Martin mustered his strength and leaned against the sliding glass door with his entire weight. The door needed some grease. It opened just far enough for Martin to slip through. Even though the air conditioning was on inside, he just pulled the screen closed. Martin didn’t want to risk being stuck out on the deck in case his son John wasn’t able to come for his visit that afternoon. He could use the outside pager for such emergencies, but he would have felt foolish if he had to use it.
Martin had felt somewhat lightheaded and short-of-breath all day and the walk out to the deck exhausted him. Martin’s small frame collapsed into the wooden deck chair. Martin enjoyed the luxuries of his elder care facility including the privacy and his lovely, albeit tiny, back deck, but a comfortable deck chair was unfortunately not included in the hefty price tag.
Martin rested his left arm on the table. The North Carolina summer super-heated the air but the pergola above him cut the sun. The steamy breeze blew through the trees and ruffled Martin’s gray hair. He waited and listened. He heard the chitter-chatter of birds – high-pitched tweets that ricocheted off the back of his apartment and the partitions separating his deck from the ones on either side. He watched the birds flitting from branch to branch. The sprawling tree branches from the forest came to the edge of the deck. He saw a squirrel tumbling through the branches and heard the mini crashes as he landed on each branch, shaking the leaves. He enjoyed this proximity to nature but he listened for one particular sound.
Finally, he heard it. Coo COO coo – pause – coo coo. The throaty sound, almost like a lady’s voice, reached his ears and his eyes darted around to see the source of the birdcall. The turtle dove swooped through the trees and took up a position on the perch of the bird feeder that Martin had erected on the wooden railing of the deck. The dove surveyed the bits of birdseed that other birds had knocked loose from the feeder. Apparently she deemed them worthy because she started nibbling them.
“I’m so glad you came back, my dear,” Martin said in a soft voice. “I was afraid I might have scared you off after our conversation yesterday. The way you just flew off when I told you that John was getting a divorce made me wonder. I hope I didn’t shock you too much. I know that you were always fond of Sarah, but honestly she’s changed a lot since you’ve been gone. She … well, she started drinking. And not just a little bit, but a lot.”
The dove cooed and moved her head around looking for more bits of food.
“I know. And the children had started to realize what was going on. It really wasn’t a healthy environment at all for them. It was very sad the way it all happened. John’s completely broken up about it, of course. He tried to get her to enter a rehab program, but she wouldn’t admit that she has a problem. So after months of arguing about it and things deteriorating further, he finally filed for divorce. John will of course have the children. Sarah isn’t even contesting that. I don’t know what will become of her. I feel so badly for the children. But John is looking out for them, of course. It’s really too bad that you aren’t still around and that we’re not younger because we could help him care for the children. He’s planning to get a nanny to be there when the children get home from school.”
The dove turned away from Martin and looked off into the trees and cooed several times. Then she turned back to Martin as if waiting for him to continue.
Martin furrowed his brow. “Do you really think your birdie friends can help John find a nanny? Well, I guess it never hurts to ask. I’m glad you found your way here, by the way, when John arranged for me to live here. I was really worried that you wouldn’t be able to find it and that you’d just stay at the house and keep looking for me, thinking I had died and somehow tried to avoid you. I mean, I know you know lots of things that I don’t know, but I’m still happy that you found your way here. I don’t know what I would’ve done here without you to keep me company.”
The doorbell rang out from the inside of the apartment and Martin looked over his shoulder through the opening in the glass door, “Come on in, I’m on the deck!” Martin shifted his weight trying to find a comfortable spot in the deck chair.
The key scraped in the doorknob and John came in and stopped for a moment by the kitchen counter to survey Martin’s lunch tray and pill container. It always made Martin feel like a child when John checked to make sure he was eating enough and taking his pills, but at the same time, Martin knew that John was only looking after him. Nodding in approval, John walked through the living room, pushed the screen aside, and came out to the deck.
John asked, “Would you like something to drink, Dad?”
“Yes, an iced tea would be nice, thanks.” John went back to the kitchen, fixed two iced teas and brought them out to the table. Kissing his father on the cheek, John sat down in the deck chair on the opposite side of the table. “How are you feeling?”
“Oh, I’m doing fine.” Martin glanced at the dove, still sitting on the perch and searching for food. “I’ve felt a bit lightheaded today, though, and I thought the breeze would do me good.”
John leaned back in his chair and crossed one ankle over the opposite knee, glancing at the dove. “Yeah, it’s always nice to be outside. But the heat doesn’t bother you?”
“No, not really. Hearing the birds sing makes up for enduring the heat. How are the kids?” Martin took a sip from his iced tea.
“Oh, they’re doing OK. They’re still upset about Sarah moving out, but, you know. We’re starting to get into a routine. I will be going back to work in two weeks, so I have to find a nanny before that. I’ve been making some phone calls, but I haven’t found anybody yet. The few that I have found are too expensive. There was this one named Mildred who was outstanding, but she was asking too much.”
