John stirred and found himself alone. Part of him mourned but then he thought, no that's right. I'm leaving but life goes on. They must go out and live it after all. He settled back on his pillows simultaneously frustrated and content. Frustrated to have so little energy, so much he still wanted to see, to achieve. Content that if his time had to end that he had reared a good man, one who he was happy to let loose into the world.

In his mind he could see a troop of little redheads marching down some unknown valley, but they would only exist in his imagination, he'd never get to meet them. Still, he mused, good to know they'll happen along eventually. That his son and Anne might never consummate their relationship as he and Marilla had not never occurred to him. Those two were destined to wind up together. It'll be fiery, he smiled. She knows her own mind, she's clever and quick witted. She'll be a good match for him and he for her. The knowledge brought him satisfaction. His musings were interrupted by the sound of Mrs Kincannon's tread and smiled at her approach. "Tea?" she asked, and he nodded.


"We never went to the beach Matthew, and I; never seemed much point. But Anne's been begging for an opportunity after harvest." Marilla commented one afternoon when the easterly wind rattled the Blythe windows.

"You should take her when it's warmer. Nothing like the beach for a girl like your Anne."

"Mm."

"Remember the seagulls?"

"Anne once told me she wanted to be one."

"She has a point, they're wonderfully carefree."

Marilla smiled, "that's precisely what she said."

"We went once."

"I remember." Marilla cast her mind back to that nearly forgotten day.

"You brought a picnic."

"And you drove."

It was all coming back to her; calling seagulls swooping effortlessly through the sky, cicadas thrumming, bracing ozone, powdery red sand that went everywhere, ever-changing blues of the water turquoise to azure, and John by her side as he was now. The future she anticipated on that long ago afternoon never strayed from her dreams. Here they lay years later in this gloomy room, two old people separated by more than a blanket.

John reached out with his arm and Marilla fit into his curve feeling rather than hearing the beat of his heart, but what was apparent and could not be ignored was the breathy wheeze of his chest. Tears slipped unbidden down her cheek onto his nightshirt. One sob was all it took. He caressed her back feeling the unrelenting whalebone under her dress. "Shh, shh,"

Marilla sobbed into his side, "it's not just..."

"I know, I understand." And he did. He'd left her and moved on, but she had not, stranded by familial responsibilities. He had expected she'd find someone else; it had been a shock to find out that she had not. Instead she'd lived a life without him, with most likely regrets.

"I wish..."

"Shh, my love." Marilla felt if not at peace with her life at least content next to him.

John's eyelids slipped shut and Marilla dozed off beside him. Dappled sunlight streamed through the gnarled branches of an old apple tree and in its shade Marilla noticed that John's mouth was stained scarlet. She watched with rapt attention as he reached down and plucked a raspberry from the bowl. Bypassing his own red lips he rubbed the delicate berry against her mouth, pulling her bottom lip down against it. Marilla resisted for just a moment then obediently opened her mouth just wide enough. John followed the sweet berry with his lips. Marilla woke up slowly with the lingering tang flickering at the edge of her memory. Just a dream she said to herself, ah but what a wonderful one her mind replied.

"I loved you," she whispered to his sleeping form. "I love you still." There was no response save his shallow breaths. Better this way, Marilla thought. Better we leave it like this. Still, pleased to have seen him again. To have spoken. What would it have been like, to have gone with him, to have explored a world beyond Avonlea. She honestly could not imagine it. Having lived her entire life in one spot she could not imagine the thought of meeting new people, making new friends, seeing unfamiliar sights. The mere thought exhausted her.


The rain drummed against the windows as Anne and Gilbert poured over their geography textbooks. Never had faraway places seemed so attractive to Gilbert and he found himself drifting off thinking of exotic places across the ocean. Anne was more attentive to their task, "now, what's the principal export of France?" she asked him, scanning the text quickly.

"Spices," replied Gilbert dreamily.

"What?"

Gilbert shook himself and came to. "What?"

"I'm confused since when did France export spices?"

Gilbert looked at her quizzically, "what are you on about?"

Anne took a deep breath, "this is our geography homework, remember. I asked you about French exports."

