As he walked back through the doctor’s waiting room, he smiled at the patients who were about to be seen. Each of them silently wondered why the others were there and sat slightly apart. They remembered seeing the old man shuffle painfully into the doctor’s office just an hour ago. But now he was smiling at them and the fear they had seen on his face earlier, seemed to have disappeared. So they returned the required pleasantries and thought, “Well, he must have received some good news.”
He stopped at the corner coffee shop on his way home and the waitress, Darla, greeted him like an old friend. “Well, hello, Mr. McLaughlin, how are you feeling today?” After years of this greeting, Barney knew exactly what was expected from his reply, “Today, I am feeling younger than I will be tomorrow, lass,” his Irish brogue still as thick as the day he had arrived nearly sixty years ago. Barney took his seat by the corner window and Darla brought him his usual coffee and cinnamon scone with clotted cream. The taste always brought him back to his childhood and he could remember the smell of the kitchen as his mother baked his favorite treat. He could see her now, clearer than he could see anything else with his cataract eyes. Barney saw her fussing over him as she tried to train his cowlick to comb to the side.
The coffee felt warm going down his throat and the scone was good, but not quite as tasty as his mother’s. He looked at the seat opposite him at the small table and remembered when his wife, Mary, sat there. He was surprised when a tear slipped down his cheek. He tried to shrug away the loneliness that overwhelmed him at the thought of Mary. The first time he saw her, Barney knew that she would one day be his wife. She had been walking on the boardwalk with her friends and his heart stopped at first glance. She agreed to let him buy her an ice cream sundae and when they had finished eating, he shyly offered to walk her home. They were married six months later and over the years were blessed to raise three children of their own, two boys and a girl. Of course, the children were grown now and had long since moved away to start families of their own. Only Barney remained.
“How are the boys, Darla?” “Oh, they’re a handful, but I do my best. Johnny needs to be driven around for his traveling team and Danny is looking into colleges. But the car is in the shop again and I have no way to take either of them where they need to go.” Barney patted her hand and said, “I’m sure it will all work out, lass. Something will turn up.”
Barney left the diner and walked the last block to his apartment. He sat at his kitchen table and unfolded the paper that his doctor had given him. He read the diagnosis, “Stage 4 Liver Cancer.” The doctor had suggested that he should enter a hospice center where he could be made as comfortable as possible. But he looked around the apartment and remembered carrying Mary across the threshold on their wedding day. He could still see his children unwrapping presents around their Christmas tree and knew that he would live his last days here. He then thought of Darla and wondered how she reacted upon opening the envelope of hundred dollar bills he left for her tip. He had no need for money anymore.
Barney had always been afraid of death, but was now relieved to know the end was near. He took out his wallet and all that was left were two photos, one of his mother and the other of Mary. He took a deep breath. Soon he would be in his mother’s kitchen enjoying the scones fresh baked from her oven. Soon his heart would once again stop at the sight of Mary. They would walk together on the boardwalk but this time he would steal a kiss. He was surprised to find that death would give him back everything he had lost.