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Thaw

Winter held strong to the Indiana farm country, as if Spring refused to arrive as long as Belle lay wasting in the hospital.

And then, on Monday of the last week of March, Dr. James delivered the news Edwin had waited forever to hear — she was coming home Friday.

That had given him four days to set the house right, and Bill had to come help. He’d brought Tommy, too. The boy might get underfoot at times, but lord knew the place could use a child’s light.

It was all wonderful. A prayer answered.

But none of it fixed Edwin’s treachery, and none of it brought back what he had lost.

Why hadn’t he just wrapped up Belle’s bird feeder and stored it safely in the attic at the end of Fall, like she had asked, like he had done so many times before?

His wife wasn’t a sentimental woman, but she clung to the simple bronze and glass feeder that wasn’t much more than an upside-down jar but that seemed to attract hummingbirds like nothing else.

It had been his gift to her on their tenth anniversary, when they couldn’t afford anything, and when they both were so close to just walking away. That’s why it meant the world to her, and why it should have meant more to him.

It didn’t matter that Belle took ill in October and that Edwin had hardly been able to eat or sleep since then. Didn’t matter that his days had melted into a sludge of icy roads and hospital rooms decorated with sad holiday tidings and ramen noodles, and that ache under his sternum that had been growing for weeks.

All that mattered was that he’d lied when she asked him if he took care of the thing, and that he hadn’t … and that Belle’s precious heirloom had disappeared into the desolate winter.

“What do you think I’ll find in the treasure pile today, Grandpa?”

Tommy’s little voice broke Edwin’s trance as he watched Bill in the driveway, cleaning out the car so they could pick up Belle. Edwin didn’t think he could face her. And he couldn’t face Tommy with tears welling up in his eyes. So he continued to gaze out the front door.

“What do you mean, Tommy?” he asked without looking at the boy.

“Well, yesterday Daddy let me dig in your treasure pile, because it was melting. He said I better hurry.”

Edwin had no idea what the boy was talking about. Something squeaked behind him. He was starting to get annoyed, and that upset him.

Outside, Bill closed a rear car door and walked around to the driver’s side. The sun was rising on the clear morning, and birds were finally singing, but the mound of plowed snow on that far side of the driveway still stood nearly as tall as Edwin’s grown son.

It was the product of more snowfalls than Edwin could remember, and a helpful neighbor with a truck and a blade. A shovel handle stuck out of the top of the mound, exposed by the previous day’s melt.

Edwin shrugged. He must have left the tool out in the yard, and it got swept up by the plow.

A twinkle of hope tickled his heart, and he turned toward Tommy without even another thought.

“See what I found yesterday?” The boy beamed and held his treasure up by its tarnished bronze bail. It was Belle’s bird feeder. “Isn’t it pretty, Grandpa?”

Edwin swooped his grandson up into his arms and spun him around. “It’s the most beautiful treasure I’ve ever seen, Tommy!”

Published inFlash Fiction

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