GRACIE’S BUCKET LIST
By Debra H. Goldstein
“David, if you could do one thing before you died, what would it be?”
Without opening his eyes, David reached across the space between their beach chairs and rested his hand on Gracie’s arm. He tugged his wife toward him, but when she resisted, he let his hand drop back to his side and resumed matching his breathing to the rhythm of the waves.
“I’m serious David,” Gracie said. She stared at the white imprints fading from her arm before picking up the notepad resting on her knees. “Have you ever considered making a bucket list?”
“Nope. No need.”
He lay perfectly still.
After eight years of them attending David’s June OB-GYN continuing education weekend, she knew he played the system by barely getting in the minimum number of classes while taking full advantage of beach time. Even a few hours of rays deepened the olive tone of his unprotected skin, so a full weekend baked him. Not her. Being a brunette with the fair coloring one would expect of a blond like David, she’d learned she could count on going home burnt and peeling despite slathering herself with the most popular SPF 35 brand.
“Is that what you’ve been doing over there? Making a bucket list?”
“Sort of.” Gracie stuffed her pad and towel into her beach bag. “I’m going inside to cool off. Do you want anything?”
Ignoring her offer, David pushed himself up on one elbow and stared at her. “So, what’s on your list?”
“Nothing much.” She glanced out to where green sea swirls blended into the blue-grey horizon while she decided how much to share with him.
“Oh, you know, little things like trying yoga or taking a quilting class.”
“That, I’ve got to see.” He turned over to give his back equal exposure to the sun. “Remember when you took that photography class?”
Gracie busied herself making sure she hadn’t left anything under her chair. With her head averted from David, she thought about when her instructor brought the class to this very beach for their final group shoot. She wasn’t sure how many images of dunes, seagulls, and the patch of wild daylilies growing near the pier she missed before she realized her lens cap was still on her camera. It would have been far less embarrassing to have her thumb or the camera’s cord end up in the pictures than to have so little to show for her efforts.
“Or, how about the pottery class you took last year?” David continued, while lying perfectly still.
Gracie didn’t respond. “Surely you recall how everyone was supposed to make a square box, but you ended up coming home with a half-moon shaped pencil holder.”
“I wasn’t trying to make a standard box,” Gracie said.
“Have it your way.” David paused to chuckle. “You meant to make an avant-garde holder.”
She bit her lip and walked toward the condo, but stopped and turned back toward him when she heard him sit up. He waited for her to focus her full attention back on him.
“Honey,” he said, “I love you and the things you try to do, but don’t you think you should strike anything requiring artistic or athletic skills off your bucket list?”
“No, no I don’t. I may not be the best at it, but why limit myself from taking yoga or metal crafting or anything else that might interest me simply because I’m not perfect at it?”
“Sweetheart,” David said, “sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. Can you imagine yourself in a yoga class? The instructor will say, ‘assume the dog position,’ and you’ll pose, teeter and topple over.” He smiled as he resumed his sun god position.
Gracie thought of emptying the remains of her melted cup of ice water on him, but then decided it wasn’t worth paying the price that came with getting David mad. Better to not point out she took the pottery class for fun rather than to become the most accomplished potter. No matter how much she argued with him, she knew she couldn’t explain how freeing it was to do what she wanted rather than household chores, handling billing for his medical practice or cleaning up after their labradoodle, Tootie.
She didn’t realize she had been talking aloud until David said “Don’t hold it against Tootie. You wanted a puppy.”
Gracie held her tongue. She wouldn’t admit that, at one point, having a dog had been at the top of her bucket list.
* * *
Dog wasn’t the pose that tripped Gracie up. She was trying to stand on one leg in the tree position when she lost her balance and wiped out two of her fellow students. Happily, it was the last night of her pre-paid introductory package so she didn’t lose any money by not going back.
She wasn’t as lucky financially at Sip and Paint.
