I got up off my knees and began walking slowly to the other end of the big room toward the water cooler. I needed that drink of cold water more than ever. I pulled a plastic cup from the dispenser and filled it up. I raised it to my lips, closed my eyes, and drank. I filled the cup again and just as I was raising it again, I heard a slight creaking sound. I knew that sound. I'd heard it many times as a child. It was the sound of Aunt Clara's wheelchair. Her adjusting herself in it, causing the wood to squeak just a little. I closed my eyes again, half sighing, and slowly turned and looked towards the other end of the room. Towards the wheelchair. And there it was. And there she was. One hand on one of the cranks, the other under her chin. She grinned at me and motioned with her index finger for me to come down there. I set the full cup of water on top of the cooler and started towards her.
"No, no," she said, "Bring the water, Davey, I'm thirsty, please." I picked up the cup and carried it with both hands. They were shaking and I did not want to spill the water. "It's okay, Davey. Don't be afraid. I love you, Davey. You know that, don't you?" I shook my head yes and felt a smile spread over my face. As I got closer to her I felt...what? I felt...that's it...peace. Long remembered joy. "Don't worry," she said, in a reassuring tone, "Isn't the water good? I love it, don't you, Davey?" I shook my head again and handed the cup of water to Aunt Clara. At the same time I knelt in front of her and laid my head in her lap. With one hand she smoothed my hair and whispered, "Davey, Davey, Davey, why are you crying? There's no reason to cry, Davey. Come on, tell Aunt Clara why you are crying, huh?"
I lifted my head from her lap and looked at her face. I looked at her gentle smile. As our eyes met she said, "Why?" I wiped my eyes on my sleeve and whispered,
"Because I've missed you."
"Well," she said, "What a silly thing to do. Why should you miss me? You have me in your dreams, right? By the way, Davey, it's fun sometimes to be standing up. I wouldn't want to do it for a long time, but it's fun for a little while, like when I am in those dreams of yours. I know you like me standing up in dreams, but in real life I think you like me better in my wheelchair, right?"
"Yes," I said, "I do." Aunt Clara said,
"Now, let's see. You have me in your dreams. What else? Well, you have all of your wonderful memories of me. We had a lot of fun, Davey. Remember? I showed you how to fill the bird feeder beside the front porch. And how about when I showed you how to strike a match so that you could burn the trash in the big barrel out back? Well, the first time you tried you burned your thumb and I know that wasn't fun, but you got it right the next time and I was very proud of you. And you were proud of yourself too, right?" I smiled and said,
"Yes, I was."
"So," she said, "Dreams, memories...what else do you have, Davey?" It came to me then, as a revelation. I stood up there in front of her and said,
"I have your...love." Quickly she laughed and clapped her hands.
"That's right, Davey. You've got my love. I told you then, when you were just a little boy, that I loved you bunches and bunches and that it would always be that way. And it still is! So you see, you shouldn't cry. You can't miss me. I haven't gone away! I've never gone away!"
The phone rang again. I looked at it. I looked at Aunt Clara. She rolled her eyes and shook her head no. "Don't answer it," she said, "It's Don. He still calls me on that old static-y phone. And all he does is complain. I love him, don't get me wrong. He's my brother, but I just get tired of all his negativity. Plus, he's a little boring. He still wants to talk about prohibition. It's either prohibition or the Great Depression. Or, Lord have mercy, politics. Phooey, phooey, phooey. I'm just not interested. It would be a little better if he'd call me on the cell phone. I'm glad you added that to your collection. It's much clearer and easier to use. When I turn on the speaker I can talk on it when I'm flying around the shop, but you know that. You saw me last night, didn't you?"
"Yes," I said. "I did."
The old phone had stopped ringing. "Orville always calls me on the cell. Wilbur too. It took me a while but I've convinced a few others that those old phones are simply outdated."
"Like who?" I said.
"Well, besides Orville and Wilbur there's Helen Keller. Such a person she is. She was always one of my heroes and now she's one of my best friends. Then there's Sam. Sam Clemens. He is so funny to talk to. A bit of a pessimist but he's still hilarious. And let's see...oh my, yes, I love talking to Will. Will Rogers. I wish I could get Don to call him sometime. I think Will could maybe help Don look at things in a better light, but Don's stubborn. I'm the only one he calls and he always calls me on this old thing."
She motioned me to the benched and I walked over and sat down. I had a feeling about what was to come and I was anxious about it. I sat and watched Aunt Clara turning the cranks on the wheelchair. She rolled to the center of the room, winked at me, and began to slowly turn, clockwise. In a few moments she was gracefully spinning around and around and she was laughing. I clapped my hands like a child and, naturally, slapped my knees in happy fascination. She came to a stop facing my direction, smiled big, held open her arms and chimed, "Davey, Davey, come give us a hug." I rose from my seat and walked towards my Aunt Clara as the light on her face spread to mine and soon filled the whole room.