He sat at the kitchen table, soaking up the sun through windows that surrounded this little nook, much like the cats that lay around him, on the floor, on the table and the chairs closest to him. Anne had never let them on the table or chairs, but now that she was gone he didn’t have the heart to shoo them off. His bones hurt these days, everything moving slower, but sitting in the sun he visualized the warmth seeping in, loosening stiff parts. He stretched his legs out from himself and chuckled as he did the stretches Anne had nagged him to do every morning with her. He had hemmed and hawed, never letting up on a cantankerous grumble of complaints. She had never stopped moving and loved stretching, then yoga, always trying to rope him in. She had danced all of her life, it was how they had met all those years ago.
A buddy had made him go out, insisting there was more to the world than the pieces of wood he was obsessed with, more than the apprenticeship he had fought and won to study this art. His buddy had forced him to clean the sawdust off and pull out the single good jacket he had to his name, and come out dancing. He didn’t dance, he didn’t care to dance or waste his precious time chasing skirts. He didn’t have time for them and he was pretty sure they wouldn’t care to have time for him. He wasn’t very good at talking to fill the space, he wasn’t charming and he couldn’t dance. Yet that night at the birthday party, for a gal he could never remember the name of, he had danced. She was one of those women that shine, not because she was the prettiest, but because her personal light shone through on anyone lucky enough to gain her attention. A bright smile in a lemon yellow dress, she had teased him when she found him skirting the edges of the party looking at his watch.
“Why even come to a party if you’re going to watch the clock? The whole point is to lose yourself, just a little bit, enjoy the moment, not count them!” she had said in a voice deeper than he had expected. He had seen her out on the parquet floor with the pretty corner details, dancing in red heels, with an, ever shifting line of guys trying to pin her down to more than a few moments of her time. He never knew how she had noticed him or why she had spoken to him. She had always said that his obvious discomfort drew her like a moth to a flame, she wanted to make the serious awkward boy smile, and she had. How could he stay stoic in the face of her smile, like sunshine through the clouds?
She was a student at the art school, studying painting but she didn’t know if she wanted to be a painter, or a dancer or a trapeze artist. While she painted and danced she worked at her Uncles print shop doing whatever needed doing. To Jacob she was a whirling dervish, and he had a hard time keeping up with her quick shifts in conversation, her mercurial moods that bounded between teasing fanciful larks to ponderous philosophical musings. She was rarely grim, and he loved that in her, it was as if she just didn’t have time to plod through the drudgery of sadness. For a man prone to being a bit dark and dire she was a soft welcoming light. He never could think of her without thinking of light, in all of its varying hues between harsh and life giving. He supposed that was exactly what she had been for him, his light bearer, though good and bad, she lit his way. Despite all of this or because of it, they had fought often and with great passion. He thought her fiery temper, a blazing fierce star of righteousness, was one of his favorite aspects of her. They fought about politics, art, religion, his collection of cats and in the end her treatments. She wanted to be home, wanted to stop the drugs and he…he didn’t want to lose her, couldn’t admit defeat.
He complained, remembered and loosened up through the moves and was finally ready to make peace with the new day. He got up and poured his first cup of coffee from the press on the stove and spotted his Wild Thing in the backyard, making her way through the trees towards the house. Her arms were filled with deadfall from the citrus that he hadn’t gotten around to clearing, face hidden, he he could still see her messy curls popping out around the branches.
He smiled but tried to hide it behind the mug, just in case she caught him at it. He hadn’t been sure she would stay, pretty sure but not positive. He was afraid he might of gone a little overboard with the shed.. He would of done even more if he thought she would have accepted it. He had searched for some time trying to find the most worn pieces of the odds and ends needed to make the space a tiny home for this young skittish girl. The last time she had visited, right after the big storm that took down the magnolia in the front yard, he had decided to keep her. Anne would have swatted him good for such a “man” thought (as she would’ve called it) but he knew that the girl needed someone to keep too. Someone to care for, to be responsible for, to bear some light on. He knew she watched him, knew she hid in the shed when it got bad outside and he knew he needed her as much as she might need him. His body was slowing but it was still working, he could still create and live and flourish with the time he had left, but he was bored! So bored without Annie to keep him in this world, caring about the next great chapter to explore. He was fading after Annie left and then one day he brought some leftover cornbread out with him in his pocket on a walk out to the edges of the property; some for the fish in the little pond and a bit for him if he happen to lose steam and needed a rest before starting back. He didn’t know why he looked up, because it wasn’t due to the girl making noise, she was quite good at not being heard or seen, but look up he did and there he found his Wild Thing. Joints and big hair, with her knees pulled up to her chest, hiding amongst the lemons in faded dirty jeans and a green tshirt. She met his eyes with her own clear green gaze, never making a sound, never stirring a leaf. She looked fierce, wild a creature of the outdoors. She also looked hungry to him, no meat on those bones, challenge in her eyes. They stood that way just looking at each other and he wondered what she thought of this old man tottering through his old trees all by himself. He felt himself fading from this world, but those eyes and the hunger he saw there stoked some last bit of stubbornness to flame. Maybe he wouldn’t go so quietly into the night.
