A teakettle whistles softly on the kitchen woodstove. A man pours the steaming water, stirring in milk and sugar. He sets the two rattling teacups on the red checked tablecloth and chooses a pill bottle from the lineup against the wall. The mantle clock announces seven o’clock.
“Time for your pill, Mary Dear.” He helps her sit straighter in her wheelchair and adjusts a pillow behind her left shoulder. “I hope the tea isn’t too hot.”
With a towel under her chin and a teacup in his gnarled fingers, he slowly, gently gives her a sip and wipes the corner of her mouth. The clock ticks away the minutes as he takes a sip from his cup and gives her one.
“The leaves are starting to turn red already. It will be winter soon.”
She twists her neck toward the window. “Un-n-n.”
“The pastor’s wife brought some banana bread. She’s such a thoughtful woman. Would you like some with your tea?”
“Un-o-oh” Mary jerks her head and knocks the cup from his hand, sending it shattering across the linoleum floor. “O-o-oh!”
“Don’t worry about that. It was almost empty anyway.” He fetches the straw broom and sweeps the broken pieces into the dustpan. After washing his own teacup in the big enamel sink, drying it, and putting it away; he hobbles to the back door to let the cat out and puts another piece of wood in the stove.
“Are you warm enough, Mary Dear?”
“Unh-oo” She looks toward the living room and swings her arm wildly.
“What? Do you want to listen to the radio?” He pushes her chair across the braided rug and pulls the light chain, giving the room a golden glow. He wipes a dribble on her chin and straightens her up again.
“Unh-oo” Mary focuses on the bookshelf.
“Oh, you want to look at the photo album?”
Side by side, they peer at faces of long ago – mothers and brothers already passed on. They remember the old farm house and pudgy babies. They puzzle over all the faces in the wedding poses and try to remember the names of all the grandchildren and their babies. The mantel clock chimes eight times.
“Time for bed, Mary Dear.”
Sounds of splashing water, thumps, grunts, and rustling cloth are heard beyond the bathroom door. At last they emerge. Mary is wearing a white flannel nightie and pink fluffy slippers. A waft of liniment and talcum follows them down the hallway to the bedroom.
Facing the tall vanity mirror, he straightens her back, adjusts the pillows, and wipes her chin again. With slow gentle strokes, he lovingly brushes her soft gray curls. She closes her eyes; the hint of a smile shows on one side of her lips.
Carefully, he lifts her small frame onto the cotton sheets and tucks her in. He brushes the droplets from his balding head with his shirtsleeve and readies the house for the night.
Finally, with a sigh, he lies down beside her and turns to see her clouded blue eyes watching him.
He kisses her forehead and whispers, “I love you too, Mary Dear, and I always will.”
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