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The porch swing creaked back and forth in the cool autumn breeze, steadily marking time as it crept by slowly. Colorful leaves swirled in a rustling flurry of oranges, browns and greens, brushing against the side of the old house that had stood proudly on top of the hill for many years. Now it was geriatric and withered, like the man who sat, lonely and wistful, on the shaded veranda.
Everyday, Mr. Enola relaxed on his rickety front porch, gazing out at the peaceful neighborhood spread before him. It had been that way since his wife died, and lately he had been catching himself longing for something better, a way to make his life meaningful again. But he had no one to care for him, no one who would visit, no one at all… so he endured.
He had been a dignified gentleman, but time had changed his appearance greatly. No longer did he have ash-blonde hair and burly shoulders. His once handsome face wrinkled and saggy, his back bent with a pain that never seemed to go away, and his heart sore with disuse.
The mailbox perched precariously on the washed out picket fence still read John and Marie Enola. Her fragile, blue china dishes remained unused and dusty in a mahogany cupboard. Photographs of them together, smiling and happy, were scattered around the house a constant reminder of his loss. John had become a depressed widower, unwilling to let go of the past and continue on with his life.
“Hello, Mr. Enola.” a woman’s voice chirped, interrupting his saturnine thoughts. “How are you today?” looking up, he saw a slender woman, standing on the cracked sidewalk just outside the gate.
“The same as yesterday,” he replied with a slight smile. “And how about you, Kate?”
“My brother is in town and I was just taking a walk to the store with my niece, Ella.” He hadn’t noticed the little girl who was peeking out from behind Kate’s legs, shyly looking down at the pink sandals strapped on her petite feet.
“Well, hello there, Ella,” John said, waving his large, age –spotted hands. As she stepped out from behind her aunt, he noticed she had the same silky golden hair that Marie would twirl around her slim fingers, just as Ella was doing now.
“Hi, Mr. Enola, she said in a small, silvery voice, peering from behind a curtain of long, blonde hair that looked as if it were woven from sunlight. “I’m staying with Aunt Kate for the day. We drew pictures, went to the park, and now we are going to make a cake,” she said solemnly, her wide blue eyes so similar to Marie’s.
“Well we were, but I can’t seem to find the baking soda,” Kate said sheepishly, “so we are on our way to the store to buy another box.”
“The store is all the way across town,” John remarked, “Why don’t you just borrow some from me?”
“Oh, that’s okay,” Kate said, with a wave of her hand, “don’t worry about it.”
“It’s no problem at all, Kate. It’s not like I’ll be using it. Marie is the one who did all the baking around here,” he added.
“Are you sure?”
“Of course.” Grabbing his hickory cane, he pulled himself up and off of the swing, grunting from the strain on his old bones. “Why don’t you two come in?” he said, inviting them onto the porch with a beckoning sweep of his arm.
The gate squeaked as it opened, admitting them through before closing with a click. Ella was wearing a baby-blue sundress, Marie’s favorite color, which accentuated her creamy complexion. She held the dress out as she ascended the four uneven steps to the porch; her footsteps light and dainty, like a princess. Clutched in her hands was a small stuffed animal, a pink, plush pig.
“It’s on the second shelf of the cupboard above the stove, way in the back. It might be a bit of a mess,” John added apologetically. “Just grab what you need.” Kate smiled and nodded, walking across the tan carpeting of the living room to the kitchen door.
Sinking wearily into the old, brown suede couch, John looked at Ella, who was gazing around the house, a curious look on her face. Her innocent, sparkling blue eyes brought a smile to his chapped lips, and another memory of Marie surfaced to his mind. The joy in her eyes as she walked through this house before they bought it, not seeing all the work that had to be done, but imagining the completed house, though that wouldn’t happen for another three years.
“Mr. Enola?” A gentle tug on his shirtsleeve brought him rushing back to the present. “Who is this lady?” In Ella’s small hands was an exquisite frame with a picture of Marie on their wedding day, linking arms with a younger John, fresh out of college and about to be deported, though he didn’t know in that moment in time. It was his favorite picture of her, not because of how beautiful she had looked, walking down the isle towards him that day in the white gown, but because of how her radiant smile still warmed his heart, as it had that very day the picture was taken.
