He felt the rain softly on his back as he bent over to pull out the next weed. It was welcomed, to be sure, the heat of the day finally dissipating with each droplet, but he knew that soon he would have to venture inside. But for now, the gentle coolness was a welcome relief.
Jacob continued down the overgrown path, clearing what he could. His hands were old now, wrinkled and creaky as his godchild used to say when he came to visit him. Jacob smiled again, remembering the young boy’s laughter. It sounded like bells, it did- slightly off-key, of course, but bells nonetheless.
He watched as the next weed, and the weed after that slid through his fingers. Perhaps the rain was making it harder to grasp them, he thought. It was funny, though. He didn’t feel wet, not really. Sure, he felt the rain, could see it as it bounced off the dandelion leaves, but still, it didn’t feel as cold as he remembered it. Perhaps the day was warmer than he originally thought.
With a shrug, Jacob turned back to go inside the house. He glanced at it sideways as he walked up to it. The shutters needed repainting, and the whole front needed a good washing. They were little things really. When he was younger, he could have easily done them himself. Did them most years, in fact. Sometimes his wife helped a bit, but with her being a bit fragile, well it left to him to do most of the heavy lifting.
And lift he did, even unto this day, just not quite as much as he used to.
The yard and the house were really too much for them to handle, he reasoned as he walked up the porch steps. Even those things needed to be repaired by the looks of it. That third step was a bit loose, even after putting a new nail in. Perhaps it was time to try and talk to that young man – what was his name again? Samuel? No, that wasn’t it. Started with an “S” though- he did know that much. Jacob shook his head and sighed. He knew it was better to just let it go. The memory of that boy’s name would return to him soon enough. Still, it was frustrating a bit, having it so close.
Jacob walked in the front door, and gently stomped his feet to remove the mud. Mildred certainly didn’t like a messy house, although she didn’t complain all that much. The most she ever did now was smile and shake her head. Then she would dutifully clean up the mud that he had tracked in. Still, he didn’t want her to worry all that much.
She wasn’t here, of course. Mildred’s mother had finally passed on just a few days ago, and she had gone to take care of the preparations. The old bat was nearly ninety-eight, so the only surprise in her passing was the bingo-induced heart attack that finally did her in. Jacob smiled in spite of himself. The image of the woman yelling BINGO and then promptly clutching her chest was a bit humorous.
He had offered to go with Mildred, of course, to present a united front against the force that was her family, but she had promptly declined.
“Now Jacob, you know what the doctor said about stress,” she chided him
“Yes, I know- the blood pressure is too high. But still–”
“No argument, handsome. It will only be for a few days. Just stay here and do a bit of work around the house. I doubt my brothers and father will be able to anything besides salute and give orders.”
Mildred was from a military family, you see. Father and five brothers had all joined in to help defend Uncle Sam. So when Mildred had followed her dream to become a painter, things weren’t exactly easily understood by her family. It was so unexpected, they claimed. Jacob didn’t know what the heck they were talking about. All they had to do was watch her come alive when breathing in the scent of oil paints, or smile when choosing a new brush. He shook his head as he slid easily out of his boots.
“Unexpected, my ass!” he shouted to no one in particular
Jacob walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge. He frowned. There was only milk, a few pieces of wrapped cheese, and two blueberry muffins there.
“Guess I’ll grab something to eat on the way to talk to young Scott,” he muttered to himself. Was that his name? Scott? Perhaps.
Jacob walked back to the front door and slid his boots back onto his feet. Surprisingly, they had already dried. He shrugged and thought that perhaps he had put them a little closer to the vent than normal. He would have to remember that trick for next time. He opened the door and found the sun trying to peek around some of the lingering clouds. Jacob smiled. Perhaps a short walk down to the farmer’s market would be in order. He knew a little deli nearby. Perhaps he would grab some lunch there.
He strolled through the town, nodding politely at those he passed, noting that it was the children who mostly waved and smiled at him. A few of the babies even giggled when he wiggled his fingers at them. Sadly, the adults took little notice of him, but he was used to that. Grown-ups really didn’t notice too much at all, did they? Modern lives were so busy it seemed. Still, it was nice to see everyone hustling and bustling down the street. Jacob chuckled at one mother, somehow expertly handling a dog, two little boys and a bag of groceries, all of which wanted to go in five different directions at once.
He thought about Mildred, again, and imagined her doing much the same thing. Although to be fair, she had always wanted a little girl and a little boy. But, even when they discovered that Jacob’s, well, “army” was a bit low in numbers, the idea of divorce never once entered into her head. Although, Jacob for a time did consider leaving, and letting her find a more suitable husband.
Thankfully, Mildred would have nothing to do with it. Jacob sighed, even now. How he would have missed her. Even through that dark time, when doubt and frustration seemed to be their only companions, Mildred had stayed with him.
