“Let me get that for you, Mrs. Woods.”
Sally Woods looked up from the ground where she had dropped her mail to see Sheriff Dixon exit his cruiser and jog toward her. He nodded a greeting, and knelt to pick up the scattered envelopes.
“Thank you, Sheriff,” she said. “My back won’t even let me pick up something off the ground.”
“Don’t mention it,”
“Good night for it.”
“Sure is. By the way, Lizzy wanted me to thank you for that wonderful peach pie.”
“Oh, you’re so welcome. Although, I’m afraid there won’t be too many more.”
“Why, Mrs. Woods, I do believe that might just break Lizzy’s heart. Mine, too.”
“Well, it’s my hands, you know.”
“The filling isn’t so bad, but I make the crust from scratch, and I won’t settle for any store-bought crust.”
“I’d expect nothing less.”
Their attention was drawn to a small group of children enjoying the light snow.
“Are you getting along alright, Mrs. Woods? Everything okay?”
Sally sighed. “Oh, yes. Things are as fine as they can be when you’re as old and broke-down as me.”
“Gettin’ colder in the winter,” she said. “Cold comes earlier and stays later anymore.”
“It sure does seem that way.”
“You live in one place for fifty years, Sheriff, the weather can’t fool you.”
“Oh, no, you don’t. I can manage.”
“Is there anything you need done in there? You have any trash that needs taking out or anything like that?”
“No, Sheriff, I’m set for the evening, but I thank you for asking.”
“Well, if you ever need anything, even if it’s fetching the mail, you don’t hesitate to call, you hear?”
“I hear. Good evening, Sheriff.”
“Evening, Mrs. Woods.”
Sally slowly made her way into the comfy Folk Victorian home. She thumbed through the pieces of mail, discarding most without opening. She stood to do the sorting, since sitting down and getting up was quite inconvenient. The last piece was a letter from Henry, who was husband to her old friend Betty. Odd thing was, Henry never wrote. It was always Betty.
She knew before opening what the letter would say.
Betty was gone, Henry wrote. Went to sleep one evening and never woke up.
Sally put the letter down, and made her way slowly and painfully to the kitchen sink. She stood at the sink and looked out the window above it. A smile broke through the wrinkles on her still-beautiful face. There, in the center of the backyard, in the dusk, stood the peach tree. Charlie’s peach tree. The snow fell softly upon its empty branches. The fruit had been gathered, its leaves fallen, and it would stand barren and lonely until spring.
Her husband had always wanted a peach tree. He had worked hard to buy Sally this nice home, but before he could plant his peach tree, the cancer got him. The only thing the doctors seemed to know about his illness was its quickness and cruelty.
She had been so young when she lost him. Only thirty years old. She never loved again. Never even considered it. On the day of his funeral, she planted the seeds and waited anxiously. When the little sapling finally fought its way to daylight, her heart skipped a beat. She sat on the ground all that day, just looking at it.
She remembered what he had said as he lay on his deathbed upstairs.
I’m gonna come for you, Sweetheart.
Sweetheart. His pet name for her ever since the days of their courtship, when he would play “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” on his violin as she blushed red as a beet.
His eyes were open, but they looked into a world different from the one his body lay in. She didn’t know what he saw, but she didn’t dare distract him.
When the tree gives you the fruit, I’m gonna come for you.
Those were his last words. She didn’t understand what it meant then or now.
The darkness to the east was slowly chasing the sunlight away. Sally put Henry’s letter in the desk drawer she used for special keepsakes. The house seemed so large and she felt so small now. Betty and Henry had moved to
Sally lit a candle and made her way into the den, which had been converted into a small bedroom, since Sally could no longer navigate the stairs. She sat in an upright chair to read a little before going to sleep. She read a couple of paragraphs before closing the book and setting it on her lap. She watched the shadows on the ceiling as the flame danced on the wick. The hypnotic display of light and shadow made her eyelids grow heavy . . .
Sally thought she heard a noise. A small draft blew through her bedroom and she pulled a blanket over her shoulders.
Another noise. Coming from the living room. She struggled to her feet and pulled the door open a crack. She thought she heard music. A violin. The song was heartbreakingly familiar.
“Who’s there?” she called out. Her body may have been weak, but her voice was strong.
The music continued, and there was no doubt now that it was her song. She heard someone humming along to the violin.
Confused yet unafraid, she fetched her candle and walked down the hallway and into the living room.
She saw a shimmering apparition sitting on her faded sofa. A young man in his early twenties, wearing brown trousers and suspenders and a white, long-sleeved shirt. A battered railroad hat lay next to him. He did not notice her at first, so absorbed he was by his playing. When the translucent figure turned to look at her, he stopped playing. The air rushed from her lungs as she recognized the handsome face.
“Charlie? Is that you?”
“Hello, Sweetheart,” he said, beaming that beautiful smile of his.
“Are you a ghost?” she asked, feeling silly.
Charlie chuckled. “I suppose that’s what you could call me.”
She went to the sofa and sat down next to him. She reached out to touch his face, expecting her hand to pass right through him. To her amazement, she could feel his smooth, warm skin.
“Charlie, what is all this? Where’s the cancer?”
“It’s all gone.”
She looked at the violin resting in his lap. “Where’ve you been all these years?”
Charlie stood, and walked to the kitchen sink window. He pointed out, and Sally knew he pointed to the tree.
“In the tree?”
“In a manner of speaking, I guess.”
“You’ve been haunting a peach tree for fifty years?”
Charlie laughed again. “No, Sweetheart, I’ve been near the tree, only in a different way. I’ve been with you all this time, watching over you.”
Sally thought for a moment. “Yes. I know. Now that I hear you say it. I’ve known all along.”
Charlie walked back to the sofa.
“How come I couldn’t see you until now?” she asked.
Charlie smiled big. “Because, Sweetheart, I couldn’t show myself until it was time for me to come for you.”
“What do you mean?”
Charlie stood and offered his hand. She took it, feeling a rush of memories at the roughness of his skin and the strength of his grip. He helped her to her feet. They walked toward the back door in the kitchen.
“Oops,” he said suddenly.
He trotted back to the sofa for his violin. He took her hand again, leading her on. She watched him pass through the locked door. Sally closed her eyes until she realized she had just passed through the door herself.
When she opened her eyes, the snow and darkness was gone, replaced by brilliant sunlight and vibrant colors of spring. The peach tree was in full bloom, its plump fruit hanging from its branches. Charlie sat down against the trunk of the tree and patted the ground next to him. Sally looked down at her hands as they hung at her side. The wrinkles were gone. Her hands were smooth and youthful again. She put her hands to her face and felt smoothness there also. She sat on the ground next to Charlie. He played and sang songs for her. He told her funny stories and she laughed. She had never laughed so much.
Sally’s delivery boy summoned Sheriff Dixon when she did not answer the doorbell.
“Mrs. Woods?” he called out.
He stepped into the house. He heard nothing.
He walked through the living room and kitchen. He noticed a ragged hat of some kind on the sofa.
He went down the hallway and entered the makeshift bedroom.
She sat in her chair, eyes closed and silent. A blanket and a book lay on the floor. He looked closer and saw that her chest did not move. He gently placed his finger on her neck. Feeling no pulse, he quietly whispered an order into his radio.
After standing by her chair for a moment, he took the blanket off the floor, and placed it around her. As he did, he noticed the contented smile on her face. He later told his wife it was the most peaceful smile he had ever seen.