As Good as It Gets by Cameron Spencer

Monday, November 28, 2022
Cameron Spencer's character is having the best day of the rest of her life.

Image generated with OpenAI
Good Friday. A half day, then a long weekend. Sts. Peter and Paul University was one of the few remaining Roman Catholic universities that observed all the holy days - and many not so holy - and adjusted the academic schedule to accommodate them. So, Easter Monday would be another free day. Of course, this meant doubling up a few assignments occasionally, or even deleting others because of time crunches. But nothing could vex Professor Mary Peterson at this point, because she had been awarded the fellowship that would allow her to pursue the research that had been fueling her ambition for the last seven years. At last, her stature as a scholar was confirmed. Receiving the Trustees Fellowship Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Field of Irish Studies was testimony that she had risen from being a talented disciple of her mentor, Paul Kevin O'Malley, venerable Irish scholar that he was, and confirmed her as a scholar of note; it recognized her as one with a vision to be reckoned with. It had, indeed, been a remarkable day.

She could not wait to tell Tom. And Martha. She juggled the cell phone in her left hand as she drove along Highway 84 east to Sunbury and home, pressing out the numbers (who could remember the speed dial?) to reach her best friend.

"Guess what!" she began when Martha answered, just as she had when they were teenagers and something extraordinary had happened.


"I got it! I got it! Word came today! I can make plans to leave for Ireland as of May 1. Do you believe it?"

"Ahhh!" Martha screamed. "Of course, I knew this would happen; it was just a matter of time. And it was about time! You deserve it. You know you do. And now everyone else knows, too. Congratulations!"

Perfect. Kudos from her oldest friend and a fellow scholar, though she now lived 1,000 miles away in Colorado.

"Well, thanks. I'm going home to tell Tom and have a long weekend of rest and planning. Can't wait!"

"How are things otherwise?" Martha had long been a confidant and source of comfort during Mary's estrangement from two of her three children while she had gone back to graduate school at the age of forty-five after divorcing their father.

The sun over the interstate flyover beamed bright into her eyes, and Mary removed her right hand from the wheel to lower the driver side visor. She continued, "Bud and Julie and the baby will be here for Easter, but, of course, not Seth or Kelly."

A huge green truck, its slat sided open bed filled with watermelons, lumbered out from Parker's fill-up station into the westbound lane. The left front tires crossed the center lane briefly before veering sharply back into the right-hand lane.

Mary fumbled with her cell phone as she grabbed the steering wheel with her right hand to avoid plowing sideways into the truck. Her right foot crushed the brake pedal, and she heard a horn blast close to her ear before she jolted to a stop.

"Good sweet Jesus, what the devil? What in God's name?" the driver shouted, clambering from the cab and running to her driver's window. He peered in at her, then swung away, avoiding her eyes. "Goddam cell phones!"

"I'm so sorry," Mary began. But the trucker paid her no attention. She opened her door to inspect the damage to his truck and her car, but there was not even a ding or scrape. It had been an incredibly near miss. "I'm really sorry."

The trucker stood looking at her dumbly from under a crumpled gray hat. His eyes were dark crinkled slits above a scruffy gray-brown beard. Lines from years of smoking and working in the sun dragged at the corners of his face.

Watermelons had toppled from the back of the truck bed and lay smashed and bleeding red juice across the highway, and hunks of hot pink flesh dotted the macadam.

Shaken and lightheaded, Mary drove slowly, gingerly away, sending up a brief prayer of thanks and resolving not to talk on the cell phone while she was at the wheel. "Do not tell Tom about this one," she told herself.

At home, sunshine winked through the freshly washed windows of the sunroom, and the polished surface of the dining table reflected freshly cut star lilies, their creamy petals striped blood red, in a crystal vase. Their heady sweet scent filled the room.

Tom approached from the bedroom and slipped his arms around her. He held her gently, kissed her hair, and murmured, "You are the love of my life." He smelled divine, and his cheek tasted moist and salty when she pressed her lips against it. The love of his life. He'd never said that before.

"All the children will be here," he said softly.

"All the children? Seth and Kelly too? I don't believe it! Did they call? How do you know?"

But Tom had turned away and now stood staring at the lilies. Over his shoulder Mary saw that the white crossbars of the windowpanes appeared particularly clean. Everything in the house looked sparklingly new.

"Well, this day could not get any better!" she declared with triumph and satisfaction. She had tried endlessly over the last seven years to reconcile with her son and daughter who had been unable to forgive her for sacrificing her time with them and the attention they had needed as teenagers in favor of her ambition. Seth and Kelly had consistently rebuffed her. Now they would be here - all her children - together at last.

Tom was moving things around in the kitchen. Making dinner? She saw him boiling water and taking the homemade Alfredo sauce from the refrigerator. Oh, yes! Angel hair pasta primavera with Alfredo sauce - her favorite quick dinner. This indeed was remarkable.

She sank into her leather chair by the window and rested her feet on the matching ottoman. She sighed and gazed out the window at the pond. A white egret picked its way along the edge, stretching its neck to inspect the depths for an unsuspecting fish. She would miss this peace while she was in Dublin for six months. But it would be here when she returned. She noticed now that a cold glass of Pinot Grigio was waiting on the table at her elbow. She sipped gratefully and smiled at Tom. "This is the life," she said. Perfection.

She closed her eyes. She must have dozed off briefly, for when she opened her eyes, her mother was standing in front of her. "Mom! I didn't hear you come in."

"Oh, I've been here a while. Your father will be along shortly." She smiled. She looked younger, healthier than the last time Mary had seen her. Her blue eyes were clear and had regained her humor. "You've had quite a day, I understand."

"Oh, Mom, you've no idea. I mean, this is as good as it gets! Everything is perfect! The kids will finally all be here, I got the fellowship - and now you and Daddy. I never dreamed. This is heaven."

An icy sensation slid down her spine and spread across her torso, numbing her nerve endings and freezing her lungs. She remembered. Her mother and father had died twelve years ago.


  1. Cameron Spencer’s “As Good as it Gets” is a re-telling of a plot used several times in a variety of media—most notably an old Twilight Zone episode featuring Inger Stevens, the Swedish-American actress, which premiered more than sixty years ago. But, no one has ever told it better than Cameron. It took me by surprise and the last paragraph of the story was chilling and deliciously creepy. Bravo, Cameron.

    1. Thank you, Bill! I had hoped that, although "there is nothing new under the sun," I could spin this a bit differently; I did not see the Twilight Zone rendition. I was thinking of Bret Hart's "Occurrence at Owl Creek." I so appreciate--and respect!-- your kind remarks. Thanks again!

  2. This is a tight, well written story. Well done, Cameron.

    1. Thank you, Rozanne! Thank you for taking the time to read my story and to comment on it. I am glad that you enjoyed it!

  3. I also got a Twilight Zone vibe from this well-crafted story. A good read.

    -D. Henson

  4. I must say that I liked how you concluded your short story. I am attracted by your rich stylistic devices. I am compiling short stories for an anthology and would like to include your short story. Kindly share with me your email address or send me an email via

  5. Very enjoyable read. A well written tale, succinct but still satisfyingly full. As stated earlier, the story is familiar, but the presentation is well worth the read. Thanks for sharing your wonderful story with us.

    1. Thank you, James! I appreciate your endorsement ! We all gain, I think, from each other in perseverance and encouragement.