The concept seemed simple: bring a bottle of wine, choose a picture to paint by number, and have a relaxing night of fun. Gracie brought a Chardonnay, chose a picture of waves lapping the beach, and went to town sipping and painting. The evening ended up being pricier than she counted on after she paid for another session for the woman whose painting Gracie drenched when she tripped and knocked over her wine.
Happily, other than having to recut a few fabric squares and getting a minor burn touching a mold before it cooled, the quilting, jewelry making, and hot wax casting classes she took during the next year proved to be far less eventful. The hardest thing about them was remembering to bring her shears, hooks, needles, mini torch and molding supplies to class.
* * *
“Well,” David said, over dinner after they finished discussing that he planned for them to attend the OB-GYN conference again. “With all the classes you’ve been taking, have you checked off everything on your bucket list, yet?”
“Not quite. There still are some special things near the top of the list that I intend to do,” she said. She reached for the serving spoon for the peas, but he beat her to it. He handed the spoon to her, brushing his fingers against hers.
“Name one,” he said.
“What’s left on my list wouldn’t interest you. Let’s talk about something important. With your 40th birthday and our 10th anniversary coming up, I’d love to give you something special. Surely, there’s something you’ve always wanted? Maybe going to a golf school or one of those week long baseball camps?”
David cut a piece of steak with his usual surgical precision. He took it from the plate to his mouth. She glanced at her watch and then drummed her fingers on the table. Gracie knew, unlike her, he wouldn’t deign to answer with his mouth full. She wondered if while he chewed, he would notice if she tossed a piece of meat from her plate to Tootie, who lay huddled under the table by her feet.
She restrained herself. If he caught her breaking his mother’s rule of never feed a dog at the table, they’d never finish their conversation. Better to wait for him to obey the six chews per mouthful rule his mother also instilled in him. “Surely, you have your own bucket list.”
He put his napkin on the table. “I told you before, I don’t have a list. There is something I’ve been thinking about doing that you could give me, but I can take it or leave it.”
“What is it?”
David stood up and came around the table behind her, ignoring his plate on the table. Gently he rested his hands on her shoulders and bent down and kissed the top of her head. She tilted her face up to meet his lips in a full kiss. Twisting in her seat so his hands slid off her, she repeated herself. “What is it you want to do?”
“I’d like to join a group getting together to do a big skydive during the next OB-GYN conference.”
“Skydiving? Don’t you have to do some practice jumps before you do a big jump?”
He blushed. “Some of my colleagues have gotten into it in a big way and bugged me to try it. You’re at class so much that I did this past week.”
“You jumped without telling me?”
“It wasn’t a big deal. I jumped tandem with an instructor. I was cinched to him and he pulled the cords and stuff. All I had to do was watch how I placed my feet when I landed. Gracie, it was so much fun.”
“Sounds scary to me.”
“Not a bit. It was breathtaking. Anyway, this group is putting together a private charter for during the OB-GYN conference weekend. I told them ‘no’ because I always spend my free hours on the beach with you and I didn’t think skydiving would interest you.”
“It doesn’t.” Gracie angled her head to get a better view of his face. “David, I’ve heard of parasailing at the beach, but skydiving?
“Some of these folks parasail, too, but this is special. Instead of rising from the water, gliding and then gently landing back in the water, the skydivers aim for a marked landing spot on the beach. The rush comes from soaring over the water, rock outcroppings and the beach.”
She smiled at him. “I love the idea of giving you something that excites you. If skydiving is something you really want to do, then count on me to be on the ground cheering and taking pictures. It will give me some practice using the zoom lens camera I bought for my photography class.” David bent forward and kissed her again.
“Well, if you really wouldn’t mind…”
“Not at all,” she said. “Whether you admit it or not, skydiving sure sounds like a bucket list item for you. You’ve been so supportive of my bucket list classes that this is the least I can give you.”
“Great! I’ll tell Carol to include me in the group.”
Gracie reached across the table to stack his dirty plate on hers. “Carol? Your nurse practitioner? I thought this outing was for those going to the OB-GYN conference.”
