© 2016 by Helen Sperber

THE CRANES RETURN​

 

     The cranes circled the marsh, trumpeting loudly to announce their return. She called out to Hank, but he had already heard them, and was coming down the path to meet her. Moving too quickly, she thought, and without the cane, but she didn't scold him this time.

     “Right on time,” he said. “I knew they would come this week.”

     It was their annual challenge – to have their vacation here at the cabin coincide with the arrival of the cranes. Only once in the past five years had they missed, coming too early for that year's late spring.

     They watched the birds circle, and heard the soft splash as they settled onto the water.

Still calling, the cranes circled the pond and finally disappeared into the grasses, anxious to claim

their old nesting spot.

      In the morning, she was up at 6 and ready for her early morning walk. The tulips had been trying to break the surface yesterday, and she started toward the flower bed to see if they had made it. Then she heard a call from the water and headed toward the marsh instead to see the cranes. How she loved those birds. Delighted in their free spirit, the way they courted and mated,​ traveled the sky, lit up the morning and the evening with their calls. Another pair had joined the first arrivals sometime in the evening.

     She watched them feeding for a while, then turned back toward the cabin.

     The tulips had emerged. Six pointed leaves were poking up through the crusted soil. Had they broken through yesterday, or had the glad cry of the cranes given them the encouragement they needed to awaken?

     She called to Hank. “The tulips have broken through.”

     Hank didn't get as excited about the spring bulbs as she did, but he loved the cranes. She wondered why he had not come outside to see them yet. Walking into the house, she saw him sitting on the kitchen chair, leaning strangely forward onto the table. His face was gray. A medicine bottle sat on the table.

     “Better help me to the car. I took the aspirin,” he said.

     “Oh, God.  I'll bring the car to the back.”

     She ran to the living room, grabbed purse and car keys from the hook, and flung the front door open. In a minute she was in the car, breathing a prayer under her breath. She started the engine, and drove around to the back door. Popping open the trunk, she grabbed a pillow and blanket, and tossed them into the back seat. Rushing into the cabin, she grabbed his cane, handed it to him, stuffed the medicine bottle into her pocket, and put her arm under his as he struggled to stand up. Then she stopped, meeting his eyes.

     “Can you do this? Make it to the car?”

     He nodded slightly. “I think so.”​

  Ten feet across the room to the door and out onto the porch. Luckily, no steps.  The back seat door was open and he wilted into it. She cradled his head in åthe pillow and covered him with the blanket, then she was quickly in the front seat again.  

     As she left the driveway and turned on to the dirt road toward town, she dialed 911. The ambulance would meet her in Oak Grove.

      Now she began to talk to Hank. She told him about the tulips thrusting their sharp leaves into the air, and how the marsh had looked as the four cranes rose from the water, settled, rose and settled again, then swam into the grasses, exploring their summer home. She glanced into the back seat and he smiled.

     She kept talking as she felt tears begin to pool in her eyes. She told him which trees were budding out, and how much the creek had risen at the bridge. She let him know when the raccoon crossed the road in front of the car, with the sun's first rays on its back. The deer were still in the meadow, the same family they had seen on their walk in the moonlight the night before. As they neared Oak Grove, she ran out of things to say, and just smiled at him over her shoulder and said “I love you, Hank.”

     Silently, he mouthed, “I love you too.”

     She wished she could have heard the words, that last time.

 

THE END