A Neighbor’s Last Wish
By Allie Bock
The sun came up like it did every morning. The pinks and purples streaked across the sky as I sipped my coffee. Next door, Mr. Robinson shuffled out of his house to walk his ancient Jack Russell Terrier. The little dog gaited stiffly around the little yard. He must have been a striking dog in his prime, white with black spots, but now, he faded to white with grey splotches. When the little dog finished his business, the old man and his dog shuffled back inside the house. As I sat there watching them, I pondered going over to introduce myself. Inside my kitchen, I grabbed two fresh cups of black coffee and crossed the quiet tree-lined street. His grass was long overdue for a cut, and the faded yellow paint was peeling from the house. The oak door was weatherbeaten as I pounded on it with my tree-lined. Robinson” I called. I could hear him scuffing his tennis shoes across the wooden floor as he pushed his walker.
“Who’s there?” A croaky voice asked, followed by a fit of coughing.
“Mr. Robinson, I am Becky, and I just moved into the house across the street last week. I saw you this morning and was wondering if you would like to have a cup of coffee with me?”
Some more coughing ensued as he slid the chain from the door and cracked it open. “I don’t have any coffee this morning.”
“That’s alright. I have an extra.”
Mr. Robinson opened the door and shuffled out onto the porch. He led the way to a pair of old wicker chairs with worn-out cushions. He was stooped over with a thin halo of white hair, and his clothes hung off of him like a scarecrow. He slid his walker to the chairs and sat down. His blue eyes lit up as I handed him a steaming mug.
“It’s been a while since I had a cup with a pretty young lady” My cheeks heated up at the compliment. “Why would a young person such as yourself want to live in a place like this?”
“I took a job at the hospital in the next town over and wanted to live in a quiet community with tree-lined streets, old Victorian houses, friendly neighbors, and the only rush hour was Sunday morning before church.”
We made small talk for the next hour until our coffee was gone.
“Could I come back to visit you in a couple of days?” I asked. His eyes lit up with excitement.
“Why, I would love that!” He rasped out.
Over the next several days, my thoughts would stray to Mr. Robinson. He seemed so alone. Did he have anyone to come and check on him? I vowed to find out.
I was not able to visit him until the next week. As we were sitting on his front porch sharing a package of Oreos, I noticed that his grass still had not been cut.
“Mr. Robinson, do you want me to cut your grass for you?”
“You don’t have to do that, Becky.”
I just smiled “I like cutting grass. I find it satisfying to see it all even, and it smells nice.”
Mr. Robinson looked nervous. “There is a mower in the shed behind the house. I don’t know, but the blades may need to sharpen.” I got up and walked around the old yellow house as the grass brushed against my calves to were a little rickety shed sat. I pulled open the doors and peered through the cobwebs to find an old rotary mower. I used the edge of my T-shirt to brush the layer of dust off of the handle and pushed it outside. After a couple of passes, it became obvious that the blades were sharp enough to cut through his urban jungle. With the sun beating down on my back and sweat trickling down my nose, I pushed the rickety mower back and forth over his little yard. When I was done, I hosed off the blades and replaced them back in the shed.
“Becky, do you want to come in for a glass of water?” Mr. Robinson wheezed. I followed him into his house. As I crossed the threshold, the darkness momentarily blinded me until my eyes adjusted, and a musty closed up smell assaulted my senses. I noticed the faded photographs in dusty frames as I followed Mr. Robinson down the hall to the kitchen. A black and white photo of a pretty young woman in a wedding dress stood prominently on the table. She was smiling shyly at the camera.
“That’s my beautiful bride, Ruthanne, on our wedding day.” Mr. Robinson softly said behind me.
“She is gorgeous. Can you tell me about her?” I asked as I followed him to the kitchen.
As we entered the kitchen, Jack Russell was snoring on a rug in a sunspot. Mr. Robinson pulled out a couple of glasses and filled them with water from the tap. He set the glasses on the table and a piece of bologna from the fridge for his dog. When the fridge was opened, I couldn’t help but notice that there was only a bottle of Coke and a package of bologna.
“Ruthanne was the love of my life. I knew I was going to marry her since I was 6 years old, and she moved in next door. She had that smile that brightened the room when she entered it. She blessed me with 4 beautiful children that are very successful, sometimes too successful that they forget about their dear old dad.” He said sadly. “She gave me Benny there before she lost her fight to cancer 12 years ago.” His eyes were glistening with unshed tears. Benny slowly got up and tottered over to his owner. He licked Mr. Robinson’s hand bfore scarfing up his bologna. I sat in silence as Mr. Robinson reminisced about the adventures Ruthanne and him had throughout the years.
My visits to Mr. Robinson became routine every couple of days. Sometimes, we would sit on his porch watching the neighborhood. We would watch the few cars drive up and down the pothole-riddled street and the children playing. If it was raining, we played chess in his dusty living room. He had shelves upon shelves of salt and pepper shakers.
