The Fourth of July had come and gone and Foster couldn’t bring himself to the task. This had been his and Tessa’s tradition. Except for when their kids were young, it was a moment he and his wife had shared with no one else. But now she was gone and the children were grown and had moved away many years before.
From his back porch rocking chair, Foster gazed out to a clear starry horizon, the wishing lantern resting in his lap. His old hound lay beside him on paint-faded boards. A loyal friend and once a fine tracker, but like Foster, the dog had also retired from his formal duties.
Foster leaned up from his rocking chair, extended a hand that was once used for hammering and sawing, a hand that had helped build many fine structures in all of Southern Indiana, patted ol’ Dylan on the head, and stood.
Down the steps, across the manicured backyard, Foster walked to the edge of the hill where the old home place sat and looked beyond as far as his ancient eyes could see. Overlooking the horse pasture, out there to the twinkling speckled sky, he saw memories from long ago. He saw a shy young man of sixteen asking a girl of fifteen to accompany him to the annual spring dance. She had said yes in her delicate, soft voice. He had walked her home and wanted to kiss her goodnight, but didn’t have the courage. He would gain that courage eventually. In the backseat of a station wagon, going on another family vacation, he saw four impatient children who couldn’t wait to arrive at their destination. He recalled his daughter’s wedding day in this very backyard where she once ran and played as a child. He would never forget their father-daughter dance together.
He concentrated on one particular star and thought of his sweet Tessa, so frail and weak, lying on their bed, looking up to him with love and affection, telling him everything would be okay. He agreed with her even though he really wasn't so sure. She was his world and all he’d ever known.
Foster spread the chute of the wishing lantern and lit the wick. As the chute filled with the hot air that would send it up and away, he thought of his life now and the question that kept haunting him: how would he ever be able to go on? He was unsure but deep down knew that he would. He would for Tessa.
The chute expanded and Foster felt it becoming lighter. Eventually, it took flight and slowly gained altitude. The lantern rose higher and higher and Foster felt a cool summer breeze on his neck. He watched and waited. It floated over the pasture until it reached the farthest tree line where it too resembled a twinkling star.
Just before the lantern disappeared, Foster closed his eyes. Then he did what he and Tessa had always done together.
He made a wish.