A piece of home alone fiction by Rich Paschall
The alarm went off at 6 am as usual. Instead of hitting the snooze bar, George turned off the alarm and got up. It was Wednesday, trash collection day in the small Florida town. He no longer had Ethel to push him out of bed so he had to muster the resolve to get up and take care of the chores. Jack, the faithful terrier, got up as well and was running around George’s feet as he tried to go through his morning routine. Terriers do not lack morning energy.
After he got dressed and made his way to the kitchen, he started the coffee. Ethel used to take care of this while George took care of the hyperactive dog, but his wife of 40 years was gone now. George had to make his own coffee. George had to do all the chores, had to eat his meals alone. It was not the retirement George had envisioned.
A little over two years earlier, George retired and moved from a big Midwestern city to a small town in a warm climate. This was the retirement George always wanted. He was no longer going to cut the grass. There was an association for that. He was not going to do major repairs because there was an association for that too. And he certainly was never going to shovel snow again. Before he moved south, he sold his snowblower, gave away his shovels and winter coats, and vowed never to return north in the winter, if at all.
As the coffee was brewing, George set down a fresh bowl of water for a disinterested terrier. Then he went to the kitchen door that led into the garage. As he started down the two steps to garage level, he reached for the button that opened the garage door. At that Jack came racing out the kitchen door and when the garage door was open just enough, he ran under it and onto the front lawn. There he ran around in a circle for a couple of minutes before looking to see what George was doing.
George was busy dragging the plastic trash can down the driveway to the street where he parked it right next to his old-fashioned mailbox. After that, he walked back to get the recycle bins. One bin held old newspapers and magazines and the other had some cans and bottles. He put one on top of the other and then maneuvered them onto a two-wheel “hand truck.” They were too low and too heavy for George to drag down the driveway. When this task was complete, George went back inside to get his American flag, which he promptly took down to the post that held his mailbox. On the side of the post, he had affixed a flag pole holder so his flag could be seen as he came down the street. George would never admit that it was a reminder of where his driveway began so he could find it easily when he returned from a drive, but that is why it was there.
“Come on, Jack,” George called and the dog raced halfway to George and stopped. It was a game and Jack expected George to play. George was well aware of this game, every time George would move, the dog would race around in a circle and stop. There he would wait for George to make another move and the race was on again. George was too old for the game today and went into the garage and headed toward the kitchen door. Jack watched carefully from the driveway. When George hit the button to close the garage door, Jack raced inside.
On their return to the pale yellow kitchen, George put down a bowl of food for Jack. Then he fixed some toast and took that, a cup of coffee and a newspaper he collected from the front porch and went to sit on the screened-in patio. Jack came and laid down at his feet. George liked reading the local news each morning. Everything about small-town America seemed exciting to him. He read about civic improvements, about events at the library, and about meetings at the town hall. He read about the plans for the upcoming year and even the New Year’s party at a local hall. George survived Christmas on his own and guessed he would not even be up at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Without dear Ethel, he had no desire to stay up late. While ringing in the New Year at a party might help bring back fond memories, they would also recall his dear wife who was gone too soon. He was not sure he could bear that.
When the news had been devoured, George got up slowly and took his plate and coffee cup to the kitchen sink and placed them there. He looked all around the room and could not decide on another thing to do so he thought he would go lay down awhile. It was 10 am. At that moment, the phone rang.
“Hello,” George said with a hint of surprise that anyone would call him.
“Hello George,” Ethel said softly.
Soon after George and Ethel moved to Florida, Ethel’s father had passed away. He left her the big family house in rural Iowa. It was the sort of house Ethel always wanted. It had a big front porch where she could rock away the summer hours in her own rocking chair and a nice fireplace where she could get warm and read good books all winter. George had no idea this is what Ethel had wanted for years, just as she had no idea he would take them to Florida on his retirement. When she got the big Iowa house she announced to George she was moving there without him, and soon thereafter she was gone along with virtually every personal effect she could take.
Once every few months she called to see if George was OK, nothing more.
“Please come home, Ethel,” George said with a heavy dose of sadness in his voice.
“I am home,” she said and quietly hung up the phone.