Bleeding Hearts

I see the torn slip of paper lying by the mail on the dining room table when I come home from work. I recognize my wife’s handwriting; the words are few. “Nancy’s funeral, Friday, Valley Baptist Church, 7:00 PM.”

Yesterday my wife and I had an argument at dinner. I left in a huff, went out for a walk to cool down, made my way through the town, across the bridge and out to the end of Old Hartford Avenue, where I stood by the guardrail, watching a red-tail hawk perch in the branches of an old oak. On the way home I paused by a flower garden on a knoll to admire the freshly blooming spring flowers—bleeding hearts.

Back at the house I discovered that my wife’s car was gone. I sat on the porch and read the Times Sunday magazine, now a week old. I watched the goldfinches flitting about the bird feeder in the front yard. I went into the house and poured myself a glass of red wine, then finished up the last of the cashews. Later I stood by the kitchen window as my wife’s car pulled into the driveway.

“Where were you?” I asked.

“Visiting Nancy,” my wife said. “It won’t be long now. I never saw her look this bad.”

Nancy was diagnosed several years ago with stomach cancer. She and her two teenagers lived with her sister. Nancy and her husband had divorced years before she was diagnosed. My wife looked in on her from time to time.

“I went out, down to the mall,” she continued. “I passed by a flower shop and bought a potted plant for her—so pretty. Her sister thought it was lovely, too. She said the flowers were Nancy’s favorite.”

Today I leaf through the mail on the dining room table when my wife steps through the kitchen doorway. “You saw the note?” she asks me.

“Yes. When did she die?”

“Last night, around nine-thirty. Her sister called me this morning. Somehow I just knew when I saw her yesterday.…” her voice trails off.

“At least you had a chance to say good-bye,” I say.

“Yes, we had a good chat. I did most of the talking, I guess. She liked the flowers—they were her favorite.”

“What did you get her?”

My wife looks up at me; our eyes meet. “Bleeding hearts,” she says.

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