Old Man and His Wife

March 21, 2013
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Beams of morning sunlight filtered through the opened shutters of a small English cottage, and a soft breeze tousled the faded curtains hanging in the bedroom window. A short spring rain had come during the night, and a single droplet of water fell from the ceiling onto the old man's balding head. This disturbance to his slumber caused him to scrunch his face into a group of connected wrinkles. As his drooping eyelids fluttered open, they revealed a pair of hazel eyes, once bright and sharp but now dulled by the years.

"Darned roof's leakin' again," muttered the man, as he sat up groggily.

Huffing and gripping the black cast iron bedpost, he managed to stand up and ready himself for the day.

"Well, well, would you look who decided to wake up. Mornin', Tom," an elderly woman remarked dryly from the kitchen.

"Aw, Edith, now give an old hardworking man a break. Besides, Milson said I needn't come to the farm before nine anyhow."

Edith set a cup of tea on the table and wrapped a slice of bread, cheese, and a paltry bit of sausage in cheesecloth to place in Thomas' tool bag. The old man shuffled over to the pump and filled a small watering pail. A little potted tomato plant sat waiting beside the house to be watered, its leaves green and healthy from the faithful care of its nurturer. After completing his morning ritual, Thomas took a seat at the table to attend to his tea.

"That plant there'll have plump ruby red tomatoes by July, no doubt about it," Thomas declared, gesturing to the window and sipping the hot drink.

Edith, who sat in her rocking chair diligently mending her husband's trousers with yet another patch, responded absentmindedly, "Yes, my dear."

"Well I suppose I best be getting a start toward Milson's. These legs don't take me quite so fast as the used to."

Mr. Duley wrapped his thin, knotted fingers around the handle of his worn leather tool bag, reached for his walking stick, and headed out the door.

Mrs. Duley glanced out the window and watched as he slowly hobbled down the cobblestone street. The image of the hunched figure leaning heavily on his wooden cane brought a trace of sympathy to her brown eyes. Even in his old age, Thomas worked whenever he was offered a job, mostly to fix or repair things on nearby farms outside the village. A responsible husband and father, he had labored from dawn till dusk in the fields of local farmers for over 30 years to provide for their five children, who had all grown up and moved on. Edith recalled the nights when his tall, lean frame would walk through the cottage door, looking dead tired but at the same time excited to share how the crops had been progressing. Thomas always had a passion for growing things and yearned to one day own his own land to cultivate. As the years passed by they could never seem to find enough resources to fulfill this dream, and the family remained in the cramped cottage in town.

Still gazing out the window, Mrs. Duley sighed and tucked a stray silver lock beneath her cap. Although the impossibility of realizing his ambition was painfully obvious to both her and Thomas, she knew it still lingered within him, even if only through his tiny tomato plant. God only knew the short time they had left, and Edith desperately wished she could think of some way for her husband to experience even a small glimpse of his dream. The elderly woman looked thoughtfully down at the potted plant beneath the window, its leaves gently trembling in the April breeze. An idea struck her. She clasped her two wrinkled hands together for a moment and lifted her lips into a delicate smile.

"Afternoon, Mrs. Duley! Certainly is nice to see you out and about. Somethin' I can help you with?" A middle-aged farmer addressed Edith in a thick Irish accent as he swept off his hat and wiped the sweat from his forehead.

"I was wondering if I could rent a bit o' land, oh not much mind you— just enough for a small garden. Well, see I had a notion to surprise Tom, seeing as he's always loved growing things. And it wouldn't hurt to have a few fresh vegetables to harvest either, " Edith replied, anxiously glancing into the eyes of her neighbor and pulling her shawl closer around her frail shoulders. The man reassured the woman with a beaming smile.

"A marvelous idea if I do say so myself! In fact I know a perfect spot for it." Mrs. Duley brought out a small hand embroidered purse and peered into its meager contents for a few moments. "Oh no, no payment, ma'am. Wouldn't dream of it. I'll have you a garden tilled and ready for seeds by supper," the farmer insisted firmly. For an instant Edith pursed her lips in preparation to argue, but when the man held up his hand in protest she decided against it.

"Why, I hardly know what to say. Thank you so very kindly. Oh, God bless you Mr. Bonnar!"

Later that day, Edith busied herself in the tiny but neat kitchen preparing a small meal of fish and chips for Thomas and her. She heard the familiar rattling of the iron door handle and knew Tom must've come home. He set his walking stick aside by the door and took a seat at the table, laying down his tool bag. "How was the work at Milson's?" Edith inquired.

"Ah, alright I suppose. Milson had me mending some of his wagon wheel's a good part o' the day."

"I was thinking we might take a light stroll before dinner. It'll help to work up a bit of an appetite," Edith suggested a little too cheerfully.

Thomas raised his bushy eyebrows in a quizzical expression.

"'A light stroll' you say? I figure I've already worked up a handsome appetite, my dear."

"Oh, Tom. Just a short one, I promise it won't be farther than Bonnar's and back."

Mr. Duley surrendered to his wife and went to grab his walking stick as she quickly shuffled to snatch her shawl. The elderly couple then began walking arm in arm down the cobblestone lane.

As they reached Bonnar's farm Edith coaxed Thomas along until they reached the spot. It was a quaint sized garden, a carefully hoed space with rows of dark rich soil just waiting to hold new seedlings. The old man paused and admired it with a slight smile.

"That will be a very nice garden indeed."

"I don't doubt it, especially with such a wonderful caretaker," Mrs. Duley responded easily.

"Ah yes, Bonnar's as good a farmer as they come."

"Oh no, I was referring to you, Tom." Thomas turned to her with a furrowed brow and quite a perplexed look on his face. "Earlier today I came and asked Bonnar about tilling a garden for you here, seeing as though there's no space at the cottage and well— I thought it could possibly give you a small sight of the dream you've always had— you know, to have a crop of your own…" Mr. Duley processed her words as he stared at the patch of soil before him.

"Huh, my very own garden. Who would've thought it. And a marvelous garden it is, my dear." As his lips creased into a smile, his chin quivered, and Edith detected a slight shining in his eyes. The old man took his wife's hand in his, and the two stood together beneath the twilight's painted sky, admiring their dream come true.

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