The Old Widower

The old man sat at the outdoor table in his garden. The table was small and round, with a glass top and white paint peeling off the elaborate steel frame. He remembered when they had bought it, how exquisite it was—at least it had seemed so to them on their shoestring budget. He shifted on his chair, trying to find a comfortable position. Even with the aid of its flat, faded red cushion the chair was not a pleasant sitting device, though he had never really noticed before. The other chair remained in its usual position, unoccupied now. It was a warm day, and quiet—had the garden always been so quiet? They had never given it a chance. It had been the setting of countless conversations: some relaxed, some worried, many filled with laughter and the odd one angry—but all of them comforting. He couldn’t remember what the last conversation had been about and it bothered him. He was afraid for all the things he would forget; he felt he was letting her down by forgetting.

A sparrow flitted onto the ground in front of the azaleas. It hopped about in its hyperactive fashion, oblivious to the world. She had always loved sparrows. The old man chuckled to himself. He had shared almost every thought, feeling and experience of his life with her, but he never told her how as a boy he used to shoot sparrows. He was glad he kept that secret.

The daisies were beginning to bloom in all their happy colours. Many times he and his wife had talked about the plants in the garden—which they liked best, which were due for pruning, which they thought would flower next. There would be no more garden planning conversations; the plants were free to grow as they pleased. He took a sip of tea without enjoying it; he had made it out of habit and now drank it out of obligation. His unsteady hand gave the cup a gentle rattle as he set it down on the saucer. On the opposite side of the tabletop were the brown rings where she always refused to use a saucer. Those stains used to annoy him, but now he didn’t mind them. He was saddened to think they would soon fade.

The sun shone and birds chirped, but it didn’t bring him joy today. He had come outside only to get away from all the reminders of her in the house, but once outside he was drawn to the table, as if unable—or unwilling—to stop thinking of her. He did have some comfort; his daughter and her husband were arriving today from overseas, and he would be meeting his three-year-old granddaughter for the first time. Still, he thought of his wife. For so many years they had been together, they had been one. How was he going to get along now? How could he live if she was gone? He could cope with her death, and give thanks for her life, but what he didn’t know how to deal with was the fact she was not there anymore.

He heard a car pull up in the driveway at the front of the house. The car doors thudded shut and footsteps crunched the gravel. Two little feet ran ahead. Then he heard it—that laugh. He had heard it nearly every day for sixty-two years. It was her laugh. It was more high pitch, and had a three-year-old’s squeal to it, but it was his wife’s laugh. He smiled. She wasn’t entirely gone.

 

© 2018 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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