If there ever comes a day where we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever.– Winnie the Pooh
Oliver had believed that Quentin would always be there for him. And he always had been, ever since the start of kindergarten all those decades ago. Just as the Earth orbits the sun, and just as the seasons would pass, decade by decade, Quentin would remain forever. The two had done everything together – so when the time finally came, it was no surprise that they would retire in the same year as well.
Oliver had been set to retire from his job as an elementary school art teacher in early January, and when Quentin found out that he would close up his office at the bank for good by February, they were ecstatic. There was talk of a huge trip afterwards – from the Rockies of Canada to the Taj Mahal of India, they would see it all.
Unknown to Quentin, Oliver had started to create a painting to give to his old friend on his retirement day. After all, it was Quentin that had encouraged him to pursue his love of art. Against a sea of people, it was Quentin who had told him to get an art degree. Oliver was thankful to his friend – without him, he may have never found his true passion, and he may never have become an art teacher.
The idea for the painting had come quickly and easily. When they were both children, there was a day that their mothers had taken them out to play by the lake. Oliver and Quentin had been running around with the latter’s new puppy on that warm spring day – a purebred Golden Retriever. Oliver thought that it was just the perfect thing to remind Quentin how much he meant to him.
Oliver had just busied himself with his paints when the travel agent had called – they would be going on their trip in March! Oliver had felt like the luckiest and happiest man in the whole entire world.
It was all so perfect. So, so perfect. Oliver was tingling with joy as he dialed up Quentin on the phone. He was sure Quentin would be elated as well.
When Quentin picked up the phone, Oliver started to babble on about the trip as he tried to contain his own excitement. But when he heard no positive response, he slowly came to a stop. A quiet sobbing sounded from the other end.
And after a few short sentences, Oliver was in tears as well.
Everything else faded away. All he could hear was static.
The doctors had used fancy words to describe the tragedy – they hadn’t used brain cancer until much later. Still, no matter what was used, they all meant the same tragic truth – Quentin was probably going to die, and there was nothing, not one thing that anybody could do.
“Honey, would you like me to go with you?” His wife’s voice was soft, as if trying to encase her husband’s fragile state of mind. “You know you don’t have to go there, you really mustn’t-”
“No. I…Quentin… he would have wanted me to go.” Oliver knew she only meant the best, but there was something that he had to do. “Would you mind getting me the painting?”
“Of course, honey. Of course.”
There wasn’t much reason for talk after that.
It hadn’t ended in a grand exit. It had been more of a soft whisper, a last valiant flutter of the heart. There were no final words – Quentin hadn’t spoken that day at all. Every last had been counted in actions; one last smile, two tears down his pale cheek, and one, two, three, last heaves of his chest. Truly, death had placed a hand on Quentin many weeks ago – now all he did was guide him away.
The word ‘go’ was suddenly too cruel to fathom.
Oliver knew that it would happen one day – but it wasn’t enough to stop the grief that overcame him. He grieved the loss of his friend, but moreover, he grieved the departure of a tremendous person on this planet. Quentin was always the kinder of the two – as he became older, wrinkles from years of smiling became a permanent feature of his face. He was a friendly being to everybody he met – he was the very embodiment of the words kindness is contagious. Everywhere Quentin went, a laugh and a smile were sure to follow.
Oliver looked down at the painting in his hand as he walked into the funeral home. It was a tribute to his friend, a last goodbye. The news had come too suddenly, the passing too quickly, for Oliver to present it to his friend. The timing just hadn’t worked out. The painting was meant to be a retirement gift… but in just no time at all, Quentin had retired from his life itself.
Oliver looked up to the heavens, and he prayed with all his heart. “I have your gift now, Quentin,” he mused. His eyes began to tear up. “Do you see it now, my friend? Are you at peace?”
A soft breeze blew by outside, and a leaf flew in the open door of the building. It brushed the painting as it came to rest upon Quentin’s coffin. Oliver’s lips tightened as a tear fell down his face.
Oliver had never been one for ghosts, but now he imagined the loud booming laughter of his friend. He hoped – no, he knew – that at least in spirit, Quentin was someplace above, watching over all the ones that he held dear.
Oliver came to a stop in front of the coffin and set the painting down. Oliver had decided to come after the big reception, so the flowers were long gone, as were the candles. But the name inscribed in the plaque was the same one that would forever be etched into his heart.
Quentin Theodorus Davies: A proud father, husband, and friend to all. May he rest in peace.
As the old man stood before the grave, countless invaluable memories washed over him one by one. They were all dulled now – it was if a cloak had been cast upon them after the terrible news. But the thoughts were tiny treasures in Oliver’s mind – they were reminders of the man that he was proud to call his friend.
Later that day, when Oliver drove home, he sat down in front of the fireplace in his favourite armchair, with a book in his hand and a mug of coffee in another. He closed his eyes and let out a long sigh. Anything to get his mind off of his friend.
He probably drifted off at one point or another, because the next time he opened his eyes, he felt the warmth of the sunset on his face – and a fresh track of tears down his cheeks.
Oliver heaved a sigh again, and walked outside to get a few whiffs of fresh air. He looked out to the park that sat in front of his house – the last traces of snow glittered in the sunset, and the buds on the trees were just starting to push forward.
And just as he looked a little farther, he could view a familiar scene playing out in front of him.
Two small children, both with sandy blond hair. Both with a wide smile stretched across their faces. Both sitting under a tree with a small Golden Retriever resting on their laps.
A sense of nostalgia overcame Oliver as he was reminded of the bittersweet memory in the painting. Oliver smiled, for the first time in what felt like centuries.
Once upon a time, Oliver had thought that he would have a forever with Quentin. And he did. Now their forever… it belonged to somebody else.
Farewell, my old friend.