Four Pennies Short
“Crack! Thud!” Another ancient poplar tumbled to the ground by the pond. The gale-force winds were relentless, coming in surges and waves of eighty kilometer per hour gusts.
Why was I here?
It was an early spring, accented by daily doses of he-man winds but little rain. The winds were wreaking havoc in the forest of poplar and birch down the hill by the pond. My chainsaw and I were on a first-name basis by now. Every second day I was picking up mangled branches or cutting down some widow- makers hung up on each other in an aging family of balsam poplar.
This Wednesday evening was no exception. My chainsaw and I were inspecting the casualties on a familiar trail by the pond. My aging parents loved walking along this trail, leading to a meadow that was graced with rabbits, robins and deer. I lost my parents recently and recalled fond memories of them when I was down here. Unfortunately the wind had different plans for keeping this path clear.
I was cutting up a ten-inch poplar that had fallen across the path. The rotten logs were teeming with ants and sawdust was flying everywhere. It would feel good to get back to the house and into a hot bath. I had the urge to look up and say a little prayer to mom and dad. I could sense their presence as the trees swayed back and forth, dancing to an unseen drummer.
I picked up the saw and made my way back to the main trail. As I started up the hill, a sparkling glimmer of light through the fallen leaves caught my eye. I looked down and giggled. Nestled on top of the leaves was a bright, shiny quarter.
I set down the saw and picked up the sparkly coin. “Where did you come from?” I asked. I had walked down this hill only thirty minutes ago without seeing this but the surprise was just beginning. I took another step and found a loonie. Two steps to the left and there was a nickel and another quarter. I starting chuckling again. Five steps back and two more quarters sat smiling at me. The trees around me laughed with the wind as I gathered the tiny fortune of two dollars and sixty cents.
I was dumbfounded. These coins weren’t on the trail when I came down here. Maybe Mom and Dad dropped these from Heaven?
The hot shower warmed me up, but couldn’t help solve the mystery. I wondered what the $2.60 meant?
I started talking to myself again. “Two dollars and sixty cents. Let me see. Two hundred and sixty. Why is that number important?” I started to wonder.
“Dad passed away July 28th of last year. How many days in a month?” I could feel my heart race as I grabbed a pencil, paper and calculator. I added up the days since Dad passed and sat back in my chair. I took a deep breath and checked the numbers again. Dad passed away 264 days ago.
Maybe Dad was saying “Hi” from Heaven. I guess he was four pennies short…
Somehow I knew before it happened. Call it a premonition, call it being sensitive, call it what you will. At one time, I called it love – until that day.
The military staff car came scurrying up our gravel driveway. I could see the dust storm it kicked up from a half mile away. I was painting the nursery upstairs – blue and pink.
I hope that you’ll forgive me. I know that you’ll be happy whether we have a boy or a girl. Somehow, I get the feeling it will be a little boy – just like his daddy: tall, handsome, proud, upstanding. I only wish you could be here. I can feel a little kick now and then. It gives me comfort in your absence.
Two men in dark green dress uniforms got out of their staff car. The doorbell rang – three times in rapid succession. The senior gentleman, with all the stars and ribbons, carried a grey envelope and green satchel. God, I didn’t want to open the door. Help me God.
“Are you Rosa? Rosa Marconi?”
“Yes – that’s me.”
“Can…can we come in m’am?” What could I say? I really didn’t want to hear them. I didn’t want them to be here.
“Mrs. Marconi, I regret to inform you that your husband, Emmet, has been killed in action. It seems that…”
“Stop, no! I don’t believe you. I don’t believe you! It’s a mistake. He’s coming home in four months when the baby comes!” I don’t remember saying this. I fell to the floor and rocked myself – like a baby. My head was spinning and their voices were drowned out by my screaming and bawling. God help me!
They continued their statement as if they had rehearsed it before they came.
“Emmet stepped on a land mine while on patrol with Charlie Company on a pre-dawn recon mission. You can rest assured that Emmet’s death was quick and he didn’t suffer unnecessarily. The United States of America is proud of your husband and his team. He showed outstanding courage and fortitude in serving his beloved country.” The officer held out his hand, helped me up and sat down beside me on the sofa. The other officer opened the green satchel and held something in his hand.
“M’am, Emmet’s sergeant asked us to give this to you. I understand that you made this hanky for him?” I couldn’t believe it. This was the navy blue hanky I knitted for you the day before you were deployed. I squeezed it and rubbed my face into your essence – to breathe every bit of you into my heart. I felt dizzy and sick to my stomach.
Can we get you anything m’am? Glass of water or …” I couldn’t hear them. I didn’t want to hear them. I just wanted, my husband, back.
“No, no. Just go – please. And don’t come back- ever, until you can bring my husband back!"
“M’am, we are sorry..”
“Just git! Don’t you understand?” I fell to the floor with your hanky in my hand and bawled again. They let themselves out, started their staff car and spun their tires. They left a haze of dust in their wake, but it was nothing like the haze in my mind and the emptiness in my heart.
* * *
That was the worst day of my life. I try to pretend that it never happened; that one sunny day you’ll come home. It’s the only thing that keeps me going, and of course, the baby. I have two weeks to go and I’m so tired. I dream of you holding me in your arms, lying in the tall grass, laughing and telling each other silly nursery rhymes.
Emmet dear, I pray every night that you’ll come into my dreams. How I long to see your smile, hear your laugh and feel your hand in mine. I sleep with your blue hanky beside my pillow. I touch my cheek to it, pretending it’s your strong hands caressing my skin.
Please come see me – just one night. That’s all I ask.
