|George spent from dawn till dusk on March fifteenth of 2001 on what he hoped would be his last and greatest work. He is a landscaper by trade, but is now at the age where he can no longer find the strength to continue working all day in the hot Tennessee sun. He knew that time was growing short and he needed to finish this one last project soon.
He stopped to wipe sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief that he always kept stuffed in his back pocket for such times, and looked at the position of the sun. By his guess it was going on 4 o'clock. He needed to hurry if he wanted to get the ground ready for tomorrow.
He picked out a spot by the old maple tree in the back yard. Oh, how Judy loved that tree, he thought when he started. Now he felt too tired to even think about it. The swing that he hung on it when they first bought the old place was still hanging there. He watched her in her younger days pushing herself leisurely back and forth with her foot.
He took an inventory of his work so far. He had already picked the exact spot, marked if off, and cleared off the large clumps of grass. After a small lunch consisting of a ham sandwich and chips, he got out his old trusty tiller, and tilled the spot until it was as fine as baby powder. Even if it took all day, it would to be perfect.
Now he looked it over and tried to decide just where everything should be placed. He knew exactly what he wanted to plant. They were already waiting in the tool shed for the time when he would be finished. All of her favorite flowers ready for their new home.
Along the back forming the outer wall, he would plant the rose bushes. Pink, white, yellow, red and blue. All of those were her favorite colors. Each one representing a special moment in her life. Next would be the Iris. One of every color of the rainbow, he thought. The front would be scattered with vibrant wild flowers. She had at one time enjoyed strolling through the fields collecting them. Around the bed would be a short wall of field stones with mossy rose and snap dragons planted around most of the border.
The sun began to set, so the rest would have to wait until morning. He drug himself into the house through the back door. Once in the kitchen, he eased himself down into one of the old chairs at the table. He unlaced his worn work boots and slid them one at a time off of each foot. "Ahh," he sighed, "that's much better. It feels like heaven." He was exhausted. He couldn't remember the last time he felt so tired. He set the boots on the rug by the door and shuffled into the living room in his sock feet.
Judy still laid on the couch where she slept most nights now. She felt it would be easier that way. Her heart made it difficult for her to sleep at times and she hated to disturb him, besides, it was much closer to the kitchen and bathroom. She wasn't in any shape to walk very far these days without having to stop every few feet to catch her breath. The doctors gave up all hope of her living to see the end of the month.
Every time he looked at her it broke his heart. She seemed so weak and fragile now that her weight and muscle had deteriorated giving her the appearance of a well preserved mummy. Her skin, once so pink and round, grew pale and drawn. Her eyes that once sparkled with laughter, became sunken and dull. He could tell she hadn't been sleeping well lately by the black circles surrounding her eyes. He awoke several times during the night to check on her only to find her still awake, staring into space. The harsh glow of the T.V. transforming her face into a ghostly mask.
George eased himself down in his old threadbare recliner, pulling the leaver while he leaned into the back of the chair, causing the footrest to support his aching legs.It protested with a loud squeal as it rose into its final position. His intention was to rest for a while before he headed to the bathroom for a well deserved shower and then on to bed. He glanced over to where Judy lay silently watching the television. She was in her usual position watching yet another made for T.V. movie. When the movie paused for a commercial, she took a deep raspy breath that she let out in a weak sigh.
“How's the work going?” she asked.
“Pretty good. All I have left is the planting.”
“That's good. Do you have everything you need to finish up tomorrow?”
“Yea, everything,” he said.
“Good then. I can't wait to see all of the pretty flowers.”
The movie once again filled the screen, her attention returning to the bright pictures on the television. Thank God ,he thought. It takes so much energy for her to talk lately.
He forced the chair's foot rest back into position, and pushed himself up out of the chair. His foot slipped on the polished hardwood floor, causing him to loose his balance. He managed to grab a hold of the arm of the chair before he could fall to the floor. Once he had regained his balance, he cautiously walked into the bedroom, slid his feet into his old slippers, and rummaged around in the dresser drawers until he found his night clothes. Having found them, he began his short journey to the bathroom. On his way past the couch, he leaned over and gave his wife a soft peck on her forehead. The corners of her lips twitched, and her eyes began to grow glassy with tears. He went on into the bathroom, laid his clothes on the commode lid, and started the shower.
