She looked over at him and gave a slight gasp. It was a small sound; one she did not make voluntarily, nor would she remember making it. The sound was much less than the tinkle of the bell that sounded as the door to her shoppe had opened. One supposes that she could be forgiven the surprised outburst, small as it was. Considering the fact that she was seeing something that any sane person would agree was simply not possible.
What she was seeing, was a man. Nothing at all unusual about that. He was a big man certainly: one hundred and ninety centimeters tall, and probably tipping the scales at eighteen stone. The man was slightly larger than her late cousin Teague, but not as big as her husband had been.
The man was somewhat plain in appearance. Other than the size of him, and an overall aura of ”good health”, for lack of a better word; the man was just another man, not unlike literally thousands of other men in her city.
Even the fact that she knew the big man was not what prompted her involuntary: outburst was perhaps a bit of an overstatement, let’s call it a vocalization and be done.
The big man closed the door to the shoppe behind him as he entered. He took a few steps into the floral boutique and stopped to look around. He took a deep breath and relished the pleasant scent of flowers and other greenery.
He saw the tall older woman watching him with a sense of disbelief, or wonder, or maybe even a slight tinge of fear. He didn’t blame her one bit.
He noticed a prominent display of lovely lilac flowers with a pleasant aroma. Under his breath the big man said, “Cornish Heath.” He recalled that it was sometimes called Wandering Heath and it had been a favorite of his old boss from many years past.
He thought about his days as an Enterprise troubleshooter on the West side of the city, and a smile crossed his coarse features.
He watched the older woman slowly walk toward the front of the store. He could see that she appeared in no way infirm, despite her advanced years. He remembered her as an exceedingly lovely girl from long ago, and time had not been unkind to her.
When she was two paces away he spoke, and said “Nellie,” with a slight bow of his head. Her first words to him after more than fifty years were a question, “How can this be?”
The big man continued with his slight smile and said, “it’s nice to see you Nellie.”
She looked at him closely and he could see the glasses she wore on a fine silver chain about her neck. The glasses were apparently for reading, because she didn’t put them on to look him over.
She spoke to him then; “it’s surprising to see you Gerald.” Her voice was as lyrical as he recalled from her youth. Long ago, the big man had attended the same church as she, and he remembered that her singing voice was a joy to experience.
She continued, “at least it’s surprising to see you as you are, all things considered.” He nodded his head slightly in agreement, because he knew what she was getting at.
Nellie pointed a slender finger at a picture that hung on the wall behind the front counter. It was a black and white picture in an ornate frame, featuring three large men and a beautiful old motor coach. That’s what they called cars back then.
“That’s you Gerald.” She said, even though he could tell by the tone in her voice that she wasn’t sure.
Gerald stepped towards the picture and studied it. He remembered that picture being taken as if it were yesterday, even though it had been more than fifty years ago.
“Whatever happened to that car?” he asked her as he pointed his blunt finger at the photo.
She was silent for a few moments and Gerald turned to face her, and he could see a look of concern on her face. She was gingerly poking herself in the temple and asked the big man, “am I having a stroke?” He slowly nodded his head in a negative fashion, and she gasped, a bit louder than she had when he first entered her shoppe. “Am I dead?” she said in a worried voice. She took a step to the big man and poked his broad chest with her finger and said, “did I die?” She continued with, “if I am dead, why am I seeing you, and not my husband Bran, or my Aunt, or even Teague?”
“Nellie,” he told her, “you are very much alive.” She seemed relieved at that revelation. Gerald was going to continue but was interrupted by a loud buzz at the back door of the spacious floral boutique.
“Oh bother!” she said. Gerald looked to the rear of the shoppe, and Nellie explained to him; “That’s the morning delivery, and my grandson’s not back yet.”
She started walking back to the rear of the shoppe and stopped after a few steps when she realized that he was not following her.
“Make yourself useful Gerald,” she told the big man. He looked confused for a moment before she spoke up, “those boxes aren’t going to unload themselves.” Gerald continued to look confused till she spoke up again, “Snap to! Gerald.”
This seemed to break him out of his confusion, and he said “of course.” He then shed his jacket, leaving it behind the front counter, rolled up his shirtsleeves and followed Nellie out the back of the floral boutique, where he spent the next forty minutes unloading and putting away boxes of flowers and various other items in the morning delivery for Flowry’s, which was the name of Nellie’s shoppe.
