By John Thomas Tuft

Frankie and Merle Magi celebrated their golden anniversary in much the same way that they celebrated the previous half dozen or so: sitting on their deck watching the sunrise, in the east of course, filled with adoration and quiet confidence that this was right. That this was the center of the very universe. That their love endured. That time and trials and tribulations and outbreaks of terrible twos could not shake the foundations of the Magi family which stretched backwards behind them in the twists and turns of not only DNA but, most importantly, in the shared hopes and dreams and fervent, barely above a whisper, prayers for those yet to come. Hopes; dreams; and love’s wounds.

“Good thing we cut back the rose bushes,” Merle observed. “What rose bushes?” asked Frankie, in all innocence. Merle swallowed a sigh, knowing that all the countless hours he put in planting, transplanting, mulching, weeding, pruning, lovingly tending to her prized rose garden would not be in vain. Come the season she would exclaim with great pleasure at all the colors, ooh and aah at how good God was for providing such wonderment and treasures just for their enjoyment. She even had a ‘rose dance’ she did, each and every season. With a red one tucked behind one ear, a white behind the other, she swayed and swirled her way through the garden, touching each plant with a gentle fingertip. It was reward enough, Merle always told himself for the last half dozen years or so. At least she still remembered the dance each time the blooms opened up.

He studied his tired hands in his lap. “Are you angry with me?” Frankie asked with a child’s fear. “You don’t touch me any more. Are you tired of me?” Merle, with an aching slowness reached over to stroke her cheek. “Darling, I held you through the night. Don’t you remember the storm? I’m just a little tired.” Frankie jerked away. “What storm? What are you talking about, Merle? There was no storm. I’d remember that. You know I hate thunder and lightning.” Merle’s heart felt like a lifeless lump. “Okay. If there’s a storm, I promise I will hold you. Please, just enjoy the day, Frankie.”

“Do you think mother and daddy will come over today?” Frankie brightened. Merle’s eyes felt like fire. “Darling, your parents have been gone for years and years.” Frankie stood up with a start. “No. They will love the roses. Maybe I should cut some right now for them.” Merle hauled himself to his feet. Where does courage meld with compassion to face the approaching darkness? “Honey, it’s months until the roses. Come inside now. I’ll fix us breakfast.” But she was off, down the stairs, into the garden, swaying and swirling between the bare sticks in cold ground.

Merle let her go. These were the times he still saw some of the old spark in her eyes. Sometimes that soothed the loneliness. Old friends were dropping away, confused, concerned, frightened. Who could blame them, he knew. He was confused, concerned, frightened, too. He puttered about making oatmeal and toast. Frankie came in with a rush of cheer. “Daddy will love these!” Merle’s spirits sank. In her hand she clutched broken branches of the dormant bushes. The thorns pierced her palms and rose red blood traced her life line. “Didn’t you used to smile more, my love?” she asked, the lines in her lovely face deepening in concern. He nodded, unable to speak a word. Hearing her use the L word was enough. Enough.

He coaxed her to eat, then piled the dishes in the sink. “What adventures will we have today?” she asked with a smile. Frankie used to write children’s stories filled with adventures. Now Merle read them to her at night, knowing she did not recall them. “We’re going to see the doctor. Remember?” The word slipped out before he could catch himself. “What a bother,” she exclaimed in her best Winnie the Pooh voice. That always made Merle laugh. It was his anniversary present.

After the drudgery of helping her to dress and shepherding her through the crowds along the way, they were seated in the waiting room at long last. Frankie sat primly, seeming to take it all in. Merle tried not to think about what this was doing to their savings. The nurse approached, calling, “Frankie? Frankie Magi?” Frankie looked frightened. “For fifty years,” Merle spoke up. “We’re gold,” muttered Frankie, shyly reaching for Merle’s hand for comfort. Guidance. Strength. Love. As they followed to the exam room, the nurse looked questioningly as Frankie began to sway and swirl, touching everything along the way, the piercings of open wounds in her palm now forgotten.

“She’s with the roses,” said Merle Magi about his wife. “She’s dancing with her roses.”

Words are magic, and writers are wizards.