Laughter from downstairs snapped Henry Hardy awake. He cupped one ear and listened.  Nothing. But he knew he had heard it. And he wasn’t crazy. And it wasn’t a dream. He blinked several times and put on his bifocals. The other morning, it had been people talking. Not so he could understand anything being said. It had been more like background noise. Still, he’d heard murmurs then, and today, he’d heard chuckles. Which didn’t make sense. He lived alone.

Henry stretched and shoved aside the down comforter. As his feet touched the cold smoothness of the red oak planking, he gazed out the window. The rising sun spread beams of light through the trees and fingered diamonds of dew on the lawn.

“Morning, Sue,” he said to the Border Collie nestled next to the bed, her tail thumping happily. “You hear anything?” Henry stumbled toward the bathroom, his hand on the hip that ached. As he passed the bureau that had been in the family for decades, he touched the photo of his wife, dead several years now, the cancer having eaten away her vivaciousness and stripped her of any dignity in her last days. “So, my sweet Alice,” he said, “how are you today?” He imagined her replying: “I’m at peace, love.” Henry missed her. “I’m okay,” he whispered and smiled. Alice always said he lived in a dream world half the time.

Downstairs, he made coffee, sat at the maple kitchen table, and stroked its surface. Each of these dents tells a story, he thought. Wish they could talk. He felt a slight draft from one of the windows. I’ll have to put on the storms soon. He sipped at his coffee, the acrid smell and taste pleasing him. I know, Alice. Should have put them on already. He wondered how his ancestors had fared during the long winters. When I fixed the old north wall, I saw there was no insulation there. None. Some empty liquor bottles. Lord knows how they got there. He shook his head.

“Eight Henrys before me,” he said aloud. “Now whata you think of that, Sue?”

Sue’s ears perked up and she licked his hand.

“I know, I know,” Henry said, “you’re not sure what I’m saying.”

Sue nudged his thigh.

Henry patted her, smiling. “Well, old girl, come on; I’ll show you.”

In the living room, its walls laden with pictures of ancestors who’d farmed the land for over two centuries, he pointed to a faded daguerreotype. “Let me reintroduce you to Henry number Three. Back in 1840 or so, he added the acres we got just over the hill, made the farm bigger.” Henry considered the bearded face and intense eyes. Had Henry One and Two, who’d died before photography existed, had the same sharp forcefulness about them? He gestured at a yellowed photo in an oval wooden frame. “And this here is Henry Five; fought in the Civil War. That’s his revolver,” he said, “lying on the table his Aunt May gave him and his wife for a wedding present in 1857. Still works.”

For a moment, Henry paused. It almost seemed that his ancestor wanted to talk. He shook his head, studied the picture, then turned away and snapped his fingers. “Sue, we got things to do. Better get on with it.” Henry pulled his faded plaid jacket off the hook by the back door and shambled across the yard, past the empty chicken coop, to the barn. There, he collected a rake, hefted it over one shoulder, and set off along the worn path into the woods behind the house.

“Henry Seven made the handle to this out of oak from these very trees,” he told Sue. “Sorry I don’t remember him, but he taught Daddy, who taught me what he could.”

Sue dashed off when a squirrel appeared.

“Let it be, girl,” he called out. “Oh, golly, I got to stop a minute and catch my breath.”

Sue hurried to his side, her tongue out, as he sat down on a log beside the path.

“We’re getting old, girl.” After several minutes, he stood and limped on. When he reached the family cemetery, he stopped and watched as multihued leaves sashayed to the ground in the crisp autumn wind. Aw, Alice, he thought, you would love this show. He gazed at the neat row of tombstones. “I know I explained it before, Sue, but this stone here is Henry One.” He stooped to peer at it. “And it needs cleaning up.” He set down the rake, took a bristle brush out of his pocket and rubbed it back and forth across the name and dates smoothed by time. He stood, smiled and said “That’s better.”

Henry cleared the grass and leaves that had accumulated since his last visit and talked to each tombstone as he moved along. He stopped before the two newest ones and leaned on his rake. “Son,” he said to the first, “I always figured you’d carry on the name. Didn’t expect a tractor to roll over and…” Henry swallowed, his throat dry. He sighed and moved to the last tombstone. “Sweet Alice,” he said, “I’ve missed you more than I can say, but I’m glad you’re here with these good folks. Better than the pain you had at the end.” He glanced up at the sky, exhaled a long breath. “I’d best get back now. Sandy will be phoning.”


“Grandpa,” said Sandy, “are you sure you’re okay? I worry about you out there all alone.”

“Honey, it’s real sweet of you to ask. But I’m fine. I got plenty of company.” Henry patted Sue and squinted at the photos of his ancestors, almost convinced they’d smiled at him.

“Grandpa, you barely see anyone. I talked to Mrs. Berky, so I know. She says you hardly leave your place.”

“Humph. Mattie never could keep her nose on her face. Like I told Jake when he delivered those cookies you sent, I’m okay.”

“Well, alright. Talk to you next week. I love you.” After he hung up, Henry turned to a picture of his parents. Mom and Dad, he thought, you’d be right proud of that girl. She’s growed up to be pretty, smart and caring, despite her mother. No drugs or alcohol for her. Henry gaped at the picture. Had they nodded? “Must be my eyes,” he grumbled as he wiped the lenses of his glasses.

The rhythm and gentle sounds of the rocking chair led Henry to reflect that perhaps one day his daughter—lost in a vortex of drug addiction—would call. He hadn’t heard from her in months. Well, he’d better stick with the certainties. “Henry Seven,” he said to the photo across the room, “this here chair’s right comfortable.” Astonished, he fancied that Henry Seven winked back at him. He stared at the picture again. Old eyes, he thought. Here I am thinking a picture moved.

