Off By Heart

233 poppies 769444Jake snapped the broken lid shut, then stood up, wincing as his 72-year-old knees complained. He looked around. He could hear Betsy singing in the kitchen but she wasn’t anywhere near the window, anywhere near him.

The words ‘a shock a day is good for the heart’ came to him. He put his free hand on his and felt it racing. “Calm down, Jake,” he whispered to himself. “It’s just a…” He then realised that Betsy had stopped singing.

He stuffed the small wooden box into his pocket and pushed earth into the hole in the ground, stamping it down with his foot as Betsy appeared on the veranda, wearing her favourite dress; white with red embroidered poppies.

She held out a tray containing a tall glass of her homemade cloudy lemonade and a plate. He couldn’t see what was on it but it was always the same; three chocolate chip cookies, still warm. “You need a break, honey.” She put the tray down on the table between the two old rocking chairs that had come with the farmhouse.

One glass, so she wasn’t going to join him. He smiled and nodded, watched her return inside, then put his hand in his pocket and clasped the box. His heart started thumping again. He looked at the farmhouse door, knowing that his wife could re-appear at any time, then he looked at the old barn a few feet away. The cold lemonade, warm cookies and snatched look at the box versus a proper look, alone in the secluded barn.

Betsy started singing again; Beethoven’s Für Elise. A favourite of hers, of theirs. Like most people he knew only the first few bars off by heart, but she knew it all and he loved to listen, so the veranda won.

What would be so bad if she knew about the box? he asked himself as he walked towards the house.

She wouldn’t understand. He didn’t understand. He’d never seen the box before yet… someone was playing a trick on him. Betsy? He shook his head. The earth hadn’t been disturbed for years. He’d only come across the box by accident, the coins falling out of his pocket at that exact spot. The hole in his trousers he’d been meaning to tell Betsy about.

It was only when he’d gone to pick up the last coin that he realised it wasn’t a coin but the corner, brass edging, and he’d dug, kicked at it, worked it loose. He was going to call Betsy, see if one of her hairpins would unlock it but curiosity got the better of him and he’d wedged it open with one of the coins. Part-rusted, it hadn’t been that difficult to do.

It was then he’d seen the folded piece of paper, a treasure map he’d hoped, boyhood dreams becoming reality, but as he held the box in one hand and opened the paper with the other, he soon saw it was a picture, not of a map but a photograph. A colour photograph, of a man, smiling, an old man, late seventies at least, but Jake knew him in an instant. And that’s what had started his heart racing. To be expected when presented with a photograph of yourself, a few years from now.

As Jake reached the veranda, he took out the box, sat down on the chair and stopped its gentle movement with his feet. He eased open the lid, and took out the photograph, opening it with his fingertips as if it was going to burn them. He studied the picture more closely. He was dressed in dungarees, the ones he wore now, but they were older, more worn at the knees, his face looked more worn too, not just old age. In his left hand was a bunch of flowers, red roses, and in his right was…

Jake swallowed. In his right hand was a gun, a gun pointing at the ground. Jake followed its aim and there, almost out of the picture was something else he recognised; someone, wearing a white dress with red embroidered poppies.


Photography courtesy of

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