After the morning delivery had been handled, Gerald retrieved his jacket from behind the front counter: he held it draped across his thick forearm because he had worked up a sweat moving the heavy boxes to and fro for the shoppe keeper.
“Thanks for the help Gerald,” Nellie told the big man. He smiled and assured her, “glad I could do it.” She looked him up and down and said, “now that we’ve established I haven’t had a stroke, and I’m pretty sure they don’t have morning deliveries in the afterlife,” she pursed her lips and paused a moment. “Why don’t we go upstairs and share a cup of tea.” Gerald responded with, “that would be nice.”
“Maybe a bit of cream tea would go over well,” as Nellie said this, a smile spread over the big mans’ face. “I could eat,” he told her.
Gerald followed the shoppe keeper through a door and up a flight of stairs to the apartment above the boutique. As he recalled, his friend and fellow enterprise troubleshooter Teague had lived above the shoppe for the years that Gerald had known and worked with him.
He had stood in the kitchen for a few minutes, watching Nellie as she moved about, gathering the makings of a good old Cornish cream tea. She put scones in the oven to heat and was getting jam and clotted cream out of the refrigerator when he asked, “is there anything I can do?”
She nodded with her chin toward one of the cupboards to the left of the stove and said, “you can put the kettle on if you like.”
He found a battered kettle in the cupboard and filled it with water, then placed it on the burner.
The two of them spent the next several minutes preparing a rather light lunch, to the big man’s thought.
After the bulk of prep was done, the two sat at the kitchen table and waited for the kettle to whistle and enjoyed the smell of the scones as they warmed.
All the while that the two were working in the kitchen, Nellie was stealing glances at her visitor. She still could not believe what she saw when she watched the big man moving about her kitchen. She knew he was real, because phantoms don’t manhandle thirty and forty kilogram boxes of flowers like they were couch pillows.
She recalled thinking earlier as she directed him to move a box here, or place another box there, that Gerald was near strong as her cousin Teague had been, back in the day. Of course, he wasn’t close to strong as her late husband had been, back in his younger days. This didn’t surprise her. In her close to ninety years on this earth, she had not known or seen a man as strong as her Bran had been.
This man was different than the one she recalled as a young girl. That Gerald had been brash, and honestly somewhat of a lout. This Gerald seemed pensive, and okay with sitting in silence. The Gerald she remembered of olde was almost always talking about something or other. It might have nothing to do with what was going on at the time; but that didn’t seem to matter to the Gerald of olde. She could remember her cousin Teague saying of him that Gerald was always talking, but not really saying much.
That had changed after the dreadful affair with the Italians, and that man who had kidnapped her aunt. She remembered Teague’s assertion that Gerald had saved his life; and that brought to mind another event.
She leaned slightly toward him and laid a weathered hand gently on his strong calloused hands. He looked at her as she spoke; “I never thanked you Gerald.”
The big man looked confused and asked, “thanked me for what Miss Nellie?”
She told him, “for saving my Bran.” Gerald lowered his head and looked a little flustered, but said, “it weren’t me really; Doc Morten is the one that patched him up.”
Nellie shook her head in a negative manner and told him, “Bran told me what happened with those East side men, and that if not for you, he would have been dead in the street.”
“Thank you for that Gerald,” she said as she gently patted his hands. He seemed almost embarrassed by her sentiment; so she let his hands go and stood up to check on the scones.
They were from the Cornish, and the best in the city. As she pulled them from the oven, she could see him eyeing them. She placed them on a plate and he immediately took one and slathered it with jam and clotted cream and stuffed it into his mouth. She smiled as he enjoyed the pastry and had a thought.
She moved over to the refrigerator and brought out a plate with last night’s roast beef. She saw him perk up as she took a carving knife and sliced several generous portions of beef to put on a plate.
She smiled more as he put the beef on his plate and proceeded to eat with gusto. Gerald was smiling as he ate, and she said, “you gave me sixty years with the love of my life, the father of my children: the least I can do is make sure you get enough to eat.”
In between bites, Gerald did say, “he would have done the same for me Miss Nellie.” She smiled and thought the big man was probably right.
The shoppe keeper drank a cup of tea and had a scone with jam and clotted cream while the big bruiser methodically demolished his lunch.
He was near finished with his repast and she said, “once you’re done Gerald, you can tell me how on this earth it is that you are sitting across the table from me: I haven’t seen you in more than fifty years, and you appear not to have aged a single day.”