Bernard never took to being called Bernie but it seemed like that’s what everybody called him. Way back in elementary school he had just decided to live with it. He still remembered when he was a kid, the grown-ups would laugh until they were red in the face when he would insist on being called Bernard.
Miss Gladys never called him Bernie, though. He had introduced himself as Bernard and even though all his friends did, she never called him Bernie. Not once.
She was smart that way, always knowing that one thing that was important to someone. He had watched it over and over during their 19 years together. She was always surprising someone with a particular kind of cake or pastry. They would look at her in wonder, thinking she must be psychic, Bernard knew her secret, but he wasn’t telling. He kept it to himself but he had figured it out pretty early on.
Miss Gladys was just a good watcher and listener, and nothing ever got by her that she didn’t store someplace in that pretty head of hers. She would notice when one of her friends would hesitate for a second longer than normal while looking at a scarf in the store. She would notice the look in their eyes when they described a certain dish. Everybody knew she was smart as a whip but they never put the two things together. But Bernard had.
Bernard loved Miss Gladys. Yes, he did. He loved her more than he ever thought he could love a woman again. In fact, he never thought he would love a woman again. Not in that way, not as a wife. When Alice had died from a bad heart, he was lost. All their children had moved away and truth be told, he had always missed them after each one had moved off but he never missed them as much as he did after Alice had died.
Oh, their kids had come and stayed with them after their mother’s heart attack. They’d taken turns and had always managed to have at least one of them there all the time she’d been sick. And Alice had been sick a long time, almost two years.
That was a long time to hold out hope and a long time to keep what he had known was inevitable hidden away in his heart. It wasn’t that he didn’t hope and pray that she would get better, he did. But at the very beginning, the doctor was quite clear, the heart attack had killed off a very large part of her heart. The doctor had explained and even showed them on that little screen how part of it just didn’t move like the rest of it did.
It had been a long hard spell but Bernard had stayed strong for his Alice. He loved her and he owed her that much and more. She had been a strong and equal partner in their marriage, something he didn’t quite know how to handle in the early days but something he’d grown to love and respect as their marriage had grown and their family had grown.
Now, Miss Gladys, she was different. It wasn’t that she couldn’t do for herself, she’d proved that many times in their 19 years. No, she could do for herself, but the truth be told she enjoyed for Bernard to do for her. That’s another thing that Bernard had figured out. Having a man do for her made Miss Gladys feel loved. And Lord knows that she had done for him. She had taken care of him and the house while he was healing from what they referred to as his “Spring fall”.
They laughed about it sometimes but truth is, Bernard had come very near to following right after Alice.
He had been cleaning off the roof, like he did every year in the Spring. That year had been a wet Spring though and it was proving to be quite the job. After a couple hours of pushing leaves and debris, he was tired, even though he was in good shape for his 49 years. But he was that kind of muscle tired that made your hands fumble to hang on to things and your feet stumble over the least little thing.
That’s exactly what had happened, just a small stumble. He didn’t even really remember just how it had happened. One minute he was wishing the job was over and the next minute it was, just not how he had planned.
In the end, the damage added up to a bruised shoulder, a pulled back and a broken hip. Funny how the hip had healed up pretty quick after the operation but the shoulder still ached when it got cold and his back never was the same. But he’d been blessed in a number of ways on that Spring afternoon. He had landed half on and half off the sidewalk. His hip hit the concrete and that’s what broke it but the top half of his body had landed in the grass. Most important, the place his head had hit the ground was a mound of wet leaves.
The second blessing was that Miss Gladys had heard him fall, though she swore he didn’t cry out, and had been there beside him almost immediately. In fact, her face was the first thing he saw when he came to. The doctor wasn’t quite sure what had knocked him out, they ruled out a concussion, there was no real lump on his head but he had sure enough woken up, which meant that he had sure enough been knocked out, somehow.
Miss Gladys had made him promise to lay very still while she went in the house to call the ambulance. It isn’t like he was going to go too far on his own anyways. He could tell that his hip was broke before they did any kind of x-ray. And though he was pretty sure no other bones were broke, he knew he was hurt. Bad hurt.
He and Miss Gladys had only been dating at the time. She had been over for the day and was inside fixing lunch. After that day, though, she had never really stayed at her apartment again. She spent most of her time at the hospital as long as he was there, then the nursing home and then slept on the couch after he was able to come home.
Bernard had argued with her about that, it wasn’t right for her to have to sleep on the couch but he couldn’t manage the couch, even if she had agreed, and she never did. That actually played a large part in him asking her to marry him. He had told her that it was inevitable anyways and his “Spring fall” had thrown a wrench into his courting plans, they might just as well go ahead and get married, so at least she wouldn’t have to sleep on that couch anymore.
He hadn’t thought out how that would sound until it was out of his mouth. He stood there waiting for the explosion that was sure to come. Miss Gladys stood facing him for a full 30 seconds with a look of shock on her face, just when he knew he had loused everything up, she started to giggle and then laugh. Soon they were both laughing so hard they could hardly catch their breath.
Yup, they laughed now and then about his “Spring fall” but they laughed on a regular basis about his fancy proposal. He figured out real quick that he would never live that one down but somehow, the ribbing didn’t bother him, it just made him laugh and made him glad that no matter how he had proposed, he was just glad he had and that Miss Gladys had taken it the way he meant it and said yes.
It never really bothered him to sit and wait on Miss Gladys while she was in a shop searching out a special gift for one of their friends. He knew how much it meant to her, he even thought of it as her calling, almost like a ministry to make others smile and be happy.
Just now, though, the sun had slid behind the shop, leaving him in the shade. It was late Fall and it cooled off quick without the sun. He’d left his jacket in the car. It had been fairly warm when they had gotten there, how long ago? It seemed like it had been pretty long He thought he could see her at the cash register, through the window. He hoped she had found what she was looking for. He also hoped Miss Gladys didn’t spend too much time talking to the cashier, his shoulder was starting to ache.