Jacob turned down the street on the left, walked another few blocks until he came to the brick street with the park at the end. The farmer’s market would be set up there if he remembered correctly. He smiled and adjusted his hat against the afternoon sun, now sparkling against the sidewalk. It was truly amazing how much the weather could change in such a short amount of time. The cafe bordered the park, and Jacob looked for it’s little brown and white awning with a smile of anticipation. Sadly, the cafe sign told him that the place was closed for repairs. Still, they had set out some wrought iron table and chairs, which were perfect for someone with creaky old skin like him. Not for the first time, he wondered where he had put his cane. Perhaps he left it by the stairs again. Mildred was always warning him that his absentmindedness was going to be the death of him one of these days.
He sat and watched people as they walked by, their umbrellas closed and damp, still ready to stand guard against the next rainfall. He smiled warmly as a young lady with curly blond hair and wearing a white dress with bright pink roses almost floated by him. He watched as she laughed in the sunlight, and remembered that he had bought a similar dress- no that same dress, for her when they first got married. He remembered that she had laughed in much the same way when she unwrapped the gift box.
“Jacob, what is this?” she asked as he handed over a large white gift box with a satin pink bow.
“Just thought you might like this,” he had answered her, nervously scratching his ear. He always did that at times like this.
“But it’s not my birthday, and our anniversary isn’t for another 3 months, so….”
“Mildred, never mind about all that!” he huffed. In a quieter tone he said “Just looked like something you would like, so I got it. That’s all.”
His last confession was lost on her, of course, as she opened the box. A look of amazement crossed over her face, and a slow smile began to spread, and tinkling laughter caught up in her throat as she lifted the dress high in the air to admire it.
“Oh Jacob!” she squealed as she stood with the dress it hand. “It’s beautiful! Thank you!” She alternated between hugging it to herself and spinning, and holding it out at arms length.
“So you like it?” he asked, wanting to get confirmation.
“Yes! Of course I do, you silly goof!” she said as she planted a kiss right on his lips. Jacob could feel the blood rush to his ears for a moment, but thankfully it quickly subsided. Mildred was drawing enough of a crowd, already. A few of them even clapped at the performance.
Jacob smiled as he remembered the exchange, and many others like it. He glanced over at the blond woman again. He supposed that it was true, what they said about fashion coming around full circle. The young girl even had Mildred’s hair style from back then. He had to admit, she did look rather nice in that dress.
With a shake of his head, he slowly got up from his seat and made his way to the farmer’s market. He wasn’t exactly hungry, but he knew that if he didn’t at least eat something, Mildred would never let him hear the end of it. He didn’t know how she would find out, but she always managed to do so. Perhaps it was Shane– was that the young man’s name?– who told her when he would come for visits.
There really wasn’t much to the boy, of course, and Jacob suspected that he wasn’t being fed very much at home. He always seemed to come by with a sour look on his dirty face, and various bumps and bruises. Still, when he stayed for dinner or to watch television with Jacob and Mildred, he seemed to finally relax. A few times, he actually saw the boy fall asleep on the couch. It was a comfortable couch, too. Still, Jacob remembered the boy tossing and turning quite a bit and even murmuring in his sleep. But at least he got a little bit of rest.
They had gone to the various school plays and concerts that he had been in, of course. Jacob remembered Mildred cheering and crying at the boy’s graduation. That night, the two of them had decided to help the boy continue his education. He was going to teach music, after all.
Jacob strolled through the busy market place, marveling at how people could understand each other through the din. Still, vegetables were being inspected, and sales were being made. In fact, someone actually convinced a seller to let some radishes go at half price. Not bad, Jacob thought.
He walked over to a stand that was selling various types of apples. A few of the red and gold ones looked quite good. They were Macintosh, he thought. He picked up a few, and tried to get the attention of the lady selling them, her gray hair almost neatly tied back into a bun.
“Miss? Excuse me, miss? I would like to buy these please,” he said quietly and politely.
“Fresh Apples!” she called out to the crowd. “Come get your fresh apples! Four for a dollar!”
“Four for a dollar, eh?” asked Jacob as he rubbed his ear. He wondered if she just hadn’t heard him. She certainly did have a set of lungs on her.
“Sweet, juicy apples! Fresh from the trees!”
Jacob laughed softly, and reached into his pocket to bring out his wallet. He frowned when the wallet wasn’t there. He must have left it at home. Ah well, he would have to go back and get it.
Still, he did want to find the boy. It was strange, he couldn’t really remember his name. It was frustrating in a way. There was so much work to be done at the house, and he needed help.
Jacob continued to walk through the park until he came to another park bench. He smiled in relief and made his way over to it. He shook his head. His legs were not quite as strong as they used to be. He closed his eyes for a moment, and breathed in the air, still heavy with the hint of rain.
“This is Scott,” came a voice to him from somewhere nearby.
Ah-hah! That was the boy’s name! Jacob opened his eyes and looked around. Sure enough, he saw Scott on a nearby bench talking to no one in particular- his hand pressed against the side of his head.
Jacob frowned. Was he hurt? Who was he talking to? He came closer to the young man and watched him closely. He laughed out loud once he saw the small cell phone in his hand. Well, he would just wait for the conversation to be over.
“Really? He hasn’t shown up yet? That’s odd,” Scott said, sitting up a little bit straighter, his brows lowering slightly. There was a pause, of course. Jacob figured that the person on the other end was saying something.
