The weathered hand reaches around the corner, moving with a confidence belying the age of the owner of that hand, flipping on the light—the fluorescent light hums to life, the buzzing ceasing after a few moments. The dim light bathes the small kitchen in its yellowish glow, pushing the shadows to the far recesses of the small space. He shuffles into the room, noting the scratches and other assorted marks on the Formica countertops. Each one tells a story of a life well-lived, of meals cooked together, of laughter, and love. Her laugh would fill the space and seemingly continue forever. Almost like he can still hear her laugh embedded in the very walls. He rubs at his face as if to clear the memories, the visions before him that are no longer. Moving further into the room, his slippered feet moving silently into the kitchen, he starts his morning routine. The coffee comes first, moving nimbly throughout the kitchen he moves with a fluidity born from years of familiarity. He moves without thinking, almost dance-like, as he gathers items from the refrigerator to place on the counter near the stove, now the pan, then the egg and the toast.
One of the things that he misses the most from his daily routine, he thinks with a short sigh, is the conversations. The silence weighs heavily on him as he goes through the motions of breakfast. He misses that most of all. The memory of their last conversation, held in this very room, surfaces, so long ago and yet seems like just yesterday. It has been so long since he could talk with her, touch her face, to tell her that he loves her. He shakes his head to throw the memory off. Shifting in his seat, taking a sip of coffee, he tells himself not to get lost in the sorrow. He promised her that he would keep going. It was the last thing they spoke of before she took her last breath and left him forever. Her small, withered hand falling limply from his, he desperately tried to grasp her hand in his, as if he could pour his strength into her. But there was nothing he could do. She was gone.
He finishes breakfast, sitting at the worn table, slowly sipping the remains of his coffee. He debates getting a second cup but decides against it. Keeping to the routine is essential, or so people say. With a sigh, he pushes himself up from the table, pausing momentarily to look at the empty chair. Bowing his head, he turns slightly turns to place the dishes in the sink. There will be plenty of time to take care of those later. Leaving the small kitchen, he flips the light switch off, enveloping the kitchen in darkness once again. The sunshine from the outside unable to permeate the closed curtains provides no soft glow. He crosses the small living room, pulling his jacket from the closet, kicking off his slippers and putting on his outside shoes, he prepares himself for the next step. Taking a deep breath, he steals himself and opens the door. He takes a tentative step outside, like an explorer new to the world. He can do this.
Opening the car door and sliding into the seat, he thinks, not for the first time, that it is silly driving a short distance. The last time he tried to walk that short distance, he got so tired that he barely had the energy to get back to the house. He does not want to fall or get stuck because he wanted to prove something or that it was silly to drive a short distance. She would probably laugh at him from where ever she is and tell him that he is a fool for thinking he can make it to the park in his old age. The corners of his mouth twitch upwards, thinking about what she would say to him. Holding that thought, he closes the door, starting the car, and slowly pulls out of his parking spot.
A few moments later, he pulls his silver Hyundai into his usual spot. Car running, window down, heat blasting in the chill of the spring morning, he sits and watches the life of the park. He watches the squirrels run, jump and play around the trees—the small fox slinking through the copse of trees heading to the burrow for the day. The animals in the park are more active than usual, a sign perhaps that spring is on its way. It is a bit early; he thinks to himself. Although the winter was mild, it still seems a bit soon to him. He prefers the winter, the colder days, and the darker nights that enveloped him like a warm blanket. Now the sun, up later in the evening than usual, attempting to bring its light through the curtains. A painful reminder the world out there is continuing its rotation, moving the days and nights forward with no regard for its inhabitants. The only thing that he can hope for is that the day that he gets to be reunited with is love comes sooner rather than later. That is the funny and very annoying thing about time. It refuses to slow down or speed up. It is constant in this world.
As the sun continues to rise on the horizon, the activity in the park begins to pick up. People are out now, walking with their coffee and their dogs. Or those that are running out for their daily exercise. The park has been busier lately. With all that is going on in the world right now, people are desperate to get out of their homes for a slight change in scenery. The news calls it social distancing. That is certainly not a problem for him. He doubts that anyone even knows he is still alive. She was the one that kept in touch with people.
They never had any children, and they outlived their siblings, many of their friends too. Those friends that they didn’t outline went to Florida or other places. They all moved away to one of those active adult communities As the years went on, they watched their friends pass away or move away to spend their last years in what they are now calling active adult communities with the levels of care. Perhaps they should have gone with them. They talked about that once but realized that they would miss the seasons, their little condo on the lake that they fell in love with so many years ago. If he parked in a different spot, he could see their condo from across the lake. He selected this spot so he couldn’t see their condo. Why remind himself that he will, after a bit, drive that short distance back, to sit and try to figure out how to spend the rest of his day without her.
Leaning back in his seat, feeling the fabric pull on his clothes, half closing his eyes, he looks around the park. He has begun to recognize the people here since he started coming to this spot and watching. There is a familiarity with these people that he has never met, and yet he sees them every day. There is the woman with the Greyhound, drinking her morning coffee as she walks around the park, taking pictures of the lake. Then there is the runner. The guy dresses all in black and runs multiple times around the park. They have become like family to him in a way, not that they know that. He is sure that they don’t even realize he is here, sitting in his car, participating in their lives from a distance. Yet, it is the highlight of his day. He looks so forward to coming here and watching these people live their lives. It almost gives him some kind of hope that he might begin to do that again. Almost.
