Under cover of the portico the Good Samaritan closed the dripping umbrella and punched the access button. When the glass doors swung open he propelled Edith’s wheelchair—a little too quickly and none too gently—across the threshold into the lobby.
“Sorry, Mrs. Barnes.”
“That’s okay, Josh.” Edith smiled. She was grateful for his kind, albeit awkward assistance.
Josh smiled, too, but his didn’t last once he took in the surroundings. Edith understood. If he seemed ill-at-ease here, he wasn’t alone in his discomfort. Places like this proved difficult for many. They reminded one of just how fragile we really are, how fleeting the things we tend to take for granted. Things like youth, health, vitality…
Once he had taken Edith to her destination Josh patted her shoulder and beat a hasty retreat, ostensibly to allow her a private visit.
“Oh, there you are.” Jim’s entire being brightened when he smiled. “I didn’t know when you could get here again.”
“I know. I didn’t, either. The doctor wanted to talk to me and that nice, young Josh Hunter from church took me to the clinic, so I asked him if we could stop by here on the way back.” Edith sighed. “I really hate it that I’m so dependent on others any more. Why, it used to be if I needed to go somewhere I’d just hop in the car and drive there myself.”
“Things change,” Jim said. He fell silent; he seemed to fade, but that wasn’t unusual.
Edith allowed herself a rare moment of self pity. A single tear trailed her cheek, tracing a path through one of the creases the years had carved. With each visit here her connection to Jim grew more tenuous. How long would it be? If the doctors were right…
Glad Jim’s attention was elsewhere, Edith retrieved a tissue from her purse and patted the tear trail dry before she lifted her chin and reclaimed control. “Yes, things change, but I’ve still got a lot to be thankful for. Even though the boys don’t live near, they visit as often as they can and people from the church are so helpful. The Lord has been good to me.”
“To both of us.” Jim had returned. “What did the doctor say?”
“The doctor. You said you talked to him this morning. What did he say?”
“Oh, that.” Edith twisted the tissue in her hands. “Just a status report.”
This seemed to satisfy her husband. Edith relaxed her grip, thankful Jim didn’t ask for details.
Determined to shift the subject, Edith chuckled. “Speaking of the boys—why I still call them ‘boys’, I don’t know--they’re nearing retirement age, after all! But, anyway, speaking of them, do you remember that Saturday morning when they were still boys and we overheard them playing outside the window while we sat at the table with our coffee?”
“You mean the battle game?” Out of dozens of Saturday mornings of shared coffee and conversation while their offspring had played nearby, Jim knew just which time Edith meant. After nearly seventy years of marriage, few things needed explanation.
“Yes! That’s the time. We listened to their little war play for quite some time, and thought at first it must be the classic cowboys and Indians battle,” Edith began.
“Until we heard them tell the neighbor their fight was between the Germans and the Salvation Army!” Jim finished the reminiscence.
It had been a long time since Edith had heard Jim laugh. She joined in until the tears flowed again, this time mirth-born.
One of the workers peeked in the room.
“Oh, dear. I hope we haven’t disturbed anyone,” Edith said. “We were just laughing about when our kids were small.”
“That’s okay, Mrs. Barnes. I was just passing by. Please, laugh away.” The attendant paused. “We don’t get enough of that around here.”
Edith turned back to Jim, only to find he had faded once again.
“Mrs. Barnes? Are you ready to go?” Josh knelt quietly beside her.
“Almost. Take me closer…so I can say goodbye.”
Would this be the last time she’d visit him here?
Josh wheeled her chair to where she could reach. Trembling fingers traced each letter engraved on the vault’s granite marker.
Soon she wouldn’t have to imagine what Jim would say. His image would fade no more. They’d be together, in the presence of their Lord; they’d talk, once again, face to face.
Soon, Jim, soon…
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