Jan scrubbed out Toby’s soiled underwear in a tub of bleach next to the sink.
Through the window, she watched her husband comb through Toby’s thick hair. They were on the porch – the wrap-around porch, the reason she’d asked Donald to buy this crumbling old Victorian in the first place. It hadn’t been easy keeping up such an old house at their age. But if she’d learned anything in sixty-five years, it was that easy was overrated.
“Okay, buddy,” Donald said. He had a special way of talking to Toby. “You’re lookin’ good. Ready to hit the road?”
The kitchen window was open. A breeze that carried the smell of sunshine on its tail lifted the white lace curtain at the window and set it back down just as gently.
“He’s still in his pajama bottoms,” Jan called through the window screen.
“Won’t hurt him.” Donald glanced back at Jan and winked. “Do you need anything else, or is the list good?”
“No, that’s fine. I’m sure you’ll find other things to buy. You men always do.”
“All right, my boy,” Donald said. He took Toby by the hand and pulled him to a stand. They walked together, Donald smooth and slow, Toby with a lurch to his step, to the front of the porch. The stairs were tricky for Toby. Donald held both his hands and went down backwards.
“Say goodbye to your grandma,” Donald said.
Toby turned his head. She caught a glimpse of the large grin she loved so much. “Bye Grandma,” he said. Of course, most people wouldn’t understand his speech, but Jan did. Of course she did. He was her boy. She understood almost every word that came out of his mouth, and if she didn’t at first, she’d work it out pretty quick.
“You be a good boy for your grandpa,” she called back. “And you both hurry home. I’ll miss you.”
And she meant it.
She well remembered when her own children were little, how she’d beg Donald to take them out for a spell, how she’d revel in their absence, soak in the silence.
It wasn’t that way with Toby. He was more work, sure. And her body was older now. She ran out of gas pretty easy these days. Still, he was Donald’s companion. They played chess. They ate the same thing for lunch. Toby insisted on having matching bowls with his grandpa. She took such delight in watching them together; the house seemed lonely and over-large when they weren’t somewhere around it.
She slapped the underwear in an empty basin and grabbed another pair from the pile. She sure hadn’t expected to be cleaning out mussed underwear after retirement. Or, at least, it should’ve been Donald’s mussed underwear if it was anybody’s. God had been good, though, giving them both their health so they could give Toby a home while his Mama was at work. Trina and Toby had moved in with them after the divorce. It was the only thing to do, and Jan never regretted their coming, not for a single moment.
Donald and Toby were still working their way down the garden walk toward the car. She could hear Donald’s steady voice. Then she heard Toby’s excited squeal, and knew they were about to cross the bridge. It was nothing special, just a few smooth planks of wood over the stream that trickled through their front yard. Still, it was Toby’s favorite. He loved the sound his tennis shoes made clomping across it. He loved the dragonflies that hovered on its banks in the summer. One alighted on his hand when he was sitting on the porch step once. He’d talked about that dragonfly for days.
She knew what those two would do in the store. Donald would lift Toby into the baby seat in the cart. Toby was skinny; he could still fit, even though he was seven. He’d laugh like Donald had tickled him. Then Donald’d push him around the store, and they’d buy all sorts of junk food and maybe some of the things on Jan’s list.
She laughed quietly to herself, pulling another pair of underwear from the pile. Blessings came in curious packages sometimes, she thought.
This story was inspired by Jan, whose three words were dragonfly, grandchildren and bridge. Thank you, Jan! If you'd like to give me three words for a future original story, click here and leave your words in the comment section. Thanks.