She sat on a park bench, across the street, and watched as family and friends filed into the church. It was a beautiful, blue-sky kind of day, and sunshine streamed through the leaves of the tall oak under which she sat, falling dappled onto the sidewalk in front of her. She wore a big hat with a wide floppy brim that allowed her to feel a bit as if she were hidden from view, although there was no need to hide. No one here knew her. She watched them as they climbed the steps to go inside, solemn and serious. She hoped they were sad as well, but she couldn’t tell for sure and she found that curiously disappointing. She wanted them to sob for him, as she had. To cry with their whole hearts breaking over the loss. She wanted proof that he was cherished, loved beyond measure by these people he had devoted his life to. He deserved that much.
When the last of them arrived, she looked at her watch and waited just a bit longer before crossing the street and slipping quietly inside. It is not what he would have wanted. He didn’t care for church. He preferred to be outdoors, where he could see and smell and touch all of God’s creation. But funerals aren’t really for the dead. Not most of them anyway.
A small girl, blonde and curious, turned backwards in the pew ahead and peered at Sarah. Sarah smiled warmly at her and the girl smiled back and wriggled in her seat until her mother gently coaxed her attention forward. Sarah wondered if the girl was Amy, the little spit-fire that made George’s eyes light up and his face broaden into a grin when he spoke of her. Just thinking about it made Sarah smile and remember the stories George liked to tell over picnics shared on blankets spread by the lakeside. Wonderful stories of all the children; some new, some long since grown, all well loved. Spending time with them filled George up. “Children understand best what’s really important,” he often told her. “It’s only when they grow up that they lose sight of it. Sad, really. Everyone chasing happiness when it’s right there in front of them, too simple for them to see.”
The children in George’s life had little time left for him these past few years. His own children grown and busy in their own lives, too busy for hikes in the woods or days spent fishing at the lake. Even his children’s children were scheduled beyond his reach much of the time. Sarah wondered if it would have made a difference had they known how little time they had left with him. George thought not. “If I can’t convince them how little time they have themselves, then any time they’d take for me now would be merely out of pity or some misplaced sense of duty and I’ve no interest in either.” He loved them, of course, and he knew they loved him too…each in their own way. And it was this love, he knew, that required him to keep his relationship with Sarah to himself. Not a secret, really. Just not anything worth working anyone up about and Sarah was more than fine to keep things simple. An appreciation of simplicity was one of many things they had in common.
They met in the hospital. Not long out of nursing school, Sarah gravitated to the older patients in the cancer clinic. Raised by her grandparents, their passing left a void in her life that she hadn’t quite been able to fill. Her childhood had been spent at the slower pace of retired life and she had not been pushed to grow up and leave her sense of wonder behind. She had things she wanted to see and do with this lifetime, sure, but she lacked the urgency and tunnel vision of most of her peers and she never quite fit in with those her own age. She was an old soul in a young body and it was exactly this that sparked George’s interest in her in the first place. She noticed him. When she helped him during his treatments she did only one thing at a time and she stood still long enough to look him in the eyes and he believed she cared about the answer when she asked him how he was each day. And for this reason, he told her. He told her truthfully. He told her how he was sad that it had come to this but also grateful for being granted a reprieve, if only for a short while longer. He told her how he couldn’t imagine leaving this world with so much left inside him that he wanted to share, so much he still wanted to do, to see. But George didn’t just talk, he listened. And that’s what inspired Sarah to linger a little longer over their chats and later to accept his invitation for coffee one afternoon after his clinic appointment was over.
