Maybe A River
The day began early in preparation for its climactic scene in which she would bury her husband of 36-and-a-half years. The ‘Happy’ pills they’d given her, which her second oldest daughter had insisted on, saw to it that her mood remained flat; neither high nor low. Her other daughter made breakfast for everybody and her son sort of hovered and kept an eye on the time and vehicle logistics. Thus, they all left for funeral services beginning at 10a, then graveside services at 1130a, and finally the luncheon provided by the church ladies at 1230p.
By 5p they would all be gone, and she would theoretically be alone – her eldest daughter and husband and two children to their home two hours away, her son and wife and toddler on a jet to their urban condo halfway across the country, and her second oldest daughter, who would make sure the ‘Happy’ pills continued, or would think she was, with her second husband and four children to their house in the rural town half hour up the road. The preacher would have tucked away his sermon on the value of a God-centered life which both she and he knew her late husband thought was a lot of hooey. The church ladies would have sent any leftovers to the shelter and cleaned up the dishes and the silverware and wiped the tables in the church basement before returning to their own families with the sense they had helped at least a little bit to allay grief. Friends who loved him would be home with their own degrees of mourning and friends who liked him would be reflecting on their own mortality and acquaintances who felt a duty to pay respects would have gone back to their routine without a second thought. It was the calculated ritual of it all that got to her. The passing she could deal with. They had both known it was coming. They had talked about it and had established context. The enormous sadness and emptiness were anticipated, like bracing before a tight curve at high speed. The slow ritual, like lying sleepless in the dark before a long trip, like waiting for surgery to start, like a forced slow dance on a fast dance floor, a half-clogged drain taking forever to empty, that drip-drip-drip was what sent her slipping upstairs and outside when her Happy-pill fixated daughter wasn’t looking. Outside to the side portico and the fresh air and the sunshine, she could breathe.
There, on one of the adjoining benches, he was waiting for her.
She wasn’t expecting him, but neither was she surprised.
He smiled, just enough to combine love with empathy. She hesitated only a moment, sat next to him, said, “It’s good to see you.”
His face brightened; until that moment she believed he wasn’t sure whether or not he should be there. “Not too soon?” he asked.
She said, “If you had asked me ahead of time I probably would have said ‘yes’. Seeing you now, you’re exactly what I need.”
He nodded. He was shy about this, she thought. But of course he would be, the artist that he was and had always been, why wouldn’t hesitancy haunt an affection simmered for decades after emerging too late. For both of them, as it happened, but longer for him.
“How long are you in town?” she asked.
He shrugged. “There’s a gallery here beginning an exhibit next week I have work in,” he said. “So that long, anyway.”
Strategically opened-ended, she thought. Of course, he’d not settled into an orbit that rooted him the way she had; a couple long term partners over the years, but no marriages and no children, other than his art. “Where are you staying.” He mentioned a cheap hotel that charged by the week. She chuckled, “Well, maybe we can do better than that,” she suggested. The side door under the portico opened, and sure enough, it was Happy-pill daughter. “This is my friend from college,” she responded to her daughter’s questioning expression. “I’ve known him even longer than I knew your father, isn’t it sweet of him to come?”
Happy-pill daughter smiled, but clearly wasn’t comfortable with this. “Mom why don’t you come in; people are looking for you.” Then added, “Both of you, please come in.”
This would not be her friend’s scene. “You go ahead, I’ll be along shortly.”
“Mom, let me help you down the stairs.”
“I said,” more sternly, “I will be along shortly. You go ahead, now.”
Happy-pill daughter grimaced in a way that deliberately conveyed her discomfort, then did what she was told.
She smiled at her friend, who smiled sheepishly back. “Give me a call day after tomorrow,” she suggested. “I’m going to need to get out of the house by then.”
He nodded. He was content. Looked at her, said, “This isn’t too Gabriel Garcia Márquez, is it?”
“Do you have a boat?”
“A yellow flag?”
She took his hand, then kissed him lightly and quickly on the cheek. “Don’t worry about it. We’re not sure there’s a river, anyway.”
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.