I studied the familiar Michigan skyline, streaked pink, white and gold, a late fall horizon like no other I’ve found in eighty-one years of traveling this earth. Wind whipped around my legs, swirling leaves and dust, as if it felt this loss as keenly as I. Jill Lambert, lifelong friend, was gone. We’d walked to Kindergarten together, survived high school, marriage, and children. My divorce. Her husband’s death. Eventually we’d been taken hostage by empty afternoons, lonely nights and the famished hearts common to advanced age. Cards, an occasional movie, lunch at the Red Lobster. Not so exciting, I suppose but then there was the phone. Daily calls, reminiscing, checking in, caring, and laughing. We built our lives around those calls.
Against the pale dusk I spied another mourner. A tall man, still straight, but I could tell he was not young. The wind suddenly cut into me and I pulled my coat close. My solitude had vanished. I turned, knowing I’d come back when I could be alone with Jill.
“Elsie?” I heard my name but didn’t stop. Jill had no sons. No men in her life. I felt vulnerable, a bit too alone, and hurried toward my car.
“Elsie? Is that you?” There was in that voice something familiar. Like a note that stirs, a scent that awakens, a memory that begs to be reborn. Still I would not look. The voice I’d imagined had disappeared so long ago. Stolen by a stern father in an unforgiving time. I used to dream, used to wonder. But some wounds are so deep they cannot heal; they just stay raw forever.
And then a hand touched my elbow and I turned.
What part of the soul lights the heavens, illuminates a face so completely that it can never be disguised by the ravages of time? This face was old, more wrinkled than my own. Deep creases around his eyes and mouth bore sweet shadows of a lifetime of smiles and frowns. But his eyes? Warm and laughing they were, as if we’d once again just stolen a kiss within the lilacs. As if we still held promise and a future filled with hope. His eyes laughed at the sight of me and I was quite undone.
I reached for his hand and trembled like a girl when he gave it.
“Coffee?” he asked. “If you have the time.”
I laughed out loud. “Time? It’s all I have these days.”
Feeling as natural as breathing, as comfortable as an old sweater, he opened my door, slipped behind the wheel and drove me home.
First published: February, 2008
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