by Elizabeth Ricci
“I’m early for a change,” Martha mutters.
“Come in.” Miss Higgins says. “Your son is one of the sheep in the skit about to go on.”
Click- clack! Click-clack! Slowly the sheep walking behind two shepherdesses and one shepherd meander into the center of the room. “They’re about to merge!” the shepherdesses yell out, “STOP! The sheep will get mixed together.”
“The sheep know me and I know mine!!” The shepherd confidently states
Wiping away a tear from her eye, I’m seeing with new eyes, thinks Martha.
Martha, her arms opened wide, embraces her 5 year-old son. Vincent runs to meet her.
“Did you see me?” Vincent says excitedly as Martha gives him a bear hug.
“You were great,” Martha joyfully answers. Martha thinks, more than you know.
“Can I have a snack when we get home, Mom? I’m starving!”
Martha nods yes.
Entering the kitchen Martha tells Vincent, “You can have a piece of fruit.”
A bowl filled with apples, oranges, bananas and cherries sit in the center of the kitchen table.
“I’d like some cherries please.” Vincent shouts out. Martha fills two small paper cups with luscious looking cherries. “Here you are son. Can I join you?”
Seated comfortably at the kitchen table, both Martha and Vincent chew on cherries and chat.
Knock, Knock! Vincent sees it is his friend Henry at the back door and runs to the door. “Mom Henry wants to know if we can catch and pitch a baseball in our backyard. I can go and change into my play clothes?”
“Yes, I’ll call you in for dinner.”
“Okay, Mom!” answers Vincent.
When her son has gone outdoors Martha seats herself in her husband’s recliner in the living room.
What a contrast today to almost 15 years ago, thinks Martha.
“I’m sorry says Jim, as he tries to console Martha, maybe next month.”
“Oh! Jim. It is so difficult each month when my menses start, hoping and praying I’ll get pregnant.”
“Why don’t you get checked?”
A few weeks later Martha is having a discussion with her gynecologist, Dr. Greenspan. “You know, Martha, the doctor, with concern and compassion says, “All the tests up to this point show there is no problem. The next item is to have your tubes blown.”
”Well that is good news” sarcastically answers Martha.
Ignoring the sarcasm Dr. Greenspan continues, “What I would suggest is Jim being checked before you have the painful procedure.”
Later that evening Martha brings up the suggestion to her husband. Jim wanting a child as much as Martha agrees to the test.
Stunned, Jim exits Dr. Greenspan’s office with the results of the test, he has no sperm.
In almost a whisper he says to Martha, “I always thought it was the woman that could not conceive.”
“Oh Jim,” Martha cries out knowing the pain Jim is feeling as their dream of having children is shattered. Martha collects herself, “We did say if we couldn’t have children we’d adopt.”
Suddenly the back door slams, Vincent rushes in and says, “Am I in time for dinner.”
“In about one-half hour” answers Martha still trying to shake off her thoughts. “Wash –up and you can start your reading program until it is time for dinner”
Dinner dishes washed and put away. Vincent is sound asleep in bed. Martha in the kitchen, pours two cups of coffee, adds cream and sugar, and places them on a tray to joins her husband Bob who is reading in the living room.
As Martha enters the room, “Good timing” says Bob relishing the fragrance of a fresh cup of coffee.
Martha places the coffee on the oval table in front of their special loveseat and sits down. “Come join me Bob.”
Sitting together on their love seat, they cuddle for a while until the fragrance of coffee swells their sense of smell.
Both are relaxed. Suddenly, Martha sits upright in the seat.
“What is it?” Jim worriedly says.
“Nothing really,” Martha cautiously answers her husband. You know how certain incidents in my life will bring back memories of my former life.”
Bob puts his arm around her, “go on.”
“When I arrived to pick Vincent up from his faith formation class, a skit, based on Psalm 23, was about to begin. Mrs. Higgins invited me to watch it. Vincent was one of the best looking and acting sheep there. “Sheepishly looking at her husband, “of course, I’m prejudiced.”
