Who do you please when the father is gone?
She thought this, watching him plant roses beside the front step.
He knelt in the black dirt, digging with a steel claw, ripping dandelions out by their straggly roots. He held a particularly long one up for her to admire. It looked like a dew worm. She made a face, for his benefit. His smile said he was grateful for her acknowledgement.
That's all he sought. Acknowledgement. Gratitude.
She sat on a cushioned lawn chair in the gazebo, iced tea with lemon on the table beside her, paperback in her lap. She hadn't opened the book. She was watching him.
He had a face like the statue of David.
Fleshy lips, rounded cheeks, eyes perpetually wide yet blind to human cruelty. Devoid of narcissism, rife with need for kindness. Arms thick with muscle from a lifetime of bitter toil.
It was never enough, the work he did.
And it was never good enough.
He would never stop trying, though.
She rarely asked him to work and yet it was she that he sought encouragement from.
She bathed him in it, giving him the compliments he so richly deserved.
Still, he hungered for more.
She wanted to tell him to relax.
She wanted to say, "He's dead, ok? You don't have to try so hard anymore."
But a wife is no substitute for the void in a man's heart.