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March 21, 2023


She was in her seventies.  Him: early forties.  Lived in two small houses separated by her short hedge of rosemary.  He rented; she owned.  Edge of town, woods behind, tiny creek there.

They kept to themselves.  A few words occasionally exchanged, but mostly just nods or a raised hand.  Each lived alone.  By the time he moved in, her husband long passed.  His parents, too; his wife gone.  He worked from home, he said, at something to do with software.  She piddled: little garden out back, word searches, cross-stitch, romance novels, her soaps.

He began doing things for her without her asking.  Straightened her mailbox post.  Trimmed the rosemary.  Shoveled her walk.  Mowed.  Moved trash cans to and from the curb.  In the fall, raked under her birch tree in front.


In return, she left baked goods on his front step: lemon bars, tollhouse cookies, scones, pound cake.  Knocked, then retreated.  By the time he responded, she’d be heading back up her walk on her cane.  Her husband had carved that for her, she’d told him.

Five years passed.  Unremarkable, until late one spring night when an ambulance took her away.  Clutching his robe, he watched from his front step.  Silence afterwards.  Fragrance of rosemary on a slight breeze.  Sprinkling of stars.  A hand lifted itself to his mouth.  He shook his head.


She didn’t return.  Still, he mowed.  Watered her garden.  Trimmed the hedge.  A month or so later, a letter from a law firm saying she’d left him the house.  He read it sitting on the front step, then let it dangle from his fingertips.  New leaves rustled like sequins on her birch tree: light-green against white bark.  Somewhere, a dog barked.  He began to cry.  High above, a plane scratched a vapor trail about which he was completely unaware.


originally published in MacQueen's Quinterly

© the author

by William Cass

William Cass has had over 290 short stories appear in a variety of literary magazines and anthologies. He won writing contests at and The Examined Life Journal, has been a nominee for Best Small Fictions and Best of the Net, and has also received five Pushcart nominations. His first short story collection, Something Like Hope & Other Stories, was published by Wising Up Press in 2020, and a second collection, Uncommon & Other Stories, was recently been released by the same press. He lives in San Diego, California.

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