Author’s note: I’m not sure about this one. Short stories aren’t my thing, and I relied a bit too heavily on passive tenses. Not good. It was cold and rainy yesterday, inspiring a story that turned out to be less than cheerful. It fell just short of 1200 words (1,167). I tried to not edit too much; I have a habit of never actually ending the editing process and then nothing gets posted. So, here it is, mistakes and all.
Thanks for reading!
Ben McCollins rubbed at his watery eyes, and glanced down at the watch on his hand. There were seven minutes left.
His aging oldsmobile was parked outside an aging white house. The white fence, the one he put in, was long gone, as was the tree that the children used to climb. It was struck by lightning two years ago. In the tree’s place was a small lilac bush. New life, growing up from where the old used to be.
The family that lived there now was new life, too. They were a nice couple, with a couple of nice young children. Sally and he had met them three years ago during their annual pilgrimage to the place where they’d started out. Seemed like only yesterday, but he could see that the baby toys in the yard had been removed, replaced by a new swingset. Things were changing all the time. He should be used to that by now, but it still stung, just a bit.
He and Sally came here each year. The first time, it was her idea. She was feeling a bit nostalgic, and he gave in to humor here. The second year, he was the one who suggested it. He understood. This was the house they began their lives in. Moving away had been hard, on both of them. Harder on her, though, he’d often thought. There were so many memories here.
They’d come straight here after the wedding. There was no honeymoon, not that they could have afforded it even if there were. He had work the following morning. So at 6:45 pm on April 12th, 1949, he lifted her up and carried her over the threshold of their home, and into the life they would share together.
Every year, they’d wait outside the door to their home, and when the clock ticked over to 6:45, Jasper would pick up his bride and carry her through the doorway once more, a reaffirmation of their love and commitment to each other. Eventually there came a time when his back wasn’t up to lifting her anymore, so they just walked through the doorway together. Things were changing all the time.
Ben McCollin glanced again at his watch. Five minutes to go.
Fifty-four years after they move into the house, they packed up what they needed and moved back out. It all fit into the trunk of their new car, a shiny blue oldsmobile. The upkeep was just too much, and it was time to let it go. They moved into a small apartment in town, and then into the retirement home. And still, every year they’d come back to the home where everything started.
The seat beside him was empty this year. Things were changing all the time. The doctors had given her three months; she’d held out for five. Long enough to hold the first great-grandbaby in her arms. He’d held her hand as she’d passed on, the most important thing he’d ever do. Life without her was empty.
Three minutes left. He turned up the heat in the car to keep out the cold. Another spring rainstorm. There’d been a lot of them this year. More than usual, it seemed, but maybe that was just his mood. The chill and damp wasn’t kind to his old bones. His umbrella was in the back seat, propped up next to his cane. He’d need both to get out of the car this year. It didn’t seem like all that many years ago that he was out in the yard there, chasing his boys around, playing catch and learning how to follow the ball with their eyes and swing the bat just so. Baseball was America’s pastime, but Sally hadn’t appreciated the broken window.
After that, they played ball at the park.
The kids told him that growing old was better than not growing old, but he always wondered. Especially now without Sally. As a boy, he never understood how the old could be so accepting of death. He got it now. There came a time when you’d seen too much, and lived too much, and it was time to move on. Things were changing all the time.
Two minutes. Ben reached around to the back seat grabbing the cane and off-white umbrella, and then he pushed open the door. He’d leave the car running; no sense in letting it get cold while he was out in the rain.
He climbed out of his seat, and worked his way to the other side of the car. The rain pattered down onto his umbrella, and he could feel the water from the sidewalk start to soak into his shoes. He made his way slowly up the pavement leading to the house. There was no worry of startling the people inside; they knew to expect him.
He stopped just at the porch, wrinkled fingers brushing over the newly painted wood. Eyes fluttering shut, he imagined how it used to be. The old porch swing, the small wooden table and the ever-present pitcher of sweet tea. The windchimes singing in the breeze on a warm summer day. There was a new swing there now, and the table was long gone.
He glanced at his watch. It was time. His eyes grew watery, and he grasped tighter to his cane. “Just me this year, Sally. But I still made it; I’m still here.” His voice didn’t carry far in the rain, but he didn’t care. There was no one to hear him, anyway. Not anymore. Things were changing all the time.
The walk back to his car seemed longer this year. Lonelier. He shook off his umbrella, and placed it back into the rear seat, and then set his cane in beside it. He shuffled into his seat, and took one last look up at the house. A curtain shuffled, and a small face peered out. Ben lifted his hand in greeting, and the girl smiled, and waved back. He caught himself smiling back.
This would be his last trip. The kids were moving him closer to them, nearly three states away. They wanted him to live closer, and there was a better care facility there. The next time he drove through this tiny town, he’d be on his way back to his Sally, finally resting at her side. Just like the first time, his bags were packed with all of his belongings, and they still all fit in the trunk of the car. There wasn’t much now. Some clothes, a few trinkets, and a couple old photo albums. Not much to sum up a life, but it was all he needed. His grandson was picking him up at the airport and driving him to his new residence. His family would all be waiting to greet him. And that was nice, but it wouldn’t be home.
He pulled away from the curb, and away from the life he was leaving behind.
Things were changing all the time.