It was a spur of the moment decision between Alfred and Helen. They were tired of sitting in their respective chairs day in and day out and wanted to do something. Afterall, being in their 70s, they still felt young and knew they needed to go out and do something before their age caught up to their bodies.
Alfred suggested going to the nearest national park and just drive through it. There was no way they would be able to do any of the walking, but driving through wouldn’t hurt them. Helen was on board with that suggestion and they quickly booted up the computer their oldest grandson set them up with.
The closest national park, Kings Canyon National Park, was about a half day’s drive — four hours. Alfred said he was okay with driving the full four hours, but Helen knew that she would have to take over after two. Even though they felt young, their body deceived them of their age. Alfred had to take frequent trips to the bathroom during the day and Helen knew that it would slow them down along the way.
That was the whole part of getting old they never tell you. Your body would break down on you, little by little, until you were no longer able to be in control of your bodily functions. Helen didn’t want to experience that, but seeing Alfred having to use the bathroom over a dozen times a day had her worrying that it would happen to her soon. Maybe it already had, Helen never paid attention to her bathroom habits.
The next day they packed for a few days and threw their bags into the back of their trusty Honda Civic. It wasn’t a new model, for sure, but it was new enough to them that it still could run without any issues. Alfred threw in a couple of their camping chairs even though they had already booked a hotel.
“We don’t need those.” Helen noted as she watched Alfred lug the chairs beside him towards the car.
“We might.” Alfred insisted as he tossed the chairs into the trunk.
Helen didn’t bother changing Alfred’s mind. They’d been married for fifty years at this point and he was still as stubborn as he was the day he asked her to marry him. Helen was going to tell him that she wasn’t ready for marriage. She had just turned twenty-one and felt as if getting married would be the end of her youth. Alfred put up a convincing argument that night.
“Darling, it would be the greatest pleasure to have you with me until the day I die. I cannot see anyone in that moment except you. Please, say yes. I promise to make your life more exciting every day.”
They got married a few months later and Alfred had kept that promise to her.
Helen took Alfred’s hand as they drove down the highway. His hand used to be so strong and rough. Now they’re fragile and soft. She wondered when they started to get that way. She looked at her own hands and noticed the brown spots that formed years ago. Alfred always loved it when Helen would take his hand while he drove, but as he got older his confidence in driving one-handed faltered. He didn’t want to take his hand out of Helen’s so he tried his best to drive.
“How big do you suppose the Sequoia trees are?” Helen asked Alfred to pass the time as they drove.
“I don’t know, must be about twenty stories.”
“That’s just crazy.” Helen’s eyes widened in awe.
“Got to be, though.” Alfred shrugged.
Helen nodded. They fell into their comfortable silence.
By the time they arrived at the Kings Canyon National Park they had about a couple hours of daylight before it became dark. Alfred was a little aggravated that they took so long to get there. Helen knew this would happen. A four hour drive took them six hours.
They were both tired. When they were thirty years younger, they used to take their kids to national parks. They drove the whole way and never took a flight anywhere. Alfred could drive the whole night if he needed to.
Now, they’re lucky they could stay awake after six hours on the road.
The sun went down faster than they anticipated as they were heading down the highway to get to their hotel. They were driving in the canyon trying to get to the Grant Grove Village, where they’d be spending the night. Their GPS — another gift from their grandkids — told them they were about four miles away from the Lodge. When Alfred heard this, he pulled the car over at the next clearing and got out.
“What’s going on?” Helen asked.
Alfred went to the back of the car and pulled out the two camping chairs.
“Come look at the stars with me.” Alfred said as he set up the two chairs for them to sit on. Helen took her seat and Alfred sat beside her. Together they held hands and looked up at the stars.
“In the beginning, there were dinosaurs looking up at the sky… now there’s us.” Alfred chuckled. “Another kind of dinosaur.”
Helen chuckled as she lightly smacked her hand against Alfred’s arm.
“Always making my life exciting, you are.” Helen said as she held onto Alfred’s hand again.
“I made a promise to you, didn’t I?”
“I suppose. But I thought you were just saying all that. I never thought after fifty years, you’d still be making it exciting.”
“As long as I’m alive, darling, you’ll be by my side and I promise it’ll be exciting.” Alfred brought Helen’s hand up to his lips and kissed the back of her hand.
“Remember the last time we did this?” Helen asked Alfred as she turned away from the stars to be caught in Alfred’s gaze.
“It was the last trip with the kids, before they had their own kids.” Alfred responded.
“It was such a wonderful time. I loved setting up the campfire and watching our grown children still bicker with each other like they were ten years old, again. Didn’t you enjoy it?”
“I don’t remember it much.”
“Alfred, you’re not that old.”
“I don’t remember it much because I was too busy looking at you.” Alfred winked.
“Oh, you are too much!” Helen chuckled and looked back up at the sky.
“Remember the first time I showed you the night sky?”
“I’ve seen the night sky multiple times before then.” Helen commented.
“No, but I was the first one to really show it to you. Where Orion’s belt was and the North Star?”
“Yes, we were lying on my blanket. It was cold that night, but you insisted on using that blanket on the ground so we could look up at the stars.”
“Well, I just wanted to impress you with my skills.”
“You did impress me.”
“And I gave you my jacket.” Alfred winked.
Helen smiled, remembering their third date like it was yesterday. They were out past curfew, but Helen didn’t care. She was just happy to be in the company of Alfred. He was pointing out all the constellations and the different stars. He was telling her that some of these stars were already dead, but we could see them because their light travelled thousands of light years to be visible to us and that was a long time.
“Soon, that light won’t be visible to us.” Alfred said as he laid back and rested his head in his hands. “But we won’t be around to witness that.”
“Well, that’s morbid.” Helen joked.
“That’s what I love about the stars. They die eventually, just like us, but are still admired by others for years… just like you.”
Helen remembered blushing and feeling happy that it was dark out so that Alfred couldn’t see her cheeks turning beet red.
Alfred remembered feeling so nervous that night that he messed up the names to some of the constellations and since Helen didn’t know what they were he was able to play it off. He later confessed that he made up some of the constellations and told her what they really were.
Alfred watched as Helen looked up at the stars the same way she did all those years before. She still looked as beautiful as she did back then. He couldn’t believe how lucky he was to be the one to marry her.
“Which one was Orion’s belt again?” Helen asked as she tried to find it in the sky.
Alfred looked up and realized the trees were blocking their view.
He gestured passed them, “They’re somewhere hiding from your beautiful eyes tonight.”
“Oh, stop it! Did you forget?”
“No! They’re just behind those trees over there.” Alfred pointed behind them. “You can kind of see the two dots.”
Helen looked behind them and shook her head. She couldn’t really see anything.
“Well, should we go to the hotel?” Alfred asked as Helen yawned.
“Yes. We should probably get ready for bed.”
“All right, darling. Go ahead and get in the car, I’ll take care of the chairs.” Alfred motioned for Helen to leave the chairs alone. Helen obliged and got into the car. It was funny to watch Alfred wrestle with the chairs. He always had a problem with them ever since they came out. Alfred just hated how they never folded up the way one would think they would.
Helen tried her best to hide her giggles when Alfred got into the car. Alfred sighed and got the car rolling. They drove down the rest of the road towards their hotel in comfortable silence.
Thanks for reading my 6th writing prompt short story! How did you feel about this one? Did you want to to try writing a story yourself? Or maybe this is something better illustrated?? Do it and then post a link to it in the comments!!
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