(My writing mentor gave me a challenge. Write a story based on: an old fishing pole, cold lasagna, and sock suspenders. Enjoy.)
His lasagna was cold.
She licked the bits of it off her finger. Pretty good still, but when she left it was warm and ready to be cut up for him. Now it had a hole in the center where you could fit a substantial birthday candle.
She’d only been gone an hour. His prescription refills were ready and she wanted to be sure he had his medicine for the big day ahead. When she pulled into the driveway and saw their home health aide’s car gone, and her worrying began.
She called her husband’s name as she swept the house from room-to-room. Sometimes she’d find him sitting on their bed, staring at nothing. The only thing on the bed now was the black tuxedo jacket she’d put their earlier. She was too preoccupied to notice that the remainder of the outfit was no longer hanging from the doorknob.
She picked up the phone and dialed the number on the aide’s business card. She got her answering machine. “Voice mail,” she reminded herself. Her own cell phone peeked out of the wicker basket on the kitchen counter. It lay amongst the tape dispenser, Post-It Notes, address book, daily pill reminder, and sugarless gum…all the things she used daily and never quite put away. She intended to use her cell phone more often, but it always sunk to the bottom of the basket.
She finished leaving a message. Did the aide leave him alone? Was he with her? What happened? She was supposed to get him fed and dressed in his tuxedo.
She didn’t really care what the doctors called it. Alzheimer’s or dementia. In the year since his diagnosis, she knew it was getting worse. He’d gone from being a bit forgetful to needing help every day. Family’s subtle suggestions about moving to assisted living were increasingly pointed. She wasn’t ready. Her health was good and she wasn’t about to put him somewhere without her. Plus, there was this house.
They’d raised kids in this house. Spoiled grandchildren. It was beyond a dream home. It was the center of their lives. He built it with his bare hands. A log home on the lake decades before they were popular. Over the years, the pine trees overtook their view, but once you got the bottom of the log staircase, the panorama of the lake took awhile to take in.
“A million dollar view,” he called it, and this was back when a $10,000 view would have impressed. On a good day, like today, the only thing that kept the crystal clear lake from blending with the crisp blue sky was a brim of trees on the horizon. A bad day, perhaps a heavy rain and the family parked in front of crackling fire watching old movies. She knew better. Those were also the good days.
When she looked at the fireplace, she noticed right away. His old fishing pole was gone. The cane bamboo rod was his sole birthday gift that summer of 1929. He cherished it. “It was the only gift an eight year old boy needed,” he said most every time he used it.
Her heart pounded in her throat as her dress heels hit the log staircase. There was no use yelling for him. Unlikely he’d hear her, and if he did he’d try to come back up the stairs. It would be enough of a blessing if he’d gotten to the water without falling, she wouldn’t risk him climbing back up. “Oh lord, what if he made it to the dock?” she thought. Her mind raced with visions of him tripping and drowning. “Not today, God. Please, not today,” she pleaded. Not on their grandson’s wedding day.
Things had to go well today. He made a point of having the wedding in town, so they could attend. Afterwards, they’d return to their lives time zones away.
Slow and steady, she descended through the trees. As the sun crept through, she thought she heard a voice, but her hearing wasn’t what it used to be either. Two voices?
Relief swept over her when she saw them. At the end of the dock, a grandson taking the time on his wedding day to have one last fish with his grandpa. “Two peas in a pod,” she thought, shaking her head. Their neatly-pressed tuxedo pants draped over a bench. Each with a fishing pole, wearing tuxedo shirts, boxer shorts, shiny black rental shoes, dark socks, and sock suspenders.
She took in the moment, then turned back up the steps.
“…only gift an eight year old boy needed.”