Flash Fiction: For Better or Worse

Marriage is meant to be a lifelong commitment. But a lifetime has many challenges. That’s why the older marriage vows included the phrase “for better or worse.”

This poignant story tells how a couple handles their challenges.

For Better or Worse

Lynette M. Burrows

They came in together. Gray-haired, bent, similar in size and shape, they held hands. She laughed at his lame jokes. Her laughter lit his face with a sun-bright smile. They shuffled up to the emergency room’s front desk. 

Image of a woman's hand holding a man's hand, an illustration for Friday Flash Fiction: For Better or Worse by Lynette M. Burrows

The ER nurse put him in a wheelchair and rolled him back to the triage room. She listened to their concerns, then checked his blood pressure and listened to his heart and lungs. She told them there were no rooms right now but there would be soon. 

They returned to the waiting room and sat in hard plastic chairs near the interior doors marked staff only. And they waited.

His jokes slowed and her laughter grew strained. The nurses at the desk seemed to pay them no mind as they dealt with the people coming into the ER in ones and twos, and whole families.

And after a while, the nurse called his name. She took the old man in his wheelchair through the staff only doors and the old woman trotted after them. She helped the old man into a patient gown that tied in the back, then helped him onto a narrow bed she called a cart. The nurse in charge of this room will be here soon, she said. She pulled the curtain, closing them in. The old woman sat in the lone plastic chair against the wall. And they waited in the cold, bright room.

Outside the room, urgent voices spoke, radios squawked, and equipment rumbled past. Children shouted and got reprimanded. A man screamed for help. The old man’s smile grew uncertain. The old woman pulled her chair closer, held his hand, and murmured meaningless, soothing sounds.

A doctor whisked into the room. “What brought you to the emergency room today,” he asked. 

The old man opened his mouth and his eyes grew clouded then alarmed. 

The old woman patted his hand. “Don’t worry, dear. I’ll tell him. You interrupt if I get anything wrong.”

She related his long health history that was shorter than their marriage, but still very long.

The doctor listened and nodded and said they’d run some tests. 

The old woman smiled and thanked him. So did the old man.

A nurse came into the room and drew blood and started an IV and asked the man if he knew where he was. He answered every question, then gave a nervous laugh and glanced at the old woman. She smiled and nodded reassuringly.

The nurse closed the curtain again and hurried about her duties. Outside their room, drawers opened and closed, phones rang, and heavy things trolled past. And the old man and the old woman waited. They spoke of their dogs, their plans, and their new grand baby—number eight.

A kind woman with a thick brown bun came and rolled him in his bed out of the room and down the hall for some tests. The old woman waited with her hands in her lap.

After a time, they wheeled him back into the room. He smiled a worn, pale smile upon seeing the old woman and mumbled unintelligible. She reached for him. He wrapped his cold fingers around her warm ones. She told him everything was all right and that he could rest now. He closed his eyes. In moments, he snored softly but he didn’t let go of her hand. She didn’t either.

Doors opened and closed, people moved up and down the hall chatting about this and that. And the old woman waited with the old man.

A long time later the doctor came in, a hand gripped each end of the stethoscope that hung around his neck. He said the results had come in. The old man’s damaged heart was doing okay and his scarred lungs were no worse. His blood tests were normal for a man of his age. But the scan of his brain showed increased damage. Blood vessels had shrunk and the white matter had thinned. His brain is slowly dying, confusing his words and his body. We can admit him until we can find a place to take him, the doctor suggested. 

“Oh no,” said the old woman. “I said “for better or worse” and this isn’t so bad.”

They woke the old man who blinked and blinked and asked, “Am I dreaming?”

“We’re ready to go home,” she said.

He smiled a sun-bright smile, and they left together.


Did you like this Friday Flash Fiction: For Better or For Worse? If you did, please let the author know in a comment below. Want more flash fiction? Read: “The Yellow Rose of Valentine’s Day.”

The First Female Nobel Peace Prize Winner

In 1905, Baroness Bertha Sophie Felicita von Suttner became the second female Nobel laureate and the first female Nobel Peace Prize winner. She she wrote and passionately argued for world peace. She is the next subject in this month’s look at women of peace.

Image of Baroness Bertha Sophie Felicita von Suttner, first female Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Background

Born June 9, 1843 in Prague, Austrian Empire, she was the daughter of a count in the Austrian military.  Her mother’s family came from untitled nobility, making Bertha of “mixed” descent according to the standards of high Austrian aristocrats of the day. 

Education

While her family struggled financially, a cousin whose father was a private tutor moved in with her family. He taught Bertha literature and philosophy. Fluent in French, Italian and English, she also became a pianist and singer. She wanted to be an opera singer, but her stage fright prevented her from making opera singing a career.

First Published

Her first published work, the novella Endertraüme im Monde, appeared in Die Deutsche Frau in 1859.

In Love

She found employment as a tutor and companion to the four teenaged daughters of Karl von Suttner in 1873. She fell in love with the girls’ elder brother, Arthur Gundacca who was seven years her junior. Neither of their families approved of their relationship. 

