Fred snapped his wrists and watched as the tablecloth floated down to perfectly cover the round table. He carefully picked up the vase with a dozen freshly cut yellow roses and centered it on the starched white fabric. He added the pair of candlesticks he’d polished this morning and went to the hutch to get the fine china, the sterling silverware, the serving dishes, and several other things he needed. Why do we only use the good stuff once a year?
As he finished setting the table, the kitchen timer began to beep. He quickly shut it off and took the pork tenderloin out of the oven. Fred used his trusty meat thermometer to check the internal temperature; it was perfectly done so he covered it with tinfoil to let it rest while he headed to the bedroom to change his clothes.
He’d already pressed his best blue shirt. She loved it when he wore blue. Said it brought out the color of his eyes. Her blue-eyed boy he chuckled to himself as he wondered yet again how in the hell that woman thought he was good looking. After buttoning his shirt, he pulled on his good black trousers, his only pair of black socks and his dress shoes. He stood in front of the mirror as he knotted the dark green tie with subtle stripes of blue that exactly matched his shirt. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.
Oh no, the potatoes!
In his rush to get to the pot he’d left boiling on the stove, he almost forgot the most important things he needed for tonight’s anniversary celebration. He pulled open the middle dresser drawer, lifted the pile of neatly folded t-shirts and picked them up. He shoved two in his pants pockets and held the other close to his heart.
He paused as he entered the dining room, admiring the beautifully set table. Almost 60 years since I was a busboy at my uncle’s hoity-toity restaurant, and I can still set a table with the best of them.
Fred turned a critical eye on his work, moving one candlestick a fraction of an inch, making a few other adjustments, and then he placed what he’d brought from the bedroom in the china serving dish he’d left on the table and put the lid on it. Now everything is perfect for tonight’s special dinner.
He drained and mashed the potatoes, adding milk, sour cream, butter, freshly chopped chives, salt, and pepper. Just the way she likes them. He spooned them into another of the china serving dishes and carried it to the table. He added the plate of asparagus he’d kept warm and a jar of her favorite chunky applesauce.
Fred returned to the kitchen to slice the meat. When he was finished, he set the platter of pork and a basket of rolls from Tenuto’s Bakery on the table.
“Dinner is served,” Fred called out as he lit the candles. He smiled as he pulled out her chair.
“Do you remember our first wedding anniversary?” he asked as he seated himself and began to serve the food. “It was the first time I ever tried to cook for you, and it was a complete and total disaster. I burned the meat, the potatoes were so overcooked there was nothing left but a mushy, pasty mess.” He laughed. “You were so sweet. Thanking me for trying to make you to a romantic dinner before ordering a pizza. Still can’t believe our first dinner on this china was takeout pizza by candlelight.”
“Never could understand how after that fiasco it became our tradition for me to attempt to cook for you on our anniversary every year,” he chuckled and shook his head.
He looked at her beautiful brown eyes, at the lips he’d kissed thousands of times and sighed. “I can’t believe it our 56th anniversary today. Where has the time gone?”
Fred buttered a roll and started to cut his meat. He chewed thoughtfully for a moment. The best years of my life have been spent with you. He swallowed and cleared his throat. Talking about his feelings had never been easy for him. “You’re the best wife a man could have,” he mumbled, blushing as he looked down at his plate and quickly shoved a forkful of mashed potatoes into his mouth. Mmm … not bad. I did a good job this year and high time too.
He was overcome by memories as he continued to eat.
He’d taken her to a football game to meet his family for the first time and she’d outyelled his father and brothers. He would never forget his dad pulling him aside at halftime. “Don’t screw this up. You’ve got a keeper there,” he’d said as he slapped Fred on the back. High praise indeed – especially from his old man. She’d never been more beautiful than she was that day in her oversized football jersey with the quarterback’s name on the back and her long auburn hair flying this way and that in the October breeze. He could still remember how cold her fingers were when he finally got up the courage to reach out and hold her hand during the third quarter.
He thought about how stunning she’d been in the long-sleeved, full length lacy white dress and his mother’s veil on their wedding day. The kindest, funniest, most gorgeous woman he’d ever met had agreed to marry him. As she’d walked down the aisle, he’d hoped and prayed she would never regret it and that he’d never, ever screw it up.
She'd stuck by his side and somehow made everything okay when he had been let go due to budget cuts after nearly 20 years on the job; he’d been a cop for most of his adult life and had no idea what to do next. That woman never once blamed him or complained about the sacrifices they’d had to make. She'd assured him there was something better just around the corner and focused on how much more time they could spend together. She'd turned planting a garden into an adventure, even though he knew it was primarily a way to ensure they could put food on the table for their sons. She went out and got a job to help with the bills and threw him an amazing party when he finally landed a new, better paying job as a security analyst.
Fred picked up his napkin and wiped his mouth as he pulled himself out of his reverie. Never thought I’d love anyone the way I love you. He smiled as he glanced at her.
Once dinner was finished, he cleared the table and stood at the kitchen sink gathering his courage. It was now or never. He poured himself a glass of water and gulped it down. After a few deep breaths, he steadied himself and walked back into the dining room. Get a move on man. No sense putting it off.
“Uh, sweetheart? I should have told you as soon as I found out, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I saw young Doc Schmidt about a month ago and, well, I’ve got stage four cancer of some sort or other. Says at my age, with how advanced it is, there’s not much they can do except give me something for the pain and make me comfortable - could drag on for months and months. I’ve come to a decision.”
He pulled the letter out of his back pocket and leaned it against the framed wedding photo of her beautiful face he’d put in front of her place setting on the table. Can’t believe I lost you to cancer almost a year ago and now it’s happening to me.
He imagined her response, her insistence their sons would be there for him every step of the way. The boys? Oh, they’ll understand. Leaving them a note; that’s what’s in the envelope. Spent the last month getting my ducks in a row. Everything’s taken care of. Better for them this way. Much less fuss.
As he gazed at her warm brown eyes and sweet smile, tears began to run down his face. He reached into the front pocket of his trousers and pulled out her wedding ring. I’m 84 years old and I simply can’t stand another day without you. A sob escaped him as he slipped it on his left pinkie finger, next to his own wedding ring.
“There’s no talking me out of it. This is my anniversary gift to myself,” he whispered as he tried to memorize every inch of her face. “It’s okay sweetheart, I’ll be with you soon.” Fred lifted the lid off the china serving dish and removed his gun. “Couldn’t bear to look at while we were eating our anniversary dinner,” he said as he shrugged.
Fred stared at his wife’s wedding photo as he placed the barrel of the gun under his chin, put his finger on the trigger and thought I’m coming Amelia! I can’t wait another minute to be with you again.