“They’re including a paraprofessional track this year so I thought it would benefit Carol and my practice for her to attend. You know,” he said, as she put their used silverware on top of their plates, “I think you made a wise decision not to jump.”
“Why is that?”
“Because with your track record, you’d probably end up landing like a smashed pancake.” He laughed at his funny, but Gracie didn’t join in. “By the way,” David said, “I’ll be late tomorrow night.”
“A drug rep is bringing in dinner and making a presentation to the staff.” He glanced at his watch. “Hey, you better get going if you don’t want to be miss tonight’s class.” He kissed her again and took the dishes from her hands. “I’ll clean up.”
* * *
On the way to the airstrip, David detoured down the beach road to show Gracie where to park near the landing spot. Turning the car around on a sand-swept patch of asphalt he pointed across the road. “Once I take off, bring our car to this lot and then take Tootie and walk across the road over to that area with the picnic tables and benches. You can get a clear view of us landing on the beach from there. Make sure though, if you end up moving around to take pictures, you tie her to one of the tables. Wouldn’t want her getting out on the landing X.”
“I’ll take care of Tootie,” Gracie promised. “You’re beginning to sound like you’re an old pro at this. Are most of the people skydiving today newbies?”
“No.” David tapped his brakes to avoid hitting a slow moving truck turned in front of them onto the two-lane road. Tootie barked as the car lurched.
Gracie looked back at the gear, which had been lying in their den for the past two weeks, but now shared the rear of their Pathfinder with Tootie. “I still don’t understand why you bought all this equipment instead of renting it?”
“I didn’t buy anything. Carol got some of her friends to lend it to me after you okayed me jumping with the group. Their shutes and rigged reserve are made of a sleeker material than most rentals. They swear by this new lighter weight stuff and thought I would have a better jump using it over the water.”
Gracie reached behind her seat and touched the exposed nylon. “It does feel pretty thin.”
“David, what is it about skydiving that excites you?”
He didn’t answer until he passed a truck and was safely back in his lane. “I don’t know. I think it’s because I get the same sensation I had during my first surgeries.” He shifted his eyes from the road to her for a second before continuing.
“Sort of a rush or high combined with feeling time is suspended. I did two runs with the instructor, but the last was the best. The sun was beginning to set, the sky streaked with reds and coppers. And yet, I could clearly see white and silver sun sparkles shimmering on the water. When I got lower, the sun continued to drop and the swirls beneath me became more like froth on a cappuccino. As I glided in, after we pulled our handle, the line distinguishing the sand from the waves blurred.”
“I’m only glad you didn’t get hurt landing in the dark.”
“Oh no, there still was enough natural light to see the beach. Besides, it’s wider at the landing point.”
Gracie looked out the windows on David’s side of the car trying to see how far the waves lapped up against the sand, but other than the big red X someone had laid out for the jumpers, there didn’t seem to be any obvious reason why David thought this part of the beach was so perfect for landing.
“Are you sure you don’t want to jump today?” he asked. “I can still rent you some equipment. It would give you a whole new perspective of the beach.”
“No thanks. You know me.” She unclenched her hands. “I love the beach, but only from the angle where my feet are planted in the sand. Without my contacts, I’m even unsteady when a breaking wave flows back out to sea. Can you imagine me trying to stick a landing?”
“That would be a sight,” David said. “You know you have to be careful how you place your feet on landing or you can easily break an ankle.”
“Then you better be careful.” Gracie patted Tootie, whose nose was resting on the back of her seat. “Tootie would be very dismayed if she couldn’t run on the beach with you.” She still was rubbing Tootie’s head when David whipped the car into a parking space near where several people were milling around a shanty apparently being used as a hangar.
David quickly got out and began grabbing his gear, while Gracie sat, sizing up the group. She recognized an obstetrician who always attended the conference, but whose name alluded her, Carol, and one of the newer doctors in David’s practice, but she didn’t know most of the people clustered together. From the way they laughed and whooped as a few men hoisted two coolers onto the waiting plane, she presumed they were a fairly jovial group.
