Doll in hand, Sophie dances along the flagstone path into the garden, and pulls herself up onto the lichen-spotted wooden bench. “Are you there?” she calls, and waits for an answer.
She sits, wordless, knees pulled up in front of her, trying not to fidget. Nothing moves behind the Michaelmas daisies and goldenrod; nothing flickers among the straggling blackberries, or where the low September sun glows ruby through the Virginia creeper gowning the balsam fir tree. She hugs the doll against the late-afternoon chill. At last the waiting grows unbearable. “Are any of you there?” she asks again.
Slow adult steps behind her, her grandfather’s. “There you are, pumpkin! Been looking for you all over the house! Supper’s almost ready.”
She turns around to face him. “They aren’t here anymore, Grampy.” Her lip trembles.
“Sorry, you’ll have to say that a little more clearly. You know I don’t hear as well as I used to.” He taps his hearing aid. Its once-discreet flesh-colored plastic matches the grubby pink of the doll’s arm.
“Just because I’m getting older.”
She thinks for a few heartbeats. “Will that happen to me too?”
“Maybe someday, honey. Not for a long, long time. Now come on before your spaghetti gets cold.” He rumples her hair, turns, and starts back along the path towards the door of the cozy kitchen.
Her feet scuffing at the first fallen leaves, Sophie follows him out of the garden.
Robert Dawson teaches mathematics at Saint Mary’s University in Nova Scotia. When not doing math or writing, he enjoys fencing, music, hiking and cycling.