The Last Time
Jerry watched as the postman disappeared down his sidewalk before he retrieved the letter he had been watching for. He opened it and read the contents. He sighed deeply, sinking to his knees beside the bench in his entryway where he offered a tearful prayer of thanks.
The following Monday, he gave his two week notice at his job. To his boss only did he give a full explanation.
After that, he went to the grocery store and bought nutella and ice cream and watermelon. He added freshly baked wheat rolls and deli roast beef. He bought two percent chocolate milk . He hadn’t bought anything but skim since he graduated from college.
Jerry invited his brother’s family to come for a cook out the next Saturday. He bought expensive steaks for the adults and hotdogs to please the kids.
“Jer, you must be in love!” his brother teased. “It would take nothing short of a serious romance to get a tightwad like you to spring for filets.”
But his sister in law, Mary, watched Jerry closely and when her husband had gone to tend to the kids in the back yard, she asked if he was okay.
“I’m okay.” He said softly. “But life is short and I decided I’d better do the things I’ve always wanted to do while I had the chance.”
“So you’re not in love?”
“No.” But he riveted his eyes on the salad he was making and wouldn’t say much else.
“You’re moving away. You got another job.”
He held his niece and nephew on his lap while they ate their ice-cream Sundae’s after dinner.
“Why did you buy our favorite kind of ice cream, Uncle Jerry?” His nephew asked.
“I want you all to know how much I love you. I could have just said. ‘I love you,’ but don’t you think it’s easier to believe if I say it with ice cream?”
The children nodded grinned and Mary watched her brother in law closely. He didn’t touch his ice cream and while all of them were red-faced from the heat, he was pale.
The next day after work, Jerry cleaned the widow next door’s gutters of the seed pods that clogged it every year and then paid in advance for a maintenance company to do her yard work for the next year. He cleaned the neighbor’s on the other side’s pool and took a long, slow dip in the overwarm water. The next day, Jerry went to the symphony matinee. Then he took his niece and nephew to the dollar store and let them buy whatever their hearts desired.
He slept on clean sheets. He read three classic novels. He wrote a poem. He organized his personal papers and policies and readied them to be placed in safekeeping.
On his last day of work, he took flowers to Nadine, a woman he had long admired and never had the courage to ask on a date. He said goodbye to his secretary and boxed up his personal belongs. His boss walked him to his car and gave him a ferocious man hug.
Before he went in his front door, he walked to the mail box and posted the envelope of his important papers to his brother.
That evening, he made himself a smoothy with frozen raspberries and a little ice cream and Mexican vanilla. It was melted before he finished it.
It took him all night to clean his house.
The next day, Jerry wrote a dozen letters. That evening, he shaved himself, trimmed his nails and styled his hair with gel. He dressed in a long loose nightshirt. He sat on his back patio on a chaise lounge, listening to the cicadas song with the tree frogs providing the harmony. The warm air brushed his face like a happy memory. He let the warm, salt tears stream of the edge of his jaw and fall on his nightshirt unimpeded. It was hard to say goodbye. But he had no regrets. The moon rose in white innocence and strolled her languid pace through heaven. The stars nibbled in her wake like ardent minnows.
The soft immediate night crept slowly around him, humming to him. His body relaxed and his mind relaxed and then his body became so slack that his spirit slipped out .
Mary’s instinct took her to Jerry’s the next day when he didn’t answer his phone. She took her husband and had a neighbor watch the children.
The letter for which Jerry had given thanks was on the front entry table. Their names were written in red marker on the part that showed on top so they wouldn’t miss it.
Dear Mr. Peterson,
As you requested, find your written blood work results enclosed. As you will see, all the markers indicate advanced leukemia. I’m so sorry that you guessed correctly. It explains why you have felt so tired and listless. If you have any questions, feel free to call me any time, at home or at the office. At this point of the disease, you may expect only a few weeks of life at the very most.
My best wishes and condolences, Dr. Edward Wilkensen.
Jerry had added a note.
“I am so grateful to have had warning. Never forget that I love you and the kids. I’ll be loving you where I am, in my new job as an angel and waiting for you to come when the time is right. My will and my insurance policy will arrive by mail soon if they haven’t already. All my love. Jer.