He sits in his car, watching the world go by longer than usual. Some days are like this. Going back to his lonely little condo with all the memories of times past just seems too much. As he sits and ponders putting the car in gear, an announcement on the radio catches his attention. The governor has announced that restaurants, bars, casinos are required to close by close of business the next day. They are furthering the requirements of social distancing and self-quarantine. Most likely because this upcoming generation does not think of others, only themselves. Going out to eat in those restaurants, still keeping up with their happy hours and their group of friends, scoffing at this impending virus. Of course, they think they can’t get sick, that this virus will not affect them. They still think they are invincible.
Half-listening to the radio, the newscaster says that grocery stores are keeping the first hour that they are open for older customers only. To ensure that the older generation can the supplies that they need. He sits up in his seat, listening intently to what is being said on the radio. Now that is something that matters to him. The last time he had tried to go shopping, not realizing how much the world had gone topsy-turvy, seemingly overnight, he had watched people fighting over toilet paper. Two women were pushing each other and getting angry because of toilet paper. He had left, not even finishing his shopping. He didn’t need anything that badly that he would want to stay in that kind of environment. Would they have then turned on him for his meager supply of pasta and chicken? Or maybe his canned tuna? He was not going to wait around until that happened. He is an old man, not much fight in left him. Finally, the stores are realizing that they need to protect, to the extent that they can, the older folks, some of whom have lived through the rationing of food during WWII. That was during a time that people helped each other, not hit each other so that they be the one to home that coveted package of toilet paper. No, that was a different time—a time when war touched everyone’s lives, and people were willing to sacrifice for the greater good. People now don’t even know what the greater good is. Does he even know? Probably not. Not anymore. The one good thing in his life is now gone. And with that ache resting squarely and heavily on his heart, he puts the car in gear to drive the short distance back to his condo.
Opening his door, he walks into the darkened living room. Not bothering to turn on the overhead light, he sits in his favorite chair. She wanted him to get rid of that chair for so many years. Eventually, it became a joke to both of them, pretending to argue about that chair. Sinking into the cushions, he sighs and reaches for the book. Turning the floor lamp on that hangs over the back of his chair, perfectly illuminating him, and pushing the shadows away to the edges of his chair.
He had just turned the page when there was a knock on his door. Startled and a little bewildered at the unusual sound, he looks up at the door shaking his head. He must have heard a knock on someone else’s door, or maybe he is starting to lose his mind. He does not move from his position and continues to stare quizzically at the door. After a few moments, the knock comes again. Huh, he mumbles to himself. Most likely some kind of solicitation, door to door salesperson, if people still that kind of thing. He hunkers down in his chair as if that movement solidifies his determination not to get up. That somehow, the person on the other side of the will know his stance and leave him alone.
But there it is again—that knock. Not just one this time but several in a row, each one more insistent than the last. Slowly putting his book down, he cautiously gets up. Moving towards the door, he keeps his eyes on it, as though it could implode at any moment. Hesitantly unlocking the door, his handshakes, a bit fearful as to what or who may be on the other side. As the door swings inward, one of his neighbors, stands with his hand up, ready to continue the knocking if the occupant did not open the door at that moment.
He blinks in the sudden sunlight, the stark contrast between the dark behind him and the blinding daylight in front of him. The neighbor that knocked, Dan is his name, he thinks, starts to back down the sidewalk. It is then that he realizes that Dan has brought other neighbors with him. Standing partway down the path is a group of people, his neighbors. Recognizing some, he waves his hand and smiles in recognition. They wave back and smile at him, telling him that they are happy that he answered, and they have been worried about him. It is then that he notices that they are holding bags of supplies, what looks like pasta, canned goods and other non-perishable items that he had been running low on. The items that he had been thinking about needing to go out and get in the next day or two.
We brought you some supplies they are telling him. We didn’t want you to have to venture out to the stores. They hope that they got the right items and if he needs anything to let any of them know. They had put a piece of paper with their cell phones in the bag so that he can call or text them. His smile widens as he listens. The tears that had been threatening to slide down his cheeks are streaking down his grizzled cheeks.
They continue to smile and tell him that they are going to leave the bags on the sidewalk so that he can come and get them. They don’t want to get him sick. As he walks towards the bags, they retreat a couple of steps. He reaches down, grabbing several bags of groceries. As he straightens to stand, he nods and smiles in thanks at each one in turn. Afraid to speak, his voice would be lost, jumbled in his emotions.
Bags in hand, he turns to walk back towards his home. He is walking through the door, turning towards his neighbors once more. He places his hand over his heart, bowing his head slightly, as a show of thanks. Thanks to the people who took notice, who took the time out of their day, to bring him groceries. And so much more. Walking through his condo towards the kitchen, he pauses at each window, pulling the curtains open, letting in the light.