Jackson trailed his trembling hand over the brown leather photo album, a rough spot in his hand snagging on a crack that was along the binding. For a few seconds, he focused on the crack and wondered how long it would take for the rest of the photo album to succumb to age and handling. He glanced up and stared out the window at nothing for several uncounted minutes, and then he slid into the wooden chair; making himself comfortable on the paisley print cushion, and scooted closer to the table.
Even though he sat still, time ticked by. He was startled when the door opened and a woman in a starched white dress entered. She carried a tray of cheese and crackers and a cup with a lid on it that was filled with fragrant hot cocoa. “I thought you might enjoy a light snack while you look through your photo album.”
Looking up at her, he said, “Do I like hot cocoa?”
She smiled, and said, “You love it.” She then patted him on the back, and turned, and left him with his hand still resting on the album.
Turning his attention back to the album, he cocked his head to the right, and wondering what was inside, he slowly opened the cover. There were pictures of a baby naked on a bear rug. There was a picture of a young woman whose eyes flashed with pride as she held the same baby in her arms. The picture was black and white, but Jackson could almost see the happy blush on her cheeks, and he felt envious of the child that she clearly loved.
As Jackson turned the pages, he watched the child grow. There were pictures of every school year; pictures of birthday parties. He wondered what it would feel like to be sitting at the head of the table with one of those silly-looking cone hats on while everyone sang to him. He spoke to the air, “I think it would be fun. I should like to have a birthday party.’
Reaching for a cracker, Jackson’s arm bumped the cup of hot cocoa, and it tumbled from the tray and bounced on the floor. He forgot about it and ate the cracker dry. One of the pictures showed the birthday boy with lots of packages that were all tied up with colorful ribbons. He wondered if any of them had a red truck inside. A later picture showed the toe-headed boy on the ground playing with a red truck. He chuckled, and said, “I thought so.”
There were pictures of a family seated around a picnic table. He could almost hear them laughing and teasing each other. He thought the man at the head of the table was probably telling unfunny jokes, and the women were laughing anyway. “A dirty joke. A white horse fell in a mud puddle. A clean joke, “He was given a bath.”
He started to turn the page when the door opened again, and the same woman who had brought his snack stooped and picked up his cup. “You must be thirsty. Here’s your cup.” She then handed him a small plastic cup, and said, “It’s time for your medications.”
Jackson mechanically emptied the pills into his mouth, and washed them down with the cup of water she handed him, but he never took his dark eyes off of the picture book because, at the top of the next page, there was a man in an Army uniform. Who was he?
The woman looked at the picture, and asked, “Do you know who that is?”
Jackson dug in his brain, and said, “It’s Abraham Lincoln. He has to go to war before he can be president.”
She pointed at the blonde boy that he was seeing in so many pictures, and asked, “How about this boy? Do you know who he is?”
“I think when he’s grown that he will be President Andrew Jackson, the president who freed the slaves.”
Again, the woman patted him on the back, and after telling him to keep enjoying the picture book, she left. It was sometimes hard for her to hear his disjointed thoughts, even though it was her job.
Jackson lost track of time as he slowly turned the pages of the album. There were so many pictures of the happy family. He did see some sad pictures. There was one in particular that gave him a twinge. It had been taken of a gravestone that had a picture of a woman on it. She was much older, but he recognized her as the same woman who had so lovingly held the baby on earlier pages. A tear dripped onto the page, but Jackson paid it no mind.
The next time that the door opened, the woman in the stiff, white outfit, said, “Jackson, you have a visitor,” and a young woman entered. The woman walked up to him, and gave him an uncomfortable hug, and said, “Grandpa, do you know who I am today?”
He rested his tired eyes on her for a long moment. He breathed in the scent she wore; he saw her warm smile. He searched in his mind, wondering what it was about her that felt oddly familiar. “Are you Margorie?”
She smiled, “That’s pretty good grandpa. Margorie was my mother. I’m Karen, your granddaughter.”
He raised his trembling hand and stroked her hair; he put his finger under her chin and tilted it up. He wandered into her eyes, and for a flash in time, he remembered how he’d once bounced her on his knee, but before he could tell her that, the thought was gone. “Aren’t you a nurse?”
He didn’t notice her disappointment because he was more interested in the photo album. She pointed at the picture on the coffin and said, “Mom passed away right after I was born.”
She flipped several pages forward, and when she found what she was looking for, she touched a picture, and asked, “Do you remember grandma?”
He mumbled, “Sophie.”
She said, “Yes. You loved her very much. I’m glad you remember her. She was your everything.”
He looked up at her, and said, “Who is Sophie?”
Karen closed the album and took him by the arm. “Let’s take a walk in the garden. You love flowers.”
“Yes,” she said firmly.
For the life of him, he couldn’t figure how the strange young woman thought she knew anything about him, but he humored her and walked along. They walked, she talked, and they even sat a while on a bench that had green flaking paint. He thought she was a bit silly, but he decided that she was nice.
When she returned him to his room, she gave him a quick hug, and said, “I’ll come again soon, grandpa,” and then she left.
Sitting back down at the table, Jackson returned to his picture book. As he flipped through the pages, he smiled at the pictures of his family. He was damn proud of his military picture, and he had loved the times the family got together to laugh. And the picture of Sophie, made him cry, “How long have you been gone, beautiful? I still love you.”
When the nurse came to take him to the dining room, she asked if he had enjoyed his day. He said, “It was fine, but I wasted most of it looking at this picture book wishing I’d had a family like the one in it. He turned to the picture of Sophie, and said, “She’s pretty in a woman-kind of way, don’t you think? I should have liked to have known her.”
“Yes, Jackson. She’s pretty. Come, let’s go to dinner.”
The picture book had had a few magical moments this day.