Published Works

Gertrude and Henry


Gertrude and Henry

A Short Story by

Amy Hetland


Whippoorwills and Lightning Bugs:


Gertrude clutches the cell phone in her fist. Her curly white locks drench with sweat, along with her glasses fogging up in the steamy heat. Her T-shirt and shorts cling to her, as she stumbles down a wooded path. Gertrude keeps calling Henry, but he doesn’t either hear his phone as usual, or can’t. She hopes it’s the former.


“Your husband has dementia Mrs. Olson.”


“How long will he live?” Gertrude wavered.


“Patients with dementia can live many more years after diagnosis. It’s a crap shoot.”


Gertrude smirked with the doctor’s choice of words. She didn’t want many more years of this. She wanted her Henry back. His crooked smile, pale blue eyes that revealed his Norwegian heritage, his wry sense of humor. Now he growled anger in his eyes, anger in his words.


Gertrude continues to stagger along the path, hoping to catch any sign of her wandering companion. They used to follow these trails together on long summer nights, listening to the whippoorwills, watching the lightning bugs along the way. They held hands as lovers did, fingers entwined. Now there was no trail to follow and no hand to hold. All that was remembered was lost.


“I can’t take care of him anymore,” Gertrude sighed.


“I understand,” the nursing home administrator crooned.


Gertrude wondered what the woman could possibly understand. Did she commit her husband of fifty years to this loony bin? Did she have to share a bed with a stranger? Did she search the starless country roads at night, frantic with worry over her partner in life? No! Gertrude wanted to shout. No! I don’t want any of this. I want my Henry back.


On the trail, Gertrude stops as she sees a shadow in the path ahead of her. She runs to the crumpled form of Henry and collapses on the ground beside him. No sound of whippoorwills tonight. No sight of lightning bugs. As she cradles Henry’s head in her lap, he opens his eyes, a glimpse of recollection in them.


“Oh there you are, give me your hand.” Henry clasps his wife’s hand in his, the crooked smile on his face. They entwine their fingers, listening to the whippoorwills, watching for the lightning bugs.


Promises, Promises:


“You promised.”


“Made to be broken, baby.”


Gertrude stands in front of the marker to Henry’s grave. She is prepared for this, this eventuality. Yet, her body is stiff, mind frozen in time. She clutches the flag in her arms, not wanting to let go of this last gift from her husband, her companion, her partner in life.


“Here’s looking at you, kid.” Gertrude beamed as Henry cocked his fedora, trying to imitate Humphrey Bogart. They finished watching “Casablanca,” of which they enjoyed every Valentine’s Day since the advent of the VCR. They saw this movie on their first date all those years ago. Gertrude could still smell the salty, buttery popcorn, hear the crackling of the film, and feel the warmth of his hand grasping hers. This was a world previously unexplored, that feeling of love at first sight.


Gertrude and Henry’s lockers were across the hall from each other at Moorhead High. As they caught sight of each other numerous times, Gertrude longed for Henry, dapper in his suit and tie complete with fedora, to come over and talk to her. She was too shy to attempt such a feat. So she craved him in her dreams, day and night. Finally one day Henry ambled over to her and said, “Gertrude, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” She trembled all over in excitement.


“We’ve got to go, Mom.”


“Give me a few more minutes, I’m not ready.” Gertrude mumbles in her stupor.


Gertrude notices the turned over dirt above Henry’s grave. She glances around at the other graves, wondering how long they had been there, how long since they had visitors. She vows to visit Henry’s grave every day. Gertrude could not bear to leave him here alone, with strangers. Now that Henry has his mind back, she wonders what he thinks of his new neighbors. Silly thinking, she thinks to herself. Gertrude just wants to pass the time, to prolong the inevitable.


Gertrude and Henry loved all the classics and their stars. At office parties and backyard barbecues, Henry entertained others with his impressions of famous actors, gone but not forgotten. In a popular skit with Gertrude, Henry introduced his co-star with a flourish.


“You promised,” Gertrude whined.


“Made to be broken, baby,” Henry mocked.


The party chuckled, easily entertained by cocktails. The script heard from a cheesy love story seen years ago, a B-rated movie whose title they long ceased to remember. Yet they recalled this hokey line at the end of the movie, with the heroine’s plaintive plea and the cruel villain’s sneer.


“Mom, we should go, you’re getting cold.” Her daughter tries to wrap her arm around her, but Gertrude won’t leave, can’t leave.


“You promised,” Gertrude whispers, swallowing her tears.


“Made to be broken.” She replays the script in her mind, and breathes.




Amy Hetland is a freelance writer who hails from the land of sky-blue waters: Minnesota. She loves to read, travel, and advocate for animals. Amy also teaches English as a Second Language.



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The Casing:


The casing in my hand

Smooth and dull
The reflection blurred
By use and time.
Marked LC76
For a 21-gun salute
A man’s life given
To God and country.
The snow softly falls
On the desolate prairie
At a little country church
On the edge of nowhere.
His children shed tears
Of a life once lived
Now left alone
On the lifeless prairie.
I struggle through the snow
Bearing a weight
So heavy and deep
So solemn and wanting.
No life long enough
To say the things one should
Thank you I love you
The words unspoken.
The casing in my hand
Empty of meaning
The black hole in my heart
Given to me that day.
© Amy Hetland
BIO: Amy Hetland is a freelance writer who hails from the land of sky blue waters: Minnesota. She loves to read and write, travel, and waste time surfing the net. Amy also volunteers teaching English as a Second Language, and at an animal shelter. Her longtime companion is a highly spoiled cat named Chocolate.

