This story is by Jan Achterhoff and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
She moved slowly around the dining room making her way to the sideboard.
Reaching for the metal handles on the top drawer, her gnarled, arthritic fingers struggled to grasp them as she pulled the drawer open.
Inside she gently took hold of a delicately crocheted lace table cloth, moving aside the tissue paper that she wrapped it in to protect it.
Her mother had made this for her many years ago as a wedding present and it was only used on special occasions, the cotton thread now yellow with age.
Turning to the table she laid the cloth, carefully smoothing out the creases and folds.
Next, she returned to the cupboard under the drawer, wincing with pain as she bent to retrieve delicate porcelain tableware and two Waterford crystal glasses, also a wedding present from long ago.
She laid two places at the dining table, placing silver cutlery beside each place setting.
There was a time when she had polished the silver every week, taking delight in being able to see her reflection in the spoons, but her arthritis was too painful now so for everyday use she used modern cutlery, the kind that didn’t need polishing, and only used the silver cutlery on occasions such as this.
Standing back from the table she knew she had forgotten something but her memory was not what it used to be.
“Oh you silly Emily,” she said to herself, “what is a table without napkins.?”
Going to the still-opened top drawer she saw the yellowing napkins laying alongside four silver napkin rings.
She ran her fingers over the rings before taking out two, the names Emily and Jeffrey delicately engraved on them, leaving the remaining two in the drawer, her children’s, who were sadly no longer with them.
Satisfied that everything was as it should be she placed a small cut glass rose bowl in the center of the table complete with the roses that she had snipped from Jeff’s favourite rose tree this morning. and then, giving a last look at the table, walked painfully to the kitchen to check on the dinner.
The beef was cooked to perfection, not too dry and not too rare, just how Jeff liked it.
The batter for the Yorkshire puddings stood resting on the side counter.
Modern housewives seemed to skip this step, she thought, always rushing to get the batter in the oven or even, heaven forbid, using ready-made puddings from the supermarket, but the secret of perfect Yorkshire puddings was to let the batter rest until it was time to cook them.
The vegetables… parsnips, potatoes, and carrots… sat in pans of cold water on top of the stove waiting to be cooked.
Turning the oven off she sank breathlessly onto a chair her heart racing far more than it should have.
Looking at the kitchen clock she rose again and made her way to the hallway.
As she reached for her best coat, her only coat, she paused to look at a framed photo hanging there.
She lovingly ran her fingers over the image, a couple on their wedding day.
Although faded now she could still see the happiness glowing in their faces, the love shining in their eyes as they looked at each other.
“Sixty years ago today Jeff.” she said smiling at the photo.”Where have the years gone? Seems like only yesterday .”
Giving the photo one last smile she picked up another bunch of Jeff’s roses from the hall table and opened the front door.
Laying the roses on the seat of her mobility walker that was standing on the porch, she checked to make sure the door was properly shut then made her way slowly down the path.
It was only a short walk to where she was going, the same journey she made on this date every year, but today she had to keep stopping to catch her breath and the walk seemed to be unending.
At last, turning a corner, she made her way through tall ornate black gates and slowly walked to a wooden bench placed halfway along the path.
Sitting down with a slight groan as her poor arthritic bones complained of the exercise she had put them through, she sat for a minute, reveling in the quiet, only the sound of bird song disturbing the silence.
“Well, I made it Jeff, just as I promised you all those years ago. I will never let our anniversary go by without coming to see you.”
She sat looking at the black marble gravestone opposite.
Sadly taken 19th July 1991
Beloved husband of Emily and father of Patrick and Anna
Who were also sadly taken
4th February 1970 aged 9 years.
“Thirty years ago today you left me Jeff. The last thirty years have been so lonely without you. I hope you are taking good care of our babies and that they are keeping you company until I join you when we can all be together again.”
Emily rose stiffly to lay the roses on top of the ornate stones covering the grave where her husband and babies slept.
Sitting down again, her face wet with tears and her heart pounding rapidly in her chest she was aware of a displacement of air next to her, as though someone was sitting there beside her.
She felt her hand gently being held and, turning to look through her blurred, tear-filled eyes, she saw Jeff beside her.
“I’ve come to take you home my darling. We have been too many years apart and we miss you .”
“I’ve missed you too my darling.”
“Do you remember, Emily, sixty years ago today we were wed?”
“I do my darling like it was yesterday.”
“Thirty happy years together until I was called home on the very date we were married,” Jeff continued, “Who could have known that old heart of mine had had enough?”
“It was such a shock, my love, to lose you that way … on the very day we were supposed to have been celebrating.”
“We had a good life together though Emily. Thirty years of laughter and happiness.”
“ Apart from the day when our babies left us Jeff… within three hours of each other.”
“Yes… they came into this world together and left the same way .. together was how they always were. Even down to catching measles at the same time.”
Emily sat quietly, thoughts running through her mind…their wedding, the happy day when their twins were born, and the sad day when they left again nine years later.
“I’m tired Jeff, tired, old, and in pain and I miss you so much, it has been a long lonely life without you .”
“What do you say then, my love? Are you ready to come home with us ?”
“Yes my darling, I am .”
The two, slight figures of her children sat down beside her.
“We’ve been waiting for you, Mummy. Come with us where there is no more pain… no more being old …no more being alone.”
She turned to them, holding out her hand, and felt them squeezing it tightly.
She turned to the other side where the shape of her husband sat, his face wreathed in smiles, and held out her other hand.
She stood up, sensing her husband and children standing with her.
Immediately she felt her pain drop away from her…she smiled as she looked at her hands, now no longer gnarled with pain but young, pretty hands like the day when she was married.
“Shall we go then?”
She looked up at her husband, now tall and young again, and at her babies, smiling up at her.
“Yes,” she answered quietly.
Only the birds saw the four people walking down the path together, smiling and laughing, surrounded by the beautiful smell of roses… together again.