He managed to undress and step into the warm spray of water. It helped to wash away the dirt and tension of the day. This seemed to be the only time lately that he could relax and not think about what was coming next. He knew that once he was in bed, all those thoughts would come rushing in, forcing him to acknowledge what he now felt committed to do. It would torment him for hours before he could finally drift off to sleep.
He soaped up his frail body, rinsed off the soapy bubbles, and stepped out of the shower. He grabbed a fresh towel from the stack of them on the shelf. When he finished drying himself and getting dressed, he wiped the fog from the mirror and looked at his haggard face. He ran his hand across his chin taking stock of the days growth there. "No need to shave I guess. I'll do it tomorrow." he said to the mirror. He opened the door with a sigh before walking into the living room. It had become his habit to check on Judy each time he went through the house. He went closer to the couch and looked at her. She still sat in the same place staring at the television. He studied her face and chest, looking for signs of life. When he heard her take a deep breath, he walked away towards the kitchen to get himself something to eat.
“Do you need anything from the kitchen?” he asked.
"Are you sure? Maybe some water and crackers."
"I'm not hungry." was her reply.
He stood there for a moment trying to remember when she had ate her last meal. Lord knows it had been a while since she had ate anything other than broth. He shook his head and walked into the kitchen. He wasn't sure what he wanted to eat. he rummaged around in the cabinets for something that might work. Something quick and easy. I'm too tired to fix much. he thought. He found several cans of soup in a upper cabinet. That felt like a pretty good idea to him. He took one out and set it on the counter. He opened one of the lower cabinets, got out a small pot and put it on the counter beside the soup. He opened the box of crackers that sat on the counter, and took out a pack, sitting it on the other side of the can.
He opened the can, poured it into the pot, and put it on the stove to warm. While he waited for it to get warm enough to eat, he grabbed a soda out of the refrigerator and set it on the table. He took a bowl and spoon from the dish drainer and set them on the counter by the stove.
When the soup felt warm, he took it from the stove, and poured it in the bowl. He placed the empty pot in the sink, turning on the water, filling it up to soak. He sat down and ate his meal while he looked over the evening paper. A small paper called the Daily Report. It printed the usual small town news and gossip. He wondered if his work would ever make it into the paper. After he finished eating, he folded the paper and cleaned up the kitchen. With the dishes done and everything put away, it was time to go to bed.
He went back through the living room, leaned down over Judy and gave her a quick peck on the forehead. He noted the feel of her hot, pasty skin and thought she might be running a bit of a temperature. I'll need to check that in the morning, he thought, as he turned to leave her.
“I love you.” he said, “night.”
She took a deep breath before she spoke. “You too," she wheezed. "Night.”
He walked to the bedroom fighting back the tears that threatened to overflow his eyes. He dabbed them off with the cuff of his shirt. It hurt him so much to see her this way. She use to be so full of life and hope, he thought. When he laid down on the bed, thoughts of what he planed for the next day troubled his mind. When he did sleep, nightmares troubled his restless sleep.
His dreams were of Judy and the life they once shared. Each dream ending with her disappearance. He could never seem to find her before he woke. He tossed and turned and chased after her all night. When he awoke the next morning, he felt exhausted. Worse even than when he went to bed the night before.
He managed to get out of bed and dressed. He kept hoping that something would have changed during the night. He hated to think what it would mean if it hadn't. His mind had had been occupied for weeks about the what steps he may be forced to take. Now that day is here and he still didn't have a clue about what he would do. Maybe Judy and fate have worked together during the night to take the burden off my shoulders, he thought.
He glanced into the living room from the doorway. There lay Judy on the couch just as she had been for the past year He couldn't tell if she was breathing from across the room. That wasn't unusual lately considering that her breathing has become so slow and shallow lately. He would need to go check to make sure. He dreaded it so much. Especially this morning.
He forced his legs to carry him over to the couch. With each step it felt more like a dream. He watched her chest for the slightest hint that it was rising and falling. He thought he saw it move, but he couldn't be sure. He put his hand above her mouth and believed that he could feel her stale breath lightly teasing his palm, but again he wasn't sure. When he gave up on those tests, he knew that he would have to try to wake her up. He reached out and nudged her shoulder. She didn't move. He nudged her a little harder and whispered her name. With a week breath, she opened her eyes and looked up at him
“Do you want any breakfast today?” he asked. “Today is the day. All I have left is the planting and I figured that you would want to come out outside and watch me finish getting it ready "
“Toast,” was all she could say.
