I remember Frank Skinner as an old man.  He was my father.  In the late 1990s, I wrote a short piece of fiction using some of my vague memories around his birthday, May 5.

This is the story:

The Gardener

The old man lay in the narrow bed pushed up against the living room window.  He had survived the massive stroke but the doctor warned his family, when they insisted on taking him home, that he would never walk or talk again.  He would lie in bed until another stroke came to claim him.

They fed him gruel for breakfast, and soup for lunch and supper.  They sat by his bed and held his hand as he stared out the window.  They read to him even as he shut his eyes and tears made streams to his pillow.  They got a wheelchair and gently lifted him into it, but he became agitated and angry, his good hand pointing to the window, his voice breaking out in small animal like cries.

He had been home for a week when a younger man appeared at his bedside.  He was not so young anymore, he had worked for the old man for 15 years now, but he was fit and strong.  He stood by the bed, shocked at the change.  The flesh had fled from the old face, the eyes were sunken and cloudy.  At first, he thought the old man was blind.

“Hello,” he said as he reached down and touched the good hand.

The old man twitched, his eyes focused, and he cried out pointing to the window.  His wife came to stand beside the frightened visitor.

“It’s all right,” she said. “He wants to go outside.  We can’t take him because we can’t lift his wheelchair down the steps, but with your help…”

“Of course.”  He was relieved to have something to do.

They set the wheelchair at the foot of the steps.  The younger man lifted the old man as he would a child.  He felt the ribs with no flesh pinch against his side.  He carried him outside setting him in the chair and she fastened a strap around the thin chest.

“I’ll take him to his garden.  His crocuses are blooming.”

“Thank you,” she said as she turned to go back to the house.

The chair bumped along the rough trail.  The younger man didn’t know how to talk to someone who couldn’t talk back so the two made their way in silence.

When the chair stopped at the garden edge, the old man cried out and pointed down the row.

“I can’t.  It’s too soft.”  The cries continued and now the old man was throwing his body against the strap.

“Oh, No!  You’re not getting out of this chair.  You can’t even sit up by yourself.  What do you think you’re going to do, crawl around?”

The old man was nodding his head, his face twisted into a lopsided grin.

“You want to crawl around?” the head kept nodding.  “Oh, what the hell, I guess it can’t hurt.”

He untied the strap and lifted the old man, kneeling to support him in a sitting position beside the small purple and yellow flowers.  The old man twisted with unexpected strength throwing his body down against the soft earth.  Slowly, using only his good arm, he inched along the ground until he could touch the delicate blooms.  He stroked the furry petals, then lay his head down against the earth, soaking up the smell and the feel of it.  When he lifted his head to look at the young man his eyes were the brightest blue.  He grunted his thanks, then continued to drag his wasted body along the row, his touch greeting each tiny spring plant.