The Man smiled fondly as his Wife argued with their Son.
“My Rose,” he said, patting her hand. “Let them be.”
“She’s too young for wine,” Wife said.
The Man winked at Granddaughter. “It’s a special occasion,” he said. “How often do we celebrate fifty years together?”
Wife relented and Granddaughter tasted the bitter, pungent offering. She wrinkled her nose and The Man nodded with a knowing glint in his eye. She gave him her glass and darted off after her Cousin.
Granddaughter huddled in his study, reading a book in near darkness.
“Grandma was cheating,” she said when The Man asked why she was hiding. “She keeps changing the rules.”
Granddaughter missed the sorrow darkening his expression because she was studying a picture of them, fifty years ago, black and white and so handsome in a find dress and a military uniform.
The Officer stood in the kitchen, the overhead light as bright as an interrogation lamp in the old movies. He handed The Man his ID and apologized for the trouble. The Officer’s Partner stepped into the room from the hall. She said, “She’s sleeping now.”
The Man nodded. He said, “She thought I was a burglar.”
Partner nodded. “I can give you some information on a good Home. You don’t want her to get hurt if she wanders off alone.”
The tear didn’t escape until the Officer and his Partner left.
The Home was clean but sterile. The nurses friendly but their smiles were as bleached as their uniforms. The Man sat at a table, his Wife at his side, and his family surrounding them. Granddaughter gave his Wife a chocolate bunny. Wife, who never missed a Sunday mass, had forgotten Easter.
Wife turned to the Man and offered him a piece of chocolate. “No, thank you,” he said.
“Who are you?” she asked him. “Do I know you?”
He couldn’t hide the tear long enough this time.
Dressed in his best suit, The Man sat in the front pew, watching the coffin carrying his love, his heart, and his everything away from him.
Someone patted his shoulder and said, “She’s with God now.”
The Man fought to remember the proud soldier he once was. War never shook him as deep as the sob that escaped as her body rode a permanent bed of satin to the hearse waiting to guide her to the cold, unforgiving ground.
Equipment beeped. Nurses talked in hushed whispers. The Man stared at his gnarled hands resting in his lap and felt no need to use them. He wanted nothing, craved nothing, and barely acknowledged Son’s arrival at his bedside.
“The doctor says you haven’t been eating well,” Son said.
Granddaughter slipped her small hand into his. She said, “I like Snickers better than vegetables too, Grampy.”
“We’re not sure,” the Doctor told the Son. “He’s old. His body is… wearing out.”
“His heart is broken,” Granddaughter said.
“Hush,” Son replied, patting her head. “They checked his heart.”
Granddaughter returned to the bedside. She held The Man’s hand as they both studied the photo capturing a moment in time over five decades ago.
“Go find your father,” he told Granddaughter.
She kissed his wrinkled, sunken cheek, and then trotted out of the room.
“I miss you so much,” the Man said.
His Wife replied. “I love you.”
Machines wailed. Doctors barked orders. Nurses rushed about with robotic efficiency. Granddaughter stood in the hallway, protected from the sight, her eyes locked on a distant spot down the corridor. She lifted one small hand and waved at the empty hall.
The Man waved back and then craned his neck back, face upward, bathed in white light. He crossed himself and then spread his arms wide, fading away as a smile returned to his ancient face.