Cabin on a Stream
by Laura Rittenhouse
Kenneth hated the nursing home but once he bumped into Miranda while visiting a friend, he couldn’t relax until he’d moved in. At 92 he probably shouldn’t be living alone anyway.
After tapping lightly on his door, Miranda walked in and asked Kenneth if he wanted her to wheel him down to lunch. He waved his hand and answered, “No thanks, I’m not hungry. But can ya pass me that picture on your way out?”
The picture had been the topic of much speculation in the staff lounge because Kenneth spent hours each day staring at it. Miranda finally asked what many of her colleagues had wondered, “Kenneth, what’s with this photograph?”
Kenneth closed his eyes. Was there any point in telling her?
“It all goes back to before the war when I was a little tyke and got thrown by our horse. The doc gave me some potion to cut the pain but it didn’t really help. Ma would sit with me, tellin’ me stories until I fell asleep. She built this beautiful dream world for me to play in. A world where we lived in a cabin nestled in a bend of a quiet stream. I imagined that cabin and that stream on so many nights that I could paint it like from a photo once I got a bit older.”
Miranda looked at the picture. “This isn’t a picture of a painting is it? It looks like a photograph of a real place.”
“Nah,” Kenneth grabbed the picture, “that’s not my painting.” His eyes focussed on a point well beyond the old black-and-white photo, well beyond the walls of the nursing home.
“Imagine how much fun my wife, June, and I had, dreamin’ of movin’ to that cabin on the stream. For 2 years, we lived in a tiny apartment with my painting remindin’ us where we wanted to be. The fact that it wasn’t real didn’t bother us none, no siree, dreams were enough. Then that blasted war came, curse the Germans and the Japs both, and I went away to help. It seemed the right thing at the time and June was proud of me for it. She waited for me with that painting and our dreams, back in that little apartment, while I went as far from a dream as anyone could travel.”
Kenneth’s eyes turned towards the picture in his hand. He polished the gold frame with the cuff of his sleeve then scratched his cheek. “June was a great letter writer and those letters sure helped keep me sane. Course, they didn’t come too regular, it’s not like a US Mail truck could just track me down wherever the Army sent me. But they came and that’s what mattered. Only when I got home and found someone else livin’ in that little apartment did I realize that the last letter I’d gotten from June had been written months earlier.”
He looked straight at Miranda. “She looked a bit like you. Course she was a lot younger than you when I last saw her. Pretty thing, prettier than you, sorry for sayin’.”
“That’s okay, I’m not all that pretty, maybe 40 years ago, but not now. Anyway, what happened to June? Where was she?”
“That’s what I keep wonderin’. I never heard nuthin’ from her after that last letter and it didn’t hold a clue. Her kin all died before we even met and it was just the 2 of us so there was no one I could ask. At first I wanted to run to the police but my landlord took me to his old garage and showed me the boxes of stuff he cleared out of that little apartment after June stopped payin’ the rent. Everything was there. Everything except my painting and June’s clothes. She’d taken my painting, packed her things and left me.
“Then, 60 years ago, this picture showed up in my mailbox. See that cabin and that stream? That’s my dream alright. See that woman holdin’ that little girl? You can’t see her face ’cause of her hat but you can see that painting of mine leanin’ against the front door and you can see that baby smilin’ at the camera. That baby with June’s eyes. That baby with your eyes.”