Henry Bannon rolls out of bed because he no longer jumps, leaps or bounces. He relieves himself in the bathroom and washes his hands. Ever since Ava died, over twenty years ago, he’s tried to convince himself to skip the lathering and rinsing of the hand soap. But the habit goes back to a time before memories, which is why he can’t remember who instilled the action into him.
Must’ve been his mother, although he doesn’t recall his mother teaching him anything. She prepared meals, cleaned the house, and laundered, ironed and put away everyone’s clothes. She signed permission slips after his father approved, packed lunches and laid out the appropriate outerwear by the door for his convenience Monday though Friday. After school a snack waited for him on the kitchen table. A yummy homemade something he devoured while she continued with her endless chores. He’d chatter about his day, never once expecting her to say anything because she never did. Then he’d place his plate in the sink, napkin in the trash and thanked her. He doesn’t remember who taught him the thank you part either. Like washing his hands it’s been an unbreakable habit for eighty years.
Henry rinses his hands thoroughly and dries them on the hand towel hanging next to the sink. He brushes his teeth, dresses, then gathers the letters he left by the door last night and sets off down the drive to the street below. He posts the letters for his son and daughter, retrieves the paper from the receptacle beside the mailbox, then takes in the day.
The fall air is crisp and a hint of winter tickles. Most of the tree leaves are gone like his friends. Except for the gingko beside him. Its leaves, the color of the juiciest sweet corn of summer, remain stubbornly lush against the blue sky. Their rebellious spirit reminds him of Papillon. He loves Papillon’s story and was unexpectedly pleased with the movie starring Steve McQueen, who he never much cared for, and Dustin Hoffman. His thoughts of Papillon coax his lungs to expand. A smile spreads up from his toes. Like Papillon and the stubborn gingko, he’s still here.
Healthy as a horse as his father used to say. Do horses live long? He wants to know. Time to pull up the Google on his laptop and see what he can discover on the Wiki page.
Another pleasurable breath fills his torso. He’s damn lucky to have aged into this world of technological wonders, which moves so fast it’s difficult to keep up. Many of his absent friends never bothered— probably a contributing factor to their demise. Henry has no interest in departing, or getting left behind. He doesn’t dislike the past, but it has no interest for him. Today is where he is and today is what he enjoys.
Branches crack and a rustle of leaves bring his attention to the woods across the road, where he spies the cotton white of three deer tails bouncing into the distance. They must’ve been watching him all this time and he hadn’t noticed because he was checked out with Papillon. He needs to work on that. He’s not going to have people say he’s a nice old man, but often distracted, a remnant of another time. No. He won’t allow such a comment to be whispered behind his back.
This morning he’ll make his oatmeal and cinnamon toast—not like his mother’s or Ava’s but good enough, enjoy a cup of coffee, then head to town. He’ll open the gallery, where people can wander in to browse or purchase paintings of local artists. He’ll sketch and paint in the back room, also open to the public, for he likes to chat with the tourists and townies and, when he’s lucky, with those college kids that come in to dream about a gallery of their own. He’ll invite them to paint alongside him, if they can spare the time. Most are too embarrassed, or think he offers only out of politeness, but some accept.
Maybe today will be one of those lucky ones.