“ I’m glad someone’s keeping my trees company little Wild Thing, feel free to visit them anytime you want.” He grumbled while he pulled the wrapped up bread from his pocket. She still didn’t say anything as he left it on the ground at the base of the tree and turned away, continuing on his walkabout without a backward glance..though it killed him not to take a peak.
When he came back that way the girl was gone as was the bread. He had thought someone might be staying in the old shed and didn’t care much either way since it wasn’t ever harmed, but now he had a pretty good idea who it might be. Suddenly he cared very much, and for no good reason. He hadn’t cared about much in a good long while, hadn’t felt anything at all really, and it felt good to have something to think about.
He had ordered the food he would need to cook beyond what would sustain him and started in on recipes he hadn’t made since Anne had been too ill to keep his heavy Southern cooking down. He dug out the pretty blue plates she loved so much, that a friend had made for their 40th anniversary. Over the next few weeks he made the trek out to the back orchard a routine on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He started leaving covered offerings to his sprite in the trees, and every time they would be eaten, with the plate cleaned and left for him on his way back.
He had the young man who had moved in next door with his girlfriend and three chickens, take the old rocker out from storage and bring it out to the tree he had found her in. The first time he sat there it took her almost an hour to come out and sit in the grass, rough bark against her back. He told her about his wife, he told her about meeting her, the dance and all of the things they had planned for their life together, while she ate the pulled pork , the biscuits and gravy with nimble fingers and quick sidelong looks at him.
Eventually he ran out of words and rocked in the shade; citrus, birdsong and quiet company warming a small part of him he had begun to believe would just stay cold.
“ Did she teach you to cook like this?” Her soft voice was unexpected and was almost lost in the breeze sweeping through the grove
He didn’t show the surprise and satisfaction at her interest but answered like they had been chatting together this whole time. It was the first time he had heard her speak.
“ No, my Annie never could boil water. She was smart as a whip but I could never teach her to cook a damn thing. My momma taught me and I’m grateful for it, otherwise we would of gone hungry all of those years.” He chuckled with the sharing, almost feeling her laughing with him at the memories of burned pots and small fires put out just in time.
So it went for weeks that turned into months, until this day when some dam had broken and Eve the Wild Thing, walked towards him for the first time. He pulled out the blue plates and started rummaging in the cupboards. Annie had wanted children but it never happened for them, they had filled the space with love, travel, tears and exploration, and it had never been an empty life. He never had a regret with her but right then as he wondered what to whip up and watched Eve try to figure out how to approach the kitchen door he thought maybe he still had something to give.
He went to the door and ended her struggle by opening up the door. She looked like she had only been seconds away from fleeing, but raised her head to his gaze anyway. He moved back to let her in and watched her twist and turn to take the bright kitchen in. The cats circled her ankles and she absently leaned down to give them each her attention.wards him for the first time. He pulled out the blue plates and started rummaging in the cupboards. Annie had wanted children but it never happened for them, they had filled the space with love, travel, tears and exploration, and it had never been an empty life. He never had a regret with her but right then as he wondered what to whip up and watched Eve try to figure out how to approach the kitchen door he thought maybe he still had something to give.
“ I hope you’re ready to learn how to cook Wild Thing, we have a lot of work to do around here and we’ll need the fuel” He said as he walked ahead of her into the kitchen. He was turned away from her when the smile caught up to the thought, but he was looking forward to something and it felt good, like bright sunlight.