Sam gauged the squares in the rust coloured carpet. With true grit and resolve he levered his old bones out of the armchair and brought down his walking stick on the golden leaf pattern. Once his legs quit wobbling, he could shuffle; one green fern--two golden leaves--one green fern, until he reached the door.
Sam enjoyed standing by the open door. There was always someone to watch; kiddies going to and from school; the window cleaner on his rounds, or the postman. Most had a cheery greeting for Sam.
Today he sat on the doorstep, hands resting on the crook of his stick. He watched as an army of red ants scurried about their duties. Sam used to work hard like those ants, but not anymore. He hung his head in shame.
“Dad,” Peter would say. “You’ve worked all your life. You’ve fought for queen and country and you’re ninety years old, for heaven’s sake. It’s time to rest.” Sam rubbed his calf. The old war wound still gave him jip some days.
The carer would be here shortly. Peter had stopped his father using the stove; he’d had too many tumbles of late. Sam protested at first. His pride had taken a dreadful blow, but eventually he found he was glad of the company; a bit of saucy banter with the older ladies; a listening ear to the youngsters; boyfriend dilemmas and such. ‘Kids, they know nothing of life these days,’ he’d thought.
Today Kathy was early: “Caught in the act!” She attempted a stern face. “You old scoundrel,” she declared. “You should be resting that gammy leg.” Sam managed a mischievous grin and a wink; though inside, his proud heart was weeping.
Kathy set to work with her mop and duster: “Look.” She said, holding up a photograph of Elsie. “I’m knocking the dust off so she can see what you get up to.” Kathy’s back was turned when a lone salty teardrop splashed down Sam’s cheek.
The sun shone the following day and the ants were busy on the path. Sam was at the door wearing a clean shirt and his jacket, the one that Elsie bought him for ‘walking out.’ It was still early. Sam focused his attention on the goal. He mustn’t look down at his feet.
Step by jittery step, he made it through the garden gate, carefully closing it behind him. The road was quiet; the rush hour over. He spied the post-box on the corner of Church Street. It seemed farther away than it used to be, but Sam wouldn’t let that deter him. Chin up, eyes straight ahead, he shambled and hobbled in dogged determination to accomplish the task in hand.
A resurgence of pain from that old shrapnel wound threatened to curb his mission, but Sam soldiered on regardless. The church was in view when a sharp twinge under the rib cage forced him to halt awhile: “Elsie, what am I like?” He said. And shaking his head in disbelief, noticed he was wearing his carpet slippers.
In this small rural village the church never closed. The vicar encouraged his flock to drop in for a moment of restful reflection. Sam was wilting like a thirsty flower. The niggling pain in his chest was bugging him. But he’d made it, and wished he’d popped his inhaler inside the top pocket of his walking out jacket; the one that Elsie bought him.
He sat in solitude. Pondering; ruminating, until ultimately the silence engulfed him. He sat, head in hands, until those far too long stifled emotions erupted into an unstoppable surge, leaving him drained and exhausted.
On the wall behind the altar, a large mural of Jesus hanging on the cross had been renovated. The last time Sam saw it was at Elsie’s funeral. It was refreshed; had new vigour. He was drawn by its energy.
“Um… Lord.” He paused, testing the waters. “I’m not sure how to put this. I mean, it’s not as though I’ve spent much time with you lately…” He hesitated. “In fact it’s been years. But Lord, I’m wrecked. And I miss my Elsie so much…” He winced as his ‘indigestion’ pain gripped tight.
Sam remained still and gazed long and hard at the cross. No words were needed, because deep in his heart he knew all was well.
When Kathy called later she found Sam in his armchair. Taking Elsie’s picture from the shelf she placed it beside him, before calling Peter.
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