This is one of my "Friday Flash Fiction" stories written for, and appearing at Amwriting.org A fine site for writers, and for readers.
The old man Jacob sat in his rocking chair, older than dirt he thought, the both of them.
It was that week between Christmas, with all the familying whirlwinds, and New Year's Eve. It was hard to get excited about New Year's, having seen so many of them come and go. It was hard to get excited about much of anything these days. He couldn't do much anymore, felt he hadn't done nearly enough for most of his life, and now his times of doing seemed to be mostly over.
He thought about this year, and all that had happened in the world and in his life. There were so many bad things happening in the world. There were good things too. It seemed like nothing was as clear-cut, as black and white as it used to be, for him or for most other people. Nothing was certain any more, and worse, life no longer seemed to hold the hope, the magic, that it once had.
Jacob went over and over his life in his mind, remembering when he was young and thought he knew it all. He had run out of tears years ago, for all that was lost or had never been because he was such a fool. As much as he had thought he'd known, he had known nothing, not even how much he was loved, until it seemed too late.
His daughter Ava, bless her heart, had called him the other day. If he had still been able to jump he might have jumped right out of his skin. He still hated the sound of a telephone, even now, when it rang so seldom.
She wanted to come over and go through his old photos with him, build a scrap-book, she said.
He reminded her that he could no longer see very well. What would be the point?
She said it would give them something to do together, something that she hoped they'd enjoy. She would build the scrapbook for him, all he had to do was tell her about the pictures.
He thought seeing all those old photos, thinking on those times now would probably hurt as much as they'd help, remind him of chances lost, possibilities died on the vine. But still, he did want to see them again, and to show them to her to remind them both his life had not always been as it was now.
Besides, he didn't have the heart to tell her no. He suspected she was afraid he might die anytime now, and wanted to have something better to remind her of his life than the scattered pictures he kept in worn out boxes.
When she came over she seemed to have enough stuff with her to build a world he thought. Boxes and boxes and portfolios of fancy papers. Tools and gadgets and bottles also came in the door and just kept coming. When he asked her why so much she said she brought it all so she'd be sure to have "just the right stuff".
And as they labored over each page he realized she did, in every case, have just the right stuff. Not only did she build up each page of multiple layers of different kinds of paper and fabric, she added other things.
For the pictures of the beach she found sand and shells, drift wood and dried seaweed, even scents in bottles for that "finishing touch".
For the forest pictures oak leaves and pine needles, a tuft of deer fur, the smell of old trees, and finally one single pinion, the silent flight feather of a great horned owl.
For the pictures of them together she had tiny bits of fabric one or another had worn, a piece of a toy, a ticket stub from a favorite event. Ava always found just the right, no - perfect, the perfect thing to finish off each page, to seal the power of the best, most important memories of his life .
Rather than taking an afternoon as he'd originally thought, it wound up taking the entirety of the week to finish the project. Some evenings she'd stop and fix him something to eat before continuing on her own, till long after he'd fallen asleep in his chair. He'd wake to find her curled up on the sofa under one of her mother's old afghans before the fire, and he could have sworn he saw a faint shimmer, he imagined like a magic faery dust, about her hair and shoulders.
Even as she worked through this with him Ava watched his remaining strength fading, day after day, though his mood seemed to actually get better. She was sure she saw a little of the old twinkle come back to his eyes.
He was napping in his chair as she finally finished the last page. She carried the thick book, practically a tome. over to him and placed it on his lap. Gently she roused him. "Dad, here it is. I'm going to go straighten up around the house a bit, you have a look, see what you think", and she was off in the other rooms.
Ava hoped he would find it as magical as she knew it had turned out to be. She imagined him in his chair slowly turning each page, discovering not only his own memories of each event, but also perhaps a new sense of the presence of the places, people, and things. She knew there was more depth to each story than either of them had been aware of. They had captured not just his impressions, but the essences of each moment, each day, that would make them new for him again.
As she puttered around the old house she began to feel him in there. It was a talent she had always had, to feel what he and a few others felt. Tired. She felt tired, and wondering if it was her tiredness or his, she went back in to check on him. "You okay, Dad? Do you like it?"
"It's marvelous, just marvelous, Honey" and he smiled at her, really smiled, as she hadn't seen in many years.
"I'm so glad you like it, Dad. I'll just be in the other room if you need me."
The book would sustain him. The book would hold him, as in a loved one's warm embrace, until the end of days.
When Ava returned to the room sometime later she found the book in his chair where he'd sat with it as he and the book became one.
She cradled it close to her heart as she gazed at the still glowing embers in the fireplace he had built so many years ago. "Happy New Year's, Dad."