“The Fruit of Our Labor”

Story written by Franklin Rayeski — Please do not use without crediting me

          I entered Joann’s apartment and placed my bags on the front coffee table. All the lights were off, so I checked her bedroom; she was sound asleep. I wanted to cook her some breakfast, but when I opened the fridge, it was practically empty. Instead of waking the woman up and asking her to call her grocer, I decided to go out to the store myself, pick up her favorite things and surprise her when I got back. I grabbed my bags and left the nursing home.
          I walked to the grocery store that was just a few blocks away, making a mental list of all the things I was going to get Joann. I had been seeing her for almost a year now, so I had a pretty good idea of what she did and didn’t like. I knew she couldn’t eat anything with a hard texture, she hated citrus but she loved any kind of fruit or berry. She could eat all the fruit jams, pies and cakes in the world.
          After grabbing milk, honey, tea and other breakfast essentials, I scoured the store for fruit goodies. I ended up buying some strawberry scones, grape gelatin and a bundle of blueberries. The only thing I could imagine as I was checking out was the bright smile she’d wear when I return.
          “I’m sorry I was late today,” I said gently as I carefully opened her door, “your fridge was empty, so I went to get groceries.” I half expected the little old lady to come to my side and help me with my bags, but when I turned around, she wasn’t anywhere in sight. The light in her room was on, so I quickly started to prepare breakfast. I put the scones in the oven to soften them and set a kettle on the stove to boil.
          I knocked on her bedroom door and then slowly opened it when she didn’t answer. The first thing I heard as I opened the door was her sobbing. I looked up and saw the bed was undone with the sheets spilling onto the floor. The bathroom door was ajar with the lights shining through the door frame.
          “Joann?” I asked aloud as I crept closer, her sobbing getting louder and louder. I opened the door and saw Joann, the poor woman, in her pink nightdress, sitting on the toilet, lifting a fist full of pills to her lips.
          “Joann!” I grabbed her frail wrist in a quick panic; the pills scattered and lightly clanged against the floor tiles. “How many did you take!?” Her eyes were staring off into space; she shook her head frantically. “None?” I asked. She nodded with tears streaming down her cheeks. I held her little head to my chest as I let out a sigh of relief. She wrapped her arms around me and continued to cry.
          “I’m sorry,” she croaked into the fabric of my shirt, “I just…after Howard died, the kids stopped seeing me and then Nancy left and I thought you weren’t going to come back.” I kissed the top of her head and rubbed her back.
          “I’m here,” I whispered as I picked her up and helped her walk to the kitchen, “I’m here, Joann. No need to worry. Everything is okay.” When she saw the groceries, her lips folded into the bright smile I was so glad to see. I grabbed a napkin and wiped her tears away. I poured her a warm cup of tea and pulled out scones from the oven.
          They ended up being a little burnt, but they still tasted good to me.

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