“Don’t worry about the cost, John. I can help you out with that. If Mildred is the one, then you should just hire her.”
“Thanks, Dad, but I can’t let you do that. I appreciate the offer, though.” Martin didn’t think John would accept his help, but he wanted to offer, at least.
“I have asked around as well to help you find a nanny,” Martin smiled at the dove. “If I get any leads, I will let you know.”
The dove walked back and forth across the railing and cooed while the two men sipped their iced tea. Martin asked, “Will you bring the kids over on Saturday?”
“Yes, of course. Which game would you like for us to bring?”
“Whatever the children want to play is fine with me. Cards, Chinese checkers, whatever. You know I just enjoy spending time with them.”
Martin and John chatted for an hour or so and then John said he had to leave to pick up the children from school. “Can I get you anything before I go? You said you were feeling lightheaded, are you feeling better now?”
“Yes, a bit. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.”
“OK, Dad.” John leaned over and kissed his father on the cheek and took his glass into the kitchen. He walked back to the screen door, “Just give me a call if you need anything. We’ll see you on Saturday! I love you.”
“I love you, too, John.”
John crossed the room and left through the front door, locking the door from outside. Martin sat on the deck for a while finishing his iced tea and continuing his conversation with the dove. When the mosquitoes started to make their presence known, he decided it was time to go in and get ready for the arrival of his dinner.
“Goodbye, my little turtle dove. Will I see you again soon?”
The dove cocked her head towards Martin and cooed softly. In one smooth motion, she flapped her wings and disappeared into the trees.
Martin slid the screen open and went back inside. He leaned against the sliding glass door and when it was nearly closed, Martin fell away from the door and slumped onto the floor.
“Is this Mr. John Brooks?” said the voice on the phone.
John asked, “Yes, who’s calling?”
“Mr. Brooks, this is Sam Sidwell from the Crestwood Care Facility. I’m sorry to tell you that your father, Martin, suffered a heart attack this afternoon and he has passed away.”
“Oh, my God! When did it happen?”
“We think it was in the late afternoon today. The orderly who delivered your father’s dinner found him on the floor in the living room.”
John’s voice caught as he said, “I can’t believe it … I just saw him this afternoon. I’m so glad that I went by today. I almost didn’t go – I was going to wait for the weekend.”
“My condolences, Mr. Brooks. You can stop by any time this week to collect his things. If you’d like, I’d be happy to accompany you.”
“No, that’s not necessary. I’ll go over tomorrow. I can do it by myself. He didn’t really have that many personal things in his apartment. Most of his things are here at my house.”
“Very well. We’d be happy to help you with funeral arrangements. Just give me a call back when you’re ready to discuss it. Again, I’m very sorry. Your father was a very special man.”
“Yes, thank you.” John hung up the phone.
He managed to get the children in bed. He wasn’t prepared to tell them what had happened that evening – he wanted to wait until the following day when they came home from school and he had already collected his father’s things.
After putting the children to bed, he fixed himself a gin and tonic and a sandwich and went out to the lounge chairs in the back yard. A few bushes ran along the wooden fence separating him from his neighbors, but there were no trees. The muggy air stuck to his skin. He sat without moving and let the sounds of the night descend upon him. He closed his eyes and tears began welling and slid down his cheeks.
He heard a turtle dove coo in the distance. Coo COO coo – pause – coo coo. John opened his eyes and gazed at the twinkling stars filling the sky. He heard wings flapping and two small, brownish turtledoves landed a few feet from his chair. He watched the doves poking their beaks into the grass looking for something to eat. One of the doves glanced up at him.
John said, “I’m sorry. I don’t have a birdfeeder yet. I didn’t know you’d be coming so soon. I’ll go buy one tomorrow.” John tore off a piece of bread from his sandwich and tossed it to the doves. “Will this hold you over?” The doves both walked to the bread and nibbled on it. “I guess so.” More tears slid down his cheeks and his voice caught as he said, “Well, looking on the bright side, at least I’ll be able to afford to hire Mildred after all.”
BIO: P.J. lives in Hoboken, New Jersey and has been happily married for fourteen years. She and her husband have two young children. Since growing up in Ohio, she has reached New Jersey by way of Columbus, OH, Chicago, IL, and Mexico City (yes, the one in Mexico). She is a stay-at-home mom and has enjoyed a variety of previous careers – the most lucrative of which was working in information technology. Others which were more fun (but less lucrative) include teaching piano, working as a volunteer coordinator at an orphanage, doing grant writing for a university, and serving on the board of a small foundation. P.J. is a writer of nonfiction about parenting and education on her blog “Double Latte Mama’s Blog” (http://www.doublelattemama.com), a contributor writing about local kid-friendly activities to “NY Metropolista” (http://www.nymetropolista) and a writer of fiction at Inspired By Real Life (http://www.inspiredbyreallife.com). Most of her fiction to-date has been in short form and she is working on her first novel. She won NaNoWriMo in November, 2009. P.J. can be found on Twitter @doublelattemama.