My fingers rattled the rusty mailbox hinge loose. It was here. I took the envelope into my hand, kissed it, and held it flat against my heart.
There was a swagger in my step as I walked back to the house. Retirement was going to be great. I caught my reflection in the hall mirror. I was a little broader than I expected at 65, but I was still a dapper guy. I smoothed a hand over my thinning hair and straightened up.
“I’m retired.” I tried it on for size. I liked it.
I went into the kitchen and poured myself a glass of water and sat down at the table big enough for four, but only seating two lately. Hamilton-Sagun let me know there’d be a letter coming my way, and not to overlook it. 34 years now, and my retirement was finally in hand, quite literally. I couldn’t wait to share it with Marilyn, but first I needed to read it for myself.
My heart fluttered as I pulled the letter out of the envelope. My fingers trembling as I flattened the paper. Get a grip, Hal; you’re acting like a schoolgirl. I took a deep breath.
The words struggled to get past my eyes and into my brain. Something was wrong.
Fired? 34 years and I’m fired? I reread the letter. Why didn’t they just take me out to pasture and shoot me?
I carefully re-folded the letter, slid it back into its envelope, and slipped it into my shirt pocket.
My chest ached; my hands went cool, and my mouth went dry. A flush of nausea swept over me and I fought to hold it at bay. You’re okay, Hal. Just calm down.
I tried to pick up the glass of water but my hand shook so badly I couldn’t steady it with my other hand. My head started to spin. I needed some fresh air.
I stood up slowly and looked around our kitchen. My eyes stopped on a photo nestled amongst some frames on the shelf over the table. Marilyn was only 35 and she held the boys on her lap. Brian is looking up at Marilyn with his lips pursed for a kiss. Matt has his head resting on Marilyn’s shoulder, his curls pressed under her chin.
The boys were grown now and we missed them. We didn’t see them often enough.
I walked as far as the sink before I had to stop and catch my breath. My eyes dampened when I looked out the window and saw Marilyn there. She was in her garden weeding. We’d been married 40 years and I loved her more every day.
Marilyn had just finished her third round of chemotherapy. No more insurance, dear God, what are we going to do?
Marilyn saw me watching her. She lifted the brim of her floppy hat with a gloved hand and smiled. She gestured for me to bring her some water.
I poured her a glass and tried hard not to spill it. I hesitated at the screen door a moment trying to recollect myself. God, she’s always been strong for me. Help me be strong for her.
Marilyn straightened herself when she saw me and blew out an exaggerated breath. She was a real beauty, even without eyebrows. I held up the glass to show her my offering.
“My hero,” she said.
My foot wobbled beneath me. Clumsy me. I looked up at Marilyn and shrugged my shoulders. Then the other foot wobbled and the glass fell from my hand.
My world stopped.
The doctor called it a massive coronary. He handed Marilyn Hal’s belongings, along with his sympathies, and left.
Marilyn caught sight of an envelope between the billfold, handkerchief, and keys. She unfolded the envelope and pulled out the letter.
Marilyn read it and dropped it onto the floor, sinking back into her seat. The boys were there. Brian picked up the letter and read it.
“They fired him,” Brian mouthed to Matt.
Brian leaned over and kissed his mother’s cheek. Matt rested his head on her shoulder. Each of them put one arm around her.
“We’re going to be okay, Mom,” Matt said. “You’ve still got us, and God’s got us all. We’re going to be okay.”
Marilyn rested her chin on his head, tears moistening his curls. “They might as well have pulled the trigger,” she said.
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