The week’s Worth Reading feature is an excerpt from the book: The Red Ribbon: A Memoir of Lightning and Rebuilding After Loss by Nancy Freund Bills.


Four, maybe five years after Geoff’s death, I have a surprising dream:

Reclining in the passenger seat of my white Saturn, I peer out from under my favorite baseball hat as the car passes a great blur of flowering trees bright with pink blossoms. The sun is warm on my cheek; the car’s shoulder harness tugs across my chest. I have the foggy awareness that something is wrong.

Later, still feeling drowsy, almost heavy, my eyes blink open and close several times. Blocks of attractive, clapboard-sided houses with a scattering of stone churches, handsome with steeples, buzz by. I must be in New England, probably somewhere in Massachusetts. Maybe, Newburyport? Or Portsmouth, New Hampshire?

Then later, the storefronts of small businesses— restaurants, dry cleaners, bakeries, whiz by. Signs advertise pizza and donuts. My fuzzy mind registers that now there is less open space, more congestion. The car should be slowing down, stopping at lights and crosswalks. But it isn’t.

I feel uneasy. Even a little nauseous. I sit up abruptly, pull off my hat. I glance at the driver of the car. It is Geoff. Geoff, my late husband. Late as in dead.

Geoff is driving in a crowded downtown area. He should be slowing. But instead, he’s accelerating. I turn toward the driver’s seat. I’m curious to see what Geoff looks like, but also frightened. What does a man who has been dead for five years look like? So I avoid making eye contact. I say as evenly as I can, “This driving isn’t a good idea, Geoff.”

He ignores me. So much like Geoff. He speeds around a rotary.

This time I’m more firm. “Geoff, it would be better if I drove.” I pause. “I’m a good driver.No response from him.

Finally, I am fierce. Fierce for me.Now, Geoff, you’ve been dead for five years. You should let me drive!”

Geoff disappears. No one is at the wheel.

“Jesus, Geoff!” I swear. He can be so impulsive. Come back. You can pull over. We’ll trade places.”

Geoff returns to the car and resumes driving. But instead of pulling over, he suddenly brakes in the middle of an intersection. He just disappears! I am surrounded by honking cars, tooting trucks; the drivers are yelling, swearing at me. I scramble over the awkward center console, search for the foot pedals and grab the steering wheel.

“Damn you, Geoff!” I cry out in the empty car. But I am in the driver’s seat. And I am a good driver.

Only in a dream does a late husband pop up in the driver’s seat and then vanish. What does it mean? Frankly, I think it is a message from my subconscious to take charge of my life. After all, Geoff is dead.

– Copyright Nancy Freund Bills 2019

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About the Author: Nancy Freund Bills, a native of Montana, has lived almost all her adult life in northern New England. She is currently on the faculty of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Southern Maine, OLLI/USM, where she facilitates the fiction writing workshop. She is a retired clinical social worker; during her twenty year long career, she served both as a psychiatric social worker at Concord Regional Hospital in New Hampshire and at Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine, and as a psychotherapist at Green House Group, a group private practice in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Out of six thousand entries, Chapter 19, “The Myth,” received first place in the memoir/personal essay category of the 83rd Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. Out of one thousand entries, Chapter 14, “Triage and Cows,” made the Top 25 list in Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction competition in July/August 2016. Bills’ memoir, fiction and poetry have been published in Reflections, the Maine Review, the LLI Review, the Goose River Anthology, and in the 83rd Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition Collection.