Patting the cushion next to him, he helped her onto the threadbare couch. With a bittersweet smile on his wrinkled face, John looked into her inquisitive clear blue eyes, slowly replying, “That is Marie… my wife.” Ella examined the picture, stroking the glass with her small fingers, removing the dust.
“She’s very pretty. Is she here?” her fascinated face brought a pain to his heart, yet he still answered, ruffling her fair hair gently.
“No. She died four years ago.” He could hear the utter sadness in his voice, but he could not bring himself to soften his words with a smile.
Reaching up to touch his face, she said slowly, “It’s okay. My mom is in heaven too.” Her tiny hands were smooth and warm on his stubbly cheek, and threatening sting of tears made him blink rapidly. “Don’t cry,’ she said soothingly. “They are happy up there. My mommy said so, right before she left.” A serene smile lit up her face as she dropped her hand, leaning back on the couch with her stuffed pig in her lap. “She said soon, we would all be together, like a big tea-party!” How backwards, John thought, a six-year-old comforting and reassuring him about heaven. She stroked the fluffy animal perched in her lap, humming softly. They sat there for a moment, next to each other, before he finally spoke.
“So you like tea-parties?” he asked, unsure of what else to say. She grinned and he noticed a tooth was missing, an endearing small gap in a sea of pearly white tiny teeth.
“Of course, and so does Pork Chop, my pig!” She held him up and displayed the well-loved animal to John. “Does your bear like tea-parties?” Noticing his confused look, she pointed to the mantle, where the faded, sky-blue bear sat.
“Yes, she does… and she is very lonely.” With a burst of inspiration he got up and hobbled over to the mantle, grabbing the bear and brushing the dust off of its faded fur. “I think she wants to have a tea-party.” Ella’s eyes lit up in excitement, and his heart contracted, because he had always cherished his ability to make Marie’s eyes sparkle. Instead of wallowing in the misery of the moment, he walked over to the china cupboard.
Taking four plates, teacups, and finally the delicate blue teapot off the top shelf he said, “These were Marie’s. She used to have tea-parties with her friends when she was little.” He dragged the coffee table closer and set the dishes down tenderly. Plopping the bear down next to one of the plates, he pretended to pour tea into each of the four cups.
Putting the teacup to her lips, Ella exclaimed, “This tea is delicious!” John smiled and took a drink of the non-existent tea. Grasping the pig’s head, Ella spoke for him in a low voice, “This is really good! Would you pour some more, please?”
John laughed heartily, his heart light and full to the bursting point with delight, “Why of course, Pork Chop.” A quiet laugh came from behind him, making John start and almost drop the teapot.
“Hi, Aunt Kate! We’re having a tea-party and you just made Mr. Enola spill the tea!”
John chuckled, saying to a very bemused Kate, “Did you find the baking soda alright?”
“Well, not exactly,” Kate said with a good-natured laugh, “but as I put the other things back, I sorted it out a little, so maybe it will be a bit easier for you to find things now. Are you ready to go, Ella?”
“But we aren’t done yet!” Ella protested. “And Mr. Enola’s bear gets lonely,” she finished, putting her slight hand on the bears head.
“We can always come back tomorrow and bring him some cake,” Kate suggested, then looked hastily at John, adding, “Of course, if you don’t mind.”
John smiled and nodded, “You’re welcome anytime. Oh, and Ella,” he said, looking into her dejected face. “I think my bear won’t feel so alone if you take her home.” He gestured to the bear, which sat slumped on the table, next to the pig. “I think Pork Chop would love a new friend.”
Her eyes lit up, and beaming, she said, “Okay, but I think she needs a name.”
They both pondered for a moment, then John stated, “I think her name will be Heaven.”
As Ella and Kate walked home, he waved until he could no longer see them, then he sank back into the porch swing, eagerly anticipating the upcoming day with a feeling of happiness he had long forgotten.