He stared at the card he held in his hands for a long time before commenting about the pretty picture on the front. He liked the picture of a two-story house tucked in the woods, bathed in the golden glow of a sunset. A narrow, winding path curled through the trees and stopped in front of the house.
His wife stood beside him and gently opened the card. She encouraged him to read the verse. At first, he didn’t understand what she meant so she took her finger and ran it under each line of verse as he followed along.
“That’s very nice,” he said. “That’s beautiful.” He looked lovingly at his wife.
“We need to sign this for her. We are giving this to her,” she said pointing to a framed picture hanging on the wall. “See? I’ve already signed it.”
The card slid off his lap as he studied the picture. “She looks very familiar,” he said. “I know her.”
“Yes,” his wife said. “She’s been a part of our lives since she was born.”
His wife walked over to the bookcase and came back carrying a photo album. She sat next to him on the sofa and turned the pages, describing each photo on the page. Some were funny, some showed the excitement of Christmas morning, others were of several generations of family sitting around the table for Thanksgiving dinner, and some captured locations of family vacations. With each photo, she would tell the story. Sometimes, he would nod and remember the events exactly as they happened, other times it seemed he was experiencing the moment for the first time.
He held his wife’s hand. “You have a lovely face,” he said. “You are my guardian angel.”
“I love you. We promised to take care of each other. You are an important part of my life, and hers.” She pointed, once again, to the framed picture on the wall. “She loves you, too.”
He looked around the room. “Is that piano ours?”
“Yes.” His wife patted his arm. “We’ve had that piano a long time. You used to sing to us. I’d play Christmas carols and you would lead all of us in song.”
He pointed to the framed picture. “And she played, too? I remember that.”
“She played at Christmas and all year. She would play in recitals.” His wife reached over his lap, picked up the card, and placed it on her lap under the photo album.
“Is this our sofa?” he asked.
“Yes, honey. You went with me to the store and helped me pick this one out.”
“So, everything is in place?”
“Yes. This is our home.” His wife looked at the clock and knew she needed to start preparing the special dinner they would be having later. She found a page of pictures from similar dinners. “This is what we will be doing tonight. Look at the cards on the table.”
He looked at the page his wife was showing him. “There’s a little girl in the picture. Whatever happened to her?”
“She grew up,” his wife said. “She isn’t little anymore.” She handed him the card. “She’ll be coming here soon. We need to make sure this is signed before she gets here.”
“I don’t know what to write,” he said.
“Look at the pictures and read the card again,” his wife said. “I think you will know what to write.”
She handed him the card. He read it slowly, studying every word. He looked at the pictures in the album and did his best to remember the stories about each grouping. He looked at the younger pictures of himself and his wife, and laughed when she answered his question about his current age. And then, his facial expression changed to one of strength. All his doubts vanished. The clarity came back into his eyes. He picked up a pen and began signing the card. After he had finished, he looked at his accomplishment, and handed the card to his wife.
She looked at it. His handwriting was different. It had always been hard to read, but this time, it was shaky, as if it had been drawn deliberately. She kissed him. He had done it on his own. The lines on his face softened and his lips curled up in a big grin. He knew he had done the right thing. He signed a birthday card with the same signature that he had done year after year — the signature that forever distinguished him in this young woman’s life. He signed it, “Love, Daddy.”
© 2011 Cynthia Collins. All rights reserved. First published by the quarterly writers’ journal, The Storyteller, in the April/May/June 2011 issue. Received that issue’s People’s Choice Award for First Place – Fiction.