There was a knock at the door. An unexpected knock at the door offers countless possibilities as to who and what awaits on the other side.
Pulling Up Daisies
There was a knock at the door…
Under the bougainvillaea on the front verandah in light coloured chinos, stood a stranger wearing thick-rimmed glasses.
“Yes?” I asked tersely, annoyed that my morning crossword had been disturbed.
“Yes? Can I help you?”
The fellow introduced himself. “I’m from Olson and Carter in the city and we have been contracted by our client to make you an offer on your property for… .”
“There’s been a mistake. We’re not selling,” I interrupted, attempting to close the door, his extended foot preventing me.
“There is no mistake, Mr Harris,” the chap continued earnestly. “My clients are willing to offer…” quoting a substantial figure.
“What? How much?” I stammered.
Repeating the amount, he assured me that his clients were genuine and it was a cash offer.
About to lose my composure, I barked, “As I told you, we’re not selling.”
He held up his hand and looked me steadfastly in the eye. “Take time to consider, Mr Harris. I’m staying at The Holiday Inn.” He flourished a fancy, gold-embossed card. “Call round in the morning. I believe there is room for negotiation… .” he trailed off.
“I’ll think about it,” I wanted this fellow gone before Evelyn returned from her morning walk.
The chap nodded and left.
I returned to my crossword dismissing the idea of selling our home of sixty years for any outrageously crazy amount of money. My concentration lost, I discarded the crossword.
When Evelyn hadn’t returned from her walk by her usual time, I went looking. On many occasions, I’ve searched the streets in the village for my wandering wife. That morning, I found her in Mrs Greys garden, pulling out daisies. “Daisies are lovely but they do tend to take over,” she said when I walked up the path.
Amongst the discarded daisies, I got to thinking. Perhaps the fellow was right. Perhaps I should consider the offer. I called on Mr Earnest of Olsen and Carter, the next morning.
A month later and the deal is done. We leave the island on the ferry tomorrow. We leave forever, though Evelyn doesn’t know it’s forever.
“I hate that smelly old ferry,” she grumbles, wiping the bench in angry strokes. “And I don’t want to go to the city.”
I embrace my agitated wife. “Do it for our girl, Caroline. It means a lot to her.”
“I didn’t ask for this, in fact, I specifically said I didn’t want a fuss. Caroline’s got no right.” Clinging to my chest, her body quivers. Tears will follow.
Had I done the right thing?
“Sweetheart, sixty years married, is a milestone few people reach,” I say, looking into her moist eyes. “We’ve got to celebrate. It’ll be a small gathering of family and close friends at Caroline’s house. No fuss, I promise.”
She sniffs loudly.
“I’ve an idea. Let’s wander down to the beach and ca-noodle in the sand dunes, just like the old days?” I suggest.
“You old rascal, you,” playfully punching my chest.
“I’ll slap some sammies together, you make a Thermos of tea, what do you say?”
At the end of the path, I place Evelyn’s faded denim hat on her head. “There, got to look after that peaches and cream complexion of yours. Can’t have my beautiful lady burning in this hot sun.”
“You silly old romantic, take another look,” she answers. “A wrinkled prune is what this face is, just as our granddaughter Samantha says.”
“It’ll always be peaches and cream to me, like the first day I met you on this very beach. You racing into the surf, jumping the waves, swimming so far out I thought I’d lost you even before I found you,” adjusting her hat. “You were reckless that day, and fearless.”
She chuckles, “That was a long time ago. I’m not that person any more, just as you are not that gangly, awkward youth, standing on the beach, scanning the surf. I knew you were there when I rushed into the waves. I wanted you to be watching, waiting.”
Snuggled in the sand dunes with the toe-toe standing sentry, raucous seagulls dipping and diving on the breeze, I watch the waves lapping the sand, swirling then retreating rhythmically.
Swirling like my thoughts. Have I done the right thing?
“It’ll be better for everyone, dad,” Caroline assured me a week ago when I confessed my doubts.
