The Phoenix Gift

Excerpt by Stephen Lalonde, Spokane Valley, WA

Was this going to be a good, bad, or indifferent day? She really couldn’t tell yet. She wanted more than usual for it to be a good day and looked for signs, clear eyes, lively movements anything that would indicate the real Ken was there…the Ken she was growing curious about.

Why was that?  Why was she so suddenly and intensely curious? Something had changed, and that change lay in her.  But what was it? In all the years she had known this man, she had not felt the need to know more than what was readily apparent.  He had always been a person of the present.   Why now was she so interested in his past?

She made a decision that she would discover something, anything to offer in the next coherent conversation with Ken. 

“Ken, you mentioned yesterday something about camping. Did anything more come to mind?” Mary asked.

He seemed puzzled. Mary couldn’t tell if he was trying to answer the question or to remember yesterday. He began muttering something, but she couldn’t tell what he was saying and it appeared he was speaking to himself. She waited to see if he had anything to offer, but after several minutes it was clear that wasn’t going to happen.

“That’s okay, I was just wondering,” Mary offered. She decided to change the topic. “Is there anything I can bring to you tomorrow, anything that you’ve been missing or wish you had?”

“Fudgesicle,” he clearly said.

Holy cow!  Where did that come from? She remembered that frozen treat from her childhood but hadn’t seen any in ages. What an odd request.

“Wow Ken, I haven’t seen one of those in years, but I will do my best to try to find it for you,” Mary replied.

It had been a long time since she had seen Ken laugh, but he actually giggled, just a little, like a delighted child.

That night the family sat down to a dinner of pork chops. Mary told them about her visit with a little more enthusiasm than usual. 

It started when she blurted out, “Fudgesicle!” 

This drew some amused chuckles from the kids, and Tom rolled his eyes.

“What about Fudgesicle?” he asked.

“Your dad asked for a Fudgesicle,” she calmly replied.

“Do they even make those anymore?” he asked with a bit of a smirk.

“What’s a Fudgesicle?” both kids asked in unison.

That drew laughter from Tom and Mary.

Mary explained, “Fudgesicles are kind of like popsicles, but they are basically frozen chocolate milk.”

That seemed to satisfy their curiosity.

Tom and the kids had not gone to visit Ken in some time, and she was hoping to get them to become at least a little more involved. Ken’s sister Helen had visited a few times before her health required her to stay home. She had moved in with Ken not long after his wife had passed away. Now that he was confined to the nursing home she had the house to herself. Mary, Tom and the kids had visited her a few times, but they had found that phone calls reduced the need for the hour and a half round-trip. 

“Tom, do you know of any friends your dad had who might still be alive and who we might be able to get in touch with? Any relatives other than Helen?” Mary asked.

“No, Uncle Roy passed away several years ago and he was the last one that I knew of. He wasn’t really my uncle, just a close family friend,” Tom replied.

 “What about Helen? Do you think she might have some suggestions?”

“Maybe. I guess you could call her and ask.”

Mary frowned, “We haven’t checked on her in such a long time beyond phone calls, so maybe I’ll give her a call and arrange to go see her.”

“Fine by me.” Tom said in such a way as to suggest it would close the topic, and it did. The rest of the evening passed quickly.

Mary made the call to Helen the next day before going to visit Ken.

“Helen, this is Mary. I wonder if you’d mind if I came to see you. It’s been a while since any of us have been up there, and I have a few questions you might be able to help me with.”

“Oh Mary, it is very good to hear from you, and I would welcome a visit. I don’t get many people here anymore. When would you like to come?”

“Will early afternoon next Tuesday be okay?”

“That would be wonderful. It will be very nice to have company for a change.”

“Great. I will see you then. Goodbye.” 

“Goodbye honey.”

Mary knew even less about Helen than she did about Ken, and curiosity was becoming a very real factor for Mary. Tom didn’t seem close to Helen even though she was, for all practical purposes, his mother. Mary just chalked it up to the fact that the whole sense of family was lacking in Tom’s relatives.

Mary’s first inclination was to tell Ken about her plans to visit his sister, to give him time to think if there was anything he would like her to do while there, but then she realized that would probably do no good in his condition. It would be better to wait until Tuesday in order to get an immediate response, if any.

Ken was awake when she walked into his room.

“Good morning, Ken.”

“Good morning, Rosie.”

Oh no, Mary thought. It’s getting worse. This is the first time he has called me by the wrong name.

“Ken, it’s Mary,” she said.

“Yeah.” He seemed confused.

“It’s okay. You called me Rosie,” She offered.

“Oh, really? Sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking.” He seemed flustered.


Stephen Lalonde is a retired teacher who grew up in Washtucna. He has a diverse employment history including truck and combine driver, lifeguard, custodian, mechanic, machinist, franchise developer, car salesman, musician, electronics technician, Scouting executive, teacher and union president. His primary occupation for 29 years was high school teacher. All of these occupations influence his writing. 

   He earned his BA in Education in 1972, Masters in Electronic Communications 1976, and his MA in Education in 1988. He lives in Spokane Valley with his wife, Audrey. His book, The Pheonix Gift is available from Amazon, Auntie’s Bookstore in downtown Spokane, and Second Look Books on the South Hill in Spokane.

 Check out his website at