The Green Gentleman
The sun bore down on Walter's shoulders as he poured himself a second glass of iced peach green tea, with just a hint of lemonade. Exactly the way his daughter liked it. But, of course, that was no surprise. Walter had all of Mary's favourite things down to a tee. How fatherly of him, he would crow. He stopped for a moment, mid-sip, noticing the sun creeping inch by inch towards the horizon. His hand lowered ever-so-slightly, unnoticeably slanting the angle of the glass but not moving it away from his lips. They always met up on Tuesdays just before supper. Glancing at his watch, tilting it just-so to reduce the glare from the sun, Walter strained to make out the hour hand nearing six o'clock. “Nowt to worry ‘bout,” he mumbled to himself, lips still pressed against the rim of his glass, “she's prolly getting things sorted with the littluns.” His shoulders loosened at the sound of his backyard gate creaking open, and he turned expecting to see Mary over a sea of his grandchildren's small heads. And see them, he did. However, that was not all he saw. A taller head peered meekly over Mary's shoulder, hidden save for two shaggy eyebrows and a mop of dark hair, “Hey, Dad.” Before the sound of the last consonant could leave the air, it was replaced by the sound of Walter's glass shattering across the ground, landing scattered, like his thoughts, across the blades of grass. Mary sprang into action, quickly but carefully gathering a broom from the garden shed and scooping up every last shard before the kids had a chance to hurt themselves. As if nothing had happened, she went to grab another glass from the kitchen, the kids' heads bobbing up and down following suit. But something had happened. Something that couldn't be swept up before anyone got hurt. The tall figure approached, one calculated step after the other. Walter noted that every stiff movement seemed rehearsed. And he was right. Unable to part his lips to speak, as though the glass of lemonade was still pressed against his lips, he took a good look at his son. No amount of time could age Mathew past the point of recognition. Without uttering a word, Walter reached into his pocket. Unsure of what to expect, Mathew looked at his father in anticipation. The longer he stared, the further his eyes travelled across the lines on his father's face, from creases of worry to those of laughter. Most of the lines were new to Mathew. He felt like an archaeologist, trying to decipher his father's history by each groove. Walter, feeling the presence of his son's gaze, fumbled with the item before shakily placing it down on the table. Mathew's eyes shifted towards the object being presented to him and met with two familiar googly eyes. The pupils, pulled down by gravity, were at the bottom right-hand side of each plastic dome - as though their owner couldn't look Mathew in the eye, ashamed of time lost. The eyes belonged to a small frog figurine that could easily fit into the palm of Mathew's hand. The last time he held this frog, his fingers could barely wrap around it. Somehow, it felt like it was only yesterday that he brought the frog home from art class. How proud his father had been. Parts of the frog had lightened from its original green colour, indicating that it had been held regularly for who knows how long, fingers wearing away at the paint over time. Walter knew how long. Down to the minute. Every day, for the past twenty-seven years, he had carried this green gentleman with him everywhere he went. His large thumb would press down on its back, rubbing against it subconsciously whenever he was anxious or worried. It was his good luck charm at the races and whenever he played cards. This frog held stories of every dollar lost and every dollar won. Stories that the frog wouldn't dare to tell, for the sake of Walter's reputation. However, Mathew did not need to be told the stories to know them. He remembered his father's habits well enough. It's safe to say this frog became a part of Walter's circadian rhythm. At night, he would place it on his bedside table - which is about as far as the green gentleman could wander from him. They had only parted ways once, and Walter was frantic until one of Mary's little lads ‘fessed up to borrowing the little frog. Walter wasn't the type to hold a grudge, no, but that night there simply weren't enough Cadbury bars for all of the littluns. Mary was taking her sweet time in the kitchen, whether intentional or not, and so the only sound in the backyard was that of four legs tremoring under the table. Despite the lack of words, what needed to be said had been said. A drop of rain met the pitcher of tea, and the men headed inside. Walter didn't bother to check if they'd left anything out in the rain. As far as he was concerned, the garden was empty. And empty it was. That is, save for the green gentleman, tilted on his side in a growing puddle of water tinted green.