Late one afternoon, after my gym workout, I stopped for a cool glass of water in the retirement center’s lounge. With no one around, I sank into one of the padded chairs and stared into empty space. A couple strolled by to read the menu posted for dinner. Too far away, I didn’t attempt to catch their eye.
Eventually, a woman with a walker drew near. She seemed confused as if she were a visitor who was attempting to determine the lay of the land. I knew that wasn’t true. We’d been nodding acquaintances for the past two years.
I waved as she approached, and seeing me, she pointed a tentative finger in the direction of an adjoining cafe. “Do they sell pizza there?”
“Sure,” I nodded. “What’s your favorite?“
“Pepperoni.” Her grin suggested she knew it wasn’t good for her.
“My mother’s favorite, as well. She’s 102,” I added by way of absolution.
The woman peered around the room a second time. “I’m meeting someone for pizza at 5 o’clock. I came early to be certain I found the place.”
She made no mention of her dinner companion’s name. Given her frown, I wasn’t certain she remembered. Nor did I ask. Instead, I patted the cushion of the chair beside me, inviting her to sit down. “Well, you’ve found it. Your friend should be along soon.”
As she lowered herself into the Queen Anne chair, a sigh escaped her lips. “I’ve been here almost two years, and I don’t feel I know the place. Haven’t made many friends. I find it hard to start over at 89.”
Curious, I asked where she was from.
“Ohio.” A tremor clouded voice. “My two sons wanted me near. So, here I am. But I don’t see them often. They’re busy with their families.” She paused to gaze out the window where a few trees were turning from green to gold. “I miss the snow. I should have stayed in Ohio. I saw more of my sons when they came for visits than I do now. They have families, of course,” she said again.
As she continued to peer out the window, I noted she had a pleasant face. Her eyelids, heavy with age, had formed half-moons above her eyes, making her appear to be on the verge of laughter. I was reminded of those tickled faces painted on the entrances to penny arcades.
“Have you a daughter?” I asked, intending to reclaim her attention.
She turned her head to look at me with her eyebrows lifted. For a moment, I imagined I might have startled her with my question. Perhaps, she’d had a daughter who had died.
“No. Two sons.”
“My mother just has me,” I replied. “But she’s okay with that. She often says, “’A son is a son until he takes a wife. A daughter is a daughter all your life.’ Have you heard that expression?”
The woman smiled, her lips forming an arc to balance the two above her eyes. “Oh yes. I’ve heard that. It could be true.”
As I rose to take my leave of her, she pointed again in the direction of the cafe. “Is that where they serve the pizza?”
(First published 10/8/18)