Later that afternoon, Henry woke with a start, convinced he’d heard voices. He stared at the images of his ancestors and felt their presence. He did not move, and half-expected them to speak. Several minutes passed. “Must have dozed off, had a dream,” he said aloud. Henry scratched his chin and gazed at the pictures again. “Bet you all napped or slept hard after tending the land and animals. Anyway, reckon I’d best finish up my chores.” He called Sue and had almost reached the back door when he heard laughter coming from the living room. Henry frowned and looked back. Nothing had changed. Well, maybe the pictures looked a bit livelier. Could be because of that beautiful late afternoon light. Or his imagination. He shrugged and left.


In December, a strong wind piled snow high against one side of the barn and nearly buried the chicken coop. Henry donned his warmest winter gear and told Sue: “We’ll check out the family. Can’t just leave them out there by themselves. No, we got to pay attention to one another.” As he made his way toward the cemetery, his boots crunched through the icy top layer of snow. “This seems harder than it used to, girl, doesn’t it?” He turned and made sure that Sue was behind him. “Come on, come on. Don’t dawdle now. You’re getting as pokey as me.”

He returned to the house an hour later, stomped his feet outside the back door, and once inside shed his heavy jacket. “What’s the matter, girl? You look a little peaked. Too cold for you out there?” He held her head in his gnarled hands and studied her face. “I wish you could talk.  Well, let’s get you warmed up.”

Henry stirred the embers in the old brick fireplace that had served so, added some kindling and several logs, and pondered his ancestors’ portraits. Don’t know how you did it. No electricity or inside plumbing. He rubbed his chin and said, “Over here, girl,” as he lowered himself into his rocker.

Sue settled down on the oval rag rug next to him.

Henry studied the pictures of his kin. You good people must have gone through hard times too, he thought. Knew your share of death and loneliness, trouble and such. Glad you’re with me. He rocked, watched Sue, and considered his life. His ancestors observed him, it seemed, and appeared to understand. After a time, Henry fell asleep.

When he awoke, it was dusk. He put two more logs on the fire and petted Sue and as he straightened up heard a voice.

You’re not alone.”

Startled, his pulse raced and he gripped the arms of the chair. “Who’s there?”

It’s Henry Five. We wanted to tell you you’re doing good.” Several other ancestors nodded in agreement.

Henry put a hand to his chest and squinted at the photo of his great great grandfather.  Born in 1835, Henry Five had died just before the end of World War I. “I know you’re with me,” he said.

Over the next few days, no longer surprised to hear the pictures talk, Henry chatted with his ancestors time and again. This is good, he thought. Makes me feel connected. And gives me an idea. He rummaged through the scrapbooks he and Alice had filled, selected the best snapshots of the two of them and hung them on the wall. Pleased, he stepped back.

Henry Three, the earliest of his ancestors to appear in a photo, said, “This is as it should be. You belong here with us.”

Henry felt a comforting warmth embrace him. “I do belong with you,” he said.


That spring, the snows melted and the heavens opened up with warm rain. The cherry trees around the old farm house blossomed and a soft carpet of pink covered the ground. “Oh, my, oh my,” Henry said, his arms spread wide. “I wish whichever one of you planted these could see them now.”

He watched as a mail truck lumbered up the long drive and pulled to a stop near him. “Howdy,” said Jake. “You out here talking to the trees, are you?”

“You got mail for me?”

“No, just seen you babbling away and thought I’d say hello. Don’t see you in town much and I wondered if you’re doing okay.”

Henry pushed back his thin hair. “You and my granddaughter, Sandy. She calls every Sunday. Like I told her, I miss Alice, but I got Sue. I keep busy. Don’t feel alone.”

“Alright, then. You look healthy enough. Least I know you’re eating.”

“Thanks for stopping by.”

Jake gave him a thumbs up, turned his vehicle around, and left.

Henry watched the truck disappear, reflecting that the idea of mail being delivered that way would have amazed Henry Six, who’d died in 1907. “I’d best get moving,” he said aloud.  “Got work to do. Sue, come on girl.”

Sue didn’t appear.

He found her sprawled next to her water bowl on the back porch. “You asleep, girl, and didn’t hear?” Sue didn’t move when he petted her. “Girl, wake up.” He shook her. She still did not move. He knelt, cradled her head, and swallowed a sob. “Not you, too.” Henry stroked her ears and cried. In time, he sighed and rose. He knew what he had to do.

As he approached the cemetery, he marveled at the brightness of the green leaves and the rash of daffodils and gladiolas that had popped up to glorify the coming of spring. A pungent smell enfolded him as he pushed the shovel into the soft earth, removed the sod, and began to dig. Folks think I’m by myself, he thought. I’m not really. My family’s right here. He straightened, leaned on the shovel, and gazed at the clouds, his shirt moist with perspiration.

Back inside, he talked to his ancestors. “All you hear me now,” he said, “we built this house, farmed this land, and each of us added something to make the place better. I’m the last Henry Hardy and I’m tired. Nice tired, you know, but tired.”

Henry picked up the pistol from the table in the living room and stuck it in his belt. He went to the porch, lifted Sue, and shuffled to the cemetery. There he lowered her into the grave.  “Good bye, old girl,” he said after he covered her. His eyes watered, his chest ached, and he gasped for air. After several minutes, he glanced back at the house, set the weapon on top of Henry Five’s tombstone, and began to dig another hole. Then he stopped. He thought of his granddaughter Sandy. She’d call tomorrow. He sighed, put down the shovel, grabbed the pistol and headed home.