Spring was approaching, and Lewis desperately wanted his roses to bloom in full profusion this summer. He was missing Janice more than usual. Why, he didn’t know. She had died years and years ago, before he met his wife. But Janice clung to his heart and to his very spirit, like one of the first memories you get of something, like how a forest smells after rain, or how a root-beer float tastes with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream, home-made. He knew it was wrong, wishing her back. Dreaming her back. His head was full of what-if’s, like what-if they had gotten married, what-if they had four beautiful babies with curly locks, and what-if they took a cruise to a far-away spot just this coming year to celebrate their anniversary. What-if, what-if. It was something Lewis cautioned his own grown children about. Don’t what-if, he’d tell them. What’s done is done. Go forward. Don’t look back. It’s the wrong direction, the looking-back.
But it wasn’t the wrong direction for Lewis.
Lewis was older, and his gray hair and well-earned wrinkles around the eyes proved it. He stood in his garden, leaning on a shovel, feeling the dryness of the day and how the sun was starting to bake his cheeks. He didn’t care. He was feeling the air, after being cooped-up all winter long in a stuffy house. He was feeling the sunshine, getting vitamins he heard doctors on TV talk about, and he was feeling…love. Rather, the absence of this beautiful thing, Love.
He swallowed, and dug his shovel into the hard ground, next to the yellow rose bush. What he wanted was for his wife to come outside with a cold glass of sweet tea. What he wanted was for her to compliment him on getting his garden to grow and bloom so early in the year. Yes, he wanted it so badly. If she walked out right now with a glass of tea, or water, even…he’d pull her close and give her a kiss, because it meant she cared, because it meant he meant something to someone. That he meant something special to her.
But instead he dug-dug-dug into the hard ground with the tip of his shovel.
Dirt kept falling back into the hole Lewis was trying to dig. Sweat poured into his eyes. His eyes burned.
The back porch screen door slammed.
Lewis’s wife was there, looking a bit different. Not quite the same as she did this morning.
Lewis dropped his shovel and walked up to her, squinting into the sun.
“What’s wrong, Love?” He asked with genuine concern. He removed his leather gloves. “What is it?”
Emotional strength was not one of her greater attributes, in Lewis’s opinion, but he tried to let this go. Men and women were different. Maybe women just showed their pain while men hid it.
Lewis’s wife shook her head.
“I had my check-up. It’s not good. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I just don’t know.”
“Emma.” Louis reached his hand toward hers, but she stepped back a few inches.
“It’s not good. It’s not good.” Emma shook her head back and forth.
Already her heart was hardened, and Lewis didn’t know how to soften it. He wanted to know what she was talking about, and he wanted to shout at her and tell her to talk to him plainly, so he could understand. Communication. It was always something he struggled with. Just talk to me, he heard himself whisper. Just talk to me.
But this is the thing about a woman: If you raise your voice, she retreats further. A man needs to wait. A man needs to listen. A man needs to soften his voice. Lewis struggled with all these things.
“What is it, Emma? You can tell me. What happened?”
Emma buried her face into her hands, made her way to the plastic chair on their back porch. Sat down. Head still lowered.
She felt dowdy. She felt her years coming up on her. She missed being young and she missed being thin and she missed riding through town with girlfriends in her blue convertible, talking about boys and dreaming of lakes and swimming. She missed her mother, who died twenty years before. She wanted everything back, yet knew she could not have anything back. Not like it was. Not like it had been. She missed her sister, she missed her brother. She wanted to be ten years old and waking up on Christmas morning when everything was magical and real life hadn’t set in. She wanted these things, but instead she looked and saw Lewis, and her vision crumbled.
Lewis reached for her hands. These hands were still beautiful, because they were hers.
It’s hard to reach into a woman’s heart. It’s hard to reach into a woman’s soul. This is why: They are hers. They have to be cultivated. They have to be winterized at the right time, and when the time is right, they need to be ready for spring. You have to water her soul with soft words, feed her with golden sunrises and cultivate her heart with gentle rain, because rain helps things grow. You have to water a woman’s soul with summer flowers and fire flies, because they’re bright and happy when dusk covers the woods and light fades.
And it takes a life time to learn, when you cultivate a woman’s heart.
It’s easier to cultivate a flower garden. Lewis knew this as fact.
Lewis felt his face flush. He wanted to shout, “Talk to me! What did the doctor say?” He shook inwardly, but for just a moment. He was scared, but he didn’t want to show it.
Emma’s head bent, and she began to cry.
Lewis scooted up to her, crouched near her chair, took her arm.
“I love you,” he said. “Whatever it is, we’ll do it together.”
Honestly, Lewis wasn’t sure if he could do it or not. He was still learning how to dance with Emma, even though they had been married a lifetime. He was still learning the right things to say. Mostly, he was learning the right things not to say.
It had taken much practice.
He failed many times.
Lewis was scared.
Their dog lay on the patio. Lewis was pretty sure the dog felt something going on, and he knew dogs were pretty smart. Their dog kept wagging its tail. Hard. Their dog’s face was smack-dab on the concrete. He hardly moved.
They picked up on emotions, dogs did.
Probably better than Lewis did most days.
Lewis held his wife’s hands tighter. He wanted to ask her more, but she’d tell him, in time.
In her time.
By now, it was about three in the afternoon, and it wasn’t quite spring.
It wasn’t hot, but it wasn’t cold.
It was luke-warm, and Lewis didn’t like luke-warm, Luke-warm was ok, sometimes. But for a day like today, luke-warm seemed appropriate. He guessed. Maybe.
The flower garden would wait. He could trim and dig and poke and do other things later to it.
Now, it was about Emma. It was about him. It was about doing nothing but Being.
A school bus rumbled by, and tears welled in Lewis’s eyes. He thought of being a kid. He wished he was a kid again.
But if he was a kid again, he’d be missing this.
Lewis held Emma’s hand a little tighter, and their dog wagged its tail a little harder.
Emma cried, and cried, and cried.
And all the while the sun still shone and Lewis swore he saw new shoots coming up off the rose bushes, and he was sure the yellow one was going to bloom with profusion, come summer.
And all the while Emma cried, and the school bus rumbled off into the distance, and a neighbor’s dog barked.
And all the while the sun became a bit hotter, and Lewis’s heart melted.
God was good because that’s how it is, that’s how life is, and soon they’d be putting up the hummingbird feeders and the birds would buzz and honey bees would dance and flit and the sun would shine.
Always, the sun would shine.
Lewis knew this to be true. He did.