Part 48: Gunboat’s Gift
Gunboats moved out of the way as I stepped out onto the back porch, pulling the door quietly behind me. Barefoot, I followed him as he walked into the orchard, with Jackson running playfully ahead.“You and your gal have been on our minds ever since you came to us yesterday,” he said, after we had walked into the orchard and nearly out of sight of the house. “Wanting to write our story down was a noble gesture and at the time I thought it was a good idea. But I’m not so sure now.”
“Why is that?”
“Well, we’re not sure if that’s the best way to tell our story. Sometimes the best way to tell a story is to live it, to let it carry on to someone else. Reading our story won’t change the world or the attitudes of people in it. It’s not going to inspire anyone to fall in love.”
“I think it could. It could get others to think and reflect on their lives. Maybe dare them to love someone against the odds, just as you did with Hope during the war.”
“They could also get the same inspiration from you and Summer.”
“So, you want me to write our story instead.”
“Well, it’s probably just as exciting, but no, that’s not what I’m saying. You can write our story, your story, anyone’s story, but unless they see it in action, see the fruits of that story, it won’t mean a thing. It will be just a story and nothing more.”
“I think I follow you. We need to live the love we feel and not just write about it.”
“You’re starting to get it.”
We walked on for a little bit and he gave Jackson another biscuit. “Did you have a good time at the party?” he asked.
The change of subject threw me off and I know I must have looked at him with a ‘huh?’ expression. “Um, yes, we did.”
“Hope and I used to love it, but our dancing days are over, and well, that kind of music just ain’t our speed anyway. We love to listen to it from the porch though. Hope said she could imagine seeing you two dancing like there’s no tomorrow.’
I smiled. “Yeah, it was like that.”
“But there is a tomorrow.”
“Yes, I agree.”
He stopped walking and leaned on his walking stick for support. “So we were talking, and Hope called up Helen and talked her too, and uh…we all agreed we wanted to give you something before you left these parts.”
“Okay,” I warily replied.
“It’s really just a possession to us now, and it would just pass on to some family member, possibly our only daughter Helen, when we’re gone. But Helen has everything she needs, Raymond sees to that, so we want to make sure it does some good while we’re here to see it.”
I had no idea what he was talking about, so all I could say was, “Um..okay?”
“You just have to promise to hand it down also before you get too old, so you can see the rewards too.”
I nodded as if I knew where he was going with all this.
“The rest of our family will probably think us crazy,” he continued, “but after discussing it, we just think this is the right thing to do. We may not have much time left, we know that. We could have five years, maybe fifteen, God only knows, but things like this usually just go to the dirt eventually, so please take it.”
He reached in his back pocket and pulled out a long unsealed envelope, with the edge of what looked like a typed letter visible. He handed it to me.
“It’s all yours. Do the wise thing with it.”
I opened it and looked inside. I looked up at Gunboats. He had a blank expression on his face, as if he didn’t want me to know how he truly felt about giving his life’s work away.
“Look Gunboats, this is too much. I can’t accept this.” I tried to hand it back to him, but he wouldn’t take it.
“Remember what I said about dying in a trench last time we talked?”
“This is how you get out of your trench.”
I stared into the envelope to see its contents again. I pulled the piece of paper out, but he stopped me.
“No need to look at that just yet,” he said. ”You’ll know when it’s time.”
I slid it back in the envelope, which I folded in half and put in my pants pocket. “You know,” I said. “Orchard House has changed my life.” I shook my head. “I never imagined when I came here I would discover so much about myself…” I looked at him. “Or others.”
“It has that effect on many people, but not as greatly as it has on you. I know you probably don’t recall this, because I never spoke to you, but I was at the store that day you came and rented the house. You had a different look then. You were a man bathed in sorrow and disappointment. I knew you had fought your own war and lost. But when you came to the house yesterday, it was like seeing a different person. It was like seeing your own child all growed up. You watch them go from this innocent naïve fragile creature to one of strength, character, courage…love. Orchard House did that to me too, you see. Before I came here, I was just another soldier fighting his own wars, but then this place brought me Hope, and I mean that in several ways.” He smiled. “Once I found Orchard House and this woman, I have smiled every day since. I guess what I’m trying to say is I want that for you too.”