“Mr. Robinson, these are so neat. How did you find all of these?” I asked as I picked one up to examine it. It was a pair of bananas that were sitting next to a couple of sombreros shakers.
His face broke into a lopsided grin, “Ruthanne, collected those. I started when I was deployed in the army. Every time, I was stationed somewhere new I would send her a new set. See the Eiffel Tower set is from Paris and the Cuckoo clocks are from Germany.” He ran his fingers over some of them, clearly lost in memories. “Then, we would buy a set wherever we went on vacation. These lobsters are from our 20th wedding anniversary when we went to Maine.” He held up a pair of smiling lobsters. The chess game was forgotten as he told stories about each place that the salt and pepper shakers were from.
I decided to help him out when I could. I mowed his grass when I mowed mine, and I started buying him groceries after I noticed his fridge and shelves were bare of food. He never brought it up, and I did not ask, but I suspected he could not afford to buy food. He appeared to spend his feeble social security check on doctors’ appointments and medications for himself as his counter was covered in pill bottles.
One day, he asked me to take Benny to the vet for an exam as he had a doctor’s appointment at the same time. As I entered the vet clinic, Benny cringed against my legs. I picked him up and held him against my chest as a large hairy dog barked at him, a cat hissed from inside its carrier, and a large parrot squawked. I walked up to the smiling receptionist and checked in. She had us sit against the wall until it was our turn. We were brought into a brightly lit exam room. I placed Benny on the stainless steel exam table as I stood nervously next to him. A knock sounded at the door and it opened as a tall man walked into the room.
“I am Dr. Tim. I see you are bringing Benny in for his semi-annual exam.” He looked at me over his glasses. “Did Mr. Robinson tell you what Benny needs?” I shook my head no. “Benny has congestive heart failure that we have been treating for the last 12 months. He comes in every 6 months to make sure he is doing well on his meds. Mr. Robinson is very sympathetic to Benny’s plight as he is also suffering from the same condition. We will take him back for about 10 minutes and will bring him right back to you. Just wait here.” Dr. Tim smiled a kindly smile, scooped up the little dog, and walked out the door. I anxiously waited for Benny to come back. The little dog and his old owner have become dear to me. My heart broke to hear about the challenges that they faced and to think that he was suffering all this on his own.
Dr. Tim brought Benny back into the exam room. He set Benny down on the floor where he proceeded to sniff around the room. Dr. Tim sat down next to me and pulled out a couple of pill bottles and a pad of paper from his white coat. He went through the medications for Benny and wrote down instructions for Mr. Robinson.
“Becky, if you can get him to stop feeding Benny bologna that will help Benny’s heart condition.” Dr. Tim said.
I laughed, “I tried to buy him dog food, but Mr. Robinson says he won’t eat it.” Dr. Tim gave me a stern look over his glasses. I blushed “I will try.” I gathered up the pill bottles, Dr. Tim’s notes, and Benny and walked out of the door to the receptionist.
She smiled at me as I asked for the bill, “Don’t worry, dear. Mr. Robinson sends us a little bit every month to cover his bill.”
That next week was a rough week of work at the hospital, and all I could think about was opening a bottle of wine to have with the brownie I bought on my way home. As I pulled onto my street, I could see flashing lights over at Mr. Robinson’s house. Panic gripped my heart. I parked my car and hurried across the street. The emergency medical technicians wouldn’t let me near, but a neighbor was there. She had found him unconscious on the floor when she went over to play bridge and called an ambulance. I watched them load him into the ambulance and hurry away to the hospital. I walked back to my place in a haze. At that moment, the wine and brownie were forgotten. I called the hospital to find out about him, but as I was not family they could not give me any information. A friend at the hospital did tell me that his family was contacted and was there with him. This information helped ease my worry a little bit. At least, he was not alone. I tried to get some sleep until I could find out more in the morning.
The next morning, I was sitting on my porch staring at Mr. Robinson’s house. A young man exited the house and noticed me sitting there staring. He raised his hand in greeting and strode over to my porch. I could see Mr. Robinson’s blue eyes looking out at me when the man looked at me.
“Ma’am, I’m Caleb Robinson, and I’m his grandson.” He smiled but it didn’t reach his eyes.
“How’s Mr. Robinson?” I asked as my stomach dropped at the look on his face.
“Grandad passed last night. He is with Grandma again.” He paused to wipe the tears from his eyes. “He missed her so much. I just wanted to let you know that he loved you. He wrote to me about the pretty young woman next door that took care of him and Benny. Thank you so much for doing what everyone else didn’t make time to do.”
I was speechless. The tears rolled down my cheeks as I remember all the good times I had with him. “Where’s Benny?” I croaked out.
“Dr. Tim has him at the moment, but Grandad wanted you to take him if anything happened. He said that you reminded him of Grandma and that Benny loves you.”
I smiled sadly and nodded, “Yes, I will take him. What a wonderful gift to remember Mr. Robinson.”