“By the way,” David said, “watch what you say so you don’t make a fool of us. Carol told me most of this group has been doing this for quite some time and are actually licensed skydivers or hobbyists. In fact, don’t let them hear you calling it skydiving. Hobbyists say they are jumping.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
He shot her a look, but she ignored it. “Come on, Gracie. They’re waiting for me.” He slammed down the tailgate and started walking toward the group.
Following, with Tootie in tow, she swallowed hoping it would take the sour taste out of her mouth. Gracie waved at Carol and the OB whose name she couldn’t remember. Carol raised her hand acknowledging her, but the doctor was too busy strapping his equipment on.
David joined them and immediately reached into his bag for a yellow and blue jumpsuit. Gracie watched as Carol helped him put it and his chute on and then tightened one of his straps. Making sure to remove her lens cap, Gracie shot pictures of them and then took some of the other hobbyists prepping for their jump.
In the back of the hangar, she saw two men on their knees folding and rolling up parachutes. She photographed the way they separated and straightened out the balloon nylon, ropes, and metal rings before making tight wads of everything. “David,” she said, pointing at the men, “what are they doing?”
“Packing reserves. Skydivers pack their main gear, but they always hire somebody else to pack the reserve. Each rigger who packs a reserve puts a piece of thread and a wax seal on it so the jumper will know the reserve hasn’t been tampered with.”
Gracie put her hand on his arm to stop him again, but he shook her off and moved closer to where Carol and the rest of the group stood. Gracie sidled up to him and quietly interrupted his socializing. “Did you check your reserve?”
“Honey,” he said turning and giving her a big hug. “You don’t have to worry. A professional rigger packed and sealed both the main and the reserve for me before I brought the gear home.”
“But that was last week? Is it still okay after sitting around our house all week?” She pointed at the two men repeatedly rolling everything into small bundles. “They look like they’re making everything fresh today.”
David’s eyes followed her outstretched finger. “Gracie, this isn’t a bakery.” He turned toward her and took her hands in his. “Carol already did a visual check of my chute and reserve and everything is in order, but Gracie, are you worried about me? Do you want me not to do this?”
“Yes. No.” She pulled her hands back and then reached down to steady the camera hanging from her neck. “I mean, yes I’m worried about you and want you to be safe,” she said, snapping his picture, “but I definitely want you to jump solo. “Go for it!”
He grinned at her and then, giving her a thumbs-up, joined the other hobbyists. Gracie held back so that she could capture the entire group boarding the plane through her lens. She might not be jumping, but she had promised to record every moment of David fulfilling the only thing on his bucket list.
* * *
After the malfunction or mal, as she learned was the word in the vernacular, the police carefully looked at her pictures. There were people laughing as they put on their gear; a photo sequence of Carol and David opening each other’s closing flaps to do their required first pin checks before they got on the plane, and pictures Gracie hadn’t been able to stop shooting of David spinning out of control to the beach after the single-pull D-ring handle that should have cut away the bad main and opened the reserve failed. Based upon what everyone said, the rigger’s logs, and how well Gracie’s pictures depicted David and the group following prescribed safety procedures, his death was ruled a tragic accident.David’s funeral, dealing with his practice buy-out, taking long beach walks with Tootie that became runs, and ridding the house of the clutter from David and her various arts and crafts classes made it impossible to complete her wax molding and quilting classes. Much as Gracie regretted not finishing, she decided against taking either class again. As she packed away her shears and molding tools, she realized craft classes no longer interested her. In fact, once she deposited the check from the insurance company in the bank, there would be nothing left on her bucket list.
Judge (ret.) Debra H. Goldstein is the author of Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery (Five Star Publishing - March 2016) and the 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue, a mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus. She also writes short stories and non-fiction. Debra serves on the national Sisters in Crime, Guppy Chapter and Alabama Writers Conclave boards and is a MWA member. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband, Joel, whose blood runs crimson.
Copyright © 2015 Debra H. Goldstein. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!
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