George went into the kitchen and made them both some toast and fixed himself a cup of coffee while he waited. When it was done, he placed her a piece on a saucer. He carried it in to her, along with a glass of water He then went back into the kitchen to eat his, and drink another cup of coffee. It's going to be a long day, he thought.
The house seemed eerily silent this morning. Like it knew that something is about to happen. He heard Judy in the other room. and strained to listen..It sounded like she was choking. Maybe it would be better this way, he thought. Then I wouldn't have to think about it anymore. He still wasn't sure how or even if he wanted do it. He knew that they both would be better off with it over and done, but he wasn't sure that he would have the strength to do it.
About a month ago, after the last visit to the doctor, they talked about it. The doctor told them there wasn't any hope left, and she could go at any time. It had been more her idea than his. She wanted him to plant a garden for her, and fill it with her favorite flowers. She would provide the nourishment for it to grow, then she would always be with him in the spring. It sounded like a reasonable request at the time, but he expected long ago to wake up and find her gone. Now it looked like he was going to have to depend on himself to finish it. But wait, he thought. What if she should happen to choke on the toast? That would surely change things.
He took his time eating and drinking his coffee. When he finished, he went back to check on her. All of his questions were answered when he saw her sitting up on the couch. This is making me crazy, he thought. Why can’t she just go ahead and pass away comfortably? Why is she hanging on so long? I have so much to deal with and I can't take her making this so damn hard on me. He took a moment to compose himself, and get his pain and anger under control.
He pasted a big smile on his face, looked at her, and said “You're looking lovely this morning.”
She looked up with a bright smile and a twinkle in her eyes. "I seem to feel much better this morning."
"That's great. If you feel up to it, you can come out and watch me plant the flowers."
"I think some fresh air would do wonders for me," she agreed.
He got her wheelchair from the other side of the living room and brought it over to the couch, and helped her into it. He pushed her into the kitchen where he stopped to put on his boots. Then he pushed the chair out into the yard, and stopped under the shade of the old maple tree so she could keep an eye on his progress.
He left her sitting there, and walked to the tool shed where he kept his landscaping tools. Now along with the tools set the flowers for the garden, several bags of fertilizer, potting soil, and a couple of bags of lye. If he was going to do this work himself, then he was going to do it right. He could only hope that after all of his hard work, some inconsiderate dog wouldn't dig up.
He loaded down his wheelbarrow with the flowers first. He pushed them over to the far end of the garden and set them out one at a time, being careful not to turn them over. It took a couple of trips before he had all of them there. Then he loaded up the fertilizer, potting soil, and lye. By the time he brought back everything that he needed, including his tools, a plan had formed in his mind. Somehow he thought that she would go before now. He hadn't even given any thought to what he would do if she didn't. He hated the thought of it, but he knew he didn't have a choice about it now.
He left the wheelbarrow at the edge of the grass, walked over to her chair, and knelt in front of her. She looked so small, pale, and weak. He hated to look at her like this. It broke his heart in pieces. He took both of her hands in his, brought them up to his lips and kissed each one. Then he looked into her eyes and said, “Judy...my love...my life...I'm sorry about what I've got to do. I figured you'd be gone by now, but God didn't see fit to do it that way. Now I have to do it for him. I'm going to miss you something awful, but I can't go on watching you suffer any more. Please forgive me. I know you will be much happier here in your garden. I love you.”
He could see the effort that it took for her face to contort and form what he thought was a smile. When his hands let go of hers and rose to her throat, she coughed and choked out her last words, “ahg cha heee..krg..” He had tears in his eyes as he closed his hands tighter and tighter around her neck, crushing her windpipe.
From the front page of The Daily Report:
Was it murder suicide?
In the early hours of the morning, police were called to the home of George and Judy Kramer. A single shot was fired, awakening a nearby neighbor. When police got to the scene they found a man lying on the ground near what appeared to be a freshly planted flower garden, with a shotgun near his hand. The police searched the area and house looking for Mrs. Kramer. They found a note lying on the kitchen table stating that he had buried his wife in the garden. According to the note He just couldn't "watch her suffer" anymore. Upon further investigation and eye witness accounts, it was uncovered that George had been seeing doctors for a medical condition which caused him to become delusional and have depressive thoughts. His wife who was deeply rooted in the community had been staying home to care for him. According to the autopsy report, increasing amounts of cyanide seemed to have been ingested by Mrs. Kramer over the last several months. It is unclear whether....
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