Gilbert shifted uneasily in his seat fearful that he'd made a fool of himself, "um, what I did I say?'

"You don't recall?" Gilbert shook his head. "You said spices." Anne fixed him with a steely glare, "where were you?"

Gilbert cast his eyes down embarrassed that he'd been caught out, "I was daydreaming that I was sailing in a ship off the coast of north Africa," Gilbert replied. "I was shading my eyes against the glare off the water. I could practically smell the spices from across the sea."

Anne was mystified, "have you, um, have you ever been to Africa?"

"Never."

"But you can picture it, can smell it?"

"Mm hm, I do it all the time. Don't you long to leave this small town behind? To travel over the sea to far off places, to see new things, smell new perfumes, to meet new people? I create whole cities in my mind when I'm half asleep in bed."

"Really?" Anne was intrigued. It was the sort of thing she did, but she never imagined anyone else did it too.

"You'll think I'm a fool. It's stupid I know." Gilbert got up to place a fresh log on the glowing embers, for the room was growing chilly.

"No, no. I mean I do that sort of thing too," Anne said, her eyes following his every movement. "I used to dream a handsome knight was coming to rescue me. But I mean it seems ridiculous now, who wants to wait to be rescued. I want to save myself now. I want to be the hero, not the victim."

Gilbert grinned at her, "I can see that," he said nodding.

"Maybe," Anne said thinking it through, "it's because I was already, you know by Matthew and Marilla. I don't need saving anymore. So I had to find a new daydream to lose myself in."

"Would you like to travel?"

"Hm, yes. One day, I guess."

"These geography books are all so dry. Who cares what France's major exports are? I want to munch flaky croissants as I stroll down the Champs Elysée, to watch flying fishes play in the tropical seas, to see icebergs off the coast of Iceland or tigers in Africa."

"You ninny," Anne said, laughing. "There are no tigers in Africa."

"Well, you get my point," replied Gilbert, grinning; that mistake had been purposeful.


If questioned afterwards Marilla would not have been able to explain why, but John appeared agitated. He had practically ceased speaking now but it was apparent he had a message to impart. Marilla leant over and bent her head down to listen. "Favr," he rasped.

"Of course."

John panted for a spell before he mustered the strength to say, "Gggg."

"Gilbert?"

John nodded furiously. "Keee eee."

"Shh shh shh, don't fret so. I'll keep an eye on him. He may be a man in the eyes of the world but he's still a lad for all that, still needs guidance. Rest easy, we'll look out for him, Matthew and I, and Anne too of course."

It had obviously been weighing on the stricken man for Marilla watched the weight lift as he perceptibly relaxed.

"Sleep now. You've fought so valiantly, but it's time to rest, my love," she said dropping a light kiss upon his cheek noting its softness under her lips. John smiled up at her mouthing the words, yes mother with that old familiar twinkle in his eyes. Marilla left the room leaning against the hallway wall when she felt tears prickling. Why had she left this reunion so late?

Predictably Matthew was in the barn. He looked up at her approach and seeing her eyes shining bright in the gloom set down his tools and went to comfort her. "I've been such a fool Matthew," she wailed against his chest. If it were possible Matthew was significantly worse at emotion than Marilla, but he held her close as sobs wracked her slim body, recalling that time decades past when Marilla said pretty much the same thing. Only this time there was no recourse nor any hope of it.


Anne burst in one afternoon with her usual gusto. The latest batch of puffs still cooling in her basket, but there was a hush over the Blythe house. John was comatose breathing shallowly. "Oh," Anne exclaimed making as if to back out rather than disturb Gilbert's privacy. Gilbert's eyes never left his father, but he whispered, "stay."

"You sure?"

"I don't," he sniffed, "I don't want to be alone."

Anne pulled up a chair. Together they listened to each one of John's deep breaths. They were slow, just one every ten seconds or so. Each time they paused wondering if that had been the last and then inwardly, they'd sigh as another one came and another and another. Gilbert reached out his hand to Anne and she took it lightly, holding it as if it were an injured fledging fallen out of its nest, but with just enough pressure so that he knew she was there. Anne had never seen a person die before. She knew Gilbert was not alone. His father was still there, and Mrs Kincannon lurked somewhere ready to take charge when the time came; but if Gilbert needed her, then this is where she would be.

