The Gift (7)

A few days later the old man sat at the table in his kitchen having coffee with Janet. Having seen her outside earlier straightening a few things up in the yard he had noticed that although she was going through the motions something just didn’t seem right. Thinking that maybe she was distracted for some reason he had called out the back door to her to come over for a cup of coffee with the hope he could determine if there was anything wrong. Besides, he needed someone to talk to anyway.

“Oh this tastes wonderful Mr. Michealson,” Janet said as she wrapped her cold hands around the steaming mug of coffee. “I didn’t realize it was so cold outside but I wanted to get the hoses put away and the sandbox toys cleaned up before the weather gets bad.”

She slowly brought the mug up to her lips and took a small sip. “Mmmm, that hits the spot. I actually have some bulbs that I have to get planted too but I don’t know if I am going to get time today.” She paused then and distantly watched the steam from the coffee gently rise into the air and disappear.

The old man looked at her from across the table over his own cup of coffee and before she said anymore had the feeling that he would soon find out whatever it was that was bothering her. He decided not to say anything and simply waited for her to continue.

“I got a call from Ruth’s doctor a little while ago and he wants Jack and me to come into the office at 4:00 p.m.,” she said as she slowly traced the top of the mug with the index finger of her left hand.

For a couple of weeks Ruth, the oldest of their children at fourteen, had been complaining of soreness in the upper part of her left leg. They had not thought much of it until earlier in the week when it had begun to swell a bit. An appointment was made and although the doctor had not seemed overly concerned he had ordered some tests done and told them that he would be in touch with them when the results came back. Just before they left he had mentioned that there was a slight possibility that it could be something serious but more than likely it was simply the result of a muscle sprain or some other type of injury.

“He wouldn’t tell me anything over the phone. He said that he really wanted to talk to both of us in the office.” The concern for her daughter, now quite visible on her face, was suddenly replaced by concern for the old man as she looked across the table at him.

Upon hearing of the request of the doctor that Janet and her husband come into the office the old man was immediately taken back to that terrible day that he and Jenny had been informed of the cancer that would soon take her away from him. In an instant he relived that day as well as the many difficult days that had followed. He seemed to be caught in a memory that he couldn’t get out of.

“Is everything alright Mr. Michealson?” Janet asked as she reached across the table and touched his hand.

He glanced at her then and realizing that his mind had taken him far off once again. He smiled slightly and nodded his head.

“Sure, I’m fine. Little things bring back the memories and I got a bit caught up in one just now.” Although his face was calm and the hint of a smile pulled at the corners of his mouth his eyes told Janet everything she needed to know.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said rather sternly then, cutting off the “I’m sorry” before she could even say it. “I suppose in time those little things hopefully won’t bring it all back but right now they do and that is just the way it is,” he said with a nod of his head and a smile as if to add emphasis to what he had just said.

Realizing that he had purposely ended that subject she continued to tell him what was on her mind.

“Jack and I kind of talked this through already, knowing that it was possible that it could be serious but I guess I was hoping that we would just get a call letting us know that everything was alright.” Her eyes fell to her mug as she carefully raised it to her lips for another sip.

“Did the doctor give you any idea of what it could be when he said it could be serious?” he asked as he sat back in his chair.

Janet leaned forward and set her mug back on the table.

“No, he pretty much just left it there but I suppose the logical assumption is that it could be some type of cancer or something along those lines.”

“What about Ruth? Does she know anything about this?” he asked, concern now showing on his face.

“Yes, actually we talked to her about it for quite a while when we got home from the first appointment and she seemed pretty good with it.”

Janet stood up then and walked over to the counter where she placed her mug and turned to look at the old man.

“She doesn’t know about the appointment today though. I think Jack and I will tackle that first,” she said as she tried to smile but failed miserably.

“Well my dear,” the old man said with some vigor as he stood up and put his own mug on the counter, “that is a bridge you will have to cross this afternoon but for now we have bulbs to plant so help me find my coat and we’ll get started.”

She supposed that she probably shouldn’t have been surprised knowing what the old man was like but it caught her just a bit off guard. She couldn’t help but smile at his back as he moved past her in search of his coat.

The rest of the morning and early afternoon they talked almost non-stop as they planted the bulbs in various places throughout the yard. There were daffodils, tulips, crocuses, hyacinths, and a variety of other bulbs. The conversation revolved around the doctor appointment but strayed to many other subjects. For a few hours the loneliness of an old man didn’t seem quite so lonely and the worry of a young mother wasn’t quite so worrisome. They finished shortly before 2:00 p.m. and Janet hurried off to get the kids from school.

As he put his gardening gloves on the shelf in the garage he noticed the pail on the shelf beneath it that contained what had been some of his wife’s gardening utensils. He smiled as he watched in his mind’s eye as his wife scurried around the yard gently caring for all the plants and flowers. It had been one of her great joys and she had taken care to make sure they were all just so. Sometimes he would rearrange things a bit just to get a rise out of her and she would go about setting things back the way she had them grumbling about men not knowing what they were doing when it came to gardening. The smile on his face continued to grow and remained even as he made his way into the house.

Exhausted from the work of the morning he settled into his chair for a short nap. Shortly before dozing off he thought how beautiful it would be when all those bulbs that they had planted in the ground bloomed in the coming spring. That would certainly be something to see. Well, it was certainly something to look forward to. Amazing how something that seemed to have no life would lie dormant for so long and then spring to life once again. Amazing.