“Thank you,“ I said. “You don’t know what this means to me.”
He smiled. “Yes I do.” He turned and took up his walking stick again. “See you again soon, Matthew.” Before I could even say a word in reply he added, “Don’t say it, son; goodbye is for the lost. And we both know you’re not that anymore.”
Summer was waiting for me when I returned. Standing at the back door, she had taken the time to get dressed, having slipped into a pair of tight jeans and a t-shirt that looked a lot like one of my own. She was also wearing a worried look.
“Where did you go?” she asked.
I looked back across the orchard. “It was Gunboats,” I told her. “He wanted me to take a walk with him.”
“I’m not sure really.”
She nodded. “Maybe he just wanted some male company for a change. I’m sure they don’t get many visitors.”
“Yeah, maybe so.”
She smiled and kissed me on the cheek. “Well anyway, I fixed breakfast.”
She directed my gaze to the dining table where indeed she had toast, eggs, bacon, and coffee laid out.
“Wow baby, you didn’t have to…”
“I know, but I did. So we better eat before it gets cold.”
I kissed her on the neck, then her lips. “You’re too good for me.”
“Not good enough,” she replied.
I looked at her. “Don’t say that, Summer. You are the best thing to ever happen to me. You have singlehandedly pulled me out of my trench.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Oh…just something Gunboats said to me. You know..about the war and stuff.”
“Well, forget the war, let’s have a victory breakfast.”
I smiled. “Yes, let’s.”
After breakfast we sat on the side porch, rocking in the metal swing and enjoying the pleasant Sunday morning. It seemed especially quiet; perhaps it was because everyone was in church or just relaxing in their homes, but either way it was almost still. No sounds of tractors in the fields, nor calling crows, or even hounds baying. It was as if the world was being still just for us.
I took a breath of the clean country air. “I know I’ve probably said it before, but I could find myself living in a place like this very easily.”
Summer wistfully smiled. “Me too.”
“I don’t even want to go back to the city.”
“Me neither, but I know I have to.”
Now it was my turn to sigh. “Yeah, me too.”
Summer reached for my hand and put it over in her lap, where she cradled it with both her hands. With her fingers, she traced lines across the top of my hand. It was such a sweet simple gesture. Maybe it would have been lost on most men, but to me it was an affirmation of the peace she had found within our relationship.
“Would you want to stay here longer?”
“We still have two days… well, today and tomorrow.”
“Yeah, I know. But if we could, would you want to stay beyond that?”
She looked at me with a curious look on her face. “Well, yes I would. I love it here with you. Are you wanting to stay a few extra days or something?”
“Yeah, something like that.”
She seemed to think about it, and then flashed me a reassuring smile. “You know I would love to stay.” She leaned over and kissed me. “But we will have to leave eventually.”
“Yes I know. I just don’t want this to end.”
“Orchard House or us?”
“Neither. You both have affected me in such a positive way. I’m afraid that without both I would be lost again.”
She lay her head over on my shoulder. “We can always keep Orchard House in our memories and each other in our hearts.”
“You’re already in my heart.”
“Then let’s keep making memories,” she replied, looking me in the eye. She stood up and pulled me up with her. Facing me, she put my hand on her hip; the other easily found her waist. “Remember when I tried to get you to dance with me in the kitchen that day, back when we were just two strangers staying in the same house.”
“No shirt, no shoes, no problem,” I replied.
“That’s the one.” she started to unbutton my shirt and let it slip off my shoulders. I didn’t argue as it fell to rest on my bare feet. She started to sing the song low in my ear, and I thought to myself I would never listen to Kenny Chesney the same way again. We quietly turned, our bare feet shuffling across the wooden deck of the porch. Jackson must have heard us, as he came slinking around the corner. He looked up at us and then lay down in the grass to watch. Summer’s voice was heavenly in my ear. Perhaps it was the song, perhaps it was the dance, but I really think it was the moment, the closeness, the intimacy that made this special…spinning lazily together on a Sunday morning. When her lips left my ear and found my face, I was already feeling like it was just she and I on our own little island without a problem in the world. When my lips softly touched hers, I catalogued the memory right up there with other dances we shared, other moments of romantic bliss, and melted right into her arms.
“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.