The Gift (4)

Without bothering to look through the peep-hole in the front door he grasped the handle and opened it feeling irritated at the interruption as well as anxious as to whom it could be. There on the front stoop stood the woman who lived next door with her husband and four children, her hair blowing in the cold wind. For a moment he simply stared at her wondering why she was at his door.

“Oh!” she said, somewhat taken aback by the somewhat crazed look on his face, “I hope I am not intruding.”

Reality took hold once again of his emotions and he quickly regained his composure. With a slight smile on his face he reached down, unlocked the screen door, and opened it, careful not to let the wind take it from his grasp.

“Janet, it’s good to see you. Please, come in out of the cold,” he suggested, gesturing with his left hand toward the interior of the house. “You will have to excuse me, I was a bit preoccupied. I am sorry it took so long for me to answer the door.”

Squeezing through the doorway she brushed her feet on the mat and ran the fingers of her left hand through her hair which had become a tangled mess in the wind and rain.

He waited for her to move out of the way before closing the door. Only then did he realize that she held a large package underneath her right arm along with the morning newspaper.

After setting the package and paper down and collecting herself just a bit she looked at him.

“How are you doing Mr. Michaelson,” she asked with concern evident in her voice as she reached out and rested her hand on his arm.

“Well, alright I suppose. Everything still feels rather numb and hard to believe but all in all, not too bad,” he replied as he put his hand on hers. Oh, if only that were really true.

“I brought you some goodies that I baked this morning,” she said as she gestured towards the package on the floor. “We would also like you to come over for dinner tomorrow evening if it works for you.”

“Why, that is so thoughtful Janet. I…I would really like that,” he said looking down at the package then back at Janet again, not really feeling as convinced as he hoped he sounded.

“It’s the least we can do,” she said, thankful that he had agreed. “We have told you before but if there is anything you need or anything we can do to help, please, please let us know,” she said almost pleading.

“I sure will,” he said with a warm smile on his face. “You and your family have been so good to us since you moved in. I appreciate it so much. Jenny thought so much of you and Jack and the kids,” he said with a slight tremble in his voice.

“Well, we have come to think of you as our extended family and we want you to know that we are here for you.”

There were a few moments then that neither of them spoke. Feeling the awkwardness of the moment she stepped towards him and hugged him. After a bit she stepped back and gave his arm a squeeze.

“I have to get going. Ruth has a doctor’s appointment,” she said as she walked towards the door he had just opened once again. “Take care and we’ll see you at 6:00 p.m. tomorrow night.”

“You bet, I’ll be there,” he said as he opened the storm door for her. “And Janet, thank you.”

“Anytime Mr. Michaelson, and don’t forget that,” she said, speaking louder because of the sound of the wind. With a slight wave she ran out to her car, climbed in, and was gone.

As he shut the door the old man was overcome with a feeling of guilt for not having asked this family to come to the cemetery with him. They had attended the short visitation at the funeral home, in fact they had stayed the whole time, and had been obviously disappointed when he informed them there would be no service to attend.

They had been so good to Jenny and him since they moved in a number of years before. Often Janet would bring over goodies or, in the summer, fresh vegetables and melons out of their garden. The last few weeks had been no exception. As his wife’s condition had steadily grown worse Janet and the kids had come over every day, sometimes just to sit with Jenny and other times they would clean and tidy up as best they could, especially after Jenny was admitted back into the hospital again.

He chuckled softly as he picked up the package and made his way into the kitchen to get another cup of coffee. Those kids were something else. Smiling to himself he set the package on the kitchen table and refilled his coffee cup.

He would often watch them play either from the shadows of his own yard or through a window in the house. Not that he was spying. In fact, he didn’t think of it that way at all. He just so enjoyed the show they never failed to put on. At times he would even catch himself imagining that they were his children or even his grandchildren. The truth, if he thought about it, was that he really did think of them as his grandchildren.

Children, yet another thing his wife’s God had withheld from them. Once again the bitterness that had burned within his heart over the past few weeks raised its ugly head. And yet as swiftly as it had come it was gone, replaced by the emptiness of the last few days.

He remembered what his wife had said the many times they had discussed this. She would always say that for some reason it just wasn’t the Lord’s will that they be given children and that they had to be content with that. He would always grunt his disagreement with her and then the conversation would end. How many times they had talked about it.

Suddenly he was struck with the thought that were they to have had children, he probably would not have been alone that Sunday afternoon at the cemetery, and quite possibly would not have met the young man he had met there. For some reason he couldn’t help but think that it would have been too bad had that been the case. He had felt so comfortable talking to him and in fact had opened up his heart to him, a complete stranger.

With a large sigh he sat down at the table with the morning paper. At least some things had not changed. This had been his custom for many years and at least for a short time he felt as though everything was at least somewhat normal.