Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Henry's Last Walk

Henry shuffled along ignoring his surroundings. He'd walked this same path many times in seventy-five years, first as a mailman, then as a freelance photographer for an insurance company. He knew every crack, chip and uprooted slab along the sidewalk over the twelve blocks from Elm to Harvest. He traversed the route today to visit his Emma.

A warped twig in a ratty overcoat, Henry walked slower now. Flat feet and arthritic knees limited his movement. But Emma was all he had left. He needed to take care of her.

Every structure on the street held a story. He passed the Jeffersons. They'd given him a fruitcake every Christmas. Unlike most of his coworkers, he loved fruitcake. The next house belonged to the Victors and their three daughters, who never gave Henry as much as a smile, not even after he found their lost poodle. The rotting Douglas fir perched on the edge of their yard reminded Henry of the fun he and Emma had decorating their Christmas tree. The joyous look in her eyes almost made up for their inability to have children.

The walk to Emma's felt longer today. His legs hurt. His thin socks failed to protect his ankles from the cold. Still, he continued on. She got testy when he arrived late.

Henry walked into the Harvest Senior Home. He passed the reception desk with a nod and headed to Emma's room.

“Hello, Mr. Kemp," the aide said. "Emma's waiting for you.”

Henry struggled to lift a hand in response.

“You decent?” Henry asked at the door. There was no response. He entered the room and walked to the bed, checking on Emma before taking off his coat and hanging it on the hook in the bathroom. Emma would yell at him when she awoke if he put it anyplace else.

Back at the bed, he fluffed her pillow and straightened the covers. He checked her breathing and turned off the TV. He didn't like watching the soaps, and she didn't like watching sports, so they often sat in silence, one or both of them dozing.

He lifted the book off the table, Dr. Zhivago, opened it to where he'd stopped yesterday, and began reading out loud.

“Poor man,” the Head Nurse said to a trainee as they passed outside the room. “His wife passed away eight months ago. She used to reside in that room. Now he tends to Mrs. Cavender, even though she doesn't know he's there. She looks enough like his Emma that he doesn't know the difference.”

“Doesn't the family mind?” the trainee asked.

“She doesn't have any family that we know of. Just like Henry.” The nurse edged the girl along. "Mrs. Cavender won't be with us much longer. I don't know what he'll do then."

At the end of ninety minutes, his usual stay, Henry stood and gathered his things.

"So long, Henry," the Head Nurse said as he passed the desk. "See you tomorrow?"

"I don't think so." He said without looking at her. "Mrs. Cavender doesn't need me anymore."

1 comment:

  1. Storytelling doesn't get any better than this. Jim Harrington is the best.