Home — A Short Story
“Harry, you’re not paying attention.” She muttered disapprovingly. “Maybe I should stop for now.”
The old man sat unmoving in his chair, staring out into the yard. Dusk had crept in giving the hedges at the far end a subtle golden glow. The air was still, pregnant with the raucous symphony of crickets.
“Harry, for God’s sake.” She complained a bit louder this time. “Should I?”
He turned his head towards her, looking at her with a sort of mild amusement.
“Should you what?” He asked, his voice unexpectedly raspy and broken from having been silent for so long.
“Should I stop talking?” She was getting annoyed now. He could tell.
“I mean, here I am telling you these things… and… and you might as well be asleep at this point.”
Her being annoyed like this always cracked him up, though he had learned over the years not to show it. It didn’t take much to annoy Maggie. From the loud clang of cutlery to the impertinent meowing of their cat, Wrinkles, while she was in the middle of a monologue — it all annoyed Maggie.
In the early years of their marriage, he had found it all a bit too much. That, though, was a sure path to a fight which she would inevitably win. Maggie didn’t take too kindly to anyone who found her ire in life less than justified. Besides, even as a younger man, Harry wasn’t really built to keep the momentum going in an argument that might extend past the reasonable few minutes.
She was not looking at him anymore and had leaned back in her own chair. She was expecting an apology of some sort, and a request for her to keep going, he immediately realized.
He reached across with his left hand, and softly clutched her right hand. She promptly ignored this effort on his part to make amends.
“Earth angel… earth angel…” He sang in his comically theatrical voice.
A smile seemed to crack through her facade of obliviousness to his existence for a brief second, before vanishing into the gaping chasm of her stubbornness.
“Will you be mine? My darling dear… “ Prompted by her fleeting but encouraging reaction, he continued.
“Stop it, Harry. It’s not funny.” She mumbled just loud enough for him to hear.
He gave up, sensing her stern tone.
“I was listening to you, you know.” He said softly.
“No, you weren’t.”
“Yes I was. You were telling me about the day we moved in here. How you wanted to paint the nursery even before the kids were born. About how I thought it was silly, and teased you about it.”
She looked at him, and sighed.
“You missed it, Harry.”
“You missed what the whole point was. You missed it then, and you’re missing it now. You know, you can be so caught up in your head that you miss what’s right in front of you sometimes.”
He let out a chuckle, and gripped her hand closer to himself.
“I suppose you better tell me what I missed then.”
She didn’t say anything. He squeezed her hand, and looked into her eyes.
“I’m serious. Tell me.”
He had kind eyes. In the end, that’s what Maggie always gave into. His kindness.
She took a deep breath, and said as softly as she could, “The point is… it wasn’t about the nursery or the kitchen or the garden in the backyard. The point is… I wanted us to make a home. We bought a house, Harry. And it was a beautiful house, but I couldn’t wait to make it our home.”
“We did make it our home. This is our home.”
An overpowering rush of grief was pounding at the walls of his mind, ready to burst out and drown his soul in it.
“This is our home, Maggie.”
“I am not here anymore, Harry.”
“Stop it.” His voice was cracking under the weight of her words. They felt like hammer blows to his heart.
“It’s been two years. You’re all alone here, Harry.”
“This is about what Katie said.” He muttered, and then added, “I’ve already made up my mind about that. You’re not going to change it, Maggie.”
“She wants you with her. What’s wrong with that? You’ll feel better there too.”
“Stop it, Maggie. Enough!” His voice was harsh, but it was coated in pain.
“It’s a good thing that our daughter wants her father with her. In this day and age, most kids would never even think to ask.”
Harry had grown silent again, and deep inside he was hoping Maggie would leave it be, though he already knew she wasn’t.
“I’m good where I am, Maggie. This is our home. This is our home. Do you understand? I’m not leaving you here.”
“I’m not here anymore, you stubborn man.” She responded impatiently.
“This is where we built our life… and I’m..”
“For Pete’s sake, it’s just a house, Harry.”
“Ha! Who was it that was just telling me about the day we moved in here… and… the nursery-”
“I wanted us to have a home. That’s what I was telling you. I wanted you to have a home. A home with people who love you. That’s what I have always wanted, Harry.”
The floodgates inside him were about to break open now. He could sense it, and with every fiber of his being he was trying to resist it.
“Don’t ‘Maggie’ me, Harry. Go to Katie’s. For two years now you have been sitting here in this big empty house, and it breaks my heart. And it’s not romantic or beautiful, Harry. An old man sitting by himself in a house with no one to talk to is just sad, you hear me?”
She was scolding him now, which gave him pause.
“I talk to you, don’t I?” He whispered with a sort of childish sulk.
“Well, I’m tired of talking to you. For goodness sake, Harry.”
That hurt him a little, but he could see she was trying to admonish him, not be cruel. They both stayed silent for a few moments, neither willing to give into the other.
It was Harry who talked first. It always had to be him, he thought.
“I’ll think about it.” He said quietly, squeezing her hand once again, and closing his eyes.
The twilight was dying, and its embers burned red in the vast sky.
“Thank you.” She whispered in return.
The crickets were quieter now, their music knowingly playing to the dance of a lifetime worth of memories.