-awake a half hour prior to the scheduled alarm and he’d simply click the OFF button before the wretched noise ever had a chance to taint an easy slide into the day.  Better to wake to a large choir of cheerful birds praising their Creator.  But not today.  Not this morning.

Lola—John’s faithful wife of fifty-two years—had suffered with shortness of breath throughout the night.  Her precious light was flickering.  The struggle to breathe had filled John with angst until almost 3 a.m.  Asthma and COPD are not a good mix.

Both were finally sleeping deep when the alarm sounded again: the full-volume, shrill frequency of an empty AM radio station can wake even the dead.  The noise somehow translated into John’s dream and, at that very REM moment, he found himself driving a yellow school bus across the red, rocky surface of Mars.  Somehow, he’d gotten lost on what was supposed to be a field trip to the Grand Canyon.  He saw planet Earth off in the distance but couldn’t quite make out South Carolina without his glasses.  Panic seized his chest.  He’ll never make it back to the school on time.  He picked up the radio: 216 to base!  216 to base!  Taylors—can you hear me?  Nothing but static…

Lola was alternating between laughter and an uncomfortable coughing fit when John opened his eyes and flailed for the OFF switch (which was the unresponsive radio in his dream).  “You were talking—in your sleep.  Already—having trouble—on your first day—back to school, honey?”   After two puffs from an inhaler, she wrapped around her husband like a vine.  The two held each other a few moments longer in the dark while John related his dream and blamed it on a late night of watching numerous episodes of The Twilight Zone with his ailing wife.  The exhausted but cheerful couple found themselves swaddled and soothed by a calmness of body and soul known only to those who’ve loved “for better or for worse” for over half a century.  Love is like a heating pad in old age—a gift from God in a world that becomes as cold and strange as planet Mars with the passing of time.
___________
Andrew Dabar
(Excerpt from, “Mr. John,” the untold story of a school bus driver)