Meeting Nobel

In 1876, Suttner answered an ad for a secretary and housekeeper. She worked for Alfred Nobel in Paris. They became friends and correspondents for the rest of his life. She’s thought to have influenced his decision to establish the Nobel Prize. Some speculate that he wanted her to win the prize.

Marriage

After a few weeks of working for Nobel, Suttner returned to Vienna and married Arthur in secrecy. The couple settled in Kutaisi, Georgia.

She and Arthur became journalists who wrote about the increasing ethnic conflicts in Russia and Central Europe.

Though they were impoverished, she thought they had everything.

First Novel

At age 42, she published her first novel, “Ein Schlechter Mensch“. 

She and her husband reconciled with Arthur’s family and moved to Harmannsdorf Castle in Lower Austria in 1885.

Electrified for Peace

In 1887, she learned about the International Arbitration and Peace Association (IAPA, The International Peace Bureau founded in 1880, one of the world’s oldest international peace federations). In her autobiography, she says the idea that such an organization existed electrified her. 

Her Best-seller

At age 46, in 1889, she writes her best-selling novel, Lay Down Your Arms (Die Waffen Nieder). Tolstoy and others compared it in popularity and influence with Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The book tackled the effects of war, the growing militarism of Europe, and the problem of extreme nationalism. 

Nobel Peace Prize Winner

After her husband died in 1902 and she moved back to Vienna. She continued to campaign for peace and argued that a right to peace could be–should be–international law.

She became the Honorary Vice President of Permanent International Peace Bureau, Berne, Switzerland. And she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 1905. She was the first female Nobel Peace Prize winner, the second female Nobel laureate. (Madame Currie won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903.) 

Her Work Continued

In 1911, she became a member of the advisory council of the Carnegie Peace Foundation.

Although ill and 71 years young, she was organizing the international peace congress scheduled for Vienna in August 1914.  

Baroness Bertha von Suttner, died of cancer on June 21, 1914. On June 28,1914 an assassin killed Franz Ferdinand, triggering World War I. The international peace congress never took place. 

Did you know about the first female Nobel Peace Prize winner? The German edition of her book, Die Waffen nieder!, and the English edition, Lay Down Your Arms, are available on Amazon in ebook and print.

Does the News Make You Disheartened and Afraid?

Are you disheartened and afraid after the recent horrific shootings in California, Texas, and Ohio? Take a minute to refresh yourself.

The news this weekend was overwhelming. People responded with grief and anger and a variety of other emotions. All those responses are appropriate. But it’s easy to take too much of that in. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we won’t be healthy enough physically, mentally, or emotionally work the changes we want to see.

To help you if you're feeling disheartened and afraid an image of Fred Rogers and Officer Clemmons with their feet in the pool and Mr. Rogers's words: "To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember by mothers words and I am always comforted by realizing there there are still so many helpers--so many caring people in this world."
Dr. François S. Clemmons [CC BY-SA 4.0 ]

Mr. Rogers said there’s comfort in looking for the helpers, and he was right. So, take a minute and look for the helpers. Let’s get started:

A Step Toward Cleaner Oceans

Irish Teenager Wins Google Science Award for Removing Microplastics From Oceans

“He used magnets to attract microplastics from water. The project found that a magnetic liquid called ferrofluid attracted the tiny plastic particles and removed them from the water. After nearly a thousand tests, his device successfully removed about 88 percent of the microplastics from water samples.” Read more.

Community Donation Event

While shopping for sandals for their vacation, her daughter asked to buy shoes for a classmate. It inspired her mother. And her mother inspired their whole community.

“A 9-year-old girl who asked if she could buy a pair of shoes for a classmate who couldn’t afford his own inspired her mom to take advantage of Payless’s going-out-of-business sales and buy out all 1,500 shoes at a shuttering location to donate to other kids in need.” Read more.

Truly Make Believe

A woman with dyslexia helps herself by helping others. And her mission grew into Truly Make Believe.

“For most of her life, Rachel Oehlert has struggled with dyslexia, often becoming confused when looking at words on a page or seeing letters as backward or upside down.”

“When her nervousness about reading aloud in grade school continued into adulthood, Oehlert, 24, of Thornton, Colo., thought she needed something radical to jolt her out of her fear.”

“In 2016, she came up with an idea. She bought a princess costume with some money she had been given for her birthday, then arranged to visit a children’s hospital bedecked as Belle from Beauty and the Beast.” Read more.

 Beaux & Paws 

A 12-year-old boy designs bow ties for shelter pets.

“Darius Brown was diagnosed with developmental delays when he was 2, but a hobby creating bow ties has helped him flourish — while benefiting the animals he loves, too.”  Read more.

I hope you don’t feel so disheartened and afraid. I wish I could say such horrific events aren’t likely to happen again. Unfortunately, we all know that’s not true. But, if you and I look to the helpers, we can beat the helplessness of feeling disheartened and afraid. And we can be helpers, too.