Picasso People
by Amy Hetland
Crooked spine
Crooked face.
Eye wide open
Eye wide shut.
Lips in smile
Lips in droop.
Not a smile
Not a frown.
Ear is up
Ear is down.
Zig zag face
Out of place
Are the shapes
In this face.
At the Fair
by Amy Hetland
My nose is on a mission
A smorgasbord of smells
Assaults the very nerves
That speaks to me.
Smoke is everywhere
On the end of chalky sticks
Wrapped in fragile paper
Fill with toxins, make me sick.
Cows, pigs, and sheep
Excrement mixed with hay
Not yet turned over, it
Contaminates their beauty.
Stinky, sweet smells
Emanating from the stalls
Have to hold my breath
Before my body falls.
Turkey, pork, and beef
Slow roasted on a spit
Slathered in rich sauce
My lips, they drip.
Oh, the vats of oil!
From pronto pups
To corn on the cob
Hold me down with their clog.
Stat! I need caffeine!
Dry roasted beans
Coffee with cream
Good to the last drop.
Heavy diesel fumes
I cough and sputter
Not the last scent
I want to utter.
I ride on home
To common aromas,
Heart swells for
Next year’s smells.
• • •

Elsa held her mother’s bony hand in hers as she slept, tears coursing a river down her face.  Her mother was finally asleep, although fitfully.  Just moments before, Esther was awake, confusion on her face as she wondered aloud who this person was sitting beside her bed.  Her daughter patiently answered her many questions, even though she knew that her mother would ask them moments later. 

It had been five years ago when Elsa held her baby in her arms, their bodies warming each other as she nursed her Emma.  It was a difficult birth, hours of labor, huffing and puffing, trying to get her stubborn baby out and welcome the world.  Esther held her own daughter’s hand, squeezing it at every contraction.  Three generations fighting against the forces that be. 

Esther cared for Emma as her mother worked a full-time job at the Crystal sugar beet plant in Moorhead.  They lived in a two bedroom apartment nearby.  Elsa became pregnant right after graduation, thus destroying any hopes of college at that point.  Her boyfriend, the father of her baby, left unceremoniously when he found out Elsa was with child, muttering excuses every time she tried to call.   After a while she just gave up, finally realizing that he didn’t want to be a father, not just yet.

Three years later Esther was in Eventide nursing home’s dementia unit.  Elsa hated to bring her there, but she couldn’t take care of her anymore.  Elsa worried for Emma’s safety, as her mother wandered out of the apartment and roamed the streets at night.  Elsa had to place her daughter in day care, not wanting that either, but feeling like she had no choice. 

During Esther’s disjointed tirades in the nursing home, Elsa learned more about her father, Fred.  The replaying of the scenes was like watching a movie, only it was too real so long ago.  Esther wept as she recalled Fred hitting her with a half empty bottle of booze in his hand.  A woman stood in the background in these scenes, ones Esther called a slut, knowing full well what went on in their marriage bed.  Anger rose in Esther as she relived these moments, and Elsa had to run to get the nurse to calm her down.

Growing up Elsa never remembered her father, although he must have been there as a child.  Before her daughter could remember, Esther packed her baby and their things and moved back to her hometown of Moorhead, MN.  She left her own baby with her mother while she worked at the sugar beet factory.    Elsa often asked where her dad was as she viewed his pictures, wondering why he wasn’t with them.  Esther would only tell her he was far away working for the family, but hoped to be home soon.  After a few years of this tale, Elsa began to believe that Fred was kept away by her mother, and she determined to go find him, someday.  That day never came. 

Now hearing the stories her mother was reliving, Elsa begin to wonder if Esther was telling the truth all along.  Why she never got a gift or even a card from Fred, why he never called, why he never came for her.  She looked again at her mother’s face and realized the sacrifice Esther made all those years, the same sacrifice Elsa is now making for her own daughter.  She squeezed her mother’s hand and whispered a thank you.  A smile lit Esther’s face as she peacefully slept.



That old, ragged flag

Whipping in the wind,

It tears at the gale

It creaks on the pole


Down the street from me

I see it every day,

Proudly waving to passerby

Large and half-mast.


I wonder why this day

Then I sadly remember,

Another death a world away

Another sacrifice to be paid.


It never seems to end

These costs that we must bear,

The price of freedom so great

Freedom just isn’t free.


Our forefathers fought this fight

The battleground of independence,

Not willing to serve a king

The flag still flew high.


Brothers against brothers

Across the country divide,

Battles hard won and lost

The flag still flew high.


The great war between worlds

Conquered and vanquished foes,

In a world outside our own

The flag still flew high.


Another Great War years after

To stop hate and murder in its tracks

 The greatest generation they were,

The flag still flew high.


On a bright September morning

Planes torn into buildings,

Killing thousands of innocent lives

The flag still flew high.


So as I drive another day, 

In thankfulness of our troops,

Who gave their lives and loved ones

The flag still flies high.


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