The Greatest Gift by Dave Bachmann

 “Harold, wake up. It’s almost time.”

“Huh? What?”

“It’s 1:30. 1:30 AM.”

“Why can’t they set the clocks back at 2:00 in the afternoon?” Harold painstakingly untangled his limbs, forcing himself to sit up on the couch. “It didn’t used to be this hard, Betty.”

“Nothing used to be this hard. But it’s an extra hour of life. We’ve been celebrating it for 55 years and I’m not about to stop now.”

Harold sighed. “Neighbor Rubin says it’s not really an extra hour of life because we lose an hour in March when we set out clocks ahead.”

 “Rubin wouldn’t know an extra hour of life if it bit him in the you-know-what.”

Betty extracted herself from the recliner where she had been dozing and limped into the kitchen. “I bought some champagne to celebrate.”

“Gives me gas,” Harold stated matter-of-factly. “How bout I put on Sinatra and we dance a few?”

 “Did you forget I just had knee surgery two months ago?”

 Harold rubbed his eyes and fumbled for the TV remote. “Hey, look, honey. Re-runs of the Honeymooners. Why don’t we watch that for our extra hour of life?”

Betty emerged from the kitchen, hands on hips, staring at Harold with arched eyebrows.

“Ok, ok,” Harold quickly surrendered, “no TV. But how are we going to celebrate our extra hour of life?”

“We could play a board game. Haven’t done that in a while.”

 “The only game we’ve got is the one we got for the grandkids; the one where you take organs out of the man without setting off the buzzer. Not exactly crazy about that one, Betty.”

 Betty shuffled across the living room, planting herself on the couch next to Harold. Her voice was soft and faraway when she spoke. “We used to stay up until 2:00, then dance, sing, drink our bubbly and sign off on our extra hour of life with a kiss. Do you remember, Harold?”

  “Of course, I do,” Harold remarked, cupping Betty’s hand in his. “We might still be good for one more year.”

 Betty sighed deeply. “Maybe it’s time to face the fact that we’re too old to celebrate our extra hour of life, Harold. Maybe we should just go to bed and enjoy an extra hour of sleep.”

 “Too bad we can’t give our extra hour of life away,” Harold wryly observed.

 Betty stirred. “Wait, Harold, you may be on to something. Maybe we could give our extra hour of life to someone else…. someone we love.”

 Harold laughed. “What? Call up our kids and say ‘hey, kids, we just happened to have an extra hour of life lying around and thought you might like it.’ C’mon, Betty, they’ll think we’re crazy.”

“So what? Our kids and grandkids already think we’re a little screwy. That’s what they like about us.” Betty paused, considering what she was proposing and continued. “We could each pick someone we love. Then tomorrow, we’ll get some postcards and send one to each person we pick, explaining that we’re giving them our extra hour of life and to do something new, daring and exciting with it.”

 “You make it sound like an honor.”

 “It’s a gift of love, Harold. What greater gift could you give someone that you love than the idea that they have an extra hour of life to spend any way they want?”

 Harold grinned and clapped his hands together. “By golly, Betty, you’re getting me fired up about this, crazy or not. But how do we decide who gets our extra hour of life?”

 “We’ll write down the names of all the people we love, put them into a hat and at the stroke of 2:00, draw out two names.”

“Everyone we love, Betty?”

  “Everyone! The whole kit and caboodle!” Betty jumped up, surprising herself with the ease at which she was able to rise. “I’ll get some paper, pencils and scissors.”

   “I’ll get my fedora,” Harold exclaimed. “Gotta have a fancy-schmancy hat for something like this!”

  Harold and Betty scurried about the house with newfound vitality. In a matter of a few moments, they were seated at the dining room table, pencils and paper at the ready.

 “We’ve only got 20 minutes,” Betty remarked, her hands moving furiously. “All the people you love. All the people I love.”

  “Oh, my gosh,” Harold interjected, “what if we both draw the same name?”

“Then that lucky duck gets an extra two hours of life. Now, get going, Harold!”

  “Lordie,” Harold laughed, “I haven’t had so much fun in…. I can’t remember!”

 Minutes passed and the fedora began to slowly fill. Each name was cut out, folded and placed into the hat. By 1:55, the writing of the names had slowed as Harold and Betty carefully considered whom they might have left out. By 1:59, the hat was full and they laid down their pencils, exhausted but elated.

  “Whew, squeaked in under the wire,” Harold breathlessly observed. “Now what?”

 “We’ll each draw a name at the stroke of 2:00 and see who gets our extra hour of life. Ready?”

 “Ready,” Harold replied, hand hovering over the hat.

 Betty focused on her watch, counting down the seconds. “5, 4, 3, 2, 1….now!”

Harold plunged his hand into the hat and vigorously stirred before extracting his prize with dramatic aplomb. Betty was next, much more circumspect than Harold, shifting from one slip of paper to the next, as if her fingers could discern who was the most deserving.

 “There,” Betty finally exalted, placing the folded slip delicately on the table. “Ready, Harold?”

 Harold nodded, grinning.

Together, they opened the slips of paper and read them.

  “Oh, my,” Harold exclaimed.

  “Goodness me,” Betty gasped.

“I drew…. you,” said Harold.

  “And I drew you,” said Betty.

  There was a long moment of silence. And then, as if cued, they began laughing – roiling, heart-felt, unrestrained laughter which echoed through the house and down through their years together.

 Harold wiped a tear from his eye. “I was so busy writing down the names of all the people I loved…”

“I did the same thing,” Betty admitted. “So, what do we do now? We’re right back where we started. I gave you my extra hour of life and you gave me yours.”

 Harold winked at Betty. “How about we crack open that bottle of champagne, Beautiful?”

  “Oh, Harold,” Betty whispered, “Let’s do. And while we’re at it, put on Sinatra. This ole gal still has a shimmy or two left in her.”

Harold and Betty moved effortlessly through the dimly lit house, the silence broken when a bottle of champagne popped its cork and a scratchy recording of Frank Sinatra singing ‘Love is a Many Splendored Thing’ began to play on the hi-fi.

And then, Betty and Harold embraced the moment as two people do who have lived in love for 55 years. They danced, they sang, they drank champagne, celebrating the greatest gift they could have given or received, an extra hour of life with each other.

 Dave is a retired special ed teacher who worked with teens with emotional disabilities for 39 years in Arizona.  He now lives and writes in California with his wife Jay and their 13-year-old lab, Scout (Scout, of To Kill a Mockingbird fame).

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