“No Grave Today,” by Scott Lasley

Wilburt Hadley sat quietly in his tan folding chair. Miss Joyce and Miss Earline sat across the white plastic table from him reading old issues of Hearth and Home and Cappers, their page turns the only real noise aside from Forrest coughing in his power chair across the room. Age and inclination kept him from moving from his chair again, but he enjoyed listening to, and watching the assistants as they bustled around the common area, bringing today’s residents their orange juice cups.

Wilburt tapped the table shakily with his hands, whispering in earnest, “Y’all seein’ them lil’ young folks sittin’ up all close to Miss Mary and missuh Jim ove theya?” Miss Earline, a woman of formidable stature, even for her age, slapped her Cappers down on the table, surely losing her spot, but she looked around the room and saw about ten or twelve twenty-somethings scattered around at different tables. There were even a couple of the boys and a girl up the front of the room with instruments looking like they were gonna start playing songs or something.  She noticed that Mary had already found someone to flirt with, the poor kid.

Music seeped around the room as a few from the group of young folks picked up their instruments to play and began to sing. Two guitars, a drum that stood on the floor, held tilted toward the young man playing it and one young woman singing harmony to each song presented. Heads rose and fell in positive acknowledgment of the music. Even Miss Earline began singing with them. Wilburt had turned his chair to face the group and had his tired eyes closed up and his left arm bracing himself on the table as his feet patted the floor in time with the music. At 103 years old, the syncopated rhythm of his beating feet was right in line with the boy deftly manipulating sounds with the drum in his hands. That drum, whatever kind of drum it was, coaxed Wilburt’s tan folding chair slightly away from his table and closer to the source of the music. As the music started again, Wilburt had produced two different harmonicas from the folds of his wool cardigan and was playing along with the music.

The notes started off tender and sheepish, but after a few measures, Wilburt had one hand in the air pushing at the air above his head, and the other holding the smaller  harp to his mouth; His right leg thumping and stamping the ground in rhythm and the rest of his body rocking with emotion. The song finished, the boy with his drum simply got up from his place by the two standing guitarists and sat down next to Wilburt, who’s eyes, milky with age were gleaming with melodic fervor and life. “Ya’ll know Down Inna’ Riverbed? Cain’t buhlieve I knows it now eitha. Learn’d it when I’s twelve and now I’s a hundred-three. ‘Ain’t done on God’s earth I ‘spose.” Wilburt chuckled at it with a smile flashing on his face and the boy chortled his own response warmly, “Well, you don’t seem or play a day over 40.”

Wilburt brought the harmonica to his mouth and filled the room with the warm, liberating air and rag-time riffs from younger, savored days. He used one foot to supply the down-beat and his right hand slapping off the plastic table like a whip for the up-beat. The sounds of the boy’s hands striking his drum to match and drown out the soft “thump-tap-thump-tap” of Wilburt’s hand and foot. Today, time was not tugging him out the door, but rather was proving that he still belonged. “I haint goin’ to ma grave s’long as I’s playin this-here ‘monica. I’s meant to be here to carrah it on for ya’ll.”

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