Caroline has scoured the city for a suitable retirement village. Sunset Gardens promises assisted living, facilities for the active, weekly outings, pleasant manicured gardens and best of all, it’s within walking distance of a beach.
“A penny for them,” Evelyn tugs my arm.
“A penny for your thoughts. You were miles away.”
“I was remembering the times we brought our young ones here. Throwing them into the waves and them shrieking but always coming back for more.”
“And the sandcastles we built with moats and turrets and the waves rolling in and sucking our castle into the sea.”
“Crab hunting in the rock pools.”
“Collecting driftwood, making a fire to cook sausages.”
“Remember the time Ben got caught in the rip, the day of Tom’s birthday? The day we’d walked to the point?” Evelyn points to the distant sliver of land.
I nod. “Like it were yesterday.”
That day, nigh on fifty years ago, we’d ventured to the spit on Tom’s insistence. It was his tenth birthday. Tom raced ahead, with Ben, two years younger close behind. No amount of shouting would slow them down. The boys galloped into the churning waves, diving under and coming up again to dive some more. Then only one head popped to the surface. The small body turned, turned again thrashing at the waves, yelling. Dropping the chilly bin, I sprinted into the waves.
“Yep, we nearly lost Ben that day. A sobering lesson for all of us,” I shudder.
“What was it you said to the boys? Never underestimate the force of mother nature?”
I grin. “Yeah and how often did the pair of them quote that back to me over the years?”
“The big wind of eighty-six when the hen house got lifted and spirited down to the beach, the chicken’s left behind, bewildered, clucking wildly in their cages.” Evelyn smiles.
Yep, can’t underestimate the force of mother nature, eh Dad? The boys had chorused that day.
“Time for a sandwich and a cuppa?”
“Better not be too long, Julia’s coming home today on the afternoon ferry, remember.” I jolt at the mention of our dead daughter.
“She’ll have so much to tell us about her adventure, you know how she’ll be, talking non-stop twenty to the dozen. Her first Girl Guide camp and, she’ll be hungry. I’ll make Shepherd’s Pie for tea, her favourite.” Evelyn begins to pour the tea.
“Julia’s not coming home today, sweetheart.” I sigh. “Julia is never coming home again.”
Her arm shook, spilling some tea on the rug. “Of course she’s coming home today, Frank. It’s the twenty-seventh. I’ve marked it on the calendar. And it’s on her postcard.” She passes me a cup. “How could you forget today’s the day she’s coming home?”
“Julia’s not with us any more, sweetheart. She died last year. Her heart problem, we were lucky to have her as long as we did.” I wipe a tear from my cheek.
“Oh, silly you! That was Aunt Doris. Old Aunt Doris died last year and not from a heart problem. Simply old age. She had a good inning.” Evelyn sips her tea.
Putting down my cup, I embrace my wife. “Aunt Doris died many years ago and her Albert, a year later.”
“Sure do miss her scones though. Nobody could make date scones like your Aunt Doris.” Evelyn looks pensively to the swirling waves. “Wonder what will become of Uncle Albert? He’s a bit lost without her.”
Its me who is lost now, as lost as Evelyn’s memories.
Diminished capacity, the doctor called it. It’d gotten steadily worse since Julia’s death. A severe shock can have that effect, the doctor said.
“That’s it, Frank.” Evelyn broke from her reverie. “That brochure, that one that came last week in the post about the retirement village only they didn’t call it that.”
She continued eagerly, “What did they call it?”
“Yes that’s it, Sunset Gardens. That’s what your Uncle Albert needs. When he gets back from visiting his girls down south you could talk to him, Frank.” She patted my leg triumphantly.
“Sure, I’ll have a word with him.”
Uncle Albert lived with us after Doris died. I recall the old, shrunken man sitting on our verandah, as I strolled up the path after a day on the fishing trawler. I’d ask, “How are you, Albert?”
“Just fine, waiting for my Doris,” he’d reply. “We’ll get our teas when she comes back.”
I never corrected him.
Evelyn suddenly scrambles to her feet. “There’s the ferry. Time to go. Got to get home and get that Shepherd’s Pie made.”