Last Breaths

‘You always bugged me about not walking enough,” Ralph looked over his should from his wheelchair at Ben. “Sure enough, now you’re carting my ass around.”  They pulled up to the closest bench by the pond.  Ben braked the wheelchair then sat on the bench beside it.

For an August afternoon, it was not too hot.  The crepe myrtles were in full bloom. Heart shaped clusters, pink and fuchsia, bent branches to shade them.

“We should be off fishing somewhere, not sitting at this pond waiting for one of us to die,” Ralph said breathlessly.  Death was too close.  Ben’s Jill, his beloved wife, passed in January.  His best friend for the last sixty years was taking last breaths through an oxygen tube.

“We fished our fill, Bubba,” Ben replied using the nickname generated over some beers at some bar listening to some band some years before.  “Great trips.  Remember the salmon in Alaska?  We could almost just reach in and grab them. So many fish, the river looked pink.”

Another resident from the home was wheeled around the pond path, a woman hunched over in her chair, pushed by a young mother and her little girl.   They parked at a bench nearby. The girl bounced for her box of animal crackers, some to eat and more to toss to the ducks now lining up for their treats.

“I think the Yellowstone cabin trips were the best,” Ralph commented. “Great rivers, hike and camp some nights.  Remember when we shared a campsite with those buffalo?  You opened your tent to see that bull’s balls nearly in your face.”  They both laughed at story told many times.

“Never made it to the Everglades.  Remember, you and Dan always wanted to go down there to fish for I don’t know what.  Gators?  Mosquitos?  I never got on board for that one.” Ben chuckled.

“Same thing with survival hiking in New Zealand. Was that Clint’s great idea?  Take three weeks off to hike with only dried food and a sleeping bag?  We talked about that one for so long.  It just died out when we all hit fifty.” Ralph repositioned the tube under his nose.

“We never did get to bike Route 66.  We were going to take off for a few weeks, go cross country.  Fish a little, find great dive bars, stop to see some sights.” Ben reflected.  “You never got your motorcycle license, so that dream went down in flames.”

“Didn’t help that neither of us actually ever had motorcycles,” Ralph harped back.

They sat silent for several minutes. Ralph licked his dry lips and looked over to his best friend, “Any regrets, man?”

Ben stared out over the pond, his eyes filling with tears, “Only that I didn’t die before my Jill.” He wiped his eye.  “How about you, Bubba.  Any regrets?”

Ralph nodded and cleared his throat, “Only that I never loved a woman like you still love Jill.”

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