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by IE
Rated: ASR · Short Story · History · #2317402
A fateful announcement. Writer's Cramp Entry 949 words
“Happy Birthday, Jean!” My husband walks into the kitchen with his arms full of roses.

Drying my hands quickly, I step forward to accept them. “You remembered!” I exclaim.

“Forty-seven roses. One for each year. It’s my best girl’s birthday. Of course I remembered.”

Bill takes off his hat and places a quick kiss on the side of my neck before he leaves to hang up his hat and jacket. I giggle at the kiss. Neck kisses and roses from my husband on my birthday. I’m a lucky woman to be married to a man like Bill Kepler.

After setting the vase of resplendent yellow roses on the dining table, I hurry to get dinner served. I’ve cooked all my favorite foods. A girl can celebrate on her birthday, can’t she?

I call up the stairs. “Raymond! Kendel! Your father’s home. Dinner in five minutes. Hands washed!” Untying my apron, I head to the kitchen to hang it on the wooden hook Raymond made for me last year in woodworking class.

Bill heads to his usual seat at the head of the table, whiskey glass in hand. “You’ve outdone yourself, Jean.” He sits, then sips from his glass. “You’re planning on listening to the speech tomorrow, right?”

“Hiya, Pop.” Raymond greets his father before plopping his tall, lanky frame on to his chair. Kendel follows suit, sitting more gracefully after giving her father a kiss on the cheek.

“Yes, of course,” I reply to Bill’s question while passing the pork chops and mashed potatoes around the table. “We’ll all listen.”

As proponents of the civil rights movement, Dr King’s speeches are important events to attend. We can’t travel to them, but we can certainly listen to them on the radio, as do hundreds of thousands of other Americans across the country.

Conversation turns to other matters, including those of Raymond’s tryouts for baseball this weekend, and Kendel’s desire to have one last slumber party before high school graduation. Bill and I exchange glances over that one. I can just imagine the shudder running down his spine at the thought of a house full of hysterical teenage girls who refuse to sleep. No doubt Bill and Raymond will find something else to do that weekend.

The table cleared and dishes washed, we settle in the family room to watch the nightly news. It’s a ritual Bill and I have fostered in our family. The time is 6:30pm, Eastern Standard Time.

Raymond is in charge of turning on the television. After the set warms up, the face of our favorite newscaster, Walter Cronkite, appears on the screen.

“Dr. Martin Luther King, the apostle of non-violence in the civil rights movement, has been shot to death in Memphis, Tennessee.”

I stare at the screen, dumbfounded. Bill reaches over to take my hand. We watch silently until the commercial break.

“Mama?” Kendel scoots closer, concern and confusion written all over her face. She needs reassurance I can’t give her right now.

“He didn’t sneeze,” I murmur.

Bill pulls me into his lap, his arm steady around my shoulders. “Darling?” My words have confused him.

I look into my husband’s eyes. “He didn’t sneeze. For ten years, he didn’t sneeze.”

Comprehension dawns. He motions for Raymond and Kendel to come closer.

I rest my head on his shoulder, eyes closed.

“Ten years ago, your mother wrote a letter to Dr King,” he tells our children. “She wrote it after an attempt on his life, where a mentally unhinged woman stabbed him with a steel letter opener. The blade came close to piercing his heart. Too close.”

The news still plays in the background, the sound of Walter Cronkite’s voice just background noise at this point.

Bill continues the story. “In the letter your mother wrote to Dr King, she told him she was glad he didn’t sneeze. You see, the doctors told him that the woman had stabbed him so close to the aorta, even a sneeze might have killed him.”

Quiet tears run down my cheeks, wetting the fabric of my husband’s shirt. Groping for the handkerchief in his pocket, he tenderly wipes the tears away, as he will do many times in the coming days.

“Dr King mentioned the letter during one of his speeches. He said it was a ninth-grade white girl who sent him the letter, and that he was glad that he didn’t sneeze too.”

Bill sighs, pressing his cheek to the side of my head. “The main thing is that your mother wrote that letter, and her words touched Dr King. Bless his soul.”

We’re all four quiet. Bill rocks me gently, letting me grieve. In time, we turn off the television and head up to bed.

Later, after Bill and I have made quiet and tender love with each other, we lie close together. His arms are wrapped protectively around me.

Lost in my thoughts, I rest quietly in his embrace.

Perhaps this shocking assassination won’t have the same impact on our children as it does on us. Perhaps it will have more. Perhaps other brave men and women will stand up and take their place in the movement for equality and civil rights that Dr King has peacefully led these past years.

I whisper to my husband of my thoughts. “I’m still glad he didn’t sneeze back then in 1958. The world would have never known what a force he would be in the remaining ten years of his life. Perhaps one day Martin Luther King Jr’s dreams and hopes will come to pass. We will do our part, and more, to make sure that happens.”

“My love. My Jeanie,” he murmurs into my hair. “Dr King had a dream. It’s our dream, too.”

The End


949 words

There was an assassination attempt on Dr King’s life in 1958. Jean Kepler, a 37-year-old white woman, wrote a letter to Dr King in 1958, wishing for his speedy recover. https://www.miamitimesonline.com/news/found-the-long-lost-link-to-martin-luther-...

While Kendel is the real name of Jean Kepler’s daughter, the rest of the family and these events are a product of my imagination.

On April 4th, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated while standing on the balcony of his hotel room. Write a poem or story which is set during the immediate aftermath (as in within an hour or so) of the assassination of a prominent public figure.

Your protagonist could be one of the figure's companions, could be the assassin, could be a paramedic, could be an innocent bystander, could be someone hearing the news over the radio, etc. But, in any case, be sure to make it someone who's affected by the death and show his or her response.

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