“Yes, he doesn’t often miss that. Perhaps it was the rain we had earlier today.”
Another pause. Jacob wondered if someone was hurt.
“Of course, I’ll go check on him, now. Yes, of course. I’ll have him talk to you once I get there. I’m sure everything is fine.”
“All right. I’ll talk to you soon.”
Scott stood up, a worried look crossing over his face.
“Hope the old man is all right,” he muttered. He began to walk rapidly out of the park. Jacob followed. Perhaps he could be of some help. He still needed to speak to Scott anyway. Now didn’t seem like the best time though.
Together they moved in silence down the residential streets. Jacob was surprised that he could keep up, really. Scott didn’t seem to be even registering that the old man was walking beside him. His pace didn’t slow down at all.
Finally, Scott stopped in front of a house.
Jacob looked at him curiously. Did someone already tell him about the loose third step? Scott stood there looking at Jacob’s house, his hands clenching and relaxing.
“Everything’s all right,” he reassured himself.
“Of course everything is all right,” said Jacob with a smile. “Just need your help to repair a few things around the house, that’s all.”
“He’s all right,” Scott said. “He’s just sleeping.” He walked toward the door, and placed his hand on the door knob.
Jacob watched as he slipped the key he gave him into the lock.
“He’s probably watching re-runs of the Fugitive upstairs.”
Jacob smiled. It was a rather good show. He did enjoy watching it from time to time.
With a shaky breath, Scott opened the door and walked inside. Jacob followed close behind him.
“Not too much to do inside, I’m afraid,” he said. “But you best take off your shoes. Mildred will be mad if you track in mud.”
Scott knelt down at the bottom of the stairs.
“Oh God,” he said.
“What?” asked Jacob as he looked over the young man’s shoulder. “Did I spill something and not clean it up properly?”
Jacob’s eyes widened as he saw what was causing Scott to reach out in front of him, his hand trembling.
A body of an old man, wearing Jacob’s shirt and pants was lying sprawled against the bottom of the stairs, a brown, sticky stain beneath his head, seeping into Mildred’s beautiful carpet.
Scott reached out and touched the man’s neck. He closed his eyes and stayed there for a moment, muttering something under his breath.
“You know, darling, you really should be more careful with that cane of yours,”
Jacob turned around to see the blond haired vision from the park standing in the doorway, smiling at him.
“My cane? Never mind that, there’s a dead man in the house. And who–”
Jacob followed the young lady’s gaze up the stairs. He saw his cane, snapped in two on the third and fourth step from the top. He glanced back at the young lady, and began to slowly recognize her.
“Mildred? But how? Aren’t you with your brothers?
The young lady shrugged her shoulders.
“To be honest, I’m not sure what happened. Last thing I remember, I was sitting in a chair looking out the window. I guess I fell asleep.”
“But you look so young and beautiful! What happened to your gray hair?!”
“You don’t look so bad yourself, darling. Here, come to the mirror in the hall and take a look.”
Jacob followed her over to the mirror and looked at his reflection. He touched the top of his head in amazement.
“I have hair,” he whispered softly as he felt the thick, black hair on top of his head.
“That you do,” said Mildred with a smile. “You are still wearing that same horrid polo shirt, though. Would have thought becoming an angel would give you a better fashion sense.”
“Wait- angels. You think we’re angels?”
“Well, can you think of a better explanation? That’s your body at the bottom of the stairs, there, darling. And I doubt I’ve found the fountain of youth in my parent’s living room.”
“But how?” Jacob reached out to Mildred and touched her face. It felt solid and real, reassuring.
“I don’t know,” said Mildred with a shrug. “Perhaps I died of a heart attack? You know we always said we would always have our adventures together.”
“Yes, we did promise that, didn’t we?”
“Yes, we did,” he answered with a smile. “But what about him?”
Mildred and Jacob looked back at Scott, now sitting on the steps, staring at his cell phone.
“He’ll be fine, I’m sure. He’s always been quite resourceful.”
“Still, if we go now, he’ll be all alone.”
“That is true. Perhaps we could delay the next adventure for just a little bit.”
“We’ll be guardian angels,” said Jacob with a smile.
“Yes, that does sound quite delightful. I always did want to see what would become of him as he got older.”
“I wonder if there are any rules to this sort of thing,” said Jacob thoughtfully as he slipped an arm around his beloved’s waist.
“Since when do we worry about the rules?” she asked as she laced her fingers with the hand on her waist.
“So we’ll keep an eye on him, for now?”
“Well, I don’t see any white light or little winged creatures with harps, do you?”
“No, I don’t.”
“So it’s settled then. Once the boy starts managing things well, we’ll be off.”
They glanced over at Scott to see him slowly dial a number on the cell phone. It rang for a few moments, and there was an audible click as someone came on the line.
“Yeah, it’s me,” said Scott with a shuddering breath. “No– no. Well, he’s gone. Looks like he fell down the stairs.”
“… do you mind? I don’t– I don’t think I can do this on my own…”
© 2015 – 2017, Laura Seeber. All rights reserved.