Fishing for Mr. Fontaine

By Debbonnaire Kovacs

Michael Arthur Patterson opened a refrigerated case in his family’s florist shop, Lilies of the Field, and breathed in the rich, scented air. The cases were filled with roses, baby’s breath, daisies, violets . . . practically every flower you could imagine. Mike didn’t know what flowers looked like, but he loved their smells. He felt for the second vase from the right, where the white roses were kept, and touched the petals of a partly open bud. He loved the satiny way they felt too.

“Mike, don’t stand with the refrigerator door open.” Aunt Rose had come into the room behind him.

Mike closed the door reluctantly. “I was just thinking about heaven.”

“Were you? Roses are pretty heavenly, aren’t they?”

“In heaven I will see the roses, and they’ll never wilt. Mr. Fontaine will see Mrs. Fontaine again,” Mike said softly, “if he decides to go to heaven. Aunt Rose, how could he be so cross about God? You’d think he would want to know all about heaven, so he could see his wife again.”

Aunt Rose came and put her arm around Mike. He liked the way she smelled too. He could tell she had just been doing the laundry, because the hot smell of the dryer still hung around her, mixing with the smell of the violet soap she used, and the stronger scent of her hand lotion.

“I think,” Aunt Rose said gently, “that Mr. Fontaine has been told so many mixed-up things about God that he doesn’t know what to believe. I happen to know, for instance, that at least one person told him God took his wife from him, and that it was God’s will that she died. Like many people, Mr. Fontaine could have believed that if he obeyed God, painful things shouldn’t happen to him. Then, when painful things do happen, what is he supposed to believe? That he wasn’t ‘good enough’ for God to bless him? He may also have been taught about sinners burning forever. I’m sure he thinks his wife was a good person and went to heaven, but what if she wasn’t good enough to please God? What if she’s burning? It must feel safer to Mr. Fontaine not to believe in God at all.”

“That’s awful!” Mike exclaimed. “Doesn’t he know Jesus wants everybody in His family, and lived and died so we could go to heaven? Doesn’t he know that the Bible says Mrs. Fontaine is resting, waiting for Jesus to wake her up?”

“No, I’m not sure he knows those things,” Aunt Rose sighed. “If we continue to love him, pray for him, and be his friend, perhaps we’ll have a chance to show him what the Bible says.”

“Where is he, anyway?” Mike opened the front of his special watch and felt the hands and numbers to find out what time it was. “It’s almost time to close the shop.”

“Maybe he couldn’t come today,” Aunt Rose said.

But Mike was worried. Every Tuesday, without fail, Mr. Fontaine came in and bought a white rosebud to take home and put on his wife’s silent piano. He hadn’t missed a Tuesday in months. Mike went to the front window and leaned against the glass. It was sunny for once, and the glass was warm under his hand.

The little bells at the door tinkled, and he turned hopefully. But he could tell right away by the light, quick footsteps that it wasn’t Mr. Fontaine who had come in.

“Hi, Mike!” Kenya greeted him.

“Oh, hi, Kenya. You don’t see Mr. Fontaine on the street, do you?” Mike asked.

He heard Kenya open the door again. After a minute, she said, “No, I don’t see him. He must not be coming. I came to see if you want to go to the park. It’s beautiful today.”

“Go on, Mike,” Aunt Rose said. Mike could hear her opening the cash register to count the money in the drawer.

Mike felt for the sign hanging on the door and turned it over so the raised letters that said “Closed, Please Come Again” faced out. Then he went to get his jacket.

Mike and Kenya talked about Mr. Fontaine while they walked arm in arm. They hadn’t been at the park for two minutes before Kenya exclaimed, “There he is! He’s sitting on a park bench with his head down. He looks so sad.” She led Mike to the park bench.

“Hi, Mr. Fontaine.”

Mr. Fontaine grunted crossly.

“We missed you at the shop! Why didn’t you come today?” Mike asked.

“Missed my money, you mean!” Mr. Fontaine growled.

“No! We’ll give you a rose, if you want one.” Mike sat down beside the old man. “What’s the matter?” he asked. He felt he could almost touch the sadness flowing from Mr. Fontaine.

“What’s the point in spending all my money on roses that wilt and get thrown away? She’s dead and gone and not coming back. Why don’t you two go play and leave me alone?” Mr. Fontaine said crossly.

Mike held his breath and prayed. Then he said quietly, “I know a place where the roses won’t wilt, and where you can see Mrs. Fontaine again. I’ll be able to see her too.”

“Yeah, sure, heaven. You go right on believing in heaven. It’s good for kids. But I’m old, and I don’t believe in fairy tales anymore!” Mr. Fontaine’s voice sounded wobbly.

“Do you like to listen to fairy tales, anyway?” Mike asked boldly. “Kenya and I can tell you stories about heaven.”

“How do you know anything about heaven?” Mr. Fontaine asked.

“We don’t,” Kenya said cheerfully. “But we have good imaginations. It’ll be fun! I’ll start. You’ll be young, and strong, and you won’t need glasses!”

“You’ll never cut yourself when you whittle!” Mike added.

“We’ll be able to swim underwater for hours without breathing!” Kenya said, and giggled.

“Maybe we can make ourselves tiny and ride grasshoppers!” Mike laughed.

“Maybe we can make ourselves huge and ride clouds!” Kenya added.

Mike wondered if he heard a tiny chuckle hidden in Mr. Fontaine’s “humph!”

“We can have cloud races with the angels!” Kenya said.

“All the way to the moon and back!” Mike added.

“My Mary would win, hands down,” Mr. Fontaine declared. “Quickest little woman you ever saw.” Then he “harrumphed” mightily and got up and left, muttering to himself.

Mike listened to the footsteps hurrying away. Kenya’s breath tickled his ear as she whispered, “His ears are red, but at least for a second, he was thinking about heaven. I think Jesus is fishing for Mr. Fontaine!”

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