This story first appeared on Christian Fiction Online Magazine. Set in Savannah’s beautiful and haunting Bonaventure Cemetery, the story not only focuses on an elderly man from his perspective, but on broken dreams and what should be the real focus of our heart and efforts.
The Greatest Fan
A few more feet and then they could do whatever they wanted with him.
Frank Habersham eased his car between the brick posts of Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery. The Impala he’d purchased when his daughter was still in high school rattled and slowed as if terrified to cross the threshold of the resting grounds. He gripped the steering wheel. “Don’t worry, ol’ gal. It’s not time yet. Even if Marcy thinks otherwise.”
He nudged the car past the entrance and onto a road covered with dirt the color of fine ash. Palm fronds intertwined with gray moss tangled in the boughs of oak trees formed a canopy between the Georgia sun and the ground, shading most of the graves. Despite its intended purpose, Bonaventure was a slice of heaven in its own right. If he’d had a choice about it, he would pick this place to rest his bones, even if Caroline was buried on the other side of town. She’d never know unless God told her. But the lots had long been taken.
He drove into the shade. Air, sultry but cooler than the car’s interior, flowed around him, bringing with it the smell of fresh-cut grass and muddy water from the nearby Savannah River.
“Moonlight, sparkling on the river of love,” he crooned. One of his best. But he’d composed it near the end of the era when disco was catching on. It made a few sales after Harry Connick, Jr. brought back real music to the airwaves, but then that George Strait boy came up with a country version.
“It isn’t fair, Caroline. Mine was just as good or better, wasn’t it?”
A gust of wind swirled through the window and caressed his face as his wife used to do. Something hot burned his eyes. He brushed away the dampness and nudged the car around a corner, past magnificent concrete arches that represented the entrance to heaven, and concrete angels mourning the loss of someone who’d left their mark on Savannah, or on the world.
He didn’t pause to read headstones as he usually did. Not today. The grave he wanted was just ahead, off to the right. Frank pressed the brake. The car slowed, but not as fast as he’d hoped. It slid to a stop between a dirt grave surrounded by a cement border on one side of the path, and a member of the Mercer family on the other. But at least it stopped this time.
He stepped out. Using the car for support, he lumbered around the rear bumper. Two steps led up to the grave and a bench beside it, and he dragged his feet up the rungs, landing square in the middle of each despite the wobble in his legs. Near a long slab of white marble, he lowered himself onto the matching bench that faced the grave site. The rustling of leaves and chitter of birds filled the air, along with the quiet grind of approaching tires. If someone else wanted to see Johnny, they would have to wait. This was his time. His last visit with the great man. Rather, what was left of him.
John Herndon Mercer
Nov 18, 1909
June 25, 1976
“Let the Angels Sing”
Resting atop the grave was a perfect long-stemmed red rose.
Johnny Mercer. His fans loved him. Loved him so much, they flocked to his grave, left roses, talked about his songs even though he’d passed on long ago. Songs they still sang. Tunes that had changed the world.
But who would remember Frank Habersham?
“I tried, Johnny. I spent my life on music. I almost gave it up after marrying Caroline—she deserved a nice home—but she said no, I had a gift. A gift God surely intended me to use. I believed that too.”
He held up his hands and wiggled his fingers, a few as gnarled as the limbs of the ancient oaks around him. “No more. They’re done for.” He dropped his hands on his knees. “And so am I.”
The cell phone Marcy demanded he carry rang in the breast pocket of his short-sleeve shirt. Despite the heat, a chill from the marble bench on which he sat crept up through his trousers. Punching the button she’d shown him, he answered the call and pressed the contraption to his ear.
“Daddy? Oh my, Daddy where are you? I came by to pick you up, but you weren’t here. Your car is gone. Please tell me you didn’t drive somewhere.” Her voice, rushed and breathless, broke the tranquility surrounding him.
“I’m fine, pumpkin.”
“Thank the good Lord. Now tell me where you are and I’ll come get you. We’ve got your room all ready.”
Years of struggling to make it in the biz. Playing small stages around the country. Even shaking hands with Johnny Mercer once. Gone now in exchange for a room across the hall from his grandson. A kid who preferred video games to music.
“Swell, honey. I’ll be back at my house as soon as I’m done here.”
“Daddy, you’re not supposed to drive, you know that.”
“I’m three miles away. I’ll be fine.”
He ended the call and returned the phone to his breast pocket. “Final call. I guess it’s time.” He pushed against his knees and stood. This would be his last visit. From that point on, Marcy would arrange his days, his outings.
“Goodbye, Johnny.” He touched his finger to his forehead and saluted the elegant grave, its sole decoration the long-stemmed rose. “You did good.”
He trudged to the car without stumbling. As he opened the door, a splash of blue in the sparse plot beside his car caught his eye. He leaned closer. Near the headstone of a child, a perfect blue morning glory angled itself toward sunlight filtering through the trees.
A salty tear trickled down his face and into the ash-colored dirt at his feet. Morning glories. Caroline’s favorite. She loved the way they coiled around the porch railing each summer where she could enjoy them as she sat outside with a cup of tea. This one was about as pretty as they came. Growing alone in the dirt as it was, it couldn’t have been put there by anyone but God Himself.
A reminder, Caroline would have said in that loving way of hers, that God was the only fan he needed to worry about, whether he sang on stage or after dinner at Marcy’s. And only for the Father should Frank and the angels sing.
“You’re right, Caroline. As you always were.” Frank wiped the sweat and tears from his face, then dropped into the driver’s seat one last time. “Come on ol’ girl. It’s time to leave. My audience is waiting.”