Near the last place you were.
It was Margret Schuler’s 70th birthday. Her son had spared the morning to visit her at her suburban rambler, but had sons of his own he had to drive to and fro like a chauffeur for teenagers. It was nice to see her son, but she longed for the day when he needed her as his boys needed him. The afternoon was warm and sunny, the first such day in an unusually rainy spring. She decided it would be a good day to get some tulips to plant in the front garden from the local nursery. It was a short drive and the weekend traffic was light.
The nursery was alive with people. People of all ages wanders about, pointing at and picking through the plants. She took her time, relishing the hum of the busy place. She found the tulips she liked and bought a dozen assorted colors. They were bright and cheery, but delicate and ephemeral. This thought turned her mood melancholy as she connected the fate of the flower she had purchased to her own fate on this, her birth day.
Arriving home, these dour thoughts her easily dispelled as she looked forward to running her hands through the warm dirt in the flower beds. She retrieved her spade and fertilizer from the garage and opened the trunk of her car to pull out the tulips. That’s when the dizziness hit her. The back of her car which had been just at her finger tips pulled away. The ground felt liked it lurched and she flung her arms to the side, grasping at the air to catch herself. She took two steps backward, and panicked as the realization that she was falling became unavoidable.
She awoke staring up at the bright sky and squinted. Her head lay in the grass, but she could tell the rest of her was on the now hot cement of her driveway. The world still spun and she lay there collecting herself. A boy, about 15, ran over, kneeling beside her seemingly from nowhere.
“Lady! Are you ok? I saw you fall!” the boy was panicked.
“Yes, I’m fine,” she heard herself saying, not entirely sure if it was her. “Just got dizzy in the sun.”
“Do you need me to call 911?”
“No, no. I’m fine. Thank you,” her wits were returning.
“What can I do?” the boy sounded desperate.
“Here, help me back up,” Margret lifted a heavy arm to the boy. The boy took her hand, stood up and tugged like he was pulling trying to win at tug of war. Awkwardly, she forced strength to her legs and she was on her feet. Still woozy, she steadied herself with a hand on the boy’s shoulder. She took a moment to let the blood return to her head and looked at the boy more closely. He had a short haircut, wore a filthy t-shirt and blue jeans and a overfilled school backpack clung to his shoulders.
“Where are you from?” Margret asked forgetting her manners. The boy didn’t answer and looked at his feet. “My name is Margret, but you can call me Maggie.”
“I’m Bill. I’m… I’m not from around here.”
“Nice to meet you Bill. And thank you for your help. Can you do one more thing for me walk me to the porch where there’s shade? I still feel a bit weak” she was ashamed to admit it, but her old lady routine was also an attempt to figure out who this boy was. Bill let Margret hold onto his shoulder and walked with her to the porch where four patio chairs were arranged against the wall of the house to look over the front yard. She eased herself into one of the chairs and beckoned Bill to sit next to her.
“Thank you, Bill. The world need more nice people like you around. So, are you one of Doug and Sheryl’s grandkids?” Margret pointed to the house across the street.
“No,” Bill stared at his lap.
“Are with the highschool up the street?”
“No, I was just passing by,” Bill mumbled without looking up.
“I see. Well where were you headed then?”
Bill shrugged his shoulders. Margret to tell Bill was withdrawing inwardly and changed the subject.
“Do you like baseball?”
“Yeah, it’s alright.”
“What was the last game you watched?”
“Um, I think last Thursday’s game against the Tigers.”
“3 to 1 and Mackelmore hit his first homer of the season that game,” Margret grinned.
Bill looked at her “Heh, yeah. You watch all the games?”
“Every one of them. I’ve been watching baseball religiously for years. Henry, he was my husband, was the one who got me started watching the game. Then I became a bigger fan than he was. I’ve only missed 3 games in the last twenty years, if you count recording them and watching them later.”
“Wow, that’s a lot of baseball. I don’t think I like it that much.”
“Well, what kind of things are you into?”
“I dunno,” Bill cocked his head, “I guess I like reading and music.”
“What do you listen to?”
“Mostly heavy stuff, you know Slayer, Mega Death, that kinda of stuff.”
“Really you like that stuff?”
“My boy, Paul, used to be into Slayer and Metallica and the like when he was your age. I couldn’t stand it, but on his 16th birthday Henry went to the record shop and asked what was the best, most noisy album they had. And when Paul upwrapped it and realized his old fuddy-duddy parents got it for him, his jaw dropped wide open.” Margret laughed at the memory. “I think it was a band called Planter, or something”
“That was it. We had to get him headphones, I couldn’t stand the stuff.” Margret laughed again.
Bill laughed as well, “Yeah, my parents can’t stand it–” He stopped short and the smile evaporated from his face.
“Bill, I’m feeling better now. How would you like a cold can of root beer?”
Margret got up, feeling steady again, and went inside and pulled two cans of root beer from the fridge. She kept them on hand for her grandsons, but didn’t mind the occasional soda herself. Bill was politely waiting for her when she got back.
“Here you go, Bill. Cold as I could make it.”
“Thanks,” Bill took the can, opened it and took two gigantic swigs before Margret had returned to her seat.
“Are you hungry? I’ve got some sandwich fixin’s inside,” Margret asked watching the boy gulp down the soda.
“Um… ok.” Bill seemed unsure how he should answer, but clearly wanted something to eat. Margret once again went inside and came back out with three ham and turkey sandwiches cut in half diagonally. She offered Bill a sandwich and he grabbed two halves without hesitation. She sat down and took a bite of a triangle morsel herself. Bill gobbled down the first sandwich and Margret encouraged him to take more.
“It’s my birthday today, Bill,” Margret said matter of fact like.
“Oh,” replied Bill, not knowing what to say to that.
“I’m 70 today and I was thinking about how many more birthdays I have left. You’ve probably had as many as I have to go. Funny isn’t it.”
Bill didn’t respond but stared at her blankly as she surveyed her front lawn.
“What I mean to say, Bill, is that here we are, you and me, sitting on my porch, our lives intersecting for just a brief moment, as you’re just taking on yours and I’m, well, nearing the end. It’s poetic, don’t you think?”
Bill nodded as he took another, slower bite from his sandwich.
“I don’t know why you’ve run away,” Margret pause to see the shock on the boy’s face that she knew, “but there’s something in me too that wants to just walk away from it all. Just take what I need and go. Spend the rest of my days not being a burden on others. Whereas I’m sure you’re running away from burden put on you? Am I right?”
Bill nodded slowly looking at the floor.
“Tell you what. I’ve got a spare room and you can spend the night there. And tomorrow, we can figure out our burdens. But today… today is my birthday and I want to plant some Tulips. What do you say, Bill?”
Bill thought for a moment, then cleared his throat and said, “Sounds good.”