It began innocently enough. A friendship of two kindred spirits who moved slower than most, taking it all in as they went. They laughed together often on walks through the park near the hospital on Sarah’s days off, feeding the ducks and watching the sun set over the pond. George told her about his cabin by the lake, the place where family and friends used to gather for long weekends and holidays before life got in the way. He went there now mostly for inspiration when he had a new book to work on…he was an illustrator of children’s stories… but he never presumed Sarah would want to join him there. She did though. She wanted to see the place that he described so well…wanted to swim in the lake and pick berries in the sun and listen to the loons calling to one another as dusk fell and fireflies lit up the evening air. But it was more than that. Increasingly she found herself thinking about George when she wasn’t with him, noticing things she knew he’d appreciate and looking forward to telling him about her day. Eventually they made it to the cabin by the lake…Sarah could no longer remember who suggested it first, but she did remember the freedom she felt when she first arrived there. Freedom to be herself there alone with George. No one to rush her. No one to suggest all the things she should be doing with her time. Here, at the cabin by the lake, time stretched out in front of them, at once both fleeting and endless. There were long afternoons on the blanket by the lake, bodies dripping wet and drying in the sun, and nighttimes spent together under the stars. Together they savored time as if they could taste its sweetness and when he leaned in to kiss her it felt right and she kissed him back.
His touch was slow and gentle, like George himself – never rushed like men of Sarah’s age. She showed him her true self, not just the beautiful parts, not just the parts of herself she was proud of. She felt no need to guard anything from George. If anything, she reveled in being fully exposed to him, her soul laid bare for his acceptance which he so willingly gave. She knew her time with him would be short and that there would be a price to pay for letting her emotions run free…but this was her way and George loved her for it. He loved her deeply and when they were together time stood still. Until it didn’t. And now he was gone.
A woman stood and moved toward the front of the church. The minister had asked if anyone wanted to speak and she apparently had something to say. She spoke of the kind and generous man her father had been but as she continued on, Sarah realized that the man they knew was but a shadow of the soul she had spent the last few months with. Several more people stepped forward to speak, each with fond remembrances of George. But George was not someone to be remembered from long ago…his best was not behind him. George was still George up until the very end…Sarah knew this better than anyone and hearing him spoken of as if he had faded away made Sarah realize that coming had been a mistake…she didn’t belong there in that church any more than George did and she stood to leave. The little girl with the blonde curls turned to watch her and she smiled again at Sarah and waved her tiny hand goodbye.
Sarah drove to the cabin one last time. There would be no need for explanations…the family hadn’t been there in years and no one would know she was there. She swam in the lake and sat on the pier and took it all in…soaked it up in hopes of carrying it home inside of her. She wanted to remember it all…the sound of the water lapping on the bank, the crisp smell of pine in the air around her, but most of all she wanted to remember that someone else had looked at the world with wonder as she did. Someone else found joy in the fresh promise of a Monday and could get lost in a good song found on the radio in the middle of Friday evening rush hour.
Tears burned at the corners of Sarah’s eyes and she let them flow freely down her cheeks, mourning her loss and remembering all that was good about George. Feeling the pain was to stay connected somehow and she let it rip through her without resisting, without trying to protect herself from it. She would experience this loss as she had experienced George…fully open.
It was several years since he had passed and Sarah found herself in a second-hand bookstore admiring his work and remembering back to that cabin in the woods. She ran her hand over the pages, touching images of a little boy and his father in a fishing boat on a lake and she smiled. It was perfect, she thought. And she carried the book to the front of the store and paid the clerk. Then she took her son by the hand and led him across the street to the pond where they fed the ducks and picnicked on a blanket and marveled at the colors of the setting sun.
© Kelly Rainey and 500wordsandcounting.wordpress.com, 2015.
Want to explore what else this blog has to offer, receive emails when I post new stories, or send me a private message? Just click on the menu icon near the top right corner of the page.
But before you go…scroll down if you’d like to share your feedback about this story or see what others are saying.
*Reading this story from within an email? You’ll need to click here first to be able to see the menu icon, to scroll down for comments, etc.
Become a Patron and get audio versions of all new stories! Click here to learn more.
Not ready to become a Patron? Please consider making a small, one-time donation in support of all the time and effort that goes into creating the stories you enjoy. Thanks!