Joe started when the screensaver blinked on. He had been staring at the Quick books program for more than ten minutes without having touched a key or moved the mouse. He rose from his home office chair and made the fifty-foot walk to the kitchen. He wanted a cup of coffee, but he was out of coffee pods. He boiled some water and opted for a cup of instant coffee. The refrigerator was low on food but for a block of cheddar that was showing splotches of green mold. The container with the half-and-half was more than two weeks past the expiration date. Joe poured the curdled milk down the drain. He liked his coffee with cream and sugar, but today he would drink it black.
He took his cup and walked into the backyard. The city was under siege from a heat wave, and other than taking out the trash, Joe hadn’t left the house in a couple of weeks. The gardener hadn’t been paid and had stopped coming. The grass was overgrown, and the tomato plants were virtually dead. Joe didn’t care much for tomatoes, that was Sheryl’s thing. He never showed much interest in her gardening, and a tinge of guilt overcame him. He had to snap out of this damn depression.
The ninety-five-degree heat took its toll, and Joe tossed his coffee into the tomatoes. Might as well put them out of their misery, he thought. He walked back into the office, wiggled the mouse, and minimized the Quick book’s screen. He jumped on YouTube and typed, how to pay bills using Quick books. Several videos appeared. Joe clicked on the shortest one, which was eleven minutes and thirty-five seconds long. He watched about twenty seconds of it before losing interest. Joe teared up, walked into the bedroom and curled up into a ball feeling sorry for himself.
Sheryl had always managed the household. She prepared the meals, shopped for groceries, did the laundry, and paid the bills. Joe’s role was to go to work and provide income. They had scrimped and saved, and they finally had enough in reserve for Joe to retire. He had never taken Sheryl for granted in the least. He often told her that he appreciated everything she did, but he had no interest in learning any of it. They each had their roles to play, he the provider and Sheryl, the home manager, and for the last forty years it had worked out well, but now that Sheryl was gone, that had proved to be a poor decision on his part.
After a few minutes, he got out of bed and went for a walk. It was something he and Sheryl had done every morning since he had his heart attack five-years ago. Sheryl told him his health was her number one priority. She started cooking healthier and made sure he got a physical twice a year. Joe lost twenty pounds and had never felt better.
Sheryl had told him that exercise produced endorphins, which made one feel better and more energized. She was not only beautiful but smart. The endorphins weren’t kicking in today. All he could think about was Sheryl. She had been driving to the market when someone t-boned her car at the intersection. The doctors said she hadn’t suffered much, and death came quickly. Her last words were, “Tell Joe; I love him.” He never thought such a loving sentiment would have such a haunting effect.
The walk was longer than he remembered, and it was tedious. He was halfway around the block. Past the point of no return, he thought. Going for a walk had been a bad idea. It was ninety-five degrees, and he picked today to do it. He stopped under the shade of a tree and rested on a block wall. His friends had been loving and comforting and were always inviting him out to dinner. That helped for a while, but recently he just hadn’t been in the mood. It was those damn bills and that damn computer. He had never been computer literate other than surfing the web now and then, and at his age, he had no desire to learn. Why couldn’t Sheryl have paid their bills the old-fashioned way, with a check and a stamp? Now the bills were coming due, and he had no idea how to pay them.
He wiped the sweat from his brow and rose from his seat on the wall. The rest of the walk was uphill, and he couldn’t wait to get home. He passed several couples out for their daily walks. It reminded him of his conversations with Sheryl. They had grand plans now that he was retired. They were going to travel, and have game nights with friends and simply enjoy life.
Joe had been incapable of giving Sheryl children, and even though they had talked about adoption, they never followed through on it. Joe had been okay with the thought of not having kids, but now he wished he had had a son or daughter who could sit next to him and say, “Here, dad, let me show you how to pay your bills. It’s really easy, and I’m more than happy to help you.” But his thoughts were nothing more than fanciful daydreams. The truth was he was on his own when it came to preparing meals, and paying his bills and generally taking care of himself.
Sheryl had never paid the gardener on the computer. That much he knew. The gardener was one of the few vendors who was paid by check. Joe placed a call and told him he had the money he owed him, and could he please come over and cut the lawn and adjust the sprinklers. The gardener agreed to send one of his helpers over tomorrow and told him he would be happy to resume his regular schedule and that he understood what Joe was going through and that he was sorry.
It had been seven weeks since Sheryl had left him – left, he thought, what a joke. Sheryl didn’t leave him; she was taken from him. God had kidnapped her in the middle of the day, but there was no ransom call on the horizon. No amount of money would get her back. He suddenly understood why women seem to outlive their husbands. Women are better equipped to provide for themselves and get on with their lives. Men need women; he thought, not the other way around.
He wasn’t doing himself any favors, and he knew he couldn’t wallow in self-pity for the rest of his life. Calling the gardener had been a small step forward, and that was a good thing, he thought. He would always love Sheryl, but he had to stop missing her. Loving her was a joyful emotion, but missing her left him feeling empty and lethargic.
A switch suddenly tripped on, and Joe walked into the backyard, into the heat, and into Sheryl’s garden. He turned on the hose and gave her tomatoes a much-needed drink of water. He wouldn’t let this part of her die.
He walked back into the house and stood at the threshold of his office. He placed himself in front of the computer, Googled the nearest junior college, and found a six-week course on Quick books. He called his accountant and asked if someone could help him pay his bills until he learned how to do it himself. He cleaned out his refrigerator and drove to the market.
His thoughts were on the tasks at hand, and he knew these simple habits would take care of him in the future. He spotted a barbershop, and impulsively pulled in for a haircut and a shave. He drove to the market, feeling refreshed and renewed. He bought the groceries, and on the drive home, he found himself entering the intersection where Sheryl had been hit. He hadn’t driven by that spot since he had gotten that dreadful call. But instead of grief, he felt joy. It was an unexpected emotion. Why would that feeling come to him? Wouldn’t sorrow or anger be more appropriate? And then it came to him. It was in that very spot that Sheryl had professed her final love for him. Her last thoughts were not of pain or loss but of him and their love for each other. He rolled down the window and took in a breath of fresh air. He swore he could smell Sheryl’s scent. He turned and looked at the grocery bag on the seat next to him. He had bought tomatoes. The bag boy had made sure to put them on top so they wouldn’t get squished. Joe smiled. He would learn to love tomatoes and paying bills and taking care of Sheryl’s garden. He would enjoy doing this as much as she had.