The old man next door lives in a beautiful old brick house. The 3rd floor attic windows are framed with white curtains.
Each day as I drink my morning coffee, I can see him out my window, as he fills the many bird feeders in his yard. He comes out the side door and walks slowly to the old red wooden shed a few yards away from his house. He carries a large green bucket back and forth, filling it with bird seed. He does this several times, as he has many feeders in his yard. I have never seen his face but he has a full head of thick white hair. He stands about 6 feet tall, but it’s hard to tell because he is slightly hunched over. He always wears a tall pair of black Wellingtons pulled up over dark gray pants and a plain brown coat.
Each morning when I open my back doors to walk the dog, I can hear all of the birds chirping happily, loudly.
The white flowered curtains in the attic windows suggest a woman lived there once, too. But I have never seen anyone but him. And because I don’t know anything about this man, I imagined his and her story in my head.
They fell in love at fifteen. High school sweethearts. He thought she was the prettiest girl he had ever seen. Small and fragile. He waited patiently until after they both graduated to ask her father for her hand in marriage. Very much in love, they dreamed of starting a family. They saved enough money and were able to buy a big beautiful brick house in the country. They imagined filling each room with small voices and little feet running and playing in the garden.
They tried for many years to have children, but were unsuccessful. They later found out she was unable to have children. Eventually they stopped trying. There would be no children to wake them up each Christmas morning. No birthday cakes to bake. No tiny hands to pick flowers from the garden on Mothers Day.
The years made her more fragile, but yet she spent her days outside, lovingly tending and planting her favorite flowers as he built beautiful bird houses from recycled old wood to hang in all of the trees.
Spring became their favorite time of year and they would spend their days outside, enjoying the beautiful sanctuary they had created together.
The years went by and she fell ill. In her final days, he never left her bedside. He hired a nurse to care for her in their home. One night, as he admired her peacefully asleep, she slipped away from him quietly, as he gently held her thin hand.
He retired and kept to himself, spending his days alone. Sometimes reading, but mostly looking out the window, watching the birds in their weed ridden garden. His nights spent warding off insomnia.
And now he gets up with the sun each day, and sometimes before the sun. He sits on an old painted bench next to the back door, resting his weary hands on the worn wood. He puts on his Wellingtons and his old brown coat and goes outside to feed the birds.
The garden is overgrown with leaves and vines, but spring is just around the corner. Soon he’ll be busy pulling and tending and planting again.
I saw the old man yesterday. The sun was out and the air was crisp. A bag of soil, a watering can and some gardening tools, all lined up carefully next to the shed.
Each spring he does his best to restore the garden to it’s original beauty, knowing it will never be the same.
He does it because it reminds him of her.
But it will never be as beautiful as the woman whose hands can no longer hold his.