“Where is this leading to “Bob wonders?
Martha continues” Until today for years Psalm 23, the Lord is my Shepherd, reminded me of the inscription on Jim’s tombstone. He received much comfort saying this Psalm during his seven month bout with cancer.”
So, every time I hear Psalm 23 I would think of Jim’s tombstone.”
“How did you survive during those seven months?” Lovingly asks Bob.
“Survival mode, I guess.”
“They found the cancer when they opened his chest cavity. The cancer was like a balloon filled with water with pieces of fetal tissue. I can never say the whole name of the cancer – embryonic mae… It has a long name.”
“How in the world did this cancer develop?” questions Bob sitting fully alert.
“I asked the doctor just that question. He said there are loose tissues floating inside all of us. And this one tissue decided to grow.”
Bob startled by this news, “But how?”
“Well I had thought about it for years long before I met you.” We were skiing in February and on our last run, Jim fell flat on his face. Usually this type of cancer grows in the waist area. In this case, it grew in his chest cavity.”
Bob grabs Martha and holds her close. “How you must have suffered – Are you okay?”
“I just need some alone time.”
“Then I will leave you with your memories and retire for the night. “Goodnight Martha” Bob says as he gently kisses her forehead.
Martha sits down on Bob’s recliner. The memories come rolling out.
Jim sits comfortably in his lounge chair on the patio of their home. “It was thoughtful for your co-workers to give you this beautiful outdoor, light green and orange, floral print, lounge chair and matching glider with a canopy,” says Martha.
Jim dreamily says, “And you beside me aids in my healing process.”
” Jim abruptly changes the subject. “Martha, would you mind if we go to the Bartlett Arboretum to take in the beautiful surroundings? You would have to drive.”
“What a pleasant idea. Tomorrow we can start out right after breakfast,” responds Martha. As usual Jim is ready to be on the go thinks Martha.
“Oh! Exclaims Martha, “Remember the maple tree seedling we saw a month ago. Look how tall it is today.”
“Life does go on in nature, Jim exclaims. This is why I enjoy being surrounded by the grounds here at the arboretum.”
As Martha leans back on the recliner other thoughts begin to flow. Yes, we did sit outside and take trips to the arboretum. Jim did return to work for a few months. And then the cancer returned. Treatments in the hospital and then Jim returns home again. And a very special visit Jim had with Fr. John.
Welcome Fr. John. Thank you for coming,” says Martha as she opens the front door to let him in.
“How is your husband today?”
“He is looking forward to your visit Father. Follow me. Jim is in our bedroom.”
“Thank you, Martha.” Father John pauses before the door. “Martha, I would like to see Jim alone.”
“Okay Father.” The door closes behind him and Martha stays in the hallway – stunned.
“Hi Jim, How are you today?”
“I’m still here, Father.” Jim replies with a weary smile.
They talk softly and Martha stands transfixed in the hallway, the two men are talking in a low tone. Then Father tells a scene from the book of Job in the Bible. Martha trudges to the kitchen.
Brusquely, Martha comes out of her contemplation. “Oh my” she lets out a cry, “It’s getting late and Vincent has to be at the bus stop early.” Off she goes to retire for the evening.
“Good morning, sunshine. How are you this morning?” Bob comes up behind Martha, who is at the stove turning pancakes.
“Sunshine outside places sunshine in my heart this morning, thank you.”
“Did you have a good night’s sleep?” Asks Bob
“Yes! And waking up to sunlight bathing our bedroom set the tone for the day.”
“You know” Bob continues “After I left you last night a thought came to mind. Didn’t you once tell me you and Jim had been accepted for adoption prior to Jim’s cancer diagnosis.”
“That’s right! We were so elated the Social Services of Gaspe, Canada had accepted us.”
“You had a double loss” Bob states. Not only the loss of a loved one, but the loss of becoming a family.”