A faint knock sounded, and she distantly heard murmurs by the door. Solid reassuring footsteps approached, and she felt a hand on her shoulder. "Marilla wondered. We're here if you need us," Matthew quietly murmured in her ear. Anne nodded her understanding but was otherwise silent, unwilling to break Gilbert's vigil.

Into the silence, as if she were not there, Gilbert began to speak to his father while he still could. "I don't know how I'll manage without you, Dad. Just the one Prodigal Son left now." Anne increased her pressure on his hand, just enough to remind him that he was not alone, and he squeezed back to say he knew. "You've taught me to be a good man, Dad. I appreciate that." He spoke on, telling his father of his worries, asking how he would cope. "What's it like to be an orphan?"

With a start Anne realised that he had turned his attention to her. "It's not easy, I can't lie to you. You grow up fast. But it's different for you. I was just a baby; I never knew my parents." She paused; this was not about her. "You have friends, you have Marilla and Matthew. You have," she drew a breath, "me."

"Yes, and that's a relief, but I won't have anyone just for me," he spoke flatly still staring at his father.

Quietly, under Mr Blythe's slow breaths, Anne recited into the room:

"O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won."
*

When she paused John was no more. Then Marilla was there, holding Gilbert tightly in her arms while he sobbed on her shoulder.


John's friends and neighbours gathered at his graveside one cold and blustery morning. Marilla and Matthew stood with Anne near to Gilbert as if to protect him from the weather.

The minister dolefully intoned the funeral rites, but Gilbert barely heard. Instead, he was panicking as the awful truth descended upon him. Until now he'd mostly been kept busy with the arrangements. Marilla had helped of course, but the final decisions had been down to him. That had kept the thought of being all alone at bay for a few days. But now his father's coffin was being lowered into the grave and all that had to be done was attend the wake. And then? And then Gilbert would be all alone. Anne said she'd stay by his side and Matthew had reached out and Marilla too, naturally. They were good neighbours, but they were not his kin. He was sixteen now, old enough to be considered a man. Once when he was a child he'd been separated from his father and that tight feeling of panic in his breast that he'd felt briefly assailed him now. Except then he'd found his father soon enough and now he knew he would not. That there was no father to find, except down the bottom of a hole tucked away in their small family graveyard.

The congregation had made their way back to the warmth of the house for morning tea but as Gilbert approached, he knew he could not join them. Their intoned expressions of sympathy were more than he could bear. Instead, he stumbled back to the graveyard to be with if not his father, then as close as he could be. He felt numb and not merely from the cold, numb in body as well as mind.


"Dad wanted you to have this," Gilbert handed a small package to Anne when she dropped in the next day. "Thought you'd appreciate it."

Anne unwrapped the parcel and reverently turned the book in her hands. It was the Whitman of course. "I can't, you should keep it. It was his favourite."

"No, he bequeathed it to you. Check the front."

Fumbling in her gratitude and sorrow, Anne opened the front cover and read the words inscribed on the frontispiece.

The powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

Anne had never felt so seen as she was then, and that it was by a man who had passed made it even sadder. "Oh, Gilbert." She took a big breath. "I just want you to know that I loved him too."

"Said he was sorry to have only known you for a short while."

"I confess," she said dropping her eyes, "that I was resentful for having to drop your lesson around that first day. But once I met Mr Blythe, I was happy to help, for it meant I got acquainted with him. I did it for selfish reasons, at least at first."

"That's all right. We got off on the wrong foot didn't we. That was my fault. I might have been a bit of an idiot, but I just wanted to get your attention."

Anne looked up at him, her eyes sparking, "well you did that all right."

"I remember telling Dad all about it. I was so remorseful, especially after you got into trouble."

"You were?"

"Yeah, and Dad wasn't particularly sympathetic either. "Told me I'd been a fool." Anne smirked. Gilbert rubbed the back of his head, "yeah, not my finest hour."


* Walt Whitman, 1865