I remember the night you came – at last. Do you know how much joy you brought me? I held your hanky to my face, to inhale you. I caressed the hanky and felt your skin on mine. Your spirit came through the open window, riding on the wind of the thunderstorm. How romantic! How handsome you were in your dark green military parade suit. And that smile, you lit up the room, brighter than the lightning of the storm. Even the baby was kicking with excitement! Daddy’s home!
Oh, the rain is coming in. I must shut the window to keep us warm and keep baby safe. I’ll be right back sweetheart. Keep the bed warm, won’t you? I just have to go upstairs and shut the window. Don’t worry, I won’t trip. I’ll be fine…. Don’t worry about that noise. It was just me but I think baby and I will be fine. We’ll be fine. Don’t worry. We’ll be fine. I think we’ll be…okay. I think baby is just sleeping. I think baby is…
Isn’t it nice, that the three of us, are together?
She is My Girl
I could taste the wine already. Of course, I had to get home first.
It had been a rough day. Markets were down, unemployment was up, kids were sick and the wife’s car got smucked on Jasper and 109 street in rush hour. Turns out that the guy who hit Gina had a heart attack just before he t-boned her. No one else was in his car. Weird thing was, he had three dozen roses in the back seat. Does it get any better than this?
“But dear, I told you twice – we are having chicken tonight. What’s with the red wine?”
She had me. I dropped the ball, or in this case, the wine bottle.
“Sorry sweetie – I forgot we were having chicken. I can run out and ….”
“Oh, never mind. After getting banged around by that car, I’ll drink whatever you’re having.” She looked a little pale and was more upset about losing her purse than the bruise on her cheek.
Bedtime came early that night. Turns out I drank most of the wine and was too tipsy to do our evening walk. You can bet that didn’t go over well.
It felt good to hit the hay about ten. Gina had just finished her bath and was sawing logs even before I had a chance to tuck her in. I lay there for a moment, staring at her and thanking the big guy above for looking after her in that accident. Made me wonder – what the hell happened?
I don’t know if my “dream” was the answer, or just a side effect of the wine. I couldn’t have been sleeping long – felt like my head just touched the pillow. Someone was shaking me by the shoulder.
“Sir – sir. Wake up please!”
“What? Who? Who the hell are you?” Before me was an elderly man, somewhere in his mid-seventies I’d guess. He had a nasty gash on his forehead. But he was floating in mid-air. He had to. His legs were missing.
"Sir, dear sir. I am the man who, I am sorry to say, had that unfortunate incident this afternoon – my car hitting your wife. Can you forgive me? Is she okay?”
This was weird. I blinked three times and shook my head, trying to get the cobwebs out of my throbbing head.
“Look, whoever you are, whatever you are, get out. I’m gonna call the police.” I reached for the phone but it was gone.
“Please, dear sir. I won’t be long. As you can see, I have no legs. I lost them in the accident. My wife’s birthday was today. I must get my flowers to her!”
“Your – flowers?”
"Yes – I had these three dozen yellow roses in my car. The car is smashed to bits but I managed to save the flowers, when the angels took me to see St. Peter.”
Okay, now this was getting a bit spooky. I had to play his game.
“So – what do you want from me? You almost killed my wife, you stole my phone and now you’re asking me for……”
“Your legs – yes. I just want to borrow them for tonight. I want to walk down the street; two blocks over – to leave these flowers for my dear Nancy. She was my life.”
Now I was shaking. This wasn’t an apparition. It was an older man, grey, balding, no legs and an arm full of flowers.
“Suppose I give you my legs. What’s in it for me?”
“My eternal gratitude, and the car your wife always dreamed of.”
“What do you mean, old timer?”
"Just trust me, dear sir. When I count to three, close your eyes. You will be fast asleep. I will borrow your legs for a few moments and I will bring my flowers to my dear lady, before my neighbours and sons even get to her house. It is the least I could do.” Tears gathered in his eyes and slipped down his cheek.
“She is my girl – always.”
I wanted to believe him.
“When the first robin sings tomorrow, you shall awaken – your legs intact. And in your driveway shall be a car for your wife – a car she shall enjoy.”
I don’t remember much after that. My head was still poundin’. I was burping up wine and having a sudden case of conscience and pity. But I do remember saying:
“Do what you have to do.” His smile was all I remember.
* * *
‘Tweet, tweet, tweet”. Thank God for the robins – morning finally came. I could smell coffee and feel someone shaking me….
“Wake up! Wake up! How did you do that?” Gina was up already, dressed and in her Saturday scrubs.
“What? What did I do?”
“Oh, you know damn well.” She kissed me and touched my cheek. “What’s with all the rose petals down the hall? And whose car is that in the driveway? It must be stolen!”
Then it hit me – the dream. The old man – with no legs. I looked down at my legs. They were still there, still attached. I jumped from the bed and scurried down the hall, following the trail of yellow roses. Gina was pulling me back by my PJ top.
“Wait for me. Wait!” We flung open the door together and ……Gina was beside herself with excitement!
“How did you know this was my favorite? My first car – my baby. I had this car in high school. She skipped down the sidewalk to a baby-blue ’68 Volkswagon beetle. But it wasn’t old. It was brand new!
The spring air hit me like a magpie on a suicide mission. I couldn’t believe it either. But it wasn’t over yet. Then Gina looked in the back seat of the car.
“Thank you dear for all the flowers. There’s just something about yellow roses in spring.”
The car’s back seat was overflowing with arrangements of yellow roses. Hanging from the rear view-mirror